On titles

About the author:
Jack Holroyde is the President of London Leathermen and a former holder of the Mr Leather UK title. He’s been involved in activism and community building in the LGBT+ community since he was a teenager, and is passionate about offering safe spaces for everyone regardless of background, ability or affiliation.

This post builds on a previous post, linked here where we explored some of the issues around the ongoing Mr Leather UK contest and our principles and subsequent policy around the title. It would make useful reading ahead of this ‘white paper’ style thought piece to provide context for why we feel this conversation needs to be had now and put to bed once and for all.


Purpose of this post

I’ve long been of the opinion that titles could be a force for good within the scene. I wouldn’t have run (and won!) Mr Leather UK if I didn’t think this. But I do believe that the current title situation is one we have sleepwalked into. The titles began as a marketing opportunity for bars and clubs and since the creation of ‘Mr Leather UK CIC Ltd’ have morphed into a vague ‘ambassadorial’ role for the entire country in a way that’s great on paper but doesn’t stand up to the rigours of real life.

It’s easy to criticise, and many people have. We all know the flaws of the system. But we need to think clearly about what those are, and start to work together constructively to produce something that brings value to the community. A useful way of thinking about complex problems is to go back to the first principle of the matter and build something from scratch. This approach allows us to start with a few key questions, and I will start by outlining these as I see them and do my best to provide some ideas for what a better contest could look like if we started from scratch.

This isn’t meant as a definitive set of answers. These thoughts are not edicts. At London Leathermen we make decisions not by managerial diktat but by the principle of substantial unanimity. In that spirit, we want to start a conversation and thrash out the fine detail as a community.


Disclaimers aside, lets ask ourselves:

  • What is the purpose of a title contest as we see it today?
  • What are we actually trying to achieve with this?
  • How do we measure success?
  • How successful are the current titles?
  • What is good about the title contests as they stand and what needs to go?
  • What does a title look like that matches all our principles?

(Our History)

(Our principles)

(Measurement against those principles)


(Our future)


The History, and where this leaves us today

So lets start at purpose. As previously stated, the titles began as a marketing role using individual patrons as promotors for a club or venue. This is the reason in the US you might have ‘Mr Eagle Georgetown SC’ or ‘Mr. CC (of Palm Springs)’ or ‘Mr Drummer’.
In the UK, before the unpleasantness that led to todays status quo, we had Mr Hoist, Mr Leatherwest, Mr Leather UK to name a few. Just as everyone understands that Miss Universe isn’t actually open for any female identified being in the observable universe and shouldn’t be seen as a representative for the same, Mr Leather UK was run by MSC London – selected from its members to represent the clubs interests both within and without the scene. From 1988 to 2016 this was the case, and the clubs of the Fellowship of UK Clubs (FUKC) all had input and consented to this.

Sidenote: I agree on first principle that London should not be using a UK title to represent its own interests – there’s enough of that in the UK already. So I don’t advocate for a return to this – but I do feel it’s important to note that the current situation of Mr Leather UK being touted as a representative and ambassador for the whole UK leather scene is a new development only for the last 4 contests and titleholders under MLUK CIC Ltd.

So today we have a dichotomy, where a title model was built to be a cheap marketing ploy to use bare bodies and allure to make a quick buck for the bars – but with costs paid in full for the titleholder, no need for distance travel as the role was for the local bar only, and the sash afforded the opportunity to use the platform to take a stand on issues close to its holder’s heart. Now this same model is being used but where titleholder is expected to represent the interests of the entire scene within and without the scene at the titleholders own expense, financially, physically and emotionally.

We’re not here for this. On first principles, the model seems… icky. It’s just not how we do things in the UK leather scene.

Additionally, the titleholder is expected to travel the UK. To visit all the clubs multiple times, to understand all the issues of all the scene and be on both sides of every dispute. To grease the wheels of club communication. To be at every Pride no matter the cost. To be outward facing and get the world talking about the gay leather scene. To be in Europe showing off the UK leather scene to the other european clubs. To compete in Mr Leather Europe and IML. To raise money for charity and for their own travel expenses.

You can see in the winners of the contest how split we are on this question – it seems that every other year we have an activist sash queen who goes out into the world and makes a name for leather, and every alternate year we have a diplomat who goes to all the clubs and knows all the gossip but isn’t known outside the scene.


How it really is – the ugly reality of the status quo

So we have 3 roles to the current title: promotor, ambassador, diplomat. How is the title performing?

My personal experience of being a titleholder was that on the night all the contestants make some vague commitments, win the title (in my case, very unexpectedly!) and then be told ‘there are no rules, go bet he titleholder you want to be’.

Except it didn’t work like that. No matter what action I took, it seemed like 50% of the scene told me I should be ‘de-sashed’ for the smallest perceived slight or ‘disrespecting the sash’ and the other 50% told me that I was a role model for all humanity. By the time I handed back the sash. I despised it. I despised the para-social relationships where I had people I would love to know but couldn’t remember that I’d met before. A close friend first 4 introductions to me I said it was lovely to meet him and ‘I love your shirt!’. The same line, every time. People knew my outward persona, I didn’t have the capacity to get to know them and show them the real Jack.

And I’m not the only one. Our current title situation is chewing up and spitting out community minded people after filling up their credit card. with flights and hotels. Every Leather title holder since 2015 has had at least one attempt to de-sash’ them. The community is not of one mind and therefore one person cannot be expected to carry the values of our entire national scene.

The ambassador role is failing. We may succeed in getting press coverage, but at the tremendous cost to the titleholder.

The diplomacy role is an objective, laughable failure. Since the unfortunate events that surrounded the formation of MLUK CIC Ltd, the goodwill and cooperation of the clubs has been shattered by threats, lawsuits, trademarks and other acts of cultural vandalism in the scene. I say again – this is not how we deal with things in the leather scene. Our scene has existed since 1965 and has survived on the spirit of brotherhood and collaboration.
With lawsuits flying around, with clubs starting new titles and with half the scene opposed to elected ambassadors of any description, and the other half split about what messaging they should be putting out, we are creating more divisions, not fewer, in our scene.

Our titles aren’t fulfilling the job they set out to do.. I would argue the roles are not possible to live up to.

But if we zoom out a little we can ask: what are we trying to achieve?

Some Objectives

1. Firstly, a title should be FUN.

The contest, the sash, the travel, the role. Talk to any titleholder and ask about their stress level around their title. Its a lot to bear. If it’s not fun, the only people going for it are the manically driven and the narcissist. We can do better than that.

2. We want to encourage positive behaviour.

As candidates lay out their platform we get a marketplace of ideas-where anyone with good (or terrible!) ideas can stand on a stage and say ‘this is who we should be’. And the crowd gets to decide who gets to roll with their idea.
Many people who don’t win titles go on to carry those messages in their local clubs and the change gets made. We want to encourage people from all walks of life to make positive changes in the scene to help us be an open, loving fraternity of Leather people.

3. We want to celebrate our history, heritage and shared culture.

We have so much to be proud of! One of the key arguments for MLUK it’s heritage – it’s been going since 1988. It’s a part of our history and would be a shame to lose it. However we have to find new ways of exploring the great men who came before us in the Leather Scene.

4. We want to Educate

We need to be able to communicate both to long term members, new faces, and LGBT+ (and straight) people outside our scene what the leather scene is about. What our shared values are and how we have lived those values in the past, now and how we plan to carry those values in the future. We have to target the never ending culture war that likes to make a talk-piece that ‘fetish people don’t belong at Pride’ when fetish men were at Pride before anyone else.


A proposal (of sorts)

So is there a better way to achieve these objectives?

I think there is. I have become sure that no amount of shrinking titles (such as making Mr leather England) or mentorship programmes (as promised last year by Mr Leather UK CIC Ltd) can fix what we have currently. We have to tear it down and build something new. So here’s some ideas about what models could offer the scene.

Masquerade!

Lets be clear – nothing is more encouragement for leathermen to bring their A-Game and work a crowd then a ‘best in show’ contest. We all know how much the current contests come down to how hot someone is – why not embrace the kitsch camp fun of a leather pageant?

Where the winner is the Leathermen that served the best looks and world the crowd the best that night. This title has no expectations – you get a sash to keep and nobody expects you to wave from an open top carriage at your own expense – although you can if you want! You can go to the European title and have a blast. Everyone needs to be on board with this being exactly what it is – entertainment.

We envision this being partly judged (scorecards ready!) and partly audience voted.
But the best part is this: it doesn’t matter who wins as long as everyone has a giggle.

Military precision

Of course this doesn’t fix the problem of exploring and celebrating new ideas. So we need to reach back into our history and elsewhere in the gay scene and bring back – the outstanding achievement concept.

This isn’t new, just look at the X awards – but it is missing something. It reminds me of the difference between military medal citations (which can be pages long, with minute detail around the actions taken and their tactical, strategic and individual impact on the ground) and the citation for political knighthoods that read as ‘for services to banking’.

If we wanted to get people to take actions that had a positive tactical, strategic and individual effect in the fetish scene, we need to be clear about what those actions were, and demonstrate how simple they are to take. We need to celebrate the actions – rather then venerate the person. Putting someone on a pedestal rarely ends well, and people who can’t step up and do things in the scene aren’t worth less than people who have that privilege.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t recognise the person at all- they would be taking home a trophy after all! But we must focus on the root of what we are trying to achieve – effecting positive behaviour change and empowering ‘ordinary’ leathermen, not club presidents, the most travelled or the ones with the most expensive gear.

Yet another title!

We also need to consider who is entering our contests. When was the last bootblack MLUK? I’ll wait. We need to offer the bootblacks – the great men who keep us looking shiny and conditioned an opportunity to show off their craft and educate leatherman on the magic they can work on gear thats a bit worse for wear!

The Bootblack Association of the British Isles has said they don’t want a full sash contest, but would be interested in a contest in the spirit of friendly competition where bootblacks work against the clock, with space for guys to watch and ask questions.

Our proposal

So we have an idea – a day of events where guys can strut their stuff on the runway, we can listen to our community’s greatest achievements and celebrate the great work being done – and champion both leather wearers and leather workers.

No expectations, no debt, no demands for de-sashing, no bullying, no resentment, no pressure. We can leave behind the terrible taste of the last few years and build something better that achieves what we need and that carries the spirit of London Leatherman- good vibes, community spirit and celebrating our heritage as Leatherman together.

We’re considering all the above and how it might add to the community. We’re seriously considering running something in October during London Leather Weekend as part of our big push to bring the weekend back to international prominence after so many years fallow.

I’d be glad to hear opinions – please drop me an email at president (at) londonleathermen.com or light me up at an event.

All the best,

Jack Holroyde

President, London Leathermen

10 thoughts on “On titles

  1. Thank you for this Jack, gonna need more than one glass for this…I have been described as many things… manically driven perhaps might be a better monicker in describing myself, than a narcissist lol.

    We’ve talked about this several times recently, Jack, as I have with those fine upstanding members of our country and regional clubs and groups.

    I have always had a very strong viewpoint on the whole matter of ‘titles’…what are they, what and who do they serve. I’m often asked ‘For tips on running for one’…I have a simple reply…They are NOT a pat of the back for anything you have done in the past they MUST only be seen as an opportunity to expand the community not just in terms of numbers but MORE importantly the QUALITY of the community…this is the TRUST the community puts into a title holder.

    We’ve all heard those candidates making this and that promise, to do this that and the other …and lets be honest, how many actually deliver, in many cases, the whole thing sucks them in and the result is some fail to acheive much at all, save a few photoshoots and a few socials in their immediate areas.

    The ‘problem’ as I see it for someone who I feel has stuck to their promises, and please correct me if I am wrong, is that the role is as an ambassador…the UK is simply too big …trust me I know…my bank manager knows…my doctor knows…my friends know !!. It is both invigorating and at the same time exhausting. It can crush your personal life, if you let it, if you take it too seriously you breathe it…and if you don’t, you retreat. I get told to slow down every week, maybe I am ‘manically driven’. The title, and trust me after nearly two and half years of it, has served me up the opportunity to deliver on all those promises I made, and more…a quick scan through my social media will explain why the most common thing I hear from people is ”Jon you are fucking everywhere !!” I am not sure that is a good thing, it allows me to engage very fully with a nationwide community better I feel, both those new and not so new to the community…but at what cost ?.
    And that’s the whole crux of the point you are making and that I concur with. I stand by my own record, and, not wanting to be arrogant, who would want to follow that quite frankly. I have been truly humbled by the trust placed in me to serve the community, springboarding such legacies as Leather 101, BLUF Birmingham etc. When I received an ‘X-Awards’ finalist nomination, I could only ask the question ‘How can I turn this into something for the the community’…I couldn’t answer that question, nor could others. Although recognition is a pleasant thing, it is NOT what ‘we’ do it for. I support the awards, simply for what they are…an award. I’ve never measured myself against anyone else in ‘title world’ I’m too much a ‘solo act’

    On the matter of ‘personal attack’, sometimes you have to reveal a greater ‘evil’ to dispell lesser speculation. That is when you know enough is enough, as you know I recently revealed something about my heritage I would rather not have had to do, to simply quash the ‘wokish’ criticisms…this last weekend in London I heard the word Jew three times and even Hebbie once, which is such an old fashioned slur, all at one event !!…just what I was wanting to avoid at all costs has now, just as I expected become another ‘rallying point’ I’m old enough to take this kind of shit.

    As you know yourself Jack, or any previous title holder who may be reading this, lack of acheivment is easy to attack, but those who do deliver provide a different challenge for those who might seek to criticise, and ignorance is very much the norm today

    I’m not making a very good case for a future Mr Leather UK title am I ? …maybe because right now, and I agree, I don’t see a clear and communitywide enthusiasm for it, and I have shared this with all those around the country who might have an investment in it, or at least a passing interest, sought their views, and respected their arguments.

    So what is the future then ? …in my opinion not a great one, but what concerns me above EVERYTHING is that a strip of leather is partly ‘destroying’ peoples lives, some are friends, I cannot tolerate this…even if just ONE person is negatively effected by this ‘bandolier’, then scrap it. It is not right that those who might see one path, whilst other’s another, should be subjected to any kind of nastiness, any kind of reproach, any kind of persecution. If the community opinion is that there is little or inconsistant value in it …don’t risk subjecting anyone else to it….EVER, or we will all have ‘blood on our hands’

    I respect those that would say ‘Scrap the sash’ … especially if they have been through it themselves. Others looking in from the ‘outside’ can only base it on what they have seen and witnessed themselves, so on that point I can sleep at night. I fear more for those who would unwittingly step into this role, as some have done, and ended up physically, emotionally and finacially exhausted…One previous Mr Leather UK said to me ‘I never go to London’..’why not’.. I asked…’Because they all fucking hate me’ came the reply…is this what we want ? of course not !!

    My humble suggestion is that those who would represent their communities, do so ONLY in the areas they actually are based. The UK is too big, too diverse, too lacking in synergy. Have regional ‘ambassadors’, who deal with regional issues, regional clubs, local MPS, regional communities. Only their regions’ elect them, as they would vote for a club president, not have some ‘dog show prize poodle’ parade that anyone and their prize poodle votes for on the night.

    I have nothing but complete respect for ALL those that seek whatever path in this matter, and trust me again, this is a conversation I have had with very many all across the UK, both currently active and not, as well as previous title holders
    BUT before anything else I would plead for better harmony from all those that would have an interest in this, too many have already suffered over this issue, and we need to build bridges and stop all this negativity.

    I’ve done it, so I speak from experience…would I ‘do it all again’, now that’s a good question !!, one I can’t answer right now, as I am encumbered, but I think many would easily speculate my response.

    Jon x

    1. I would say that a regionally elected ambassador is a Club President!
      Thanks for your comments.

      1. Indeed, so no need for titles at all then Jack ?
        As you said …recognise those who contribute, but not by adding to their work load, simply recognising it

  2. I like the spirit of the IML and IMBB titles… You won it, its up to you to decide what you want to do with it. For the IMBB title, yes you get a travel fund. But you’re not expected to use it, unless you want to. If all you do is go home and hang the sash up and not go anywhere at all during your title year, that’s OK too. For myself, I have title goals. My goals since winning Bootblack Europe 2020 and still with International Mr Bootblack 2022 are the same. To create a community of bootblacks in the UK and Europe that is truly inclusive. Bootblacking is niche. There aren’t that many of us. If we divide ourselves by gender, identity and affiliation further then we have too few of us to call ourselves a community. The thing I love about Bootblack community in the US is that it is just that. A community that accepts you just as you are, whatever your identity, gender, affiliation or style of Bootblacking. The other goal I have is to create a bootblack title for the UK. An inclusive title that anyone who calls themselves a bootblack can enter, whether they are from the gay leather scene, the fetish scene or whether they identify as male, female, trans, non-binary or agender. What form that title contest takes is yet to form. The biggest challenge for me is where to hold it and how to support it without one person being burnt out by the organising and continuance of it. I’d be glad to discuss this with anyone who would like to support this to happen, regardless of what community you come from. But I am invested in having buy-in from the gay leather community…. Because of the history of Bootblacking within it and within all leather regardless of gender

  3. (I’ve previously commented on Twitter, so apologies to anyone who thinks I’m just repeating myself)

    My own views on titles are hardly a secret; I spent some time caught right in the middle of the nastiness surrounding the creation of the MLUK, trying to broker things between some of the parties, and Jack is absolutely right about the loss of goodwill, and threats and destruction; I feel very much that the scene lost some very good people as a result, and that was a large part of my reaching my own conclusions.

    That said, while I’m generally against titles in their present form, if it’s handled in the way proposed and all involved are aware that something is essentially just a “best in show” Top Leather Totty contest, with no expectations, no pressure to be an ambassador, and so on, then why not?

    The problem with titles has often been that they can feel like a beauty contest, where a huge weight of expectations is put on the winner. And, with the best will in the world, there is no guarantee that someone who meets one set of criteria will meet another.

    You can be the hottest looking person, outgoing and able to wow people as “best in show” but still be hopeless at organising, or campaigning. Or you might look great in your gear, and able to perform in a bar, but suffer such crippling anxiety that doing the same in a Pride Parade is out of the question.

    So, why should we expect everything in one person.

    And, as I’ve said before, there are many people doing the things that make leather clubs tick; people who might not stand any chance of winning a title that’s judged as a beauty contest; as an overweight middle-aged queer, I’d not make the cut against the young and buff, but I’ve been doing community things for over 30 years.

    And those people, who diligently deal with the memberships for clubs, or make the effort to welcome new people when they first turn up at an event, or who work the cloakroom, or make the flyers or social media designs, they too deserve to be recognised, so I’m absolutely of the opinion that we should have something that rewards them.

    The question though is how? If I won the top Premium Bonds prize, I’d love to endow something that could set this up. The problem is that awards aren’t necessarily a free thing to organise. The X-Awards has a sponsor, and it has the advantage of being linked to a big event. I don’t know how the costs work out, but I imagine they’re adequately covered.

    The thing is, if you put aside £1,000, you’d be lucky to maybe get a 2.5% return on it per year; that’s just £25, which would probably not cover the cost of a single one of the X Awards that I have sitting here. You’d be running down the capital right away, which doesn’t help with establishing something.

    And if we have to fundraise as a community, with the best will in the world, there are probably higher priorities than dishing out awards.

    So, are there ways, if we want to reward people – and, as Jack suggested – for those rewards to help the clubs, perhaps moreso than the individuals, to find ways we can leverage resources we have amongst us?

    For example, for us to find people who may help with tech, or graphic design, or bookkeeping, or other sorts of goodwill, to provide something that a winner’s club will really benefit from? I think that might be a worthwhile thing to explore.

    1. Nigel, There is always the question asked ‘What is the point of a title ?’ as someone who has experienced very much both sides of the fence in terms of the positives and the particularly the negatives recently, of being that individual.

      There is an answer to that very question, as to it’s value, and I think it is a very good answer as to what it can bring….but you know what, after all the shit I have had to deal with from nasty individuals all trying to bob their heads up for attention, I will keep that answer to myself because quite frankly not even the strength of a positively focussed, motivated, ‘middle-aged queer’ can resist the ‘It’s not you it’s the title’ bullshit that some amuse themselves to propogate
      .
      The bridges that were supposedly burnt in the past, in reality never existed, my opinion is simply, support your local communities, focus on what you do yourself, for the community, fuck the rest of it, synergy is a construct, an ideal that doesn’t really exist. Trust no one, but those you know you can trust for sure

      So not an endorsement at all I guess,

      There is a reason that ‘sash’ is a four letter word, Very few IMHO have held a title that I have seen and can see now, that have made promises and commitments, have actually followed them through. Realising that they have defaulted, they look to attack others to draw attention away from their own ineptitude, or simply vanish.

      So we have to ask actually what’s the point of it all, titles don’t really bring people together, they only seem to generate criticism, a focus for attack of individuals who have tried. I cannot name more than a handful of individuals who have finished their title time happy, most end it angry, hurt, distrustful and emotionally scarred

      I’ll finish by saying that a title only seems to have value after it is gone, than when it is current. But usually by then the individual is so bitter and fucked off by the sheer belligerence of a minority, that is why they retreat and often dissapear.

  4. You say “it seemed like 50% of the scene told me I should be ‘de-sashed’ for the smallest perceived slight or ‘disrespecting the sash’ and the other 50% told me that I was a role model for all humanity”.

    I will point out the flaw in this, in that there is a sizeable part of the wide leather and fetish scene who sees the entire aspect of sash competitions as an unnecessary and vapid circus. Some men just do not care one at all – either about these competitions, or about the people who enter them. Many see them as merely representative of the people who think they have worth.

    Personally I find all of the talk around “community”, “representation” & “ambassadorship” to be idle bluster, invoked merely to manufacture importance for an entirely subjective popularity/beauty contest – a vehicle for a lucky individual to get an instant hit of Kardashian-style fame. This argument always seems to illicit a harsh putdown, but really you’ve said as much yourself – all the speeches and promises are there just to fabricate a platform to win – once you’ve won, you can do as you please with your sash.

    At the end of the day, it’s all about the winner getting the acclaim and perceived prestige of the title. The justifications of “for the community” come a distant second.

    If these competitions didn’t exist, if we didn’t have sash wearers at every event – would the leather scene be at all impoverished? I don’t think so. Personal connections make up a community – crowning someone as a figurehead does little to foster those real relationships and in many cases – as you have highlighted here – for the “chosen one” it actually hinders them.

    Personally, when I see a guy in a sash at an event, it’s a flag of “not aligned with my ideas of the scene” mixed with an awareness of how many guys will be wanting to be seen with the sash wearer – and I steer well clear. I’d rather invest my time in men who see the scene as a great leveller, with less need for status or prestige for its own sake.

    I doubt we’ll ever see the back of these things – the ingrained need for men to create hierarchies and titles is as just as prevalent amongst gay men as it is in the wider world – but I doubt they will ever have the importance that you perhaps wish for.

    1. Hi Steve,
      To push back on this – you obviously *do* care as you’ve just spent time composing 400 well thought out words on the topic.
      It does make me wonder whether despite me pouring everything into two and half thousand words I haven’t made it clear.

      I think the status quo of titles promotes vanity, arrogance and contempt. I am proposing a way of making a title that doesn’t. It’s only a ‘Mister’ title because it’s a tradition we have for decades, but it used to be a silly pageant that nobody took seriously and we’re going to make it a silly pageant that nobody takes seriously – complete with tacky satin sash and leather tiara.

      It’s only the *current crop* of titles that purport to represent all fetish people as ambassadors and forever uphold the honored constitution of the leather scene and be pure of heart and strong of deed that is so problematic. I use my experience of *doing it* to say just that.

      1. No, fair enough, it was clear on second reading – I do think that any kind of “reset” as you describe will soon end up back in the same position of overblown importance pretty quickly though – but the attempt might be worth trying.

        In response to your first comment – ehh, kinda in the same vein of reply as “you’re just jealous that you haven’t won one”. All your comment does is chill means that the only people who end up debating their existence are those who think they’re worthwhile, creating a closed loop of discussions.

        Yes, I cared enough to reply – but only in as much that sash competitions represent the antithesis of what I enjoy about gear and leather fetish. Everyone should feel that they can participate in the scene.

        True enough, contests have tried to grapple with that problem, by selecting “diverse” winners – but really its a sticking plaster over the main issue – which is that only one person gets to win. A bigger guy is picked one year – men of colour feel excluded. A young Black representative is picked the next year – older men feel excluded. These contest, by their very nature are mechanisms of exclusivity.

        Maybe it’s time to consign this “tradition” to the past.

        Thanks for the debate, anyway.

        1. I really need a subeditor to check over my writing.

          “All your comment does is chill discussion around title contests and means means that the only people who end up debating their existence are those who think they’re worthwhile, creating a closed loop of discussions.”

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