The leather BDSM scene encompasses power play, dressing up, role-playing, non monogamy and all these other sexualities outside the norm. Before the leather world I was interested in these kind of things but never found an avenue to actually explore it.
I think people look at the LGBTQ community within so many different perspectives and we have so many options that I feel what ends up happening we get sucked into this heteronormative idea of coupling up. I feel like the leather world has given me so many different examples of how you can be fulfilled sexually, emotionally and mentally as opposed to this dominant narrative of being assimilationist.
Anybody could enter a leather contest, there’s nothing preventing a person from becoming a leather person or becoming a title holder, but, I think in many ways me being a title holder is somewhat unique because so many Asians get into this mode of - ‘I’m afraid of exploring my sexuality because of Islam, because of other cultural concerns’. I want to be an example for people who don’t feel like they can express themselves. With my religious identity and sexual identity, sometimes they mix, for example, the leather world is inherently spiritual and ritualistic, just as parts of Islam are., but then obviously you have situations where my Muslim identity comes into conflict.
I was part of an organisation called ONYX Southwest, a local branch of a national organisation created to give an entryway for people of colour into the leather community. We also fundraised, specifically focusing on people of colour and HIV non-profits. Being a person of colour and speaking about it on the pageant scene, the feedback is mixed. Generally of course it’s received positively but then there’s other people that are like – ‘well, why do you even care about the people of colour issue- you’re just supposed to be having fun and having sex so why are you bothering us with this? How does what you do benefit the overall leather community?’
The pageants are like the leather hyper masculine version of RuPaul’s Drag Race. We have our Phi Phi O’Hara’s and our Raja’s and our Heathers. After the initial meet and greet is the interview portion where most of the score comes from. The judges ask you different questions ranging from ‘what is the hankie code’ to ‘how do you see drag queens in the leather community’. They score it all and then the actual contest begins. The first round could be the jockstrap round with questions, the second round is usually bar wear with another question and then at the end you give a speech in your formal leather.
In European competitions they tend to leave equality issues on the back burner, whereas in America these questions are usually more prevalent. In Europe, mostly it’s white men who dominate the scene. Sometimes that makes it hard. For example, Asian people still suffer prejudice. A bear friend of mine told me he tried to enter a competition and was told, ‘you’re not a bear, you’re a paki’.
The scene needs to first admit that we have these diversity problems. It’s one of those situations where unless you admit there’s a problem nothing can be done about it. Then it’s a question of being okay to speak about these issues on social media, being able to talk about them during contests and making it an actual platform.
My goal is to start getting the message of empowerment and equality outside of the leather world and into more diverse venues. Coming from the Muslim background, even though there are forms of Islam that are fairly progressive, it’s how can we get people to feel comfortable in their own skin, to be able to say - ‘I have these feelings and I want to try it’ - regardless of their background? How do we get these messages out into the population so we can start undoing some of the crazy far right stuff that’s happening?