On any other night, the sight of a man dressed in nothing but leather chest straps, a matching thong, and loin cloth sauntering under the chandelier-lit lobby of the Hotel Whitcomb might have caused a stir. But among the many other men and women clad in leather coats, corsets and collars who gathered to attend the 2012 Mr. San Francisco Leather competition, the ensemble was fitting.
About 250 fans and leather lifestyle participants came to celebrate community achievements and select the next Mr. San Francisco Leather, who would represent the city in the upcoming International Mr Leather 2012 in Chicago this May. The contest, hosted by the non-profit SF Leather Alliance, was part of a larger weekend extravaganza, which featured educational seminars, an awards dinner, and celebratory brunch.
Former Mr. San Francisco Leather 2010 title holder Lance Holman explained contestants would have to be representatives for the city and a beacon for the global leather fetish community.
“Other places look to Mr. San Francisco for the way they help educate the youth and people to be comfortable with themselves,” Holman said. “The judges are looking for someone that represents the community and the leather fetish, community and lifestyle.”
Kate McKinely, one of the organization directors of the contest, mirrored Holman’s sentiment that the event was just as much about education as it was about leather itself.
“The Leather Alliance really focuses on education and outreach,” said McKinley. In fact, the SF Leather Alliance was born out of a 40-year-old $1,500 grant called the Bent Bike Fund, pooled together by the community to provide assistance for covering injuries and illnesses in the gay and motorcycle community.
One of the biggest misconceptions about leather life is a misplaced fear, said McKinley, who is also a part of San Francisco Girls of Leather. “We can seem kind of different at first, but on the inside most of us are just big teddy bears.”
Five contestants were judged on a pop question answer, a scripted fantasy performance, formal and jock strap leather wear, as well as a 90-second speech about their proposed involvement in the community as the future Mr. SF Leather. By the end of the night, Jessie Vanciel was selected to be come Mr. SF Leather 2012 after spending weeks running through potential pop questions, honing his 90-second speech, and practicing his scripted fantasy of a chance-sexual encounter between a forceful farmer and a lost country boy.
“Talking in public like that is amazingly difficult for me,” confessed Vanciel, who had struggled most with the speech on community outreach. Vanciel, who had previous experience volunteering and participating extensively in educational outreach, hoped to provide a welcoming space for “newbies” curious about leather life.
“We [have to] be more visible in the regular world so that people can find us and know how proud we are to be leather men,” Vanciel said.
Although he didn’t take home a title, contestant Stephen Charles, was with complete peace about the outcome.
These contests always choose the best candidate. Certainly, I would have done many things differently, but that’s all gone now,” said Charles, who had nothing but love for the leather community.
“It’s home,” Charles said. “It’s a community of people who will welcome and support me as long as I give to them everything that they give to me.”