International Mr. Leather, the annual fetish event that storms Chicago every Memorial Day weekend (the kick off falls on Friday, May 27 this year), brings with it four full days of raucous parties, hotel tomfoolery, kink vendors and workshops — plus, one annual pageant winner. In 2015, that winner was Patrick Smith, a handsome 33-year-oldCanadian-born Angeleno who accepted his sash with both husband and mom by his side. As the countdown to IML 2016 begins, I chatted with Smith via phone and talked about traveling the LGBT world with an International Mister Leather sash in tow.
You’ve been traveling to countries that are hostile to LGBT people. What was that experiencelikefor you?
It was scary going to these countries. You’re always worried about being searched randomly at the airport, finding your sash or finding research you have about gay rights groups, but once I got into these countries I felt safe to an extent and really I just sat down with the locals and wanted to find out what things were really like firsthand and to go home and talk about it and raise awareness and money for what’s happening there and hopefully make some small bit of difference for them. I think we have it pretty good over here and it’s time we started doing a little more to help people internationally who are really fighting for their lives.
Were there any destinations that surprised you in terms of gay friendliness?
Trinidad and Tobago surprised me. They have pretty oppressive laws against gay people there and it’s illegal to have same sexual relations. When I told some of the people in the community there that I was coming they put together this bar night for me, they had this amazing little gay bar in Trinidad and the police largely leave them alone. It really was more of a vibrant and open scene than what I was expecting. Some of them even talked to me about Shibari, which is Japanese rope bondage. It was just so interesting that they do have that kind of kink or leather interest in a place like that.
There are many leather fetish weekends now. Which do you like best?
They’re all great for different reasons. For example, CLAW (Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend) in Ohio; that is an event with a lot of educational seminars and you can learn a lot about the community. It’svery educational. Whereas you go to something like IML and it’s all about the parties. You go over to Europe at all the events they’re very much into wearing full leather so full uniform, head to toe, that’s how they like to be seen. Whereas in the U.S. less is more. They all have a different flavor and it’s interesting to see the differences.
Any funny instances in which you had to explain your title?
Actually, just two weekends ago I was visiting my 90-year-old grandmother in the hospital back in Canada. She’s a lovely woman but has unfortunately been suffering from dementia. The nurse came to change her I.V. and put some antibiotics into it and she introduces me and says, “This is my grandson Patrick.” The nurse says hi back and then my grandmother looks at the nurse and says, “He’s Mr. Leather.” The nurse understandably thought she was off her rocker and he just sort of smiled and said, “Isn’t that nice.”
Was there any city or country where you got to do some real exploring?
I was in Germany in September and that was my first time there. We were there for Folsom Europe and it was great not only going to the leather events but also exploring [Berlin]. There’s just so much history there. You can see where the Wall ran and you can really see the two distinct characters of the city—East and West. Just getting to explore that and really immerse yourself in the history of the city in amazing. The Holocaust Memorial there is absolutely fantastic.
When you won in Chicago, your mother and husband joined you onstage. If you were to take a family vacation with them where would you go and why?
Ironically the next vacation we’ll be taking together will be IML again. My mom is coming back. But if we were to take a vacation, all three of together, I think we would take her to Iceland. All of herfamily is from Iceland and she’s always wanted to visit. This past year has been all about me, so I think we would take a vacation that was something for her.
Are you going to miss your year as Mr. International Leather?
It’s been a completely life-changing experience and one that I never in years expected to happen to me. I think I’ve been bitten by the travel bug more than I ever have in my past so I think I’m definitely going to continue traveling and representing as a former title holder. In terms of what’s next, I used to work in politics in Canada and I think I may be headed back in that direction. Don’t be surprised if you see me taking a political run at some point.