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GLLA & the Great Lakes M/s Contest in Indianapolis

Posted by Tanos on Tue 20 Sep 11, 6:23 PM

Last month @mia and I went to the GLLA ("Great Lakes Leather Alliance") weekend in Indianapolis after our week in New York. GLLA is a one of several regional leather conventions in the US that have an M/s strand, and it covers the area to the west of the Master/slave Conference in Washingon that I went to in 2007. Both events are very different to what we do in the UK, although the substance of people's BDSM and relationships are quite similar.

Leather is a well defined subculture in the US which has spread out from a gay men's SM scene into something much more pansexual, largely via the big conferences and national networks of local groups like MAsT. However, Leather maintains an identity that's separate from the rest of BDSM, and uses an emphasis on traditions and ethical standards to try to define what is special about it as a subculture. It's not at all clear how authentic all the traditions are though: for example, the controversy surrounding the claim that all leather clothing should be given by your peers as an acknowledgement of your progress, rather than just bought. It was striking that leather men present as community elders freely admitted to just buying their leather back in the 70s and 80s, in a way the younger members from the 90s and 2000s cohorts hadn't done due to the constraints of 'tradition'.

But to be honest, if a tradition works it doesn't really matter how old it is, and the ceremonies of leather being presented to recognise years of responsible and community-spirited behaviour were clearly very moving for those involved. It's easy to scoff, but common rituals and traditions help make a subculture into a community.

On the Friday and Saturday evenings, after the workshops and before the dungeon opened were the contests in two parts. These are an evolution of the "beauty contest" style events that grew out of leather bars in the 1970s at the same time Miss World was at its height on vanilla TV. Both featured some trying to look attractive and some talking, with a panel of judges giving points and the winner getting a crown or a sash and a prize. But whereas Miss World has faded from view, the leather contests have grown and evolved over the years into large national events like International Mr Leather, and the International Master/slave Contest for couples. (Americans have an unfortunate habit of calling their national events 'international' or 'world' - like World Series baseball.) These feature a lot more giving speeches, and in the M/s couples case, no underwear parading at all.

GLLA was built around the Great Lakes M/s Contest, and the winning couple hold the title for a year, and are entitled to enter the national International contest in Dallas the following spring and compete with the other regional winners. Why do they bother? Isn't this just a symptom of being pathologically competitive? Well, I don't think so because what they're really competing for is a travel budget of several thousand dollars which they can use to visit local educational groups and give talks about M/s and other BDSM topics. This in turn is why their ability to give good speeches matters: they're effectively being chosen to go out and promote responsible Leather and BDSM, and to open up local groups to the ideas and possibilities that are out there. In a country where visiting 'local groups' often means getting on a plane and staying overnight, hard cash for expenses isn't a trivial matter.

The weekend also had a lot of workshops, taking place in parallel streams, and these were a lot more like the ones we have in the UK and the TES meeting in New York the previous week. But I'm going to have to save them for my next blog.

Edited Wed 28 Sep 11, 12:35 AM

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