THE POLITICS OF LEATHER

photo (97)

Photo by Paulo Murillo

The Fight caught up with Eric Paul Leue, the recently sashed Mr. Los Angeles Leather 2014, as he prepares to compete at International Mr. Leather (IML) in Chicago Illinois, later this month. Leue took some time from the Cleveland Leather Annual Weekend (CLAW)–to speak about being comfortable in his own skin, how he’s preparing for IML, and what he thinks about his brothers in the competition.  He shared of his recent political activities, which include a petition he generated asking for the removal of Michael Weinstein, the head of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, after Weinstein called the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) medication, Truvada a “party drug” and how he feels his HIV advocacy may effect him at the IML competition.  Leue also shared what it would mean to walk away with the IML title. Whether you love him are hate him, everyone will remember Mr. Los Angeles Leather 2014. ===

What are your measurements?  Are you happy with your body type?
Since I am quite the opposite of a “lady”, I will happily answer that.  I am a 6’3″, 235 lbs, blonde, blue-eyed, bearded German viking. A little less on the love-handles and a bigger chest would be awesome. I am happy with my booty, and despite challenges with finding pants, my 28″-rugby-thighs are my favorite part.  I think there is always room for improvement, but I am pretty comfortable in my own skin.
What are some of the things that you’re doing to prepare yourself for IML?
Lots of listening. Our community is so diverse and LA is fortunate to have many different generations and views all in one place. I am just coming back from Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend–sadly on the same weekend as the International Ms Leather contest in San Jose–and honestly, the stories of others and other communities are the best preparation. IML isn’t about one person who wins. The contest celebrates our diversity and how far we have come as a global community. For example, we have just connected our LA Leather Coalition with the Berlin based equivalent, BLF. While I am going to IML for LA, it’s incredible to know that my German Leather family is also cheering me on as the German Mr Leather is not attending this year.
Have you attended IML in the past? 
Yes, I have. The Mr. Los Angeles Leather competition is already an amazing event, but IML will be a lot bigger. Their team tells us that we will have about 14,000 people attending the International Mr Leather Competition and the accompanying events this year. It truly is a once-of-a-lifetime experience, and I am grateful that my LA 2014 title brothers and LA are all supporting me.
Have you had a chance to see the competition you’re up against? 
I have just met 27 of them at CLAW, but really we are competing with each other not against. That’s why we call each other brothers.  In the end we are all part of the leather family, no matter who is awarded the title.
What kinds of advice are you getting from your mentors?
There is a lot. “Be yourself” is probably the most repeated mantra and at first it’s really annoying, because it doesn’t help fend off the nervousness. The more you hear from past contestants and learn about your brothers, the more you start to relax and realize that there is no magic formula to being awarded a title. The judges just want to know who you are as a Leatherman. So take the advice and opinions that are right for you, and just have fun with it. At LAL, most of us were singing show tunes in the back, we all had a lot of fun.
Did you think you would be so politically active shortly after winning the Mr. LA Leather contest? 
If you are referring to my work in regards to Michael Weinstein’s “party drug” comment and the educational panels I am planning with other AIDS foundations now, honestly, I wish all of this hu-ha wouldn’t be necessary and we could all just sit down, have a dialogue, and move forward together. I have been volunteering for, and working with community projects for over ten years. The initial shock of HIV has passed, but our work on this subject isn’t done. While we now have access to really good treatment options and new prevention medication, the stigma still lingers. There is a reason why the transmission rates in the gay male community are rising, especially in the 14-28 year old age group. There is something we aren’t doing right, and we need to do our best to try and change that. Stigma, discrimination, shame and misinformation won’t be helpful with that process.
Do you think the strong stance you have against the leadership at AHF will work for you, or against you at IML?
I think the AHF has done incredible things in the past. My public stance against the leadership style of Michael Weinstein represents the stance of many people in our community. It also goes hand-in-hand with my stance about promoting access to accurate information free of stigma and discrimination. I am not doing this for myself and I am certainly not doing it for IML. I am doing it because I believe in it and I am happy to be the voice, because it’s what others did for me in the past.
What is some of the feedback that you’re getting from the leather community in regards to your recent activism?
While most are thankful, some are worried that it will harm the groundwork AHF has done and continues to do. There is a lot of dialogue and many don’t know much about PrEP, or what all of this is about. In the end, we all agree that Weinstein’s comment was inappropriate, that prevention is a personal choice, and that dialogue, education and the alleviation of stigma and discrimination is the key to reducing the annual transmission statistics. We should all have access to the same resources and knowledge, without being shunned and shamed.
What are some of the most rewarding experiences you’ve had since you won the LA Mr. Leather Contest? 
There are so many, it would take forever to list them and I would feel really sorry for the readers. First and foremost, sex…lots of sex [laughs].  No, the best part of running for any of the leather contests, whether you are awarded the title or not, are the brothers you gain. As cheesy as this might sound, from the Eagle LA contest, to Mr Los Angeles Leather, to CLAW – I have made amazing new friends who have all taught me something new. At IML, I will spend four days with 55 other contestants. As we all stick together, I guess the dinner parties I like to host are going to become a little more elaborate very soon.
What are some of the most challenging moments you’ve experienced since you won the LA title?
Regularly falling asleep when trying to engage in recreational activities with another man, or even just with myself [laughs].  It’s honestly what you make of it. I love my community and I like to be there for everyone as much as I can, especially because it’s hard to stay away from all the fun. Balancing that with “me-time” can be a challenging, but I am getting better at it.
What would winning the IML title mean to you?
There are so many layers to the answer of that question. 1) I think everyone who has the guts to walk on the IML stage, already deserves the title – all 56 this year count. 2) LA is my home. I fought for 4 years to be at home here. Bringing IML home for the city I love would be overwhelming. 3) Look at the past 35 IML, pretty much everyone brought something unique to the title. If I was to win, I would feel like I was giving something back to all three leather communities that shaped me: Germany–last win 2001–Stefan Müller), UK–last win 2003–John Pendal), and my home LA–last win 2007–Mike Gerle. The short answer is, I would be fucking happy, because I really want the [quote on quote] job.