Friday, May 20, 2011
SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY! Mr. Louisiana Leather 2011 Troy Powell talks about what’s hot in New Orleans, the road to IML, and wearing leather in the Deep South!
Mr. Louisiana Leather 2011 Troy Powell talks about what’s hot in New Orleans, the road to IML, and wearing leather in the Deep South!
Living in a city that reportedly never sleeps (and never lets ME sleep much either…), I sometimes forget that there’s a whole world outside of the urban jungle that is New York, my hometown. But regardless of what town you call home, the upcoming International Mr. Leather (IML) Contest on Memorial Day Weekend is a reminder that there are dedicated men and women all over the world who take their Leather lifestyles very seriously. Every one of the IML Contestants has their own unique way of representing the community, both at home and on a more universal level. Meet Troy Powell: Mr. Louisiana Leather 2011. His hometown is New Orleans-- the city famous for Southern Decadence, its Mardi Gras, and being the birthplace of jazz music (in addition to its po boys, gumbo, jambalaya, and crawfish etoufee. Hungry yet?!). In between packing his gear and studying his Leather history for IML next week, Troy took the time to talk to me about life as a Titleholder in one of America‘s most spirited cities:
JR: Hello, Troy! Congratulations on winning Mr. Louisiana Leather 2011. What was your first reaction when you won back in October?
TP: Thank you, Jed, for this opportunity to share my thoughts about becoming Mr. Louisiana Leather 2011. I was overwhelmed at first. I have this little habit of covering my mouth with my hand when I'm surprised. And when I saw the pictures my friends took that night, that's what they focused on—me with my gloved hand over my huge smile. It wasn't until they put the sash on me that I came to the realization that I had won. The honor and the weight of the title hit me all at once on stage, and it was a remarkable feeling. That’s when I knew the real work was going to start. There is no manual that comes with the sash, only comments on what to do.
JR: How true! Now, I have to admit that the idea of wearing leather in a state where the temperature often goes up past 100 degrees in the summer can be a pretty unsettling thought! Does the subtropical climate make it challenging to be a Leatherman in your region?
TP: Yes, it can at times. Southerners are very adaptable people. We have only about four months when you can wear full leather and be comfortable. For the rest of the year, you wear pieces—boots with a vest or harness, jeans and leather shirt, etc. I'm slim so I have a few more options on what I can wear and be comfortable in. If you’re barhopping, you wear less, and as for play parties and scenes they are usually hosted in private homes or play spaces, so temperature is not an issue, and more leather is encouraged. I feel that you don't have to be in full leather to be viewed as a Leatherman. That comes from within. When I was invited this year to attend the Rex ball, I wanted to make sure that I was able to represent my community. The Rex organization is one of the oldest old-line Mardi Gras krewes in New Orleans, founded in 1872, and the ball is very formal, requiring white tie and tails with white gloves. I had a good friend design my and Wayne's (my escort for the evening) boutonnières using white calla lilies with a black leather backing and bound with a leather cord. They looked great against our black tailcoats! I could not completely bow down to the status quo, now could I? After all I had a title too. Most were oblivious to their significance, but friends in the GLBT and the Leather community who also attended sure took notice. You can be a Leatherman in any setting or occasion. It's how your present and project yourself to the world.
JR: Well said! So, what is your chosen fundraising and/or philanthropic cause? Why?
TP: For my first fundraiser I chose the Louisiana State Museum. My Mardi Gras krewe, the Lords of Leather, had recently donated to the museum some four hundred watercolor sketches of our costumes to the Mardi Gras collection. The gay krewes have been around for almost sixty years. They were pioneers in the New Orleans gay community. Most of the balls were raided and people were arrested in the early years. The gay krewes were underrepresented in the Museum’s collection, and by donating the sketches, we wanted to encourage other krewes to do the same to better document our history. The museum did not have it in their budget to properly preserve such a large donation, so with the monies from my fundraiser "Bound and Sleeved" in November, we were able to acquire all the acid-free folders and boxes to house the collection and establish a fund for future donations. It's a legacy I hope will continue.
My second fundraiser was inspired by Jaco Lourens in South Africa. I saw the pictures from his soft toy drive in December and wanted to do something similar, so I organized an Easter basket drive for one of our local churches, St Anna's Episcopal Church. They have after-school programs for underprivileged children in the Tremé, Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods of the city, providing kids a safe place to go, and I knew that most of these kids would not have anything for Easter. St. Anna's has been a bridge for the GLBT community here in the city. They never turn us away for anything, from funerals to home blessings, spiritual guidance and support of all our fundraisers. I felt I wanted to do something for them, and the Easter basket drive was a great success. The church provided me with the names and ages of fifty-five children who would be there on Good Friday. My community rallied around this effort, and I was able to get sixty-four baskets donated so every kid that attended St. Anna's for Easter services left with a basket. My fundraiser piggybacked with the Gay Easter Parade, which was a fundraiser for St. Anna’s food bank, so the church got a double whammy from the GLBT folks this year.
JR: New Orleans has a culture that is distinctly different from the rest of America. I have never been there-- yet!-- but I would imagine that the GLBT community marches to the beat of their own drummer. In your opinion, what is especially unique about the New Orleans GLBT community, especially the Leather world?
TP: We do march to the beat of a different drummer, and that beat is Jazz. New Orleans is the only city that I have ever lived in where you can feel the heartbeat of the city. It is alive. Tourists try to capture the feeling and take it home with them with beads, voodoo dolls and empty hurricane glasses. It's something that can only be experienced here and nowhere else. The city is alive and we are alive. We celebrate that every day in our music, festivals and our way of life. New Orleans, in my opinion, is the hub of the Leather world in the tri-state area of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Most people form groups in their cities, but to meet them it takes some work. Leather is still very much underground outside of New Orleans and Mobile. You are free to express who you are here, so many Leathermen and Leatherwomen plan their vacations and free time months in advance to visit here. In some respects it's still old guard here. There are lots of play parties, but you have to know someone to be invited. Once you’re in, you’re in. It's just making that first contact that takes the most time and effort. The ties and friendships that are forged will last a lifetime. They are very strong here in the South. And as a titleholder it’s my duty to be that face and contact person to help others find the people they are seeking.
JR: As Titleholders, we are Ambassadors for the Leather community and are responsible for representing the community in a positive light.. What can each and every Leatherman or Leatherwoman so, on a daily basis, to promote and support the interests of the Leather community?
TP: For me, it is important to be seen every day as a Leatherman. Whether it's wearing my harness boots and suspenders to Wal-mart or a wrist cuff and hanky to go “make groceries” (as we say down here) or stepping out of my car in my leather overalls at the car wash, I feel it’s crucial just to be visibly out in the world wearing leather. Not everyone can wear leather and be safe, and I'm fortunate to live in a city where I can. I have worn a leather wristband to my place of work and it has been a great catalyst to start conversations with people about my lifestyle.
JR: That’s great! So, how are you preparing for International Mr. Leather?
TP: Preparing for IML has been a challenge for me. In my twenty-three years in the Leather life I have been mostly involved in small groups, families and triads. Runs and conventions were something I was not involved in or knew much about until recently. The people I played with didn't mention them or, like me, didn't know about them. So I have been doing a lot of research and reading about different clubs and associations around the country. Like everyone else I don't know everything but I'm willing to learn and discover. The Leather world is ever-evolving and ever-changing, and I love that about it. My brothers who held my title before me have been so supportive and have provided such a wealth of great information to me, but they have also been the hardest critics to overcome. They do this in love and want only the best for me. Without them I would have had a much harder road in front of me, and I will pass on what I have learned to my successor in October.
JR: In addition to IML, where can people visiting New Orleans meet you in person? Put another way, where are your favorite hangouts?
TP: Now for the fun stuff! You can find me all over the city, from the French Quarter getting my drink on (some of the best libations anywhere in the world) to hanging with my Leather friends at the Phoenix Bar. As for my non-alcoholic pastimes, you will find me on Magazine Street junk store shopping, or attending one of the many, many festivals we are so famous for, or trolling any one of the art markets that pop up on a Saturday morning. But one of my favorite things to do is to go to the old Prytania Theater (the only single-screen cinema left in Louisiana) and see old classic movies on Sunday afternoons. To see these great films on the big screen where they belong is just a treat.
JR: Damn, I’m jealous! Now, Leathermen are often looked upon as symbols of sex appeal and masculinity. As a Titleholder, what do you personally find sexy in a guy?
TP: I find a lot of things about men sexy, but I will try and narrow it down. I'm really attracted to men with a bald head and facial hair. Grrrr. That just melts my butter. Beyond that I like nice hands, graying hair, someone who can carry on a conversation without having to dominate it, and a person who can laugh at themselves just as easily as I can laugh at myself. Oh, and a good speller because I'm horrific at it. You should see this before spell-check. It’s all red.
JR: … sorry, I got lost on the bald head and facial hair part. Woof! Now, on a more serious note: It is an unfortunate phenomenon that when a tragedy happens in America, we tend to pay a lot of attention to it, but then move on after a while when the next bad thing happens, forgetting about the last tragedy. It’s been six years since Hurricane Katrina. What do Americans still need to know about the people who were affected by it?
TP: We are back in the news again with the rising Mississippi River and the very hard decision that was made to open the flood gates and send water into small towns to save the major metropolitan areas. But I will tell you this about New Orleans and the whole Gulf Coast area: there are still to this day areas that have not been touched since the hurricane in 2005. You can still see the water lines on some homes and businesses. Now almost six years later, we have made great strides forward but there is still a lot more to be done, and it is getting done. I told a story at my title competition about how I was lucky enough not to have lost my house to the flooding, and I had all my leather in storage at the time because I needed more room in my armoire and had locked it away for the summer in a storage warehouse. Unfortunately, the warehouse was completely inundated with flood waters, and the only thing remaining of my leathers was a single belt. I wear it to this day, every day. I keep it unpolished, used, worn and untouched. It’s my constant reminder of my Leather roots. It’s my anchor, and I will be wearing it at IML. I think the greatest moment for me in this city was when we won the Super Bowl in 2010. It just showed the world that New Orleanians can do whatever we put our collective minds to. Geaux Saints! And the Leather community is just as strong and resilient.
Just a note to finish off this great interview: I would like to say thank you to everyone for this amazing journey that you have put me on. Your love and support has overwhelmed me to no end and I will do my very best to make you proud at IML. I have been blessed with good health, great friends, supportive family and a man in my life who is showing me what unconditional love really is. Yes, a rock does have to fall on me to get it sometimes.
JR: Thanks so much, Troy. The best of luck at IML!
You can visit Troy Powell’s Facebook page at