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An Apology to International Mr. Leather and the Leather Community

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I need to apologize. I fucked up. And I'm sorry.

Last week I wrote a piece about my experience at my first International Mr. Leather. The piece was intended to be a discussion about gender identity, transphobia, and what integration looks like as LGBT (IQQA, etc.) rights continue to progress in our society. My experience at IML was referenced solely as a jumping off point for this discussion.

Unfortunately, the piece was hurtful a lot of people, many who thought that my intent all along was to malign and misrepresent the leather community.

I assure you this was not my intent, but the fact that it did makes me feel awful.

While I stand by the veracity of the events I documented in my original post, I also acknowledge that I have learned a great deal about IML and the leather community, and particularly why my original post was so hurtful.

I moved just a few months ago from San Francisco where I was involved in the sex-positive community. It's where I started my sex-positive podcast called Full Disclosure, and that is why I was issued the media passes to IML. The podcast is designed to present information about sex and various related communities through an entertaining and sex-positive perspective. That can mean everything from interviewing sex workers to doing vibrator demos, conducting on-air prostate exams to having discussions about bisexual identity. I consider myself to be an interviewer and host, and not an expert. Fortunately we've had some fantastic leaders in the sex-positive community on the show, including Carol Queen, Dan Savage, Buck Angel, Michael Brandon, Nina Hartley, and many more who I've learned a tremendous amount from.

And that is why I was attending IML. To learn about the leather community and bring information about it to my community of listeners in an entertaining and informative way. I had no agenda to disrupt the event, and had no intention of writing anything for Huffington Post until the incident on the 46th floor of the Marriott occurred.

After what was largely a very positive and informative weekend at IML, I decided it would be interesting to write about the experience and open up a larger discussion about gender identity, transphobia, exclusivity, etc. -- a conversation my friends in the LGBT community and I have engaged in many times. I submitted the article to The Huffington Post, and the editors of the Gay Voices section decided to pick it up.

I didn't realize the magnitude that coverage in The Huffington Post meant to IML. Since I knew about the event back in San Francisco, I had assumed IML had achieved pretty mainstream notoriety, and that an opinion piece I wrote about my experience would hardly be a blip on the relative media radar. I had no idea the impact that the article would have, and how truly excited those in the leather community would be to see some mainstream representation, and how disappointed they'd be to see how that representation took form.

Back home I've attended Folsom Street Fair (NSFW) for years, which bills itself as the world's biggest leather event. In describing it to me, my friends in the Chicago kink community left me with the impression that IML was sort of Chicago's version of Folsom Street. But I now understand that there are major differences, and understanding these cultural differences is precisely the kind of perspective I was looking to gain in moving here.

I now realize that my article may have in fact been some people's very first exposure to IML and the leather community, and that that exposure focused on a negative event that was a minor portion of my overwhelmingly positive experience during the weekend. In a society where there's very little media coverage of the leather community, my contribution to the overall representation was a negative one, something that is particularly painful for those in the community who already feel marginalized by many of their LGBT brethren.

I am truly sorry. I did not mean to set the leather community back in any way, or single them out as some sole perpetrator of discrimination. I wanted to start a community dialogue that would benefit all as a learning experience, which through a rather perverse manner it seems we may have finally arrived at.

I want to continue to learn about the leather community, its rich history, the cultural strides it's made through years and more, and ensure that those perspectives are fairly portrayed within media. While I am not a journalist, I am an ally, and in that manner I failed last week.

I am deeply passionate about sex-positivity, social justice, LGBT rights and the like, and want to ensure that I'm directing that passion in a way that helps progress us forward. But I fucked up, and I thank those community members who thoughtfully looked to nudge me back on course. I look forward to continuing to work together in the fight for progress with you.

For more from Eric Barry, follow him on Twitter or Facebook, and be sure to listen to the Full Disclosure sex podcast. This week's episode features adult performer Siri and International Mr. Leather follow-up.