The incongruous Mr. Leather
One of Ottawa’s most exciting exhibitions is the annual event known as Mr. Leather. Meet its reigning champ — a surprisingly shy, inward inductee.
Photographs by Brigitte Bouvier
Isaac Wesley — who holds the title of Mr. Leather Ottawa — is wearing the plainest of clothes: jeans and a T-shirt. It is a hot summer evening and, as Wesley explained, one can get rather warm in leather. So he decided against pulling together an outfit from among the three duffel bags’ worth of leather gear he owns.
Even though he is not wearing leather (at least that a reporter can see), Wesley is, in his demeanour and, in fact, his entire being, very much Mr. Leather Ottawa.
Being Mr. Leather Ottawa is not quite what you might think, though. Yes, the award is given out each November at a party for people of any gender and any sexual orientation who are, according to organizers, “interested in leather, fetishes, kink, or just hot fun.” And yes, one of the things competitors must do is stage a sexual fantasy scene in front of hundreds of people. But the title winner becomes not only an icon for Ottawa kink; he is also a community leader, doing everything from helping collect toys for needy children to educating people about safe-sex practices.
It’s that community role Wesley takes to heart.
“I’ve found what I was looking for,” says Wesley. “It’s about having a purpose. It’s about giving back.”
“Giving back” is a theme that keeps coming up. For him, being Mr. Leather Ottawa is about being, as he puts it, “Tony the Tiger on the cereal box,” the face connected with what it means to give back to the community.
Giving is something Wesley learned at home. He was born in Ottawa to a military father and Cree mother. He talks fondly of his parents and the way they brought him up — about values and obligations, hard work and sacrifice, and just getting on with it.
His mother, he recalls, had a disability that kept her in a wheelchair, “but she never allowed it to impede her.”
Wesley says his parents fueled his desire to run for the Mr. Leather Ottawa title, because he saw it as a way to do some good.
His mother died last year, about a month before he won the title.
Mr. Leather title holders wear a vest and/or a sash. Wesley has decided to honour his mother by having his name inscribed on his vest as Isaac Wesley Koohsis. Koohsis is a Cree name his mother called him. He also has his name spelled out in Cree syllabics on the vest.
He says his father is supportive and has come to leather events. “Everyone says you are one of the luckiest guys here to have a father who comes in and can be totally comfortable,” he says.
Wesley, who works for the federal government, says his work environment is supportive, too. Everyone at work knows he’s Mr. Leather Ottawa. “They were, like, ‘Have you got pictures?’” he says. “Even my boss!”
“Leather” has for a long time been a visible and well-known subculture in the gay community. Its aficionados often like “sex with an edge,” role-playing and other forms of kink.
Ottawa has had its own leather club since 1975, when the Ottawa Knights, which run Mr. Leather Ottawa, were founded.
Murray Lavigne, the club’s vice-president, says that over the years, the Knights evolved from being largely a sex club to being a combination social club and service club. The Mr. Leather Ottawa event, for example, is a charity fundraiser, and in addition to doing education and outreach, for 37 years, the Knights participate in Toys for Tots.
“Last year, we raised $800 cash and (collected) 2,000 toys,” says Lavigne.
It was the community involvement that attracted Wesley to the club, though he was already a fan of leather. An early boyfriend introduced him to leather when he was about 19 years old.
“He had a set of chaps and a harness and I thought he looked hot in it, so I went out and bought myself a harness and chaps and we explored the sexual part of it,” he says.
But it didn’t go much further than that. “I saw it as being part of a fetish, and not something you wear in public.”
When Wesley moved back to Ottawa in May 2011 after nearly a decade in Portland, a small town between Ottawa and Kingston, he looked for a way to reconnect. A friend suggested he contact the Ottawa Knights. He did, and immediately clicked with the club and its members, particularly its ideals of respect, openness, fair play and community service.
Within weeks, club members were urging him to seek the Mr. Leather Ottawa title. So, he took the plunge and won.
As Mr. Leather Ottawa, Wesley has been front and centre in a number of events. For example, he represented Ottawa at the Mr. International Leather competition last May in Chicago. And, of course, he lends his name and face to a number of education and charity events.
He wants to continue his community activism, though at a slower pace, after he relinquishes the title. One project he wants to take on involves raising HIV and AIDS awareness, and he has started taking a “Mr. Friendly” stuffed puppy to events for just that purpose. (Mr. Friendly is an AIDS awareness and anti-stigma campaign spearheaded by a Michigan leather man, David J. Watt.)
“When the weekend comes in November, I’m not going to step down,” he says. “I’m going to step aside.”
Isaac Wesley, Mr. Leather Ottawa, is an icon for Ottawa kink — and a community leader.
Mr. Leather 101
- The annual Mr. Leather Ottawa competition is billed as the largest event of its kind in Canada, and one of the largest in North America. This year’s party — it’s the 20th anniversary of Mr. Leather Ottawa — takes place on the weekend of Nov. 9-11 at St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts, 310 St. Patrick St. It’s also a charity event, and every year, the Mr. Leather Ottawa titleholder chooses the beneficiary. This year, it’s Bruce House.
- Events include a “Meet the Meat” gathering on the Friday, a gear swap, and a “survivors’ brunch” on Sunday. But the main event is the Mr. Leather Ottawa competition, which takes place on the Saturday night.
- People competing for the title are put through their paces with three on-stage events in front of a crowd. One event focuses on fetish wear, one on showing some skin, and in the final one, the contestants are asked to act out a sexual fantasy.
- Competitors must be 21 or over, live in the national capital region and attend all the events in the schedule.
- The winner, chosen by a panel of judges, becomes Mr. Leather Ottawa and, in addition to being a community spokesman, is eligible to compete in the Mr. International Leather contest.