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Living la

Living la


Can a gay Cuban-American be too butch for the International Mr. Leather competition? Can gay people be so narrow-minded? A finalist tells his story.

I had Ricky Ricardo, conga lines, Cuban cigars, mojitos, and lots of Spanish words swirling in my mind before I walked onto the public stage. There I was in all of my splendor--standing in a leather jockstrap and military boots before thousands of people. I was competing at International Mr. Leather in Chicago for Memorial Day weekend. I had made it to the top 20 finalists out of 52 contestants.

In real life I'm actually a corporate professional. By day I wear a business suit and deliver lectures to medical clinicians on the topics of cancer and death and dying. So it was with some chagrin that I heard the day prior to the final contest from Fernan Royo, my coach, that I should be "less Fidel Castro and more Carmen Miranda." He was commenting on my stage presence.

I've been called Little Ricky many times in my life, but not those two other characters.

I had won the title of Mr. Florida Leather 2005 in November 2004 by representing a type of individual that resonated with the leaders of my home state's organization Florida Leather: a confident, intelligent, passionate, masculine gay man. I travel throughout Florida addressing gay male audiences who feel disenfranchised from the gay world due to not identifying with the dominant gay culture: feminized gay men.

The response is staggering. For them, drag is out, leather is in.

Prior to IML I hadn't received any formal coaching by my sponsor. Since I was the first Cuban to be competing at IML, it was daunting not having any role models to show me the way. Fernan, however, who lives in New York City, came to my assistance, and his Fidel Castro comment crystallized it for me.

The morning of the finals he and my partner, Andrew Tiner, set up our hotel room as a stage runway. They cajoled me into swinging my hips, moving my arms, exaggerating my walk, and beaming a huge smile while waving wildly. I thought I was losing my mind. They told me, "It's a fag contest, honey! Queen it up!" Clearly this was no medical conference where I was a lecturer.

When I attended my first gay "bear" event, Lazy Bear, in Northern California, the men there really had no idea what to do with me. They knew I was not like them, but they also said I was not like the Hispanic men they usually encounter. They lump Hispanics all into one gay basket. Yet the Cuban culture is typified most popularly with masculinity, aggressiveness, passion, and romance--Ricky Ricardo being the Jungian archetype.

So it was a natural fit for me to identify with the leather scene. IML was not only a leather event for me but also a cultural event seen though my Cuban eyes.

I placed fourth at the finals. Not bad for a Carmen Miranda wannabe. I had enough cojones to strut my stuff in a jock in front of total strangers, where few minorities gathered. I heard my deceased mother's voice whisper in my ear before I walked onstage: "Work it!" And I did. I had a blast!

What about the d word, discrimination? Minorities, especially closeted ones, and others want to know if I had been experiencing it. A leather contest producer in Florida did threaten me via e-mail a week prior to IML. And my sponsor told me several times in front of my partner to not be "so Cuban" when in public: He said that I came across with "too much machismo" and needed to stop speaking Spanish in public. "It might work in Miami," he said, "but it doesn't work elsewhere."

Discrimination in the gay world by other gays is verboten: We minorities know it exists, but few wish to acknowledge it. But if it exists within society at large, gays will indeed bring it to the gay community. It shouldn't happen anywhere.

I may perhaps be too "Cuban" for some. Friends call me "Papi" for a reason.

The leather scene is a vibrant side of me. But it's only one facet. Mentoring, leadership, activism, fighting injustices, and speaking out on behalf of those who feel alienated are just some of my life's passions.

Carmen Miranda can have her basket of fruit back to place firmly on her head. She looks better with it in high heels than I do.

Little Ricky sends his regards.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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