At International Mr. Leather 2019, Jack Thompson told an auditorium full of mostly cisgender, male, white, and gay leather folks, “I’m enough.”
“My whole life, I’ve been told I’m not enough,” he said. “I’m not Black enough, I’m not queer enough, not smart enough, not strong enough. Hell, there are people in this room who don’t think I’m enough of a man to be allowed on this stage.” Thompson was dressed in his leather formals, with a furry tail protruding from the back.
“I’m going to tell you something that it took me nearly 30 years to learn,” the contestant continued. “If you’re enough for you, then you are enough. Period.” The speech from the trans, biracial, queer contestant who is living with HIV, got one of the only standing ovations of the night and later went viral. Thompson went on to win the sash, making him the first trans man of color to do so — the first trans man to win was Tyler McCormick in 2010. But things haven’t been easy: the win has forced the fetish and kink communities to reckon with their fellow leatherfolk that live at Thompson’s intersections. It has called for needed reckonings with individuals as well as institutions that hold outmoded (and, generally, transphobic) mentalities.
“We don’t throw away our leather and we shouldn’t be so quick to throw away our community members either,” Thompson tells Out of his approach to the fraught conversations he’s often credited with starting. “However, if you flat out refuse to talk it out and see that we have just as much right to be kinky pigs as cis people do, we really don’t need you here. We have bigger issues to tackle right now.”
Just weeks after Thompson’s historic win, this methodology was put into action. Craig MrCode, then president of the Southeast Conference of Clubs (SECC), a coalition of leather organizations, posted transphobic remarks on Facebook and downplayed the win as “politically motivated.” The condemnation of the post was almost immediate from the entirety of the leather community, with #JackIsMyIML becoming a common hashtag to show support for Thompson. While some attempted to reason with MrCode, he dug his heels in, causing the situation to worsen.
ONYX Southeast, a member club of SECC, and a chapter of the overall ONYX organization for men of color, of which Thompson is a member, eventually released a statement demanding for the resignation of MrCode.
“The time for silence has passed,” the organization wrote. On the same day that statement went live, MrCode was removed from his post.
But it hasn’t been all negative. Thompson has stood as not only a beacon of representation but also welcome, changing tides within leather. This year has seen an unprecedented wave of title wins by not only trans men but members of ONYX. Trans men like Elliott Musgrave, Jason Boyask, and Kylar Maldonado have all won titles — Maldonado became the first openly trans bear titleholder within the U.S. in August.
ONYX members have been bagging major nationwide wins as well. Over the past five years, there have been three Black IML titleholders, all of whom were members of the organization: Ramien Pierre in 2014, James Lee in 2018, and now Thompson, who said he’s been into leather since seeing his father’s motorcycle magazine at around 11 years old, before later getting into kink around 17. Thompson hopes that his legacy ends up being that kinky trans folks are treated in the same way as any other kinksters.
“I want there to be more trans folx at kinky events,” Thompson says. “More at leather events, joining the clubs, going to bathhouses, playing in dungeous, and running for contests. And I want for our cis brothers and sisters to get over the idea that we are different from any of them. Especially in leather; [they] know exactly what it’s like to be told that who you are and what you like is wrong in some way.”
A version of this piece was originally published in this year’s Out100 issue, out on newstands 12/10. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, or Nook beginning 11/21.