Gael (he/him) is a Belgian architect, leather man, biker,activist, and lovely husband. When he arrived in the local Belgian leather scene, he directly brought his style, charisma and kindness with him. People were directly fond of him and so he was elected Mister Leather Belgium2020.
Gael has his own power to bring many cultures into one persona. Always smiling and open to welcome people, he got the attention of the International Mister Leather (IML) jury in Chicago who elected him International Mister Leather 2022, and we can only agree. Let’s meet him, shall we?
You just spent two years being Mister Leather Belgium. How was your experience as title holder during the pandemic
“One week after my election at Darklands in 2020, the world went into lockdown. Those certainly were insecure times back then. We weren’t able to go to events or activities, I somehow found a way to work on my project #WeAreFetish. It became a digital platform that promotes inclusion within the fetish scene. It took almost a year before we were able to go to events, but even then, it was full of restrictions. Getting back to normal life started just a few weeks before my step down at Darklands 2022. Being a sash holder during the pandemic was definitely a challenge because it felt like I couldn’t do what I intended to do. When you get elected, you start planning trips within Europe to show up at events as much as you can and be a representative of the Belgian fetish community. You want to collect funds for charity, which was very difficult because you couldn’t physically meet for a few months, or even a year. Right after Darklands, I had to deal with isolation, and hoping COVID wouldn’t catch one of my close ones. We felt helpless watching the bad news on television. Social media was definitely the place to be, but at the same time it was a depressing place for all of us.”
Why did you decide to take part in the IML election? Was it the same reason as for taking part in the Mister Leather Belgium election?
“It’s a tradition for a Belgian Mister Leather to first take part inthe Mister Leather Europe (MLE) election, which I should have done when I traveled to Nice so Fetiche in France last November. But, for unknown reasons the election had been canceled and I am not sure how this would have worked out this year to send two Belgian Misters to MLE. Because my Belgian title came to an end after more than two years, and IML would happen three weeks after Darklands, it felt like a nice way of ending my sash career. You only get one chance in your life as a sash holder to participate in an international competition like IML; I would always have regretted it for not going. In the first place, I went for the experience of a fetish event outside of Europe. In the US, they talk about ‘brotherhood’ and I really felt that in Chicago. Besides that, I also went to promote #WeAreFetish overseas as much as I could. For my part, I never went with the idea that I could win the competition. That’s probably the reason why I was more relaxed during the whole IML week, than I was in Antwerp for my election, or even at my step down.
You often attribute your qualifications to the panda. Can you tell us more about it?
“It has more of a symbolic meaning to me. The panda is Black, White, and Asian. With my ethnical background of being a fusion of European, Chinese, and Mauritian blood, the panda was the best mascot I could think of. And in the end, who doesn’t like a cuddly looking panda that is clumsy at the same time…”
During your reigning years as Mister Leather Belgium you created #WeAreFetish. Can you tell us more about this initiative?
“We are a community, but we don’t always behave as one. #WeAreFetish is a project that stands for the celebration of diversity, no matter your skin color, social background, or kinks that turn you on. It started as a simple hashtag that showed your support for inclusion. And to give that project more visibility, I started with small interviews of people who caught my attention by being present and different in the community. To me, it’s all about supporting the whole fetish community, and not only those that are just like you. Because I didn’t want this project to stop after stepping down as Mister Leather Belgium, my husband and I turned #WeAreFetish into a nonprofit organization. As long as it is needed we will work on inclusive #WeAreFetish events, socials, and activities around the world.”
How does it feel to be International Mister Leather? Especially knowing you brought back the title to Europe after such a long time.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect the title. All the 59 other contestants deserved the spot as well.Personally, it didn’t feel like a win for Europe, but all my friends reminded me of the last time that it happened was in 2011, so I get the point why all Europeans were going crazy.That being said, being the first Belgian, with Asian background, was a win for the world. I am proud to be the proof that fusion can make a difference and win an international title.”
Have you noticed a difference between the American and the European leather community?
“There are definitely differences. Europeans tend to dress in formal leather most of the time. You could immediately pick them out a group, just by the full leather looks. Americans, however, like to combine their leather looks with casual style or bar wear. Another thing we’re not used to in Europe is stripping down to jockstraps on stage. It was,very liberating though…It’s about showing off how comfortable you feel in your own skin, and it has nothing to do with the muscles you might have. Confidence doesn’t come with looks. Besides the ranking I ended in, I had an amazing time.It’s a big organization and they did everything they could to make us literally shine on and off stage. The people, the handlers, the team, they are very committed and helpful.”
What can we expect from you as International Mister Leather? What will be your main projects?
“Because I didn’t get the chance to travel as much as I wanted to as Mister Leather Belgium, I will definitely travel a lot this year. I am still working on a major schedule for the next months, which is a big challenge. People don’t realize it’s a massive job to organize travels abroad, especially those outside of Europe. Searching and booking transatlantic flights doesn’t happen in a few minutes and getting in touch with different organizations takes time as well.But I am happy to have a flexible job that allows me to do all of that. Besides traveling,I for sure will keep working on #WeAreFetish and use my title to bring the message of diversity to the world.”
Do you have advice for the booming and vibrant generation of fetishists that is coming into our community?
“I always say that getting into fetish isn’t a marathon. Do as you feel like it, step by step, and don’t get fooled by social media. Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook are for sure the best ways to get inspiration and to get in touch with kinksters from everywhere, but it can also build a lot of pressure on yourself. Buying gear costs a lot of money, so it’s good to get advice from people who have been in the scene for a while. You don’t want your first fetish moments ruined by bad purchases or by going to events that didn’t meet your expectations.”