Mister, mister: Miguel Torres on IML and acceptance found in the leather community
Thu. May 15, 2014 by Terrence Chappell
We’re comfortable with our sexuality and can express it.
Arguably the leather community chose Torres, not the other way around. His initial apprehension transitioned into curiosity, which then triggered his involvement in the leather community. Five years, one fisting invitation (read below for the funny story), and one sash wife later, he now finds himself as Mr. Chicago Leather and competing in the upcoming IML competition with other contestants from around the world this Memorial Day weekend. However, that's not what Torres' story is about. Of course it's a great honor to be tapped to represent Chicago at IML, but Torres' story delves deeper than his title or even winning International Mr. Leather.
His story promotes a safe space of acceptance and community, one that reflects and resonates with the leather community, which wasn't built on marginalization or exclusivity rather inclusion and openness. Recognizing this, Torres wants to leverage his title to spread this compassionate notion that all is welcome in the leather community, in particular leather daddies and fisting tops!
The freshly minted Mr. Chicago Leather shares with readers how he came to the decision to run for the sought-after leather title, how it felt to win, the IML running process, and how he had to advise his boss to not Google him.
TC: (Terrence Chappell) What was your first introduction to the leather community?
MT: (Miguel Torres) It was about five years ago. My partner and I were walking around downtown and saw some guys in leather and chaps in the street. We both were curious, so we walked in and stumbled onto IML. We were a little freaked out about it. We walked really fast through the market, got a harness each, then walked out.
TC: But not freaked out enough to not buy a harness?
MT: There's a funny story about the harnesses. We wanted to fit in, so we brought harnesses. But they were neoprene not leather. My harness had blue piping and his had red piping. I had no clue that there was a color code or anything like that. So, we were in the lobby of the hotel and suddenly someone grabs my boyfriend and says, "Oh good that I've found you, quick come with me." My boyfriend is just like who are you, and why are you grabbing me? He says, "Well my boyfriend is tied up in the bed upstairs and he told me I've got five minutes to find a fisting top." My boyfriend, still confused, asked, "But why are you grabbing me?" He says, "Well you're wearing red". And of course, he says, "No, no, no, we just brought this, we don't know what this means. Sorry."
TC: What a hilarious story. So, you guys just left after the fisting invitation?
MT: We were both really freaked out, so we just left; that was our first year. But we were curious and the following year we came and brought the three-day pass. We didn't do any of the parties that night, but we went to the market and the lobby. That was sort of my introduction and we started meeting a lot more people.
TC: How did meeting more people in the leather community change your initial perception?
MT: I started feeling like this is a nice community because you don't get judged for what you're into, you can pretty much be whoever you want to be. That's how I started dabbling into the community.
TC: So, you were attracted to the sense of community in the leather scene?
MT: The leather community was one of the first ones that took me in. It's a community where you can go into those bars and you can be into whatever it is you're into and no one is going to judge you. I've been asked many times why is there a stigma that leather bars are scary and seedy, and that people just go there to have sex. Those things happen because we don't judge. If that's what you want to do, there are rooms for that. You can go and do whatever you want to do then come back and have a drink with us. It doesn't matter. We're comfortable with our sexuality and can express it.
TC: How did you get more involved in the leather community?
MT: About three years ago, I met who's currently my best friend, Sebastien Goulet, and then mentor at the time. He was heavily into the leather community and worked at a leather shop. He lived in Montreal and ran for Mr. Leather Montreal and won. He competed in IML last year, and I was his sash wife through the entire process. I was there to help him. It was through him I saw all the comradery and the brotherhood of it all.
TC: Did this motivate you to run for Mr. Chicago Leather?
MT: Seeing my friend go through the process inspired me to run for Mr. Chicago Leather.
Mr. Chicago Leather from two years ago approached me saying that I should run for Mr. Chicago Leather. I asked why? I mean I like the leather community but I don't feel like I'm mature enough to represent it. He said I was missing the point. The point isn't who owns the most leather but who would be the best ambassador for our community. It's a lot more about community service.
TC: So, when did you decided to officially run for Mr. Chicago Leather?
MT: Back in October of last year was when I decided that I was going to go for it. Honestly, I didn't feel like I was ready, but you never do. Someone told me that, "You'll never feel ready, so if you're doing it, just do it." So, to avoid going back on my decision I announced it on Facebook.
TC: What were people's responses?
MT: The amount of support that I got from people gave me the guts to go for it. In January I submitted my application. My best friend from Montreal came over to support me and that was one of the best experiences ever.
TC: What's the running process like?
MT: It's intense. It starts with a meet and greet on Friday. They pair you up to sell raffle tickets for the winner's travel fund. Saturday is when you go through an interview process. There are five judges who interview you. They ask you questions about your life, your application, things you're wearing; just anything they think is pertinent. At night is when the actual contest takes place. You have to present three images of yourself. It was me and five other contestants. We went through the process together and we're really close friends now. We go everywhere together.
TC: What was one of your images?
MT: I chose to present a formal leather image. There's also a jock strap round. And they also ask you a pop question on stage while you're wearing very little, and to see how you command the crowd and things like that.
TC: What was your pop question?
MT: I don't remember. That whole weekend was a blur to me. I remember bits and pieces. But when they announced that I had won the title, the next few hours was just a big blur. There were a lot of flashes, a lot of people hugging. There are people that I still meet on my travels and I would go and say it's nice to meet you and they would say oh I was at your contest, I met you there. It was just such a surreal experience.
TC: Earlier you mentioned comradery. Did you have this with the other contestants?
MT: We spent hours together. During the contest, we're not allowed to go outside the bar or go in the bar area. So, in that moment, we danced together, we hugged, we joked with each other, we helped each other dress up. It was an amazing bonding experience, and that's why we're all really good friends now.
TC: Would you say the people are the best part?
MT: Yes by far the people that you meet and the relationships that you forge for sure, no question.
TC: So, now you have this title as Mr. Chicago Leather. Now what?
MT: The owner of the title is Touche Chicago. The owner approaches you and says, "You can do whatever you want with the title." It's yours, so it's up to you what you do with it. You can shove it in a closet and do nothing or you can use it for good, just try to behave with it.
TC: Behave with it?
MT: By behave it means don't disrespect it because it's a tradition, especially in Chicago. There's so much history here. This is where IML got started. Representing the host city for IML is seen around the world and something that people watch. I just want to make sure I do the best I can with the title.
TC: What do you want to do with the title?
MT: My goal has been to get out there, meet people, and erase the stigma about the leather community that it's a seedy dark thing. I want to make it approachable, so people who are curious about it, who likes how it looks, and who like how it feels in themselves and others feel welcomed to the bar. I want to make sure that the newer generation of leather men knows that the bar is really what you want it to be. Leather bars are actually some of the friendliest bars.
TC: I agree. Why do you think the leather community has this stigma?
MT: The leather community has this image of rough, masculine people behind all this leather that aren't afraid to take what they want. So, when someone who don't know anything about it sees that hyper masculine, big muscle guy image that we have and that anything goes in those bars then people can become reserved from that. Of course, I'm fairly new to the leather community, so I would hate to speak for the entire community and its senior members. But this is what I've seen and observed in my experiences. Once you walk in and see that we also sing show tunes, that we're silly, that we're fun, you'll see that we're like a big family.
TC: So, what all do you have to do during IML?
MT: There's a strict agenda. The host title holder, which is me, hosts a meet and greet at Touche when everyone arrives on Wednesday night. That's a tradition, so I'll have a bus that will pick up all the contestants and bring them to Touche, so people can meet them. Thursday is orientation, which is all day. It's open only to contestants and no one ever says what happens in that room. But all I hear is that it's the most amazing experience of your life. I'm looking forward to that. Friday and Saturday are the interviews for all 50+ contestants. Sunday is the official, final show at the Harris Theatre where they choose the top 20. Whoever gets chosen as the top 20 gets to do a 90-second speech. Then from that with the combined scores from the pecks and personality, and the interviews, three are chosen and then a winner is chosen as International Mr. Leather.
TC: IML is also a very worldly community event as well.
MT: Yes. I know there's people from Australia, one from the U.K., one from Poland, there were three Canadians. There are rumors about a Brazilian and a South African. We don't know for sure just yet. This is a world contest.
TC: Has anyone from Chicago ever won the title of international Mr. Leather?
MT: Chicago has never won or even placed in the top three and this is year number 36.
TC: Sounds like we have a pretty damn good chance this year!
MT: I will do my best. All I can do is be myself, and that's what I plan to do. Over and over, that's the overall theme of people giving me advice: just go there, have fun, and be yourself.
TC: What else have you heard about the competition?
MT: All I hear is that those people become your family for the rest of your life. It doesn't matter how many years ago someone competed those people have their doors open for you no matter what. I already have that relationship with the contestants, my fellow brothers, who I'm competing with for the title. But we don't really see it as a competition. We're going through this process all together and that's just a wonderful feeling.
TC: Do you have your leather outfits all picked out for IML?
MT: Yes. I had some of my leather made locally. There's a local tailor that I've been working with who makes all my leather. I have some leather from Sixty-four Ten here in Chicago as well as some leather from Montreal.
TC: What's your advice for people who are new to IML?
MT: Take a deep breath and take it all in, and I don't mean that in a literal way. Enjoy a judge-free zone and don't be afraid. It's fun, if you let it be.
(Related: Miguel's top IML event picks)
TC: Does your job know that you're competing?
MT: My boss and my co-workers know about it. When I first decided to run, I was afraid that they were going to find out. But when I came back to work the Monday after I won, I felt different. I felt so proud of what I have done. I felt so proud of carrying the title. So, I took my boss and co-workers into a conference room and told them this is what happened.
TC: How did they respond?
MT: They didn't really understand much of what it was, so I focused on the community portion of it. My boss was very supportive of it. I told him that it requires a lot of travel, so I'll need a lot of Fridays and Mondays off. I wanted to make sure he knew that I'm not taking those days off because I'm slacking at home but because I'm doing something that I really enjoy doing, which is raising money for a good cause.
TC: That's great; just don't go randomly Googling pictures of IML.
MT: He asked me if I Google you, will you show up? I said yes but one don't do it at work and two if you have any questions of what you see, let me know because you can't take things outside of context. Like you may see me in a jockstrap somewhere, but it's usually because I'm raising money for charity.
TC: Does your family know too?
MT: Yes they do. My mom wanted to spend some time with me the weekend of the contest and I told her that I was in some contest. I didn't say what it was. The night that I won, everybody took photos and tagged me on Facebook. She found out. She Googled me and found a YouTube video of me winning. She texted it to me and said, "I just found out that you're Mr. Chicago Leather. I'm not sure what that means, but I'm proud of you." That was really sweet. So, momma and sister will be at IML on Sunday night.
TC: What do you want people to remember you by with this title as Mr. Chicago Leather?
MT: I want people to remember that they're welcome at the bars and that they will always be accepted. I want more than people to just remember me, but for people to remember that there was someone there who told them that you can be whatever you want and it's ok.
The 36th annual International Mr. Leather (IML), which draws nearly 20,000 to downtown Chicago is May 22-26, 2014. ChicagoPride.com is a proud digital media sponsor and has compiled a complete list of weekend events. A PDF copy of the official IML Guide by Nightspots magazine is available online. For more information on IML 2014, visit www.imrl.com.
Related: IML 2014 welcomes leather and fetish community to Chicago
Interviewed by Terrence Chappell
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