Laird Leather Man Stephen Morgan Interviewed Part 2
Following up part one, please enjoy part two of my interview with Melbourne’s IML contestant Stephen Morgan.
Covered in this section:
- Preparation for IML
- “Pecs and Personality”
- The Interview
- Stephen’s feeling of the group dynamic in this years IML Class…
First Part Of Stephen’s Interview here:
Hugs and tugs
Full transcript of interview with Stephen Morgan here:
Gpup: You won, and you had a very busy year in preparation but, how did you prepare for IML? Because this is it. This is the show, right?
Stephen: Yeah. You can’t prepare for IML. There’s no swat book that you can go through and get up to date and have yourself ready for the contest in 6 weeks. Preparing for IML is something that starts, 5, 10, 15 years beforehand. It’s about developing yourself to the point where you know who you are, you know what you represent, you know what you want. The actual preparation for IML is pretty basic in terms of making sure you’ve got your kit up to date, and that it’s looking as best as it can, and preparing a speech. They’re basically the two things that you can do for IML. All the rest of the worry, the concerns, the anxiety, I found to be completely unfounded.
Gpup: Because, say for example here in Melbourne you’ve had Ben, Luke, probably our two most recent-
Stephen: Mal is another one.
Gpup: Did they give you information about what it was going to be like?
Stephen: They did, but they also knew that they can’t prejudge what you’re going to experience. They can give you some very practical advice, like, make sure you’ve got a lot of food, because you’re going to be waiting around and you’re not going to have access to it, so take it with you. Some very practical guidelines. I wanted to get an idea of the level of working knowledge of the history of IML that I would’ve needed beforehand, and they said, “We can’t really tell you that because we don’t know what you’re going to get asked.” Each judging panel is different from year to year, so there’s no … and it’d be really unfair for one of them to say, “This is what you’re going to happen. Focus your attention here,” and then have a completely different experience. The best advice, and again, this came from Race Bannon, was go out, be yourself, and have fun. Don’t take it overly seriously.
Gpup: IML’s going to be a very, it’s a very American event. Every state, or close to every state, is represented there and then there’s foreigners like there was you, and there was Tim from Sydney, and our colleague from Brisbane. In part of being at IML, did you offer a purely Australian perspective, or did you have to take on some of the American stuff as well, to be able to get through the process?
Stephen: If I took on American perspective, the judges would’ve very quickly smelled out inauthenticity and bullshit, and they don’t want that. That’s not what they’re looking for. IML is someone to represent the leather community and someone to be the ambassador for IML. They don’t want someone that isn’t putting themselves forward, so there wasn’t an aspect of that. I was a little surprised at how much of the ceremony and tradition I got swept up in and really enjoyed. I guess there’s a slight difference between Australia and America in terms of that, but that’s not so much me taking an American thing as getting involved in what was in front at the time.
Gpup: Being participatory, and-
Gpup: Because, let’s have a look. Let’s have a look. I was going through the IML website last night and what did you expect? Were there any stark contrasts between what you expected and what you experienced?
Stephen: I expected to be overwhelmed. I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed to the extent that I was. I knew it was going to be an intense and a very busy time. I was nicely surprised with how much camaraderie there was between the contestants. We’ve had some feedback that ours was a particularly good year, in respect of that, so that was something that … I walked into the orientation on the first day and had the, I guess that sense of unease when you walk into a room full of 59 people plus all the production staff that you don’t know well. It was very quick that I realized that everyone was there just to enjoy the time. There wasn’t one person there that I met that was rude or was … their ambition clouded how they dealt with other people.
Gpup: There was no hobbling of fellow contestants at all?
Stephen: No. I had heard stories of people stealing items of people’s outfits and things and there was none of that. There was none of that. It was insanely enjoyable.
Gpup: When you consider the huge effort that you would’ve gone through to get there, I’m really glad that you had a fantastic experience. If you were to pick three highlights of IML, what would those three be?
Stephen: One of the biggest highlights was just prior to leaving the host hotel, actually that whole hour or two before leaving the host hotel on the day of the final. That included some pretty powerful moments, bonding as a class with just the class. It was just the 59 of us. There’s no handlers present. It was just everyone talking. We had some people perform some music. We had some poetry. It was an insanely emotional and really bonding experience, again, I used that word. Followed that with the preparation that the production staff and the handlers gave us in … every one of us was shitting ourselves, effectively, by that stage because we’re about to go off and go on rehearsals for the final and they managed to change the feeling in the room from one of nervous anticipation to one of excitement. I don’t want to go into the details of how they did that, but it was really an emotional and moving experience.
Gpup: Is it similar to the documentary that was done on IML recently?
Stephen: I still say there was a private moment between our class.
Gpup: Absolutely, and I’ve seen some of the video footage. There was quite a very talented violin player.
Stephen: Yeah, Kippy, yeah.
Gpup: It was amazing. It’s really good to see such an unexpected, well, I don’t expect to hear a violin being played at a leather contest. Did you have to get up and say an Australian poem or something?
Stephen: No, I didn’t. There’s a lot of hugging. There’s a lot of just being with each other and having a really great time. At that point, the whole contest was forgotten. Another highlight for me, and I guess a bit of pride for me, was during the initial orientation, they’d invited some previous contestants to come speak to the class. Ben, who’s the previous title holder for my title, was asked to come and address the class, and he gave a really resounding speech on a topic that I guess no one was wanting to think about at that point, that was right at the beginning of the contest. He was talking about what it’s like not to make the top final 20, and how he actually found it a relief in not doing it rather than being upset about it. It was a moment of pride for me, to listen to him up on the stage addressing the class.
Gpup: That’s pretty cool.
Stephen: Because it was such an American focus, to get an Australian up there in that position was really great.
Gpup: Let’s talk about the actual process. Looking at the competition, so you’ve got the first part where you’ve got 60% of your initial marking is based on an interview, and 40% is based on, and I quote, “Pecs and personality.”
Stephen: Physique and stage presence.
Gpup: Physique and stage presence. I do apologize.
Stephen: Colloquially known as pecs and personality.
Gpup: What happens to people who don’t have pecs?
Stephen: The thing about the leatherman, or International Mr. Leather, is it’s not about body beautiful. It’s not about someone who is the most ripped, or has a six-pack, or has the best tan, or the biggest muscles. It’s more about someone who’s comfortable in their own skin, and comfortable putting themselves out there in their own skin. I think that comes across very quickly on stage. We had all shapes and sizes in our class, from bigger guys to skinny guys, we had trans man, we had some Ken dolls, we had some bodybuilders. Whatever your body type, it’s not so much that you’re fitting an ideal [inaudible 00:11:28] that you’re comfortable with yourself.
Gpup: That you’re fitting into your body.
Gpup: It’s not an uncomfortable fit.
Gpup: Okay. Because it’s an interesting sort of juxtaposition that a lot of people, they automatically go to, “Well IML is just a pageant.” What’s your impression of those people?
Stephen: I encourage them to have a bit of a deeper scratch around, and find out what IML’s about. In some ways it is a pageant, but it’s a lot more than a pageant. It follows a pageant process, but it is not a vacuous pageant that people often imply when they derisively describe it as such.
Gpup: I wonder, do people miss out on a lot of that essence if they’re not actually a competitor?
Stephen: Possibly, and IML’s not just about the contest. I think I read somewhere it was close to 19 or 20,000 people attended. Only about a quarter have an interest in the contest, so IML’s much bigger than just the contest.
Gpup: What are the other three quarters doing? Sex in the hotels?
Stephen: That’s the sex in the parties. Embracing the leather lifestyle.
Gpup: Okay, so it’s an opportunity, and this is what I saw at CLAW was that I was genuinely surprised at the amount of people who started talking about event drop after CLAW and I couldn’t quite get my head around it. I understand that I had a really great four days, and I was absolutely tired and I really needed some sleep, and that will put anybody into an emotional head space, but I wonder whether there’s a portion of people attending these events where this is it, this is their one opportunity of the year to live that life.
Stephen: There is that. I guess … event drop was very real to me. I tried to make some sort of sense of why it occurred. For me it was … competing at IML was an exhausting experience. We’re often … our call was at eleven o’clock in the morning and sometimes we weren’t finished until midnight. It’s intentionally an emotional experience. You’re depleting your dopamine, you’re depleting your serotonin. You get to a point where adrenaline is trying to compensate for all of that, and you get to the end, and the adrenaline stops, and all of a sudden all your other reserves for anything that’s going to make you feel good in terms of brain biochemistry is just nonexistent, and you fall in a heap. For me, that happened at the end of the Black and Blue Ball on the Monday night. It’s over, and it was a real … it was, here, here, here, here, bam. That lasted for a few days.
Gpup: Were there, pardon me, were there people that were able to offer you good support and suggestions to get you through that process?
Stephen: Yeah, and just having [Max 00:15:03] there was pretty important as well. That’s, yeah … It is a very real thing, and I think the more you build up your expectation or anticipation for something, the stronger the event drop is going to be afterwards.
Gpup: What was, because there’s a lot of mystery around the interview. What was the experience like?
Stephen: I was shitting myself before the interview. I guess anything where you don’t know what’s going to happen. I had heard that some of the judges can be deliberately belligerent, some could challenge you. It was a really great experience for me. All my previous conceptions of what I was about to experience flew out the door the second I walked into the judges’ room.
Gpup: Was it tea and biscuits, or???
Stephen: No it wasn’t quite tea and biscuits. I really admire the judges for going through that process to interview 59 people over two days is pretty challenging. The interviews were limited to eight minutes each, and you’re standing in front of a panel of judges which a lot of people would find intimidating at the best of times. You’re one person standing in a room. You’ve got nine sets of eyes on you, and they’re starting to ask you questions. The questions I got were fair, reasonable. The role of the interview is for them to get an idea of who you are and how you will respond in certain situations. I managed to get at least one question from every judge, and two questions from three of the judges. The more you can answer the questions succinctly, intelligently, the more of an opportunity the judges get to know you. If you get stuck on one particular point and keep talking and keep talking, you’re not going to be able to give a broader idea of who you are. Some of the questions were humorous.
Gpup: What would be an example of one of those?
Stephen: One of the judges said, “I’ve been to the Laird. The Laird is one of your sponsors. Tell me, where does the best sex happen in the Laird?”
Gpup: Hello, next to the bar.
Stephen: Which my response was, “Depending on the night, it can be anywhere, or everywhere.” I was made to feel at ease. Another question I got was on traditions. Another question I got was on, “How have you actively engaged the non-leather community with the leather community?” This is where I made the point before where I don’t think you could prepare for IML, but it comes back to having a good sense of yourself and knowledge of who you are, that you can use examples from your life to help illustrate those sorts of-
Gpup: Yeah, and if you’ve got a legacy of what you’ve been involved in and what you’ve been doing, then it’s very easy to be able to call back on that and go, “Well, I have done, blah blah blah blah blah.” If you’ve blown in from somewhere else and just happened to own some leather, it’s going to be fairly obvious.
Stephen: Yeah. The question that stumped me was, “You have an interest in aboriginal art and have supported the National Gallery’s indigenous collection in the past. How does the skills learned in that make you a good leatherman?” It’s something I attempted to answer and then said, “I’m sorry, but there’s not a great deal of correlation. These are different aspects of my life.”
Gpup: Not everything has to tie together, right?
Gpup: As push came to shove, you ended out in the top 20. Were you expecting that?
Stephen: That was my goal. If I could make the top 20, I would’ve been happy with how my IML experience went. In making the top 20, the thing I’m happiest about was that I was announced first. That has nothing to do with the ranking.
Gpup: Did you shit your pants when you were called out first? Like, holy crap?
Stephen: What I don’t think I would’ve dealt with very well, was standing there as successive people were announced, wondering, “Am I going to do it? Am I going to do it? Am I going to do it?” That wouldn’t have been a very enjoyable experience for me. Those that were announced in the last few that I spoke to said they had already gone through these motions, “Oh I haven’t made it, blah blah blah.” That’s something I can thank the leather gods for for not being put through.
Gpup: Tim, from Sydney, was also in the top 20.
Stephen: Which is the best showing Australia’s had in years.
Gpup: Yeah, and with the Australians, were you best buddies, or was there a little bit of competitive spirit between the three of you?
Stephen: I think there was some friendly competitiveness, but at the same time, coming from a strong sense of, “We are Australia.”
Gpup: Yep, and we’re representing-
Stephen: I was going to break into song then but that would’ve been-
Gpup: Oh, no.
Stephen: That started at the opening ceremony when the three of us went on stage with the Australian flag. That was really …
Gpup: That was pretty cool because there was a good Australian contingency in the audience as well, so-
Stephen: Yes. We had great support from Australia there this year.
Gpup: I imagine that Australians tend to do okay in America, so you may have had support from other people as well?
Stephen: Yeah, I guess we … I think we’re a bit louder and brasher and less beholden to protocol, so we tend to be a little bit noisier than most and maybe get a little bit louder than some. That’s respected over there, I think.
Gpup: Yeah. I think it’s almost expected of Australians isn’t it? That we’re going to be a little bit brash and a bit out there.