I was shocked and humbled to be given the title, as anyone there on the night may remember. I did swear when my name was announced. The next hours and days were a little bit of a blur of people congratulating me and having my photograph taken, not just by friends but by random strangers in the street. The people of Cardiff are so friendly. Seeing a posse of leathermen on the street on a sunny afternoon they will smile, say nice things or just honk their horns and wave. But I was quickly reminded of why I put myself forward for the competition in the first place.
The title isn’t about self-aggrandisement, nice though it is to have the approval of the judges and the public – we all like to be told we look good in leather – it is about doing something for the community. The leather community in Wales, the LGBT community in Wales, and the wider gay and leather communities in Europe and around the world. Many people think that now we have marriage equality here in the UK that everything is done. Others think that we have a good life so we shouldn’t rock the boat.
In many countries around the world people are still killed, beaten and jailed for being gay. While progress is being made in extending equality in some countries, others, like India and Russia, are going backwards. Here in the UK we still have discrimination and violence against LGBT people happening almost daily and there are cases where LGBT children at school suffer bullying, by fellow pupils, teachers or the establishment.
Part of being a Leatherman, for me at least, is being strong – standing up for and helping others. Doing the right thing even when it is difficult. Being there for your brothers and sisters is a great feeling because we are all stronger when we stand together.
I’ve felt the brotherhood of Leathermen since I first came out, aged 21, when I was at university. It was 1984; Frankie Goes to Hollywood were topping the charts and the sight of Paul Rutherford in rubber or leather was nearly as good as seeing Glenn Hughes of The Village People had been for the previous six years. There were men who weren’t afraid to be who they were. Finally going to a gay club and finding there really were guys who dressed in leather, if only for a night out, confirmed my preference.
I lived in Cardiff for a couple of years after university and then took a job with Project Sigma, an academic study of gay men’s attitudes and experiences of sex and health that was run jointly by Cardiff University and South Bank Polytechnic. I had the choice of which site to work at and chose to go to London. I’d already met and fallen in love with the man I would always call my first husband, even though we couldn’t legally marry, and he came with me to London. Rob was six years older than me and a wild, spirited Leatherman. We didn’t have much money but we enjoyed ourselves none the less. Because neither of us thought that men were designed for monogamy we were both happy to play the field, which was fine by me as I got to play with some really nice, old guard tops who showed me the ropes. I also fell in with the guys from SM Gays, the oldest BDSM Education group in the UK. I was soon asked to become one of the organisers of the group, arranging the regular monthly talks at the London Lesbian and Gay Centre on a wide variety of topics, and compiling the information sheets and books, which were an invaluable source of information in the days before the Internet.
In the mid-nineties life was getting hard. The AIDS crisis was taking its toll and I was going to one or more funeral a month. The last straw for London life for me was when Rob was diagnosed with HIV. I’d never had sex without a condom because that was the reality of life from the moment I came out, but Rob was older than me and had come out at an earlier age. The staff at St Mary’s, Paddington were good but the treatments available at the time were not. The prognosis was never going to be good.
I got a job in the Cotswolds in the mid-90s and Rob and I moved to Northleach in Gloucestershire. Rob received excellent care from the doctors, hospitals, and district nurses there, but he passed away in 1996. We’d had ten great years together.
I wasn’t looking for another man but one walked into my life in 1997. Mike was 30, four years younger than me, a fellow biker and leatherman. He was HIV +ve, but was a long-term survivor. He’d had HIV since he was 16, diagnosed before the disease had even got the HIV name. He said the reason he lived that long was a combination of being too busy to be ill and also because he’d refused early treatment under the drug trials, which had to be stopped because the drugs were just too toxic or provided little or no benefit. Later trials improved and the treatments available now are several orders of magnitude better. Early intervention is allowing HIV+ve people to live normal lives, but it was tough back then often with no good choices.
Mike and I moved to live in Pembrokeshire in 1999 to get our own house with some land, for the peace and quiet, and to be closer to his parents who lived in Limerick, Ireland. We became civil partners in 2007. We had twenty glorious years together, making many friends in the leather and fisting communities. Unfortunately Mike was diagnosed with liver cancer in December 2016 and died just seven weeks later.
Having been into leather and the leather community since my 20s, and a biker since my 30s, my biker and leather friends were important in supporting me when I needed them. The brotherhood of Leathermen reached out for me and I will always be grateful for that.
Over the years I’ve found I am more comfortable wearing leather than anything else and I now wear it just about every day. Yes I’ll wear rubber for play occasionally, but after gym and shower in the morning I naturally put on leather. It is part of who I am. It reminds me of the Masters, subs, husbands and brothers who I’ve known in the past, the brothers I know and love now, and the ones I hope to meet in the future.
I’m looking forward to my year as Mr Leather Wales. I hope to represent Wales at many local, national and international events but also to represent the Leathermen of Wales to Wales itself.
Diolch yn fawr iawn i bawb yn y gymuned lledr. Gobeithio i weld chi cyn bo hir.
Thanks to everyone in the leather community. I hope to see you soon.