In addition to the Grabby Awards this weekend in Chicago, it’s also International Mr. Leather weekend, with the whole leather convention and annual IML competition. Last year, a friend of mine, Andy Cross, won the title of the 35th International Mr. Leather at the age of 32, after being crowned Mr. San Francisco Leather earlier in the year. Now he’s in Chicago winding down the last two days of his reign, and he sat down with The Sword to talk about what this crazy year of leather stardom has been like.
J.W.: How has this year been for you?
Andy: It’s been fucking crazy. It’s been the most eventful year of my life, and maybe the most eventful year I’ll ever have. I’ve met some of the craziest, coolest people in the world, and gone places and done things I never thought I would have. And I’ve really learned a ton about myself in the process.
Traveling all the time you encounter certain obstacles. I’ve learned I can handle pretty much anything. Spending the night in an airport. Going somewhere and knowing absolutely no one. Getting thrown up on stage and having to give a speech totally off-the-cuff. I think all that has been pretty rewarding in itself.
When did you first get into the leather scene?
I’ve pretty much always been into leather. When I was younger my uncle came to visit us, riding his motorcycle cross-country, and he rolled in wearing chaps and a leather jacket. And here I was 8 years old and thought this was the sexiest thing in the world. And I was always looking at Tom of Finland pictures and didn’t really learn more about it until I was in my teens. Even when I first moved to Sand Francisco I was kind of afraid to go out to places like the Powerhouse. But then I got over it and once I got there I totally felt at home.
What would you say turns you on most about the scene?
It has this manly mystique about it. It’s like the height of manliness to me. A lot of people say every guy looks better in a uniform, and for me, every guy looks better in leather. The way it fits it makes you stand up straighter, and makes your shoulders broader. And the smell of leather maybe turns me on the most.
Would you say it’s more of a character you put on, or a lifestyle?
I wouldn’t say it’s a character, but I wouldn’t say it’s a lifestyle either. I’m not lying around the house wearing chaps and boots. It’s something I like to do when I’m having sex. It usually involves a harness or something, but it doesn’t always. It’s a scene I feel comfortable in, and it makes me feel confident about myself. It makes me more outgoing somehow. When I put on leather I feel like a superhero in a way. I wouldn’t say it’s a character, it’s just something that gives me more confidence. And the majority of people in the scene definitely don’t wear leather in their daily life, and if they say that they do, they’re lying.
Does your mom know?
She does. She knew that I was on the Barechest Calendar, which is kind of how this whole thing started. I was kind of leery to tell her. If anything she thought it was funny, or cute. And then when I became Mr. San Francisco Leather, I was telling her that I was in these competitions, but I kept leaving the word “leather” out. I just told her I was voted Mr. San Francisco. My sister knew, and she made a Shutterfly book for my mom with a bunch of photos of me as a kid, and then some recent pictures, including one that had me with the International Mr. Leather banner on it, and it turned out to be her favorite picture of me. I just don’t think she really gets what “leather” is.
She just kind of thinks it’s a beauty contest.
Yes. I think that’s pretty much what she thinks.
How do you think the S.F. leather scene differs between cities you’ve been to this year?
I would say San Francisco is definitely the most progressive or varied scene that I’ve been to. When you look at our leather scene it’s much different from the Midwest. A lot of the guys here have more of a standard, more Tom of Finland look. Whereas in San Francisco you’ll see someone in drag makeup and a wig, and then a harness. There’s more cutting edge fashion combined into the scene. There’s a lot more self-expression in how the younger people in San Francisco portray their leather. The kind of parties we have at the Powerhouse and elsewhere in S.F., they don’t really happen anywhere else. I’m actually really proud of that.
I’m sure you’ve had to talk about this a lot, but what’s your perspective on all the talk of the leather scene dying?
Yeah, I have this conversation a lot. The thing is, I don’t think the leather community has ever been as strong as it is now. People say that hookup apps like Grindr and Scruff are killing the leather scene, but I don’t think that’s happening. Just think about like an 18-year-old in the middle of nowhere going on the Mr. S website. Folsom Street Fair grows every year, IML grows every year. We have access to people, via the internet, that we never had before, and more people are discovering the scene from far outside where they live.
Most people think the heyday of leather was in the 70s, but think of the kind of access we have now compared to then, to people outside of San Francisco or New York or major cities. If you weren’t in a major city and you were into leather, you were shit out of luck in the 70s. You probably couldn’t even get the porn you wanted.
Leather will never die so long as people are still into leather, and kinky sex. If anything I’d say we play better and play more healthily, and physically we’re healthier and stronger, and we are as a community too.
How do you deal with chafing?
[Laughs] I haven’t had a problem with chafing. Never wear underwear, and always wear a cockring. That’s the key.
Any advice for the next International Mr. Leather?
It’s really easy to have lofty goals and plans, and it’s a whole lot different actually doing it. You need to be smart to keep from getting burnt out. The most important thing is to not have an ego. If you go into an event with an air of like “I’m IML,” people are going to think you’re a douchebag. You want to be an ambassador for the leather community and the gay community. And if nothing else, we’re judge-y people.
Also, pace yourself. You don’t need to be somewhere every weekend. Make sure your bank account and your personal relationships are still intact first, and set your priorities. And, obviously, enjoy it.