Eric Leven

Bareback the f--k up!

Filed By Eric Leven | July 24, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, The Movement
Tags: barebacking, HIV/AIDS, International Mr. Leather, leather competitions, meth

Fresh off the digital pages of Will Clark's blog comes the story of International Mr. Leather President Chuck Renslow's refusal to continue including bareback vendors, videos and other bareback paraphernalia during next year's 2010 event:

Dear Vendors:

On behalf of International Mr. Leather, Inc., I would like to thank you for your past support and in particular for your participation as a vendor in our annual Leather Market. We are writing you today to inform you of a policy change affecting next year (2010) and all future markets.

Though we are now three decades into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, no cure has been found. The CDC and local health officials inform us that new infections are on the rise. And, while we have had some success developing medications that might make infection more manageable, that accomplishment comes at a price. Not having experienced the deaths - the loss of loved ones -- which preceded these medications, we have an entire generation who may not fully appreciate or comprehend the severity of the situation.

Too many in our community believe HIV/AIDS is curable or manageable. Too few understand that HIV/AIDS infections dominate life. We believe that it is our duty to inform and educate. Several years ago when "Meth" was the scourge of our community, IMLdrew a line in the sand and raised awareness and used all our influence to try and stop this addictive madness. As is the case with HIV/AIDS, we believe it is our further obligation to do everything in our power to prevent future infections.

To that end, after considerable discussion, the Executive Committee of International Mr. Leather has decided that it will no longer allow participation in the IMLLeather Market by any entity which promotes barebacking or distributes/sells any merchandise tending to promote or advocate barebacking. This restriction will also apply to distribution of gifts, post cards or any other information via our facilities. This policy takes effect immediately.


Chuck Renslow, President
International Mr. Leather

I encourage you to go over to Will Clark and read his input on the matter. I really enjoyed reading what he had to say.

Here's my two cents: I know this won't immediately curb or ever put an end to unsafe bareback sex. I know that. The further I throw myself into this topic the more I understand this is a never ending uphill battle. Unsafe sex Bareback never went away, anyway. It's just that at one time striving to have safe sex and the idea of protecting oneself and their partners, mattered.

I know men have the ability, and right, to watch unsafe bareback sex videos without ever practicing it in their real lives and I know that sex is between the two people having it. But this is more than that. This is more than just sex.

This has always been about more than just sex.

This is taking a stand. Slowing down, knowing your risks, communicating, wearing a condom - all of that is taking a stand! This is yet another person putting their foot down, swimming upstream in his own fetish-based event declaring he will no longer participate or facilitate in the growing complacency toward unsafe sex in the gay community and HIV/AIDS. This is yet another person who actually cares how their actions impact a younger generation.

Hat's off, truly.

Now, Mr. Renslow could have participated and facilitated in the distribution of unsafe bareback sex over the last couple of years as the niche's popularity climbed to a 3-to-1 selling ratio, but not any longer. Hell, maybe he was never comfortable with it? Maybe he was? But not anymore and I'm not going to get caught up in any bullshit tit-for-tat argument (if there is one) about what he did and didn't do since the existence of IML. That's the same worthless conversation the community always gets in and we wind up completely ignoring the matter at hand. For those of you who want to call this censorship, go ahead, call it censorship.

I choose to look at it like this: I don't eat McDonalds because McDonalds is obviously an unhealthy money making waste-hole that's no good for you. Therefore, if I were throwing a house party I wouldn't serve McDonalds to my guests. This is all Renslow is doing and to do this at event like IML sends a big bold message to our current pop-porn culture while simultaneously spreading the consciousness that unsafe bareback sex does not exist at this venue because unsafe bareback sex is an unhealthy choice. Still some men will choose to forgo safe sex during that weekend and that will always happen, no matter what, but we know now where the President stands. In the face of what I'm sure will be a monetary setback and rejection from members of the IML community, I'm glad that Chuck Renslow, President of International Mr. Leather, has the balls to stand up and start doing what he can to help his community.


Recently I got a promotional coupon from offering me several free hours of profiling and online cruising. I hadn't been on since last summer when I deleted my account after we all caught wind of Old Man Crutchley (owner of the site) donating the civilian max of $2300 to the McCain campaign! Anyway, I signed up, created a name, put up my pics and stated my case.

The third email I got, that's right, the third email, was from a "neg top" who only prefers unsafe bareback sex. He wasn't interested in anything else and if I were game, he had a group of "buddies" he was willing to introduce me to. Naturally, the rage inside me sparked like a napalm fueled blowtorch and ricocheted throughout my body like a red hot pinball, but I took a deep breath and responded kindly by saying, "nothing elicits more rage within me than stupid complacent motherfuckers like you." And I meant it. Because what's "hot" to this "neg top" is putting me, and the rest of this community, at risk. He is as "negative" as much as I know the next card you're going to pull is the Ace of Spades. Whether truly negative or not the idea that he didn't even seem to care blows my mind.

As I've asked before: How this community could go from screaming "Silence = Death" to the casual, shrug-of-the-shoulders response of, "aww, come on..barebacking is hot" in what, 12, 13, 14 years? is something that will always bewilder me.

No, Mr. Neg Top, I don't want to meet you or any of your "buddies." I don't care how hot a time you think we could have by not using condoms and putting ourselves at risk. You don't give a shit about me and that turns me off much more than the unsafe sex you want to have with me. I don't think you're hot. I don't think you're sexy, edgy or some lusty rebellious sexual outlaw. Listen very closely: I am worth more than that. I am entitled to and worth healthier decisions in my life.

I am interested in men who understand that there is a younger, less exposed generation out there who could use some care and actual healthy guidance. I am interested in men who care. This is me putting my foot down.

This policy takes effect immediately.

(PS: Read my post here if you're wondering about all the crossed out "unsafe"s)

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Princess Lollypop Cupcakes | July 24, 2009 3:35 PM

I wonder what Peter LaBarbera will have to say about this.

I dunno. I've been reading about those raids over in Lansing, and it's funny b/c in this one article this one woman was quoted as saying that she didn't like the cruisers because she'd find condoms there in the morning. Then a police officer was also quoted saying that it's wrong because people have sex without condoms there, and that spreads std's.

(This might have actually been an article about vigilantes in Britain posting the license plate numbers of cruisers on the internet. I read so much gay news it all rolls together.)

So, yeah, I don't think these folks really care. They just don't want us to have any sex.

Thanks, Eric, this needs to be said. I think that the LGBT community, the gay male community in particular, is fearful of discussing issues like these because of the potential of our enemies picking it up and using it against us.

In response to that, I think that the damages of not discussing this is much more harmful than anything our enemies can use against us. People are getting infected because of a declining interest in safe sex, and that needs to stop now. The only way this can be accomplished is to push more until safe sex is again the norm. I'm not sure how that can be done, I was born during the beginning of age and never saw the crisis in person, but thoughts of it are still frightening.

Interesting comparison between meth and barebacking. As I remember, at least in Chicago, the uproar over meth overdetermined a lot of health advocacy programs to the extent that some of them were devoted exclusively to the issue. And then, it died down, those groups regrouped or changed their names, and now we've moved on to ... barebacking. Am I wrong? I'll stand corrected if so.

I'm not saying that either meth or barebacking are safe practices. But I think we keep seeing a pattern here: something, meth addiction or barebacking, becomes the scare in the community and, mysteriously - or not so mysteriously - grants and resources appear to tackle the "problem." That's one issue - the fact that a particular "problem" becomes the almost single focus of the health community, to the point of disabling any real systemic analysis and only working in crisis mode.

But - the second problem - is stigmatising a sexual practice really the answer? That's the question posed in Scott Stiffler's "Barebacking and AIDS 2009," which I encourage everyone to read at: (crossposted at

These bits especially resonate:

"...large numbers of straights engage in the same behavior. If a straight boy and a straight girl get together and have sex without a condom, we call it unprotected sex; but when two young gay men get together and have sex without a condom, we call it barebacking."

"Ultimately, asserts Davis, the problem is not going to be solved by "making people feel bad because they don’t use a condom. Very few people will change their behavior just because they’ve been made to feel bad about something. That’s a very short path to failure." "

My two cents. But people should really read Stiffler's article in its entirety. I don't claim that either Renslow or Eric Levin are engaging in quite the same kind of stigmatisation but I am suggesting that we look at the wider discourse around barebacking and consider the consequences of the punitive language we're apt to use, and also consider that culture at large does not have the same attitude towards straights who do the same thing.

I'm off again so might not be around to respond to comments (that article I'm working on is just refusing to write itself, wouldn't you know), but I hope we have a conversation about these issues.

Sorry, that should be Eric Leven, not Levin.

I can only imagine the heated discussion between Chuck Renslow & IML Executive Committee in this bold move. In the end perhaps they decided that leadership was needed and they were willing to take that step. There are many who view the 80’s as ancient history having little consequence on their lives.

I hail IML leadership for this move based on principle rather than popular convention.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 26, 2009 7:32 AM

This is a surprise coming from Renslow. I have known him since 1972 and other than at his "Gold Coast" bar only every saw him at funerals for common friends who had died. I believe the last was 2000, but that was a cancer death.

We are talking about a man who has run Gay leather SM bars and bath houses here. Perhaps he has finally discovered a conscience.

This falls on deaf ears to most of the IML committees, as there is no mention of Chuck stopping the sale of bestiality porn in the market. Something that is blatantly illegal to produce and sell in the United States.

Nicely said! Thank you!