This week's video will also appear on my YouTube channel, "Mister J's Living In Leather," where I post videos meant to educate people about the leather community. Its purpose is also to show that the leather community is not all about sex, but putting service before self.
This has been an exciting year for me. First I was awarded my Associate's Degree in Communications, then I got married, and I was given my first award for the activism work and community service that I have done with Justin's HIV Journal. But nothing could have prepared me for what was next to come.
On November 6th, 2009 I was Contestant #3 in the Mr. Maryland Leather 2010 contest.
That night we had the meet and greet for the contest, which is a relaxed atmosphere where all the contestants can be introduced to all who plan on attending the contest. The next day of the contest was a full day of categories: Interview (in which you are interviewed by a panel of judges); Bar Wear (what you would where at your home leather bar), 90-Second Speech in Formal Wear (about your platform) and Pecs & Personality (need I say more?). There were two other contestants, Yoshi and Charles. We became very close in just a few hours and made a bond.
We were the only three competing. There was tension between us, but not because of the reasons most people would think. The tension came from doing the best we could. It's really you against the scoreboard/sheet, not you against other people. The goal is to have fun; if there is no fun then there's no point to doing what we do as leathermen and community leaders. It's common for people to get along during leather contest. The camaraderie and friendship can last a lifetime.
In the beginning of the contest I was so nervous I didn't know what to do, so I just decided to be myself. After looking into the history of the contest and past title holders I felt like I was ready. I didn't know if I would be awarded the title; all I knew was to be myself and have fun doing it, and I did just that.
When all of the categories were over they had to announce who out of the three of us who would be awarded the Mr. Maryland Leather title. When they announced me as the recipient I was so in shock that I began to tear up. I didn't know what to say or do. This had to be one of the happiest times in my life.
Now that I'm Mr Maryland Leather 2010, I've met a lot of my class brothers. Class brothers are all of the men that I will be competing with, for International Mr. Leather (IML) 2010. I've bonded with them as well. Some of them I even knew before we were titleholders. My close friend Matt Bamford competed for Mr. MAL (Mid-Atlantic Leather). He was awarded the honor and I couldn't have been more proud. He and I are activists in the DC area.
There are also several others that are going to compete at IML in Chicago, Ill., with me. The youngest contestants I believe hail from Tampa, Fla. (Mr. Ybor Eagle) and Montreal (Mr. Montreal Leatherman). They're both 22. There are also many men of color contestants this year as well. Mr. Ybor Eagle 2010, Mr. DC Eagle 2010, Mr. Leatherman of Color 2010, Mr. Maryland Leather 2010 and Mr. New Jersey 2010 are all men of color and below the age of 37. That is definitely a change from the past contestants that have competed for the IML title. The face of the leather community is changing.
One of my platforms is to keep up the fight when it comes to HIV/AIDS. Activism can be an important part of the leather title if one chooses to use it as such. It all depends on what the person's platform is. My platform was already there even before I became a titleholder.
I've turned some of my attention to Pediatric AIDS. I decided that this would be a cause of mine because I've always loved children and wish to have some of my own someday. When I discovered that I was HIV positive, that is the first thing I thought about. Then I started crying. For someone like me it was a destructive thing to my being, to not be able to have any children. Of course there is sperm cleansing but that takes a lot of money, money I don't have. Adoption is also always an option. There are plenty of children that need good homes and one day hopefully one of those homes will be the home of me and my husband, Dr Philip B Terry-Smith. I also feel that most people have a choice of having unprotected and protected sex. When people have a choice they should always use protection. Children don't have that choice. I have a very soft spot in my heart for children, especially children living with HIV/AIDS.
So now, for me, I will keep on fighting -- especially for those who cannot fight, or for those voices that have been silenced by this terrible disease.
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Justin B. Terry-Smith, M.P.H., may be one of the most public African Americans living with HIV: He has his own website, and he's even on YouTube. He is a noted HIV and gay civil rights activist and the creator of "Justin's HIV Journal," a popular blog in which he shares his trials and tribulations of living with HIV. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Justin resides in Laurel, Maryland, with his husband, Dr. Philip Terry-Smith, and their son, Lundyn. Presently, Justin is working toward earning his doctorate in public health. He welcomes your questions.
(Photo credit: Don Harris)
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