January 12, 2012 at 9:00 am EDT | by Joey DiGuglielmo
The leather lure

Many events are planned throughout the weekend. Visit leatherweekend.com for a complete list. Among the highlights:

Registration — starts at 4 p.m.
D.C. Boys of Leather Cocktail Party — 10 p.m.-2 a.m.
MAL bar crawl bus — 10 p.m.-2 a.m.

Leather Exhibit Hall — 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Leather Cocktails — 6:30-9 p.m.

Brunch — 10 a.m.-noon
Mr. MAL contest — 1-5 p.m.
Reaction Dance — 10 p.m.-5 a.m.

For being a leather newbie, D has done incredibly well.

The 43-year-old Pittsburgh resident known as Douglas Pamplin in his non-leather life competes simply as D on the leather circuit (he says it stands for his personal mantras of “dare,” “dream” and “deliver”). Last year was his first Mid-Atlantic Leather event and he beat six other East Coast contestants to win the title Mr. MAL. Not eligible to compete again this year, he says he’ll have more time to enjoy the event.

“It really comes down to just the judge’s choice,” he says. “I think it was something about my personality and some way perhaps I represented what the community was looking for. But when you put yourself out there, you’re a winner already because that’s a huge thing to do.”

D — Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather 2011 (Photo courtesy Douglas Pamplin)

D, whose partner of 15 years attends with him but isn’t particularly into leather, went on to represent the region at International Mr. Leather in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend (he was first runner up out of 53 contestants) and has also been to other leather events all over the world. He happily indulged many questions about the lure of leather in gay circles during a 45-minute phone chat this week with the Blade.

He got into the leather scene about four years ago through what he calls a “pansexual” community he discovered in Florida centered around an event called Beyond Leather. Around 2010 he knew he wanted to compete in title events and he became Mr. Pittsburgh Leather Fetish last year, a win that enabled him to compete at MAL.

He says part of the appeal has been finding others who understand both being gay and fetish appeal, both taboo topics, he says, among many African Americans.

“They think it’s all about sex or all about kink and they’ll say things like, ‘That nasty stuff you guys do,’ so that has been the driving force for me. During my title year I’ve felt it’s important to show people that we’re people who care, who have responsible jobs, yes we have brains and we come in all different sizes, shapes and colors and sex is not our number one priority in life. We don’t mind it. We enjoy safe, consensual kink but yes, there are those who think it’s just weird or all about pain … you can always joke with people and say, ‘I bet you enjoy getting your nipples pinched or getting smacked on the butt.’ This is just exploring that side of things but it doesn’t define who we are.”

D says there’s some overlap among gay and straight leather communities but MAL is mostly gay. There are a few different circuits of leather competition on the gay scene — it could involve an educational presentation, demonstrating BDSM techniques such as whipping or flogging or it could be more about modeling and being interviewed, which is what MAL focuses on. Though MAL is ostensibly a regional event, D says he met people last year from all over the country. There is no counterpart on the West Coast. He says San Francisco’s legendary Folsom Street Fair, which he’s attended, is much different.

“[Folsom] has toned down a great deal,” D says. “They’re really marketing it as a family event now. They’ve toned down a lot of stuff that would have been considered pretty wild in the past. MAL is definitely a respectful place. People are themselves. You see men in chaps or their vests with no shirts and you had your pups and people on leashes and people with piercings and tattoos but nothing that would make you go, ‘This is crazy.’”

He’s also been to leather events in the notoriously free-spirited Berlin. He was surprised to find it being held in a largely residential area and with less of a “family vibe” than Folsom.

D says he enjoys leather because of its “empowering” effect.

“It doesn’t really do anything for me sexually,” he says. “It’s just a sense of empowerment that’s unlike anything you get in normal clothes. Some people may feel the same thing in a suit and tie, so depending on what it does for you, that’s the appeal. It could be the smell, the feel. You really have to talk to the person to know what angle they’re into.”

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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