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The war over Mike Tattersall: can a leather guy wear two sashes?

After ultimatum, Ottawa titleholder won't compete at international Olympus leather contest

Mike Tattersall. Credit: Pat Croteau

There has been some behind-the-scenes tumult in the Ottawa gay men’s leather scene this year. The tension, over what’s right and wrong in terms of holding more than one local leather title at a time, concerns leatherman Mike Tattersall.

Tattersall, who is the current Mr Central Canada Olympus Leather, also won the Mr Leather Ottawa 2010 competition this past November. In fact, this second title is on top of his Mr Cellblock title from 2008, which still stands because no Mr Cellblock competitions have been held since.

That means that, going into the International Mr Leather (IML) competition in Chicago this past weekend, Tattersall officially held three concurrent local titles. He says he did nothing wrong by competing for a second time in Mr Leather Ottawa (MLO) despite his existing titles.

“For Mr Leather Ottawa 2009 I was first runner-up, and I had decided at that time I would run again — it was no secret,” says Tattersall. “I decided to enter the [Central Canada] Olympus [Leather] competition after doing research to see if there was anything that would stop me from competing again in Mr Leather Ottawa because that’s what I had planned on doing. Nothing in the rules says there are any limitations whatsoever. I mean, technically, I already had a title when I entered Olympus. There are people with concurrent titles all over the place.”

While Tattersall agrees that it’s a significant time commitment to hold even one leather title, he feels he has been able to fulfill his duties without compromising either leather organization.

“Some people say it’s a conflict of interest or scheduling, but it hasn’t been for me so far. The big thing apparently is that I crossed systems — the Olympus system is pansexual and Mr Leather Ottawa is gay or bi.”

Local leather organizers Pat Croteau, who produces the Mr Leather Ottawa competition, and Alex Wisniowski, who produces the Central Canada Olympus Leather competition, have diverging opinions about the situation.

Wisniowski made public his views on the situation care of an email exchange that went around a couple months before last year’s MLO competition.

“In late September, an email went out in which somebody asked, ‘How many people are lined up to compete [in MLO]?’ And somebody wrote back saying, ‘Just Mike so far has confirmed.’ Alex [Wisniowski] responded saying something like, ‘I hope you don’t mean Mike Tattersall. As a title-holder, he cannot have two titles.’ I wrote back saying that I’m entitled to as many titles as I’m deemed worthy of winning. That was where it all started,” says Tattersall.

When Wisniowski was given an opportunity to comment on the issues that have come up between himself and Tattersall over the past year, he had very little to add.

“There isn’t really much to say,” says Wisniowski. “He is competing at IML, not International Olympus Leather in August. I gave him the option to decide where to compete.”

Croteau knows both Wisniowski and Tattersall and has been involved in mediating the conflict. He says it comes down to two things: a difference of opinion on concurrent title-holding and a personality conflict between the two men.

“Basically, you have a bad work situation combined with people whose personalities really don’t get along. It got close to being explosive,” says Croteau. “One of the fundamental problems we ran into is a difference in basic premise for the two competitions. For Olympus, it’s very important for them to have a title-holder representing only them at an event. The MLO standpoint is that, as long as our title-holder meets a few basic criteria, it’s fine. It’s his year, and we’re there to support him. To us, there was never a conflict if Mike had another title.

“When things were getting out of hand, I invited both Alex and Mike to sit down with me. My approach was, ‘We’re not going to solve the inherent conflict, but what do we need to do for our community?’ The nightmare scenario for me is that someone hears about in-fighting and therefore stays away [from the competitions].”

With reports of declining attendance at a number of leather competitions throughout North America over the last several years, Croteau’s concern is well-founded. But Tattersall says that not all competitions are suffering the same fate.

“There’s not a declining interest in leather competitions; the community has become more diverse. The Mr Leather Ottawa competition is not strictly leather anymore. It’s leather and latex and rubber — you name it. If you put it on and it makes you feel alive, it’s welcome — which flies in the face of certain traditional viewpoints of what a leather community should be. But those are the people who have suffered a decline.”

Tattersall says he will not be competing in the International Olympus competition in L.A. later this summer, as per his agreement with Wisniowski. But he will be attending the event to participate in the weekend’s activities as Mr Central Canada Olympus Leather.

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The International Mr and Ms Olympus Leather Contest takes place at the Los Angeles Hilton Hotel (LAX), Aug 12-15, featuring the 20th annual Pantheon of Leather Awards. internationalolympusleather.com.

The local Mr / Ms Central Olympus Leather competition takes place during Pride week, Aug 27-29 at Breathless. This year marks its sixth anniversary. Weekend packages $70. Breathless. 318 Lisgar. leatherheart@sympatico.ca.

The 18th annual Mr Leather Ottawa takes place much later this year, Nov 12-14 at the St Brigid’s Centre for the Arts and Humanities. 310 St Patrick. 613-234-4142. mrleatherottawa.ca.