I’m feeling a lot of types of ways about this whole situation, and most of them aren’t very good.
I would love to say publicly that my sex enthusiastic attitude and encouragement comes completely naturally to me, but the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t. Naturally, I have a tendency to be judgmental and exclusive and really just not want to be bothered with other people’s stuff. But I can intellectualize what others’ experiences may be like, and know that I can’t defend with any rationality my judgy first thoughts. So I can usually put them away and offer people the celebration and encouragement that they want/need/like/deserve.
But this Mid Atlantic Leather convention is really trying my patience for that brain loop.
And I don’t know who’s to blame for that. The weekend so far has been a collection of extreme ups and downs of my personal self esteem; super hot porn performers are peppered into this crowd and pop out like buff little diamonds in an ocean of ‘regular folks,’ making me wonder when my shoulders are finally going to come in properly. And then there’s a group that seems… I don’t know. They have an aura about them that I’m instantly put off by. It’s like intense personal sadness combined with an intense need to be accepted (but without the faculties to do the work that acceptance in this community requires) and it puts a foul taste in my mouth from 100 paces. It really isn’t a hotness scale thing – the hot guys are good and should stay and the not hot guys should go! – because I don’t find a ton of these people to be hot (and if you knew me, you know hotness is almost never a qualifier for Penis time). But a lot of them are almost irresistibly attractive, regardless of hotness. The guys who compete for leather titles across the country seem all to posses a confidence and magnetism that defies explanation and I’ve ended up kissing several of them for reasons I can’t totally lay out – it just happened.
Maybe it’s symptomatic of assembling any large group of people in one place like this, but there’s something about the faux nature of so much of it that clashes with the men here who really live their lives devoted to sex and leather and Penis. For most of the men clamoring around the basement ballroom right now, this is a singular event in their year where they put on some costume leather bits and cockrings and pretend like this is their people. And you can see that it’s fraudulent. They shift and fidget uncomfortably, while simultaneously trying to pose and posture themselves up against the more convincing players. The fraternity that I imagined in this grouping of sex-positive men is absent in all but a handful of guys I’ve spoken to.
But so, why do this then? If you go by the apps and craigslist ads right now, the bulk of these people came to have unprotected sex with strangers and be “cum sluts” and “pigs” to whatever degree their day jobs will allow.
If you go by the many, many popup shops downstairs, it’s to buy overpriced gear and garments that will be put away until next year, or some costume event in the future.
It’s possible, that this just isn’t for me. But if I’m looking at it as objectively as I can, it doesn’t seem like it’s for anyone else either. It seems like a way a handful of companies can extort more cash out of a group of men who define their self worth by other people’s views of them and whether they have the right gear, clothes, bulge, body, haircuts.* And that makes me sad. Ideas like that are what make it difficult for me to identify myself with the “gay community” at large. And that’s why I say things like “I’m not gay like you’re gay.” Because I’m not. And based on what I’ve seen here this weekend, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be. This is depressing.
It will be good to leave here on Monday and head off to a bit of luxury in Bangkok for a couple weeks. But this experience will stay with me until I find someone I can properly unpack it with. And that’s unfortunate.
* I do realize that it seems ironic that I should be sent here to support and cover the event for one of these companies, but I’m genuinely comfortable saying that Manhunt isn’t here to sell anybody anything – they don’t even have giveaway swag. Their table is just to collect guys’ Manhunt Stories over their 15 year history. And their new tagline “Cut to the chase” is really all about finding someone interested in the same physical contact you’re interested in without a lot of hassle.