GET YOUR LEATHER ON!
Jeffrey Payne, International Mr. Leather 2009, will see you in Chicago!
“The Windy City”? Whatever… This Memorial Day Weekend, Chicago will be the hottest city in the world as thousands of leathermen, leatherwomen, and their admirers from all over the globe convene for International Mr. Leather 2010. It’s an extra long weekend– and every leather-clad minute of it promises to be packed. IML 2010 kicks off with The IML Pre-Party on Thursday, May 27, and the grand finale is The Black and Blue Ball at Chicago’s Excalibur Nightclub on Monday night. In between, there are educational seminars, meet and greets, merchandise marts, silent auctions, and many, many parties to represent a wide range of our community’s assorted fetishes and lifestyles. (Rubber, Uniform, BDSM, and more…). The climactic Contest to select the 32nd man to represent the worldwide Leather community will be on Sunday the 30th, from 5PM to 9PM at The Congress Theater, followed by all-night Victory Party at The House of Blues.
Mr. International Leather, considered to be Big Daddy of all the Leather events in the word, is all about leather awareness and education, unity in the leather and GBLT communities, and… celebration! Now, a little bit of history: IML’s forerunner was the 1970’s “Mr. Gold Coast” bar contest held at Chicago’s Gold Coast leather bar, owned by Chuck Renslow and his then-partner, Dom Orejudos. As the “Mr. Gold Coast” contest became one of the bar’s most popular events, it expanded to a larger venue in 1979. Along with the change of venue came a change in name to “International Mr. Leather”, and what was born as an annual bar contest gradually became the major happening it is
today. IML has expanded from 12 contestants its first year to approximately 50 or 60 today, with Contestants from a number of countries who encompass all races, genders and kinks. This year, International Mr. Leather has secured the prestigious Hyatt Regency Chicago to host the event. All IML Contestants are either the Winner of a bar, local regional leather contest, or have been sponsored by a leather bar, business, club, or organization.
Jeffrey Payne is Mr. Dallas Eagle 2009, Mr. Texas Leather 2009, and International Mr. Leather 2009. To state the obvious, this Texan has had quite a busy year– traveling to five continents, 14 countries, 34 cities and 47 events over the last year representing the Leather community. At this year’s IML, Payne is one of nine envied Judges for the selection of IML 2010, as well as the Host of “The Texas Party: Deep in the Heart of Leather” with Jack Duke, Mr. Texas Leather 2010 on Saturday night, May 29. The party will be a fundraiser for Hearing from the Heart, a project of Payne’s Sharon St. Cyr (SCC) Fund to help people in our community with hearing aids who can’t afford them and offer grants to events to provide sign interpreters for hearing impaired and deaf individuals. Originally from Maine, Jeffrey Payne relocated to Louisiana at the young age of 3 after the death of his mother, Sharon St. Cyr. He grew up in a Louisiana orphanage, going on to attend Louisiana Tech University and settling down in New Orleans. Circumstances (a.k.a. Hurricane Katrina) relocated Jeffrey to Dallas, Texas. With a BA from Texas A&M University, until recently Jeffrey worked as a Human Resource Director for a Fortune 500 company. Upon being selected International Mr. Leather 2009, Mr. Payne now devotes his time to living his dream of serving as a full-time Ambassador for the Leather Community. He works night and day through the SCC Fund to create awareness and raise money for the many charitable organizations that his SSC Fund supports. Jeffrey is married to David Roy, who co-founded The SCC Fund. Together they share their home in Dallas with their boy, adam, and their four children: miniature dachshunds Isabella & Lucy, and miniature poodles Korbin & Konner. Payne appeared at Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend (CLAW) in April 2009. During CLAW’s International Leather Family Dinner, Payne spoke to the crowd about his experiences as a role model in our community. It couldn’t be easy to bring an entire ballroom of leathermen and leatherwomen to complete silence. Jeffrey did just that, with his empowering yet affable persona, as well as his provocative story about his friendship with a very smart, HIV-positive, 8-year old boy who is currently living in an orphanage.
Jeffrey Payne is every bit as charismatic and, shall we say… “easy on the eyes” in person as he is in those eye-popping, fund-raising calendar photos you can see on his official site. Before heading off to Chicago, Payne spoke with Jed Ryan about his reign as International Mr. Leather, the state of the Leather community, and his post IML plans:
JR: Hi, Jeffrey! It was great meeting you at CLAW. So, first off, what was the greatest thing about holding the Title of International Mr. Leather 2009?
JP: I have been asked that question quite a bit lately as my title year comes to an end. I still have the hardest time answering it, though. This entire year has been an incredible opportunity, and on so many levels the term “greatest” can be used. The smaller events, the larger events, the fundraisers, the parades – how could I possibly select “the”
greatest thing? So I’ll choose to answer your question in this manner: The greatest thing about holding the title of International Mr. Leather has been the fact that I began the title year with my husband, David, and I am ending it with my husband, David. But what makes it so great is the fact we not only are ending the title year together, we are ending it with a stronger commitment and devotion to one another.
JR: On the flipside, what was the most challenging or most difficult aspect about it?
JP: Time zones. It was extremely difficult to keep up with the time zones I was in and to maintain some type of schedule. The worst was over a ten-day span of time in which I had been in so many different time zones, I didn’t know if it was morning or evening without looking outside to see if it was dark or light outside. The difference in hours
was an adjustment of 14 hours back and forth between time zones. I would show up to an event ready for breakfast and it was dinnertime, or vice-versa. (Laughing) Seriously, though, I felt that at each event I needed to give them all of who I was and deliver a speech or judge a contest with the clearest mind possible and my being tired was not an
acceptable excuse in my book. I felt the community needed to know I was fully committed to their event. So my ability to take care of myself and my health and getting the appropriate amount of sleep was a challenge.
JR: No doubt! In your opinion, where does the Leather lifestyle stand now? A lot of guys have speculated that a new generation is discovering the scene, and we’re due for a renaissance. Do you think that’s true?
JP: There is always another generation discovering the scene and that will never change. I remember years ago when I was “the new generation.” I’m not sure I would say we were due for a renaissance, however. I think it just comes down to “change.” Change is inevitable. We just have to work together to ensure that whatever change we experience as a community is change in a positive and progressive manner. Change just for the sake of changing isn’t necessarily good. We have to actively guide the direction of change, with open minds and open hearts.
JR: What can all of us do in the Leather community do, on a day-to-day basis, to keep the lifestyle thriving?
JP: Communicate face-to-face. Wait, I’ll take it one step further and say, “effectively communicate face-to-face.” I believe with the onset of blogs, websites, text messaging and instant media communication, we have virtually lost our ability to effectively communicate face-to-face. That is why I enjoy traveling to so many communities and meeting the people who make up our community face-to-face. There is that human element to communicating that is missing more and more these days with so much technology taking over. Don’t get me wrong, I blog, I have a website and I use email like there is no tomorrow; however, I still make it a point to communicate with people face-to-face. With the written word, we may sometimes lose the essence of what a person is saying because we have lost the facial and body expressions of how they are saying something and we loss the inflection of a person’s voice when they make a point or show passion for a topic. So on a day-to-day basis, I would say we should work on getting out in the community more and effectively communicating with one another, face-to-face.
JR: One of the events at IML is to benefit the Hearing from the Heart project of the SCC Fund, to help people in our community pay for their hearing aids. How has this become one of your chosen causes?
JP: Let me start by saying, I am fortunate to be a part of this community. They have simply embraced this cause wholeheartedly with such vigor and support. My husband and I began the Sharon St. Cyr Fund (SSC Fund) after we purchased my own hearing aids. They cost $5,000. I remember hitting the floor in amazement over the cost. Then it was a double whammy when I found out my insurance would not cover them. David and I are fortunate in that we are able to afford them; however, there are too many people in our community who need hearing aids and simply cannot afford them. So David and I decided we would do what we could to change this by creating the SSC Fund. We also supplement the cost of having sign interpreters at events to ensure the deaf community is able to participate and enjoy events as well.
JR: You were certainly one of the most admired men at CLAW this year! What was your most memorable moment from the weekend?
JP: CLAW was very exciting this year. I had a great time. I have to admit the most memorable moment was when I spoke at the dinner. To approach the stage and have the very men and women I admire in our community stand up and applaud for me before I uttered a word was humbling and very surreal, to say the least. I have spent years with so many of these people, admiring them, hoping to emulate them in some form or fashion, and they were standing for me! That was a moment I will never forget. Then to share my story about what had transpired that day, speaking about being HIV positive, my eight-year-old friend Darrell at the Children’s Home, and our community and how all of these things share this incredibly beautiful bond. To convey to everyone how each of those things affects the others, how they affect our individual journey and our journey as a community. That was truly a moment I will always remember.
JR: A lot of guys look at Leathermen as the epitome of masculinity and sex appeal. As a bona fide expert on the subject, what makes a guy sexy?
JP: You can ask a million guys that same question and you will receive a million different answers. So I can’t speak for everyone on that subject, only for myself. If you want to know what I believe makes a guy sexy, just look at my husband – intelligent, giving, supportive, humorous and he also “gets” my humor. The fact that all of this is rolled up into a drop-dead gorgeous man, just makes it even better! But with anyone, I find a man hot as long as he is true to himself, respectful of others and understands what being “real” is all about. Therein lies the true essence of sexiness to me – knowing what being “real” is all about.
JR: In your speech at CLAW you were very open about being HIV positive. As a role model for our community, what’s the most important piece of advice you have for those who are living with the virus?
JP: Keep living and keep moving forward! My HIV status does not define me as a man. How I live my life, how I treat other people, how I strive to live by example each day are what will define me in the long run, not my HIV status. Honestly, there are days in which I struggle with the medical issues of being HIV positive; that is to be expected.
However, the manner in which I handle those issues and overcome those obstacles are what is important. But that is the same scenario with all issues and obstacles I face. Face it head on, deal with it and keep moving.
JR: I agree! Finally, what are your plans for the rest of the year, after the new IML is crowned?!
JP: I will be doing the same thing I have always done: Working within our community, attending events across our globe, building bridges, working with the deaf and hearing communities to ensure we continue to move forward and continuing to work with the SSC Fund to ensure the mission of the Fund is reached each and every single day. And I
definitely will be spending some much needed time with my husband and family.
It’s not to late to go to International Mr. Leather! Visit the official IML site at www.IMRL.com.
Visit Jeffrey Payne’s official site at www.IML2009.com where you can see photos, learn about his philanthropic efforts, buy his hot fund-raising calendar, and more!!!