Monday, August 13, 2018

LA Leather Pup Title

In a previous post I talked a bit about leather culture.

Here's another leather-oriented post.  This one will focus on leather pups, a subculture within a subculture.  It is somewhat NSFW so consider this your first and last warning before you start scrolling.

 This is about a NSFW as it gets.
If this doesn't make you angry as fuck then you are broken as a person.
I fucking hate minions.

If you are unfamiliar with leather culture, I can summarize it in about two paragraphs.  Post-WWII there was a movement of gay sexual liberation, in which leather had a heavy component in terms of protocol, dominance, and experience, with various types and colors of leather indicating various things.  Men had leather from the war and its ubiquitous presence as motorcycle safety gear made it a commodity that could ostensibly be useful in "vanilla" life; because of the criminalization of homosexuals during the '40s and '50s, leather culture was a closed subculture designed to allow gay men to explore BDSM dynamics in a safe, insular environment.  Aspects of the lifestyle included homoerotic masculinity, hierarchical seniority, respect for protocol and service, and community-based support.

Leather culture revolved madly around leather bars.  (The "gay biker bar" trope is there for a reason, folks.)  In order to drum up business, in the 1970s, leather bars began having "title contests," pageants designed mostly to bring in patrons. The competitive element made the title contests more interesting to watch and provided a structure for multiple hotties to go through multiple costume changes on the stage.  However, the contests soon went beyond merely being a bar gimmick.  Contests became regional in nature and "winners" held on to their title for a year, during which time they operated as a sort of liaison for the community and a pillar of what the particular community stood for.

 Y'know, wholesome stuff.

Nowadays, there are probably thousands of titles.  You can read about the original, Mr. International Leather here; it's been around since 1979.

In this day and age there are leather titles for bars, dungeons, regions, states, subcultures, and everything in between.  There's titles for boot blacks and bears, daddies and drag queens, the city of Cincinnati.  There's a leather title for rubber and a leather title for latex.  There's a leather title for just about everything nowadays.  If you go to a leather bar you'll probably meet a leather title holder, past or current.  (Most leather titles are, like a beauty pageant title, "active" for one year.)

So now that we're all on the same page, I'd like to talk about one of my favorite leather titles: LA Pup.

Los Angeles Pup is a title contest that is part of LA Puppy Pride in November.  Leather pups are pretty much what you think they are.


At Valley Pride last weekend I was asked by a cop what was up with all the people in dog masks.  (She was very openly curious and non-judgemental about it, which was awesome.)  I explained as best I could that leather pups are a subcommunity of leather folk who enjoy emulating dogs because dogs are, among other things, playful, loyal, and eager to please.

Dogs experience a world of unadulterated joy and delight in their usefulness there. 


It's a good place to be, roleplay-wise.

So much happiness.

LA Pup's mission statement is "to help build a non-oppressive, open-minded, and optimistic community in Los Angeles," one that strives for inclusive spaces where people can engage in animal roleplay without shame.

Lots of pups have trouble confronting their own self-consciousness.

So why am I telling you all about how great it is to be a dog?

...I decided to run for the title.

My previous title, Inland Empire Leather Ambassador, was fraught with drama.  That wasn't any one particular person's fault.  It's just that, in small circles, drama is bound to happen, and I was not yet entirely equipped to handle it.

 I got into some reeeeeal trouble.

After a year of learning and practicing diplomacy, learning when to shut my face and when to stand up for myself, I realized that, even though I'd had a hard title run, I had grown enormously as a person.

Although my title run has been hard I genuinely believe that the challenges it has given me have helped me grow as a person and get better at managing conflict.  I an a conflict-adverse person who generally loathes disagreement of any sort, so this has really thrown me out of my comfort zone. But I think learning to accept that not everyone will like me has been beneficial. I think I'm more confident and honest now... especially about issues that matter to me. 

 Dog awareness.

The title "Ambassador" means always putting my best foot forward. But having the title has helped me be a more conscientious person who is more mindful of his words and actions. I think the title has grown me more than I have grown my title.  And that's a good thing.

I am now nearing the end of my title and if there is one thing I have learned, it's that I don't have to live my life with an intention not to offend. Some people may not like my ideas or beliefs. That's fine. I offer them respectfully and with the intent of making the world a better place. Having done all I can to present them considerately, at this point, if people are offended, it is entirely their own problem to deal with.

Standing up for your beliefs is not meant to be easy. If it were, it would mean nothing.

The LA Pup title is one I'm looking forward to because I've always identified as a pup.  "Tony Bark" has been floating around LA for years.  I've won two Best in Shows (as a human pup) and volunteered at every event under the sun.  I've attended conferences, taught classes on human-animal roleplay, produced, and MCed conventions.  I've been in the community and this year, I decided to run, because the title will give me the visibility to do more.

Above: Tony Bark
Below: Ruby as the Iron Pupper

Running for the title involves going to a few photography events, being an active volunteer in the community, and of course the title contest itself.

I've been producing "Puppypalooza" for years.  
We herd a human sheep!

Running for the title also requires you to put together an "auction basket" for a silent raffle.  This helps offset the production cost of the production.  Initially I was worried about this but, $700 worth of sponsorships later (and counting!), this is no longer my biggest concern.  It turns out that if you ask politely, most places are more than willing to help a pup out.  Then again, maybe leatherfolk just really, really like pups.  There's a huge pup community in Los Angeles; last year's title contest had an attendance of 200-300 people and this year we expect to break 300.  I guess it's nice to see a contingency of leatherfolk who are optimistic, cheerful, relatively free of drama, generous, and... well... you know, doglike.  Leatherfolk just love human pups.  What's not to love?

The title contest itself takes place over a weekend, and is comprised of an informal meet and greet, some private interview questions with judges, some public questions and speeches...

...and a fantasy/scene production.  I'm still figuring mine out.  Plus like, four or five costume changes.

Mine are literally all Iron Man.  I might try to incorporate a Barky Barnes or Thorgi just to mix shit up, though.

So far I've found the whole thing to be a really energizing and engaging process.  I'm working alongside 7 other contestants plus last year's winner and the two producers of the contest. 

 Above: Pup Rush, the 2018 title winner, who is about the nicest husky you'll ever meet.
 Below: the contestants for this year.  Can you spot the Tony?

It's been fun.  And I might actually have a chance at winning this thing!  Paws crossed.  In any case, it's been a good use of my time lately and I'm happy to be a part of it.  Be prepared for future blog posts about my title run.

This title will finally answer the age-old question: who's a good dog?

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