June 4, 2013

"Wisconsin's leather community finds brotherhood and kink at International Mr. Leather 2013."

It took me way too long to figure out whether this Isthmus article was about an actual beauty pageant or a fictional theater piece about a pageant — like "Smile" or "Miss Firecracker" or "Little Miss Sunshine."

It drives me crazy — this journalism style of withholding the who-what-when so we can ease into the story with quotes and anecdotes. Is the assumption that we want to read it before we know what it's about or that we wouldn't want to read it if we knew what it was about?
Turns out, it's a real pageant, organized by one Jeff Gruenberger, who, we're told, "realized the attire leathermen wear holds significance beyond expressing masculinity":
"While some people think it's just a fetish, just a kink, ... there's the core qualities of integrity, charity, brotherhood, honesty," he says. "Those are things that we truly believe in. The leather is just an outward sign of that."

Gruenberger breaks leather down into several categories, which he calls the "Big Five." Sirs, Daddies, Boys, Slaves and Pups. These categories co-exist in many leather communities, and are separated by power and experience.
Things that are truly believed in...
"A Dad or father figure teaches a boy certain things growing up," he says. "You learn respect, being very structured. You're learning all those qualities from a Sir or a Daddy."

As a Boy becomes more involved in leather, he may ask around his community for a Sir or Daddy. He can later become a Daddy or Sir once his mentors feel he has earned the title. Gruenberger says this categorization is not universally accepted, nor are the boundaries as rigid as the labels suggest. But he thinks the model helps provides stability and perpetuates leather's history.

"We're one of the few communities in the gay community that's kind of like that," he says. "The leather community comes from a military background, the World War II military veterans. When you think of it in that terms, it just makes sense."
Things that just make sense.

39 comments:

urban_hermit said...

The greatest generation.

EMD said...

I initially picture the Wisconsin leather community as those craftspeople who hand-tool leather belts and such.

I was wrong. Well, there is 'hand-tooling' going on, but not that kind.

Curious George said...

"It took me way too long to figure out whether this Isthmus article was about an actual beauty pageant or a fictional theater piece about a pageant"

It took me a fraction of a second to determine it didn't matter.

Carol said...

The greatest generation.

Now with Viagra!

Strelnikov said...

" there's the core qualities of integrity, charity, brotherhood, honesty," he says. "Those are things that we truly believe in."

Also, fisting.

wyo sis said...

Adds Halpin: "The core of sex in its basic form is sensation, so it's just expanding on all of that."

Nothing wrong with that! (sarc tag)

The core if sex is sensation?!?
We truly are going to hell as a society.

Indulge all those sensations because, really, what could go wrong?

cubanbob said...

PETA vs. The Leatherman. The Japanese should do monster movie with that theme.

Strelnikov said...

For a fascinating, and also twisted, view of this community's activities re brotherhood, integrity, etc., see Al Pacino in "Cruising".

Pastafarian said...

I wondered what garage mahal had been up to.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

It drives me crazy — this journalism style of withholding the who-what-when so we can ease into the story with quotes and anecdotes.

This.

I remember a particularly egregious example recently, about a scientist's research. I wanted to hear about the research, but it kept switching to scene-setting crap. About the dinner party where certain people met, describing the food served, and the mood in the room, and the weather outside.

If I wanted that crap I'd read the latest Oprah pick.

Mitchell the Bat said...

I was expecting a story about a multi-tool that's a pair of pliers and much more.

My guess is the Leather Daddys could put one to good use.

Obligatory.

LordSomber said...

Parading your kink is just more of the same tiresome attention whoring.

Ficta said...

It drives me crazy — this journalism style of withholding the who-what-when so we can ease into the story with quotes and anecdotes.

I frequently yell at my newspaper:

"Forget flood. Interview God!"

m stone said...

Nothing quite says style like leathers and white socks.

chrisnavin.com said...

Whoa, folks, those newly minted English majors from Yale need SOMETHING TO DO.

jacksonjay said...


Another trick question!

Carol said...

If I wanted that crap I'd read the latest Oprah pick.

And every podunk news editor in flyover thinks it's really cutting edge stuff.

LarsPorsena said...

I'm more of a Gerber guy than a Leatherman.

Sam L. said...

You must be slow this morning. Seemed right obvious to this guy out in the stix.

Moose said...

Ah, yes. The mainstreaming of the freaks. And we can't criticize them 'cause then we're *haters*.

Welcome to the new normal...

Astro said...

Why bother linking to crap stories?
It encourages more crap stories.

Methadras said...

I'm still fascinated by how homosexuals discriminate themselves into these little cliques or 'communities' to differentiate themselves amongst themselves. Not to mention the sub-cultures within the over-arching cultures. Twinks, bears, leathers, et al. True discrimination within their diversity.

Kenneth Burns said...

What about that lead made you think the article might be about a theatrical piece?

edutcher said...

When I think of guys wearing leather it's more like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.

Palladian said...

I'm still fascinated by how homosexuals discriminate themselves into these little cliques or 'communities' to differentiate themselves amongst themselves.

It's a human trait, haven't you noticed?

I hate communities of any kind, especially ones that actually call themselves a "communuity".

Mo5m said...

It drives me crazy in this internet age that an article will just dateline "Elmwood" -- Elmwood where? Maybe 10 years ago, only people in Elmwood would see the story, but now it could be anywhere in the world. Tell us where!

Ann Althouse said...

"What about that lead made you think the article might be about a theatrical piece?"

My resistance to reading it all all (which persisted for days). The photograph, which reminded me a little of the last scene in the musical "Hair." Wishful thinking. But mostly, as I said in the article, the style of journalism that I wrote this post to complain about -- depriving us of information about exactly what the story is while we're supposedly drawn in by intriguing quotes/anecdotes. I mean, look at how you begin:

"For much of his life, Jeff Gruenberger could not find representations of himself as a gay man within what he calls the "Hollywood stereotype.""

So... there's this person... I don't know if he's a playwright or what. He has these yearnings of some kind... okay...

""Whenever there's an actor on a sitcom or a movie, and it's a gay role, they play them very stereotypically," he says. "Where they're very lispy. All they're concerned about is the newsiest fashion. And that's fine. There's nothing wrong with it. But I knew that wasn't me. I grew up on a farm, I love sports, I love to do carpentry and that type of thing ... and for a long time, I just stayed to myself.""

So... he doesn't like various fictional portrayals of gay people in movies and so forth, so I don't know what he did about that... maybe he wrote a play...

"Gruenberger describes himself as a "born and raised Cheesehead." The Racine native sports a lock and chain necklace and a ready smile."

Yeah... so there's this guy... what did he do... possibly write a play?

"Much of Gruenberger's joy comes from his discovery 10 years ago of the largely male leather community, often referred to by fellow members as "leathermen." Leather communities commonly refer to their practices as simply "leather.""

So he had this experience. Hmmm... I wonder what it caused him to do that got him this article written that led to a photograph of all these scantily clad men lined up on stage. Perhaps he wrote a play about it...

"Gruenberger, who now lives near Appleton, found his community at the annual International Mr. Leather (IML) weekend, held each year in Chicago since 1979. An estimated 18,000-20,000 people (mostly gay and bisexual men) gathered this year for six days at the downtown Marriott Hotel to celebrate leather and kink. The festival also hosted a pageant, where 51 men who won regional feeder contests throughout the world competed for the title of International Mr. Leather. Jason Puls of Milwaukee, the only Wisconsin contestant this year, was eliminated after the "Pecs & Personality" round of the contest, while Andy Cross of San Francisco went on to take the title."

More about his background experiences. So... what did he do with them? Did he write a play?

"Gruenberger, who competed last year at the pageant, is also organizing a Mr. Wisconsin Leather that will make its debut in October in Milwaukee."

Only now do I see where this is going. It's a man's beauty pageant.

See how that worked?

Ann Althouse said...

Also, there's the title and subtitle:

"Wisconsin's leather community finds brotherhood and kink at International Mr. Leather 2013/Mr. Wisconsin Leather to debut in Milwaukee this October"

The word "debut" sounded like a play.

"International Mr. Leather 2013" sounded like the name of a play.

Would a "community" find community going to a theatrical production? Maybe. Don't women find community at "Vaginal Monologues"... or at least wouldn't a newspaper headline make that kind of assertion?

I don't know!

I'm just saying the presentation annoyed me, because I didn't want to have to figure out whether I cared about this person.

I'm irritated by the portrayals of gay men done by actors ... like, for example, the much-praised Matt Damon in the HBO movie about Liberace.

That's something I'd complain about, but I didn't know where this guy was going with this.

I'm more interested in the theater than beauty pageants. I think beauty pageants are more something to laugh at, so the tone of the article was depriving me of that fun, because of all this serioso "community" business.

Paco Wové said...

I share your pain, Althouse. I loathe 'journalism' that throws a bunch of human interest crap at you before ever getting to the 5 W's. Some stories are so bad that I will open up a text editor, copy the story into it, and reorganize it into something that makes sense -- and only then realize it wasn't worth reading in the first place.

Methadras said...

Ann Althouse said...

I'm more interested in the theater than beauty pageants. I think beauty pageants are more something to laugh at, so the tone of the article was depriving me of that fun, because of all this serioso "community" business.


Of course you are Prof. Theater doesn't show off as many tits as beauty pageants do. All that gratuitous tit showing is just so gratuitous. We know how much you hate that.

Synova said...

So... advice. (Which shockingly relates to leather...)

I got a linkedin invite today from someone I know peripherally, that I'll likely run into from time to time and relate to on a professional level. I'm not judging her choices. However, her entire professional description is experience in alternate sexuality advocacy, leather groups and S&M.

The idea behind Linkedin is that this is my professional face. Right? Does anyone notice or care who you are linked to? So far I've been trying to make a point to focus on people who are actually working in my (hopeful) areas of employment. I'm not comfortable expanding that to sub-dom sex advocacy or "leather" (whatever the heck is "leather".)

OTOH, it's within the realm of possibility that someone may notice if I *don't* link to this person and see it as being judgmental.

So... ???

Bennet said...

Hi all.

I'm the author of this piece. I enjoyed reading the feedback.

I'll be the first to admit there are sections I could have cut before I got to the paragraph that explained what the contest was about.

But on to the question of the article's scene-setting and witholding of information.

It's a matter of genre. Isthmus is a weekly newspaper that often publishes longform journalism. This type of reporting borrows the storytelling techniques of fiction writing as it generates its narrative. Using that as a standard, the 5 Ws don't really apply in the same way as they do to the beat reporting you read in the New York Times – much like you don't get the 5 Ws when you read a short story or novel. Read the New York Times magazine, however, and you'll see more of the longform aesthetic.

For examples of fantastic features that employ this narrative structure (far better than my own) see the Pulitzer Award website, and scroll to the Feature Writing category. Those works are definitely more precise than my piece. Their authors represent the best in the field, and spent years writing their pieces.

I'll add one last point: the leather community is incredibly serious about its culture, but membership is not exclusive. Gay men (not to mention lesbians, bisexuals, transfolk and everyone in between) are everything but homogenous; sub communities are drawn by shared interests, practices and expressions of such. Whether they discriminate against entry is a different matter. Some leathermen can be assholes, certainly.

However, in the broad context of this convention, the atmosphere was welcoming. Mr. Leather is a celebration; it's definitely parading kink, sex and sensuality. I think those are universal features of sexuality, open to all participants.

I hope the tone of my response does not seem defensive. I truly did enjoy reading everyone's responses.

Ryan Long said...

I'll never understand why people who don't like homosexuality spend time thinking and complaining about the activities of consenting gay adults that have nothing to do with them. As for "kink" - straight people like kink too, and there are S&M groups and conventions for them as well. The idea that heteros are all the "normal" ones in society is laughable.

Ann Althouse said...

Bennett Thanks for responding.

I do get That style of journalism. I see it in the NYT every day. I find it a little cheesy and often a bit of a waste of time, this hiding the ball. It can be amusing, though, if the intro stuff is really good. But in the end, the reader doesn't want to feel exasperated. What the hell is this about?

Here, I find myself asked to get absurdly serious about what is, face it, a beauty pageant... for scantily clad men... That's a tad annoying.

Ann Althouse said...

@ryan Whose comments are you referring to? Seems to me you're imagining complaints that aren't there.

Ann Althouse said...

Sex "conventions" sound like pretty sad affairs, but the I don't like any sort of convention. Unconventional people at conventions... Seems absurd... But is there a sense of the absurd?

Palladian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Palladian said...

Unconventional people at conventions

"Tonight, my unconventional conventionists... you are about to witness a new breakthrough in biochemical research... and paradise is to be mine!"

Bennet said...

Here, I find myself asked to get absurdly serious about what is, face it, a beauty pageant... for scantily clad men... That's a tad annoying.

Unconventional people at conventions... Seems absurd... But is there a sense of the absurd?


That's a really good point. The unexpressed humor and awkwardness is staring the reader in the face. There is a tension between levity and seriousness that attendees are straddling (no pun intended), and the piece should engage with that.