Northern Exposure

Posted: November 22, 2010 in Titleholding

There are some journeys, that when you return from them, you return a different person.  This weekend was one of them.

This weekend I traveled to Calgary to judge the Western Canada Leather Sir/boy contest at the Calgary Eagle.  I knew it would be a long journey in terms of distance, traveling from the warm climate of Jacksonville Florida high into the snowy foothills in Canada.  I had no idea that it would be such a journey into the emotional heart of a community.

Emotions became kind of an ongoing theme of the weekend for many reasons.  The most obvious one is that emotions always run high during a Leather contest.  There are elements of exhibitionism on stage and voyeurism in the audience.  There is often an emotional vulnerability shown in the intensely personal interview process.  There is elation among the winners, disappointment among those who aren’t chosen, and relief for the producers.  Leather contests are a celebration of community as much as they are of the individual contestants.  Emotions run high at any contest.  In this case, I was privileged in that many of the members of the community let me into their own emotional journeys that weekend, undercurrents which ran beneath the frozen surface of this tight-knit community.

We often think that a Leatherman or woman should be emotionless and that this emotional detatchment is strength.  The community I was honored to be a part of this past weekend is far wiser than that.  Beneath every leather vest was a heart, strong enough to be open.  These brave men shared with me their own very personal journeys over the course of that weekend.  There was a Sir who was nervously watching his boy compete for his first title, so proud of his growth.  There was a boy fighting his own battle to overcome his own obstacles and finding his courage on the stage.  There was another Sir worried about his boy and still finding the strength to undergo ordeals.  There was a community facing illnesses, working towards greater unity, and trying to determine its identity as it moves forward.  There was a man at a pivotal point in his development from boy to Sir, struggling to find his place in either world.  There was a place, hoping to find its voice within the larger, International Leather community.

It is a privilege I have to come into this emotional mosaic as an outsider and to observe.  It is a part of my role as a Leather titleholder that I never could have expected that I am with people at some of the most emotional moments.  I fly into a community at a point where everything is closer to the surface and I am placed in the middle of it all.  I hear the backstory from several different perspectives and I watch the story unfold with a front row seat.  I fly out just as it resolves, hoping that maybe, if I am very lucky, that I might have had a hand in some of the direction things have taken.  It is a role that sometimes feels almost sacred, like that of a Leather shaman, but it’s a role I also try not to take too seriously so that I don’t fall into the trap of ego.  Sometimes I’m called on to bring the energy to the party or the intensity to play.  Other times my role is more to talk and listen.  I have had to learn to receive service when someone has a need to give it, something that is difficult for a slave to wrap her head around.  I have also learned that often I receive far more from those I come to serve.

I like to think that in this past weekend I did touch some of these hearts so generously shown to me.  I saw so much growth going on around me, both on the stage in front of me and off of it that I was in awe of a community so focused on supporting this growth in its members.  I saw Sirs who, while leaders in their community, still work to improve and continue learning.  I saw boys the size of a David with the courage of lions.  Mostly, though, I saw a community of people each more focused on the needs of those around them than their own egos.  I saw how they all watched each other as carefully as they would if topping each other in a scene, checking in with each other and supporting each other.  While I didn’t see much physical play this weekend beyond the fantasies, I saw a mindset of play in how each Leatherman interacted with the others around them.  There was a sensitivity in each of them that I usually only see in very perceptive Tops working their bottoms.  These men were tough enough to push each other when they needed it, but sensitive enough to back off or to care for each other when that was needed.

These were men strong enough to feel and secure enough to serve each other and their community, regardless of their title.  These were men courageous enough to live their lives with their hearts exposed.  For men like this, being exposed on stage in a jock strap is nothing compared to the way they wear their hearts on their sleeves.

And yes, I left feeling like I had been given far more than I’d given.  Mostly, the greatest gift I was given was a new perspective and a new commitment to learn to listen more deeply.  I’m certain if I were a better listener, I would have been able to learn even more from this community, which seemed to have warmth enough to melt the Canadian winter.

I look forward to returning to see each of these stories as they progress, feeling like I left only a part way into the book of each.  I also look forward to seeing what Western Canada has to bring to ILSb this summer!

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