Title contests (also known as leather contests, for those which are specific to the leather community) are events in which contestants compete for an honorific title which is bestowed upon the winner. They have existed since the 1970s, and may represent an bar, club or organization, geographic region, business, or an entire identity. They take all shapes and sizes from a small bar contests to major events like Mid-Atlantic Leather (MAL) and International Mr. Leather (IML).
There are several different title circuits. Each one is different, and each one emphasizes different elements of the community. They generally fall into two basic types, as follows.
Role Specific Contests
These contests judge their contestants by a specific role (ie. Leather Sir, Leather boy, Leatherwoman, puppy, bootblack, etc). Each winner has to do their best to represent their role fairly.
General Mr. /Ms. Contests
Most commonly, these are the typical contests. Roles aren’t directly considered in these contests. These title holders are spokesmen and women for their bars, their city, and their region. In less urban areas they are also a representative for the leather community at their “leather friendly” bar.
Some titles are known as “feeder titles”, which means they feed into a contest at a higher level. Typically a local title will feed into a regional title, which then feeds into a national or international title contest.
While some differences exist, many leather contests follow slight variations of the same format.
Each contestant is interviewed by the panel of judges, typically in private. This is the highest-scoring portion of the contest and often the reason why a “crowd favorite” may not win once the contest moves to the stage. Interviews have a time limit, but beyond that they are free form. Judges can ask whatever they want.
This is the first portion of a contest that is on stage. Contestants wear something they might wear out to the bar and may have to answer a question.
For many, this is the most popular portion of the contest. It’s an opportunity for the audience to check out their contestants’ bodies. It’s also a great time to observe the contestants’ confidence. Title holders find themselves in many unusual situations, and showing off their body is just one of many things they might have to do.
This the portion where the audience sees the contestants in head to toe leather. This portion is meant to separate the seasoned leather man or woman from someone who participated last minute and borrowed everything the day before.
Speech or Question
While in formal leather the contestants are either asked to give a short speech or answer a question posed to them by the judges. Sometimes they have the question in advance, other times they are surprised. These can be serious or silly.
Scoring and Variations
Scores from each category are tallied by the tallymaster. Larger contests sometime use Olympic scoring. Some contest circuits have additions like a fantasy portion where the contestant plays out a fantasy on stage. There are other differences as well, but the system above is the basic setup.
It has been reported that 53% of those going to large contests like MAL and IML don’t attend the contests [source?]. 27% used to but don’t any more [source?]. This is an issue that producers have tried to address.