“I rode the bus here like this,” Bill Houghton says, gesturing to his full rubber suit with waders. “I had a coat over me but people kept looking at the boots, then they’d look up to me and wonder what’s under the coats.”
When Houghton founded Rubbout 25 years ago in Vancouver, rubber enthusiasts were already gaining a reputation as the science-fiction little brothers of the wider fetish community.
“In the old days, people would wear industrial gear and gas masks and stuff,” he recalls.
(Rubbout founder Bill Houghton will celebrate 25 years of the community he helped foster, at the event’s anniversary weekend starting Thursday, March 31, 2016./Shimon Karmel photo)
Latex, he says, was hard to come by. “Back then, rubber to a lot of guys was not latex because it was not available where we were,” he explains. “Latex was basically available from Europe through New York, San Francisco. This was the 1980s before the internet and online ordering and stuff. It didn’t exist so in order to get latex wear people would have to go to other cities outside of Vancouver.”
Houghton founded Rubbout in 1992 as a weekend of rubber events for gay men into rubber and fetish gear. In the past 25 years, the event has grown from a modest, local gathering to one of the largest and longest-running rubber events in the world that attracts visitors from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe.
(Reid Dalgleish is co-producing Rubbout 25./Shimon Karmel photo)
Rubber, Houghton explains, is not just a fashion statement but also a source of pleasure, identity and community.
He compares his appreciation for rubber to other people’s appreciation for more conventional clothing fabrics, such as silk or cotton.
“You get this kind of thing that happens inside you when you put something on that you’re attracted to,” he says. “It may not be sexual, you may not get a hard-on, but you enjoy wearing it, being it and making it a part of your lifestyle — as opposed to just showing up in a bar every so often.”
(Rubbout 25 co-producer Rob Pont in full rubber gear./Shimon Karmel photo)
Rubber enthusiasts say a key feature of their community is its crossover appeal among other fetish communities, including the leather community.
Rob Pont, who began organizing Rubbout with Reid Dalgleish in 2011, has been a leather man for more than 30 years and a title holder since 1999.
“I haven’t really crossed over,” he says, of his participation in the rubber community. “I’m still a leather man. I still belong to Vancouver Men in Leather. But I like rubber also, so I just developed and evolved my kinkiness, which I’m very happy to say will never end.”
(Terry Halliday attended the Rubbout 25 kickoff party at the PumpJack Pub on March 11, 2016./Shimon Karmel photo)
Other than the material, Pont says, there’s no difference to him between leather and rubber.
“I have no personal distinction. It’s just a matter of what feels good at the time,” he says.
“But from a Rubbout point of view, I won’t be wearing leather,” he notes. “I’ll be wearing rubber all Rubbout weekend.”
(Sean McDowell attended the Rubbout 25 kickoff party at the PumpJack Pub on March 11, 2016./Shimon Karmel photo)
Dalgleish also notes the considerable crossover between the rubber community and newer fetishes that tend to attract a younger crowd, such as puppy play and furry fandom.
“People can just be who they want to be, and create their own identity if they want to do that,” he says.
(Sean McDowell and Terry Halliday show us why rubber is so hot./Shimon Karmel photo)
Events like Rubbout offer people who are into puppy play and other kinks a safe place to explore and connect, agrees Kona, who is a member of Vancouver’s puppy group VAN-PAH and an International Puppy 2015 title holder.
“When I’m at these events what I actually like is that I can put on my hood, sit around and wag my tail,” Kona says. “I kind of come up to someone and it doesn’t matter if they are the rubber community, the leather community or just another pup. I actually feel them engage me and pet me.”
He compares the experience to meditation or yoga.
“It kind of allows you to focus on being in the now, rather than worrying about what I have to do tomorrow,” he explains. “I’m only concerned about who is in front of me and what’s going on. It’s a very freeing experience.”
(Roy Woo attended the Rubbout 25 kickoff party at the PumpJack Pub on March 11, 2016./Shimon Karmel photo)
To celebrate its 25th birthday, Rubbout is hosting 13 events this year — its biggest weekend to date — including gear swaps, play parties, social events and a rubber circus.
After Rubbout’s big birthday weekend, Dalgleish says he and Pont plan to scale back next year’s plans to more closely resemble the event as it was held 10 years ago.
“That would be the bar night, the play night, and maybe the gear swap or a brunch,” Dalgleish says, “and that will give me and Rob a lot more time to do other things.”
Among those other things, Dalgleish recently launched the Vancouver Rubberman Group, which meets on the first Saturday of every month at the Pumpjack Pub.
“We have this big blast of rubber exposure in the community in April and then it kind of goes away,” he explains. “Rubbout’s a great event but I’m also starting this Vancouver rubber men group and what I want to do is get a regular group of guys to meet up every month.”