Body positivity is something we talk about a lot at Bear World Magazine. As such we were so excited to see Chris Gonzalez compete at IML45 on a platform of body positivity and acceptance. The fact that he placed second in the competition was even more heartening. Clearly his message and example resonated with the IML judges, hopefully signifying a growing trend in the leather scene where more diverse body types can be celebrated on the international stage. We caught up with Chris to talk about his history in leather and how the last year has been since competing at IML.
BWM: You placed as 1st runner up in IML45. As a bigger-bodied leatherman and bear what made you want to compete? What was your platform?
Chris Gonzalez (CG): I initially competed at World Bear in 2019, taking home the title of World Cub for two years due to the pandemic. Then, I won my regional title from Gay Naturists International (GNI).
Due to the pandemic, there were limited resources for me to travel and talk about acceptance, positivity, and active lifestyles for bigger bodies. I came to IML to spread the word that your weight should never discourage you from doing what your heart desires. We should feel motivated to overcome the challenges bigger bodies face in the arts, fitness, modeling, etc.
BWM: What have you done since the competition? As runner up do you attend leather events on behalf of IML as well?
CG: Haha well… What haven’t I done?
I’ve been focusing mainly on judging various contests around the world from Spain to California and everywhere in between. I counted and I’ve been to about 17 events in some capacity since the contest in May. My focus has always been education and sharing stories with the hope that others will feel inspired to push forward. I have some plans for education and fundraising locally once my year is up and I’m excited to work with some local folks again!
Someone who makes the podium at International Mister Leather doesn’t really attend events on behalf of IML… but I do represent the brand, so to speak. Showcasing where IML is heading is a huge accomplishment that I take pride in… to be the face of what CAN be at the competition is humbling.
BWM: Can you give me a bit of background in terms of how you came to join the leather scene?
CG: Adam Rodriguez Routt gave me a tiny red speedo to compete for a contest that doesn’t exist anymore and told me, “If you win this you can come to North American Bear for free if you compete…” and I did with encouragement from a friend, Jeff Delong. I went to NAB as a newbie and was so taken aback. I identify as a cub and knew there were bears, otters and daddies; but this was my first exposure to the cross section of leather and bear. To this day I attribute my introduction to leather culture to ONYX Great Lakes and Midwest at North American Bear, as well as Puma ONYX, Treble ONYX and Daniel Ferguson (a former DC Eagle). Without those people, organizations and events I wouldn’t have learned some basics of what makes a leather person and core values of the community. To see folks who looked like me in leather, encouraged me to venture into spaces where I DIDN’T see folks who looked like me. Then GNI taught me even more through the Pocono Eagle and all their educational programming at camp and abroad. The freedom I saw at camp amongst men of all ages and backgrounds was truly inspiring and my whole outlook on life changed at 25.
BWM: How can big boys go about starting off in the leather scene? Do you have a preferred leather vendor that you use?
CG: There are so many new leather vendors that I’ve discovered and have pieces from that have really surprised me in their attention to detail and diverse sizing. Ben Orson out of LA is absolutely phenomenal and makes some amazing stuff. Rough Trade is amazing as well out of Los Angeles and really knows how to tailor to bigger bodies. Cock-Eye-Kink also makes some amazing adjustable pieces that every body can wear. However, My two long time friends, suppliers and personal leather vendors that have truly supported my journey are Wolfstryker and Barking Leather. They’ve been so wonderful to me, working with me tirelessly on things that I envision and want to make happen.
In terms of getting started in the leather scene, I say don’t be afraid to go out in what you have. Leather and Kink are a very common cross section in the community so if you have a kink you wanna display and maybe you don’t have leather pieces yet, go out and get to know folks who do. Be inspired and find what makes your leather persona uniquely YOU. No two leatherfolx or kinksters are alike, and I believe no two pieces of leather should be either. There are staples to every closet, but find what makes you, you.
BWM: Will you compete for more titles?
CG: Most likely not. I set out for IML with a goal to make Top 20 for the visibility and the opportunity to give my speech, as well as meeting and supporting as many folks as I could throughout my journey. Obviously, I never imagined that I would have made it to Top 3, let alone 2nd place. I’ve discovered that even without the title, there’s so much work to be done to make spaces much more inclusive. I’ve been fortunate to be invited to spaces to help them build their communities and be visible for those who look like me. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to my title experience. Maybe much further down the line there will be a calling for me to compete again, but for now, I’m more than happy with my outcome.
BWM: What advice would you give the IML46 competitors?
CG: Two main things that I’ve learned this year:
1. In the grand scheme of things, your title is the least important thing about you. You have so much more to you than your title and that’s what the judges want to see. Once you remove your sash, how are you going to carry yourself. When the spotlight fades on you, when you move into Wuzzy Acres, when the track record and resume are done being “stacked” in preparation for IML, how will you do things to keep your momentum moving forward in support of the community.
2. Don’t forget who was REALLY there for you from the start. I’ve made this mistake and learned from it. You have people who are in your corner who might not be the most vocal ALL the time, but that doesn’t mean they’re not supporting you. Folks will come and go, they’ll take pictures with you, etc… but the people who were there to begin with and are still there? Those are the day ones.
BWM: Anything we have not covered that you’d like to mention.
CG: Don’t forget about your local communities! Being on the international platform is AMAZING, but don’t forget the communities, clubs and bars back home that make feeder contests, local/regional titles, and bar nights a thing. Those are where the new generation of leather and bear is coming from and it’s so important to be present for those individuals as they start their journey; otherwise, these communities won’t last.