Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend
Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill
400 New Jersey Ave., N.W.
Other events to be held at Glorious Health Club (2120 West Virginia Ave., N.E.), the D.C. Eagle (3701 Benning Rd., N.E.), Green Lantern (1325 Green Ct., N.W.) and the 9:30 Club (815 V St., N.W.).
Full details at leatherweekend.com
Friday, Jan. 15
Registration (3-10 p.m.)
MIR’s Rubber Meet and Greet (7-9 p.m.)
Grunt (10 p.m.-2 a.m.)
Impact (10 p.m.-3 a.m.)
CODE (10 p.m.-4 a.m.)
Sat., Jan. 16
Puppy Park 8 (11 a.m.-1 p.m.)
Onyx Fetish Gear cocktails and auction (1-6 p.m.)
Leather Cocktails (7-9 p.m.)
Parade of Colors line-up (8:15 p.m.)
MAL Uniform League Party (10 p.m.-2 a.m.)
Primal FxCK (10 p.m.-4 a.m.)
CODE (10 p.m.-4 a.m.)
Sun., Jan. 17
Brunch (10-11:30 a.m.)
Mr. Leather contest (1-4 p.m.)
BLUF (breeches and leather uniform fan club) (4-9 p.m.)
Dark & Twisted (closing dance) (10 p.m.-4 a.m.)
One thing leather lovers and BDSM enthusiasts are sure to find at the 45th annual Mid-Atlantic Leather event this weekend is a mix of all ages. While organizations of all kinds from churches to fraternity groups and more struggle to recruit millennials (those born after 1980), local leather club members say enticing younger members hasn’t been a problem.
“We have a very, very even cross section of all ages,” says Todd White, a member of the local Centaur MC Club, which runs the event. “We still have the 21-year-olds who will come in reeking of the latest Versace cologne and run and buy a harness. That kind of warms my heart because that was me at one time. There’s still a sense that this is where everybody is and this is where I want to be. … We still have them coming in and we all know it because we all started there. Then as you mature and grow, you start figuring out for yourself if you just like the feel of leather or if you’re just really a kinkster at heart.”
White says the event tends to skew slightly older in anniversary years when attendees who used to attend regularly will come out for special occasions but maybe not attend every year.
“And then other times you see a spike in the crowd and the lobby feels a little younger,” White says. “I’m not quite sure what causes that spike. It’s just one of those events where everyone can feel comfortable whether you’re in a suit and tie or you’re in a jock or a harness or anything else. You come through here and you will run into people you could have a cocktail with and feel comfortable.
Kyle Collins is 26 — you have to be 21 to attend MAL — and has been going for the last four years. Collins is the co-chair for D.C. Leather Pride and co-planned a party for Thursday night with the Highwaymen TNT. His group is also planning the BLUF party, back for a second year, on Sunday.
Collins says some MAL events draw older crowds and others tend to skew younger but it’s “overall a good mix.”
“Our community has a bit of an age gap at the moment as a result of losing so many men to HIV/AIDS,” he says. “That age gap can be daunting for younger men and make it harder to find ways to connect.”
He also says technology has been a factor.
“Now leather gear and toys can be bought online without ever leaving your house, so while many millennials are interested in the community, we face no hurdles in finding the best way to engage and interact with men who are interested in our community.”
White says that can be an MAL advantage in some ways, however. The conference will offer thousands who will attend at least some part of the weekend (the 836 rooms at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill are, as usual, sold out though many share rooms) a chance to handle the merchandise before buying.
“MAL’s vendor mart is a wonderful place because you can really see and touch the leather rather than ordering it online,” he says. “That’s the one part of the event where you do tend to see some straight folks too. I’d say less than one percent of the package holders are straight, but they do like to come check out the vendor mart.”
Josh Pennington is 31 and one of the younger members of the Centaur MC club. He lived in the D.C. area for years but moved to Newport News, Va., last year for work. He still comes to Washington regularly and keeps his membership active. He’s been attending MAL for about 10 years. He says more millennials attend than did in his early years.
“It’s been steadily increasing,” he says. “My first one, I felt like more of a minority but as time has progressed, there’s been more equal distribution. I think MAL is an event where people go and word of mouth travels. It’s just a good, well-balanced, welcoming event and that’s what draws people. As far as the community goes, that’s just the natural evolution. You have to get younger people as the older generation moves on.”
Some folks who attend leather events elsewhere report similar experiences.
Neil Maciejewski Johnson, a gay San Francisco resident, has been to the Folsom Street Fair, a well-known San Francisco BDSM event held every September, many times and says there’s no lack of millennials.
“I would say they tend to be more the spectators than the exhibitionists,” he says. “There are some who are showing skill and getting into the scene, but the 40-and-over crowd is the one really driving the entertainment.”
One area that has struggled a bit at MAL is the Mr. Leather contest, which White organizes. Last year only five competed. This year eight have registered so far. White says in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when the contest was held at Tracks, it was not uncommon for there to be 30 contestants. While interest in MAL overall has not shifted — if anything organizers have worked to keep it at about 800 full-package holders despite offers from the Hyatt to offer substantially more — why has the contest proven less popular? White says it’s an overall shift in community thinking.
“I think by the mid-‘90s the community kind of asked the question, ‘Why do we have all these leather title holders?’ In some ways it was easier to be a titleholder then. There wasn’t Facebook, there wasn’t this instant snapshot of what was going on in your life or what you might be up to, so the titleholders tended to be these real muscle gods who looked like they just stepped out of Tom of Finland. … Then it started to shift more to community service but that’s slowly kind of backing out too and there’s a middle ground we’ve finally started to find. … There’s been a bit of a similar thing with some of the drag contests as well. Back in the heyday, contests overall were more heavily participated in.”
Even with overall attendance strong, it’s inevitable that trends will continue to shift over time, regulars say.
“The changes reflect the way the community changes,” Pennington says. “Like lately we’ve had way more puppies. The puppy movement is big right now so we have more events that cater to that group. The organizers do a great job of reading the audience and adjusting things to fit.”