Goodbye 2023, hello 2024! As our annual calendar of community events kicks off again, so do the titleholder competitions. As in previous years, this year will again see a fresh batch of starry-eyed hopefuls each vying for a community title. And guess what? this year, I’m one of them. In doing so, I’ve discovered far too many people either don’t see the point of titles, or miss the point entirely.
Decades ago, before the formation of fetish-focused community clubs, groups, and associations, our community was no more than occasional gatherings of like-minded folk, living our fetish lives through word of mouth. With little unity, cohesion, or sense of direction, we gathered in the shadows under a constant risk of persecution, disease, and stigma. The formation of clubs created a safe space to see and be seen, share our voices, and create a community. Those who stepped up to lead the change helped pave the way for the community we are part of today.
The introduction of titles helped create and foster a culture that promotes stepping up and inspiring others to lead in their own unique way. They’re a powerful showcase of individuals who have found the confidence and courage to put themselves out there and speak up. They give existing and budding activists a space to share ideas, with the possibility of a title that can help open doors and turn those ideas a reality. They inspire participants and viewers to dig deeper into themselves and take a step out of their comfort zone, which in turn, may inspire others to do the same.
Naturally, that’s my personal take. I know quite a few people who share it, but quite a few who do not. When I first told people I was competing for Mr. Dublin Leather this year, reactions varied from confusion to disbelief, even verging on disappointment. It seems many shrug at the very idea of having ‘misters’ in the first place. Many claim titleholder competitions are a waste of time and focus when there are more important issues to tackle; they see them as no more than ego-led popularity contests. Very often, they say they aren’t inclusive enough, keeping people out rather than letting people in. These are all important points. But one question begs to be asked: What are these people doing about it? It’s easy to miss the point of titles when you’re too busy throwing shade at a problem than taking action to fix it. Perhaps we all need to throw a little less shade, and more of ourselves into the community.
“A title isn’t a prize – it’s a promise.”
Those who focus on titles are missing the point of titles in the first place. A community can only evolve and grow by having conversations about what matters, and by giving people the opportunity to speak up. With no formal structure to our dynamic and evolving community, titles present a means for a diverse community to find and empower future community leaders to make a difference. Personally, I feel the more titles the better, and the more inclusive competitions are, the greater the conversation becomes, with the whole community benefiting. Those limiting participants or boycotting competitions contribute to a problem, rather than help create a solution. These events are about encouraging people to step out and speak up. It’s not about who owns a title. It’s about what they do with it to serve the whole community. It’s not about one person’s specific title or pronouns – it’s about the promise they represent to you and those around you.
The sash or medal is not an accessory to be coveted but is a token of a community’s trust. Winning a title means winning a vote of confidence from community peers and making a promise to honour your community every day, every single time you put the sash or medal on. It’s not a prize to be won, it’s a promise to be kept. You become an official ambassador for your community and your cause, as a way to gain community visibility and attention for the matters you care about. But it’s not the only way.
“You don’t need a title or someone’s permission to make a positive difference.”
Countless people in the community have no interest in competing. Many competed but didn’t win. There are also those who never even get the opportunity to do so. So, do they all lose the right to speak? Not. No one should have to compete for a title to feel they gain to speak up about what matters to them.
Each of us gets to define who we are, and who we want to be. When it comes to your professional titles, pronouns, or even your fetish name – you get to choose how to define yourself. By doing so, you tap into the power of your unique identity and share it with the world. You do not need anyone’s permission to be who you are or speak up about what matters to you. By constantly looking outwards to other people, be it your family, partner, work colleagues, or ‘Misters’ to speak for you, you’re losing sight of who you are and of your voice. Nothing will change for the better, unless you look inward, and use your voice to create the change you seek. Whether in a titleholder competition or life, before you root for anyone else, you have to root for yourself first. If you don’t feel like you’d vote for yourself, no one else will, either. As I’ve mentioned in a past column, each of us is a work in progress. Our community, too, is a work in progress. As such, it requires each of us to do the work, to make things better. And in that sense, we all share a responsibility to contribute. We are all misters.
Achieving the things we want requires stepping outside the comfort of the things we have, and taking a big risk. Whether it’s starting a conversation with a stranger, buying your first piece of gear, going to your first fetish event, or competing for a community title, each of us can sit around waiting for things to happen, or we can do something about it. Whatever the outcome, taking action means taking ownership of your inner ‘Mr., Ms., or Mx.’ However you choose to ‘compete’ in life, the key is being a participant, rather than just an observer. The real competition is only with yourself. And by stepping out onto your life’s stage, you’ve already won.
Let me ask you this:
Would you vote for yourself? And if so, why?
What issues matter most to you in the community?
How might you make your own difference to make things better?