We had four sexy and intelligent men with varying levels of experience in the leather title system, and, as one might expect, the conversation was pretty freewheeling.
What is clear to me—from our initial brainstorms on the topic, questions which poured in from our anonymous poll, facebook messages and public comments, the panel discussion itself, and from people's reactions afterwards—is this: expectations are entirely UNCLEAR.
Contest producers have expectations, contestants have expectations, spectators have expectations, and the WINNER has expectations.
Layer on another axis of expectation: Bar titles, versus city titles, versus regional titles, versus international titles.
Layer on another axis of expectation: an exponentially growing community of people made up entirely of contest producers, judges, contestants, winners, and whiners.
Now let's add words like Community. and Service. and Mentoring. and History. and AIDS Epidemic.
Finally, let's not forget that in the midst of this title ecosystem forming, an entire generation of men was lost to us, and we now have a brand new generation of men entering the scene who—thank fuck—have literally no experience living in terror that the most important expression of their sexuality and manhood will unquestionably kill them in a horrible way.
To me, the leather title system as a whole is The Mirror of Erised - or "The Mirror of Desire" from the Harry Potter Universe. This mirror was inscribed with a mysterious phrase: "Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi." Read backwards, as in a mirror, you see "I show not your face but your heart's desire:" When someone looks into the mirror, they see the most desperate desire of their heart. You have a clear idea of what you see, but those around you do not. Everyone at every level of the contest system seems to have a desire which may or may not be clear to anyone else, and which may or may not line up with anyone else's desperate desire of their hearts.
I don't mean to sound glum about this. In fact, I am excited that I was asked to judge this year's Mr. San Francisco Leather Contest on March 7th, 2015. For context, this is the first contest I have been asked to judge. I have been asked to compete, but I never have. I (as a representative of LDG) have been asked to sponsor a new feeder contest, and we sidestepped that. I have attended many local contests. I know lots of contestants at every level. I have a relatively fresh view of all of this in general, because I came out into the leather/kink community only 4 years ago. LDG is a constituent member of the San Francisco Bay Area Leather Alliance, which is also the "owner" of the Mr. San Francisco Leather title. Just for fun, I am also the primary architect behind what will (hopefully, if the Apple/Android Store goddesses are agreeable) be the first SF Leather App - an iOS/Android app which will not only serve as the contest weekend program, but also be updated throughout the rest of the year to be a useful Leather/Kink Community Resource.
So, with that in mind, I am looking forward to seeing how this contest thing works behind the curtain. I will do my very best to judge the contest based on what the stated expectations of the contest owner is. I will make sure that the contestants I talk to understand what they're being judged on and why. I will talk with my fellow judges to make sure we are on the same page, using the same scale and set of shared values.
I will throw one final parallel in here to close: The amount of (mis/non/loaded)communication that leads to unfulfilled expectations feel very much like people who want to reproduce some load-blowing scene they saw at a dungeon party, but don't know how to negotiate it. So they fumble their way through it, trying to make it look hot, perhaps desperately hoping the other person is getting something out of it, but ultimately failing because they didn't sit down to talk about what it was they wanted to get out of it.
So, in conclusion, negotiate your scene, and know wtf you are getting into before you own/produce/contest in/spectate upon/win a leather title. ;)