In late July I will have the honor of being one of the judges for the Southeast Alliance of Leather Weekend. It’s especially exciting because my husband Sir Bart has been selected as a backup judge, and it would be the first time we judged a contest together. We were discussing the types of questions we would ask and what each of us would look for in the contestants, and it all brought me back to the couple of times when I was a titleholder and what I encountered from my various judging panels. They often say that becoming a titleholder can be one of the most cruel and grueling experiences of the leather community. I’d like to assert that in some cases, that can begin with be subjected to a douchey judge.
In 2002 I had won the title of Pistons Leatherman in Long Beach. This served as a feeder contest for the American Brotherhood Weekend in DC where I would compete for the American Leatherman title. I was still new in my experience of leather and had little to no community involvement. But like many contestants, I was wooed in with being told that I would be a good candidate and that they “really needed contestants and I had a good chance”. Okay, sure why not. I was naive at the time and hindsight is 20/20. I wound up winning and thus the adventure of the national title ensued.
Now I want to preface this with saying that ABW is a fantastic event and I recommend it highly. It’s just that my personal experience of competing in it was horrible. I did meet some great people there, had a really fun time doing my fantasy on stage, and scored surprisingly well among the other contestants who had considerable more experience than I (second runner-up for those wondering). All that aside, participating in that contest was a very negative experience, all because of the nastiness I received during my interview from a particular judge.
I will not divulge his name, but I tell you that when it was his turn to ask questions, he took off his reading glasses and wiped them dramatically saying, “I just want to understand something. I want to know what the big deal is that you have to use the name ‘Dart’ and not your real name in this contest? If you have something to hide I suggest you tell this panel what it is once and for all.”
I looked at him quizzically and said, “well, I’m not hiding anything it’s just the name I go by in the community. My real name is David – you all know that.”
The guy made no eye contact with me. He just stared off in the distance and continued.
“Well all I know is that your real name was listed on a publication and a whole lotta stink was raised about changing it to ‘Dart”. Don’t know what you’re doing in the contest if you gotta use a fake name.”
I just want to add that the two gentlemen that were interviewed before me were named RTB and Jazz. I digress…
Again I responded that I was not aware of any ‘stink’ that had been raised as I had no interaction with the editor of said publication. I suggested that perhaps it was my title’s producer that had said something. This all went on for 20 minutes, and the rest of the judges had to be quick with their interview questions with me as a result. I walked out of there having been purposefully embarrassed and humiliated, and I had considered dropping out. Later that evening there was a cocktail meet-and-greet with the judges, and I will never forget the interaction I had with the man. He looked at me and laughed jovially and gave me a big hug saying “Aw you know I think you’re cute as hell Dart! I was just having fun giving you a hard time and it was good for ya! I just loved watching you squirm in fear! You were adorable!”
I would like to tell you all that this is embellished but it’s actually how the interaction was. And I thought, I want nothing to do with this title if this is how its judges are conducting themselves. This man’s questioning had nothing to do with whether I could represent the title or not. He was simply deriving pleasure out of being a bully.
Being asked to judge a contest is not an invitation to be a prick! You have been asked to volunteer your time because your are held in high regard by the community and the producers feel you would have good insight in finding the right candidate to represent the title. This is not your opportunity to make yourself feel powerful by making somebody else feel bad. Yet sadly, I see this left and right, both from what I hear from friends who have competed and from what I’ve observed from fellow judges.
I can remember my former boy Leon participating in a boy title contest and receiving second place. When he shared the judges’ notes with me I was aghast at some of the things I read as they seemed to be so petty. One particular judge – a bootblack – kept coming back to the fact that my boy’s laces were not tied as tight as they could be, and every single note made mention of them:
“Decent speech, but dammit you need to lace those boots up better!”
“You present yourself well, except for your laces!”
“Good answer to the question but I’m going to spank you if you don’t fix those laces!”
Um …they’re laces, not laurels. I get there’s an importance to appearing neat, especially to a bootblack when it comes to footwear. But what does this have to do with the bigger picture? I mean, I have a fetish for facial hair but it doesn’t mean I’m going to dock the guy points if he can’t grow a full beard. I can always use Photoshop later…
As judges we need to keep our questions relevant to the present, and that less is more. How many of us who have competed were asked things like ‘who was the first runner-up of the year 1985 and what was his platform and blah blah blah? Ultimately is this answer important for what the person does with the title now?
I also get fed up with judges who when they ask a question they preface it with a little mini-documentary about themselves and what makes them ‘important’, usually in the form of a diatribe that goes on for several minutes and takes up everybody else’s time. Honestly, just pour yourself a glass of ‘shut-the-fuck-up’, and ask your question. Your merits are all going to be read off by the emcee so we don’t need to go into it here, and the contestant has already put you in high regard because they want to impress you and win the contest. Don’t take extra advantage of being boosted up. As my friend Pug would say, ‘when you put someone on a pedestal you get a really good view of their asshole’. All the more reason not to put yourself up on one.
When I judge a contest I want to know what makes the contestant real. I’m not looking for a superhero, I’m looking for someone that openly expresses their ongoing trials and tribulations. I respect a contestant that readily admits that they’re human and not perfect. I want to know what they get passionate about, even if it’s not leather or kink related. I certainly don’t wear my leather 24/7 and I don’t want a title represented by somebody who claims to. And most of all, I want the contestant to feel relaxed and connected to me. Personally the only way I believe I’m going to see this person’s true spirit is if they feel that being themselves is okay. It’s certainly the message we preach in leather, so we need to walk that walk when it comes to a title. The victor is certainly going to have their hands full with what they take on for their title year; it’s up to us as judges to be a positive gateway for that person’s title journey. Let’s not forget this.
Oh and one last thing. Please don’t feed contestants that crap about ‘leather is not what you wear, it’s in your heart’ – because we all know we’d dock their scores if they came in wearing tennis shoes…