This is an annual event held at the Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago. It celebrates the leather community, provides a reason for gays to travel someplace fun and act all hedonistic 'n' shit, and gives a bunch of queens something to aspire to. Naturally I had to stop in to check it out.
Now the scope of this event is huge. First of all, it takes over the ENTIRE hotel. There are signs at each entrance saying the hotel is booked for a private event, and security guards posted there to prevent the unsuspecting families from wandering into something less than child-friendly. Men and (some) women travel from all over the continent to come to this event, now in its 29th year. It involves an entire weekend of activities, culminating with the crowning of the new International Mister Leather at the Chicago Theater on Sunday night.
In the interest of full disclosure (prior to judging), I should say I don't really get the whole leather thing. I mean, I know there are camaradarie and community-building aspects to it and I am always in favor of those. And I glad that there is a gay niche that isn't all about being pretty and having fabulous clothes. But all the outfits and rules just seem like an awful lot of fuss. Plus I think cockrings are really gross.
My friends and I stopped in on Saturday afternoon, and the place was jumping. The entire lobby is turned into a bar, and people just hang out and people watch. And trust me, that is some gooooooood people watching! Guys were there from all over, and there were a lot of familiar faces from the Detroit area. The standard uniform seemed to be jeans and a t-shirt with some kind of leather accoutrements, but there were also people in the full leather getup. And trust me, you haven't seen anything until you've seen tuxedoed hotel employees serving pizza to a line of leather queens!
The lobby was twice as full by the time we left (around 4pm)
Hemlines are up this season!
Upstairs from the lobby they have an area is called the Leather Mart. It is dirty there, so dirty that they check your ID four times and make you sign a release. It's essentially a gay leather version of the porn conventions they have in Las Vegas. It's booth after booth of sex toys, leather apparel, porn stars, demonstrations, and pretty much anything you can think of.
I found this portion emotionally damaging. I guess it's one thing to read about fisting and really quite another to be wandering through a dark room showing videos and that appeared to be set up for demonstrations later that night (the carpet was covered with a saran wrap-type protective covering. Seriously). And I did not need to know that something called a rosebud pump existed (don't ask).
By the time we had pushed about half-way through the very dense crowd I was like "get me the fuck out of here!" I thought I was brave but I am not, I am a huge vanilla gay coward. I think it was the pissing videos that threw me over the edge.
Of course my friends are a stalwart bunch and got a bigger kick out of it all than I did, my friend Laurita Guarita Los Angeles Jara Perez in particular. She had a run-in with a guy in a bondage bunny suit that was pretty great.
Do not take a Cadbury Cream Egg from this man!
And then she spun him around and pretended to fuck him. It was awesome.
[Bunny makes a beeline for the chick with lip-gloss and feathered hair]
Bunny: So what do you think?
LGLAJP: (looking at her nails) About what?
Bunny: (looks down at outfit) This.
LGLAJP: You're a plushy.
Bunny: Yeah. So what do you think?
LGLAJP: I'd fuck you.
We finished the day grabbing a meal at a pub next door, which was full of its own highlights. The walls were covered in framed headshots of celebrities who have dined there over the years (the goofy guy from F-Troop and Seka were my personal favorites). And even better, we sat next to a table of leather lesbians and one of them had a cane!
All in all, the IML thing was an experience I'm eager to never re-live, but it certainly was worthwhile viewing. I am probably a better person for it. Or at least wiser.