ILM: No More Bareback Vids for Sale at Event
International Mr. Leather (ILM) no longer allows vendors to sell videos or other depictions of unprotected anal sex.
The practice of eschewing condom use during anal sex--called "barebacking"--has received criticism due in part to rising rates of HIV among younger men. Even so, observers note that the issue is a sensitive one among practitioners of bareback sex, who feel that safer sex advocates are intrusive with their message of the importance of condom use.
In a notification sent last summer to vendors at the 2010 event, the president of IML, Chuck Renslow, wrote, "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," Renslow continued. "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, IML drew a line in the sand and raised awareness and used all our influence to try and stop this addictive madness," Renslow noted. "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 IML Leather 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."
Some gay pundits greeted the announcement with praise. A July 15 blog posting at Will Clark World.com noted that ILM had started three decades ago when Renslow hit upon a leather event as a means of drawing business to his bar. The event has grown over the years, becoming an annual convention in Chicago.
"[T]he interesting part of this is that the leather community was very Safer Sex oriented at the start of the AIDS epidemic," read the blog posting, "but by the late 90s because of The Cocktail and hardon-inducing drugs (Viagra!) not to mention the popularization and virtual decriminalization (at least from a social point of view) of crystal meth (which allows guys to fuck all night long), Safer Sex went out the window and barebacking became the new fetish.
"In 2003 Renslow gave a stirring speech at the contest decrying the unsafe sex that was going on at his own event," the posting continued, "but it rang a little hollow to activists such as myself who didn’t see his words reflected in his actions as far as what the leather mart was intent on selling: and that would be lots of toys, clothes but also, a growing number of bareback videos.
"But although six years later, it’s good news that IML is taking a healthier/active approach to this situation," the posting added. "You can call it censorship and that’s your perogative [sic] but whatever. I don’t care. If you want to blow your brains out, I don’t have to be the one to hand you the gun."
In a subsequent posting, the same blog noted that some in the gay community objected to the new policy, reporting that a "friend made the point that he and several of his friends were boycotting IML because of this decision because they were ’tired of Chuck running their lives.’ "
The blog countered this: "The argument that Chuck (or anyone else) is running someone’s life by not selling any particular product at their own event is absurd and tired," read the posting. "Don’t look to anyone else to give you validation for doing something that you want to do. If you want to bareback, bareback.. but don’t look to Chuck and IML to validate that decision. Because not selling those products doesn’t invalidate that decision either. It works both ways."
Another factor that works both ways: straight porn often does not show performers using condoms. An EDGE article from last June reported that a rash of HIV infections among heterosexual adult film actors had generated controversy. "While barebacking is extremely controversial in the gay-porn world, condomless sex is more or less taken for granted in straight porn," EDGE reported. "There’s a perception that if performers are regularly tested, there’s less worry about infection than among gay men."
HIV cases among straight porn actors are tracked by the industry itself, the EDGE article noted, but critics say that’s not enough.
An Aug. 12 Advocate.com article followed up on the story, reporting that the issue of mandatory HIV testing for adult film performers had once again surfaced in the wake of the reported rash of new infections. But the "outbreak," the article said, involved fewer performers than initially reported--and of those cases, it was impossible to determine who, if any, of the affected performers were exposed to the virus on set, versus in their private lives.
But the fact remains that the industry, though supportive in some quarters of testing for STDs, is not as pro-active in terms of condom use to prevent the spread of infections, including HIV. The article quoted JM Productions’ Tony Malice as saying, "If a girl only wants to work with a condom, she can seek out that work ... same for men. But it will be much less work."
This year’s convention--the 32nd edition of the event--is scheduled to take place over Memorial Day weekend, May 28-31, at the Hyatt Regency Chicago hotel.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.