What Can a (Mostly) Vanilla Girl Learn From Men in Rubber?
Basking in the male sexuality not directed at me, I think I finally get the appeal of being a “fairy princess.” I get to gawk and lust and not worry about how I look, simply joining in the celebration. The first lesson your mostly-vanilla tour-guide learns is that male sexuality is pretty cool. And this is a community worth celebrating.
MIR is a spin-off of the mega-famous International Mr. Leather (IML), also based in Chicago—but is more like its younger, hotter sister. As one rubber-wearer told me, “IRL is about the partying, or it’s about the pageant. Here it’s all about the fetish, all about the play.”
While still pretty intimate, the event has grown massively in the past two years. “MIR [used to be] over at Cell-Block, this small leather bar around the corner,” recalls Porkchop, a cute boy in a rubber uniform with a black rubber military hat. “There was one vendor, and you just sat there and drank all day. The pageant was just pieced together. I once got pulled up from the audience because there was only one competitor.”
MIR really began to sprawl when it found a new home in The Center on Halsted: Chicago’s LGBTQ headquarters. The contemporary building, with its large, sunny windows is quite the change from the dive-bar ethos of Cell Block.
Scuba man checks out some "merchandise." Photo by Edmund X. White
It’s midday on a Saturday and the lobby of The Center is bustling with moms coming over from Whole Foods and guys in rubber pants, their shirts half thrown on.
Upstairs, thick with the smell of rubber, is the market. There are toys and outfits to buy, but like many here, I’m more interested in ogling boys than a new butt-plug.
A chap goes to market in chaps. Photo by Edmund X. White
There are boys in rubber wrestling singlets, mohawked rubber punks and skinheads with rubber braces. There are rubber hipsters, a goggled steam-punk rubberist and a guy in a rubber catsuit with spiky Gaga glasses.
Perhaps the most re-current theme is the military look, a nod to the leather community that came out of World War II. According to leather lore, during WWII some soldiers realized they were gay and explored their sexuality. After coming back home, they missed the “manly culture” and began to re-create it in social groups and bars. But rubber is definitely the new guard, a term that usually denotes less rigidity and a greater variety of sexual experiences.
Lesson two? In any scene, respect those who paved the way, but reinvention and progression is key.
Westminster? Who needs Westminster? Photo by Edmund X. White
Just as I am getting comfortable being the only one here without assless pants or, ahem, a penis, it’s time for the puppy event. It’s about puppy role-play, a fetish in which participants take on the imaginary role of dogs with doggy mannerisms and behavior. Puppy-play is not distinctly related to rubber, but as one rubberman told me, puppies have become quite popular, popping up at many fetish conventions.
On the ground in front of me are guys on all fours wearing over-sized plastic puppy paws. There are puppy masks and even one butt plug tail. “This is completely different than I thought it would be,” I say to the guy beside me. “I thought it was going to be a more BDSM thing, like the puppy and his master, but this is about puppies playing together and just having fun.”
Rambunctious puppy play. Photo by Edmund X. White
Two of the puppies fight over a chew toy. Another comes up then sniffs their rubber behinds. They communicate through grunts, growls and barks. My new pal nods. “Yeah, BDSM is how it started, like, you are my dog so lick my boots. But this is new.” He points at the puppies mounting one another. “And it happened just the last few years. It really came out of the furry community, and the way they sort of play. But you can’t suggest that to these guys. They’d deny it.”
Gone to the dogs... Photo by Edmund X. White
The puppies remind me of little boys playing. As I watch, I realizing I am smiling. I’m sure there’s another lesson here. “It’s just about not taking yourself too seriously, being able to be silly. You need that in sex,” says my companion.
As I mingle my way through the market, I realize there has not been much talk of the pageant. LGBTQ pageants have a rich history. In 1930s New York, underground drag pageants were held by gay men, awarding those with the most outrageous costumes. And in the ’70s, as leather culture became more mainstream, a different kind of pageant emerged. The Gold Coast leather bar in Chicago became famous for their tongue-in-cheek “Mr. Gold Coast” contest. This eventually became International Mr. Leather, from which MIR takes it’s cue.
Mr. International Rubber pageant contestants. Photo by Edmund X.White
But when I ask the guys if they are going, it’s a toss-up. “It’s not really about the pageant here,” says Marcus, a tall guy in a catsuit. “I think they do the pageant because it is about creating the history. We are still defining what rubber means. So the winner of the pageant is like a spokesperson, someone who can do fundraising or charity events,” he explains.
Later in the evening, the lights are tinted red and the men are mingling. Trying to get into the mix, I realize I keep hearing this event is about the play, but I haven’t actually heard about the play.
“So, have you had any hot sex yet?” I ask a new pink-haired friend. “Well, I’m a porn-star. I realized two of my other porn star friends are here tonight. So we are having a little sex party at the after-party. It’s going to be live sex in front of everyone. You know us porn stars are exhibitionists,” he says.
As I talk with the guys about sex, the word “pig” ultimately comes up. “So pig means…like, dirty, right? Like into really dirty sex?”
My new friend corrects me. “A pig is someone who likes dirty, stinky, sweaty, nasty sex. And more of it and more and more and more.”
Male bonding over rubber. Photo by Edmund X. White
Okay, vanilla people, count that as a lesson. I don’t know how many times I’ve read advice columns in which girls write in, worried about their smell or unable to enjoy sex because they are so self-conscious. But what if you thought your partner liked you sweaty, smelly, nasty? And just wanted more and more and more of that. Consider me liberated.
Settling inside the auditorium to crown the new Mr. International Rubber, alongside the men swilling beers, arms draped over one another, I feel awed. I’m inspired by these guys who come from all over the world to visit their friends, to have sex, to be a part of a community that values order and respect, that encourages fun and living life. And I’m a little jealous that they’ve got such a strong place to belong, because the final lesson is that community is important—even when it comes to sex.
An emphasis on community rather than competition. Photo by Edmund X. White