It's no secret that a number of marginalized groups have much to fear about the incoming Trump administration, and the leather, fetish, and BDSM community is no exception.
To be sure, fetishists can always hang up their gear at the end of the day and hide their identity from the world, but that's less the case when you're a titleholder, who are among the community's most vocal advocates. To become one, titleholders must win competitions on the scene's national circuit—think of them as beauty pageants for kinks like rubber and puppy play, where contestants are judged before an audience on factors like their decorum, public speaking, and fetish spirit. A sash is passed down among winners from year to year, which entails the responsibility of becoming a community figurehead and leading fundraising and activism for community causes.
Last weekend, titleholders from across the country gathered in the nation's capitol for Mid Atlantic Leather Weekend, one of America's largest leather conventions. We photographed six of them before our greatest national monuments and asked them their hopes and fears for their community under Trump.
Alaina, Ms. Philadelphia Leather 2016
"Even as we're doing this photoshoot right now, I'm unnerved—not only by stares and titters from tourists, but more so by the underlying feeling of abhorrence, my fear of an act of violence bolstered by the normalization of hate that's occurred since the election.
Leather is a community that represents itself visibly and recognizably, which inherently denies the instinct that people within the broader LGBTQ community might have to 'blend' or 'pass' for their own safety. As such, it's more important than ever to be unified in our visibility, unapologetic in it, and supportive of one another."
Pup Vidhra, Northeast Puppy 2017
"At a minimum, we're facing four very long years of fighting for access to affordable and effective healthcare. While I admire the leather and kink scene of the 80s, I don't want to see a resurgence in fundraisers to help community members pay medical or funeral bills.
Trump may be a loose cannon, but we already know Pence is an enemy of comprehensive sexual healthcare, HIV prevention, and LGBT rights in general. It's a legitimate fear that we'll see loss of necessary medical coverage and HIV care. The GOP is already making moves against the ACA and Planned Parenthood. We've seen what happens when administrations turn a deaf ear to the cries of LGBT lives. I fear we'll see a rise in new HIV infection rates in areas that lack strong education and support networks."
Sir Damien, Northeast Handler 2017
"'First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.'
Because kinky leather folk are seen as 'social deviants,' we will be the first group to be discriminated against and have laws levied against us. We need to be vigilant—not only about our own rights, but the rights of everyone else, too, because fascism doesn't happen overnight. It's a series of small tests that test your obedience until the very last one, where you wonder how you got there. It's death by a million paper cuts, and you would never think that you would be part of it until the end, when you have a moment to reflect on it all. History is only destined to repeat itself if we don't stay on top of it all."
Slave Velvet-Storm, Ms. New Jersey Leather 2017
"My community and I are in no way second-class citizens. We will unite as one against Trump and his lying government. I consider the United States and the people who reside in it to be powerful, and we will stand up against tyranny and racism to find the freedom to live our lives as we see fit. Latinos, Caucasians, blacks, Asians, and others in my community will unite in order to continue being free to be themselves. We will not be bullied by Trump. We are family, and family protects family. So Trump can kiss my Puerto Rican fat ass—I'm here, and I'm not hiding. I am Slave Velvet-Storm, Ms. New Jersey Leather 2017, and I'm a proud member of the leather community."
Preston So, Mr International Rubber 2017
"As this year's Mr International Rubber, I'm fortunate to be the first international fetish titleholder of Asian heritage. My mission is to rubberize the world by bringing the latex fetish to new places and awaken new rubberists, especially those of color.
At a recent kink event, I was the only person of color in an elevator, without my sash on, and an intoxicated individual slurred to me, 'You know, now that Trump's president, you shouldn't be in this elevator.' He then attempted to shove me out before I reached my floor. While everyone else reacted with disgust, not one of them confronted him when I was at a total loss for words.
The rubber community is lucky enough to be embraced with open arms by other fetishists at kink events, but that experience demonstrated to me that it's easy to do so while turning the other cheek to the disabled, people of color, women, and HIV-positive individuals—marginalized communities that cut across our kink communities like weaves in a basket.
I'm glad I'm able to experience both the high of warm welcomes as a rubberist and the low of racist encounters as an Asian American. Trump's election only galvanizes me to redouble my efforts as an advocate for marginalized groups both inside and outside the community. I predict that our community will be among the most active in shielding others and combating hate, but we can only do so while we fix the divisions tearing apart our own community first."
Rich Farias, Mr New Jersey Leather 2017
"While a Trump presidency is terrifying on multiple levels, the fact that Pence is VP is even worse. When Trump is inevitability impeached, we'll have one of the most vehemently anti-LGBT politicians in America sitting in the Oval Office.
The biggest failure of the Democratic Party over the past eight years was to focus solely on the presidency while ignoring local, state, and congressional elections. Republicans control the legislatures of nearly three-fourths of the country and hold majorities in both houses of Congress. LGBT rights, women's rights, and racial minorities' rights are in danger on multiple fronts and at all levels of government.
That's where the LGBT community as a whole—and titleholders in particular—have to step in. I believe that we're facing an existential threat almost on par with the AIDS plague years, and as during the AIDS crisis, we have to fight back. As titleholders, I think we need to be on the front lines of the fight—not only in leading protest actions, but building bridges with other minority communities affected by the clear rise of fascism in this country."