On a crowded October evening, 200 men dressed in black leather boots, jackets, chaps and denim were packed into The Calgary Eagle like sardines. That night, the well-known Calgary leather bar was a throwback to the hyper-sexualized, closely guarded, fraternal community of old-guard gay leathermen that began in the 1950s.
The movement has since grown into a major subcultural phenomenon, and now includes men, women and transgendered people of all sexualities who practice bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM) within a tightly knit international network. By way of continuing and celebrating this lineage, the Eagle held the annual Mr. Calgary Leather competition to recognize the service of three local leathermen and designate one as an ambassador of the leather community for 2008. I caught up with the newly minted titleholder, Mr. Calgary Leather 2008, Mike Anderson, to shed some light on the world of leather culture and his commitment to Calgary’s scene.
Fast Forward: How did you become involved in the leather community?
Mike Anderson: I’m very competitive in my day-to-day life. I’m striving for the edge of everything, and leather represented the edge of the BDSM community — within the level of play, but also because the leather community is very serious — they go way beyond tying each other up with silk scarves. There is a governing set of rules and ethics that prevents people from planting a flag and saying “Hey! I’m Master Bob or Lord Darkon or Big Larry or Mr. Whatever.”
For the last eight years, I have trained with a respected master in North America who is part of the old-guard leather community in Calgary. I’ve now become well versed in the societal and subcultural aspects of gay leather — from the history, codes, rituals, to today’s protocols that are still in practise. I’ve been given the title of “master” based on this history of leather as a gay male subculture. They have accepted me into the community as a straight male, and I now see myself as a bridge between the straight and gay leather communities.
What do you think of appropriation of the symbols and rituals of leather culture into the mainstream?
Well, this had started even in the ’50s, because the set designer for The Wild One was a gay leatherman. He and (Marlon) Brando basically set off the popularity of the hypermasculine style with the master’s cap, tight T-shirt and leather jacket. Even more recently, look at Judas Priest singer Rob Halford, whose personal style borrows liberally from leather cultures.
You were awarded the title of Mr. Calgary Leather 2008 this fall. How did you get into that competition?
Last year, I was awarded a master’s cap. That was a significant event, because it was my mentor’s way of saying that I now have the authority to carry on the traditions of leather.
I won the Mr. Calgary Leather title after my interview with a panel of judges and a little bit of beefcake during the stage show at the Eagle. The judges also recognized that I am a safe SM practitioner, with the knowledge of the technical side of BDSM, and acknowledged my educational involvement through workshops and groups dedicated to promoting safe BDSM practices.
How does someone who is interested in learning how to do safe BDSM access this information and education?
Sometimes people approach me about a specific technique, and I do provide one-on-one mentorship. There are many ways that you can hurt someone with BDSM if you’re not careful, so I teach workshops on safe use of specific tools and techniques like hot wax, knives and rope. I will be teaching a workshop at Lupercalia (an international kink and leather convention based in Edmonton) on caning and aggression play, and there are more Calgary events coming up in the New Year.
People who are getting into BDSM for the first time also need to know that intense play can cause deep emotional impact — but if you’re ready to deal with it through communication between top and bottom, BDSM can help to feel safe and empowered.
In addition to education and teaching, what kind of other duties do you perform as an ambassador of the leather community?
I participate in fundraisers for local charities like Beswick House, an AIDS hospice here in Calgary. I travel to other communities as an ambassador, and continue showing leadership through my role as the head of the Drachenstamm leather family. I have a personal belief around urban tribalism and the family is like a safe haven because we’re dedicated to growth, self-exploration and mentorship within BDSM and leather. We have members all over the province and now in Saskatoon as well. Each one of us tries to reach newer people and offer mentorship.
Through Mr. Calgary Leather, I will also be going to Chicago to compete for the Mr. International Leather title at the Leather Archives and Museum. This is the 30th anniversary of the competition, and I will be competing with 50 to 70 men from around the world.