The Laird, in collaboration with Mannhaus, has held the annual Laird Leatherman competition - as we know it - since 2008. The competition is held in August each year as part of AWOL (A Week Of Leather) and aims to bring men of the leather and fetish communities together to raise awareness and support for not only their own communities, but also to a variety of different charities and organisations.
Last year, James Addinsall was announced Laird Leatherman 2017 and has spent his reigning year fundraising for Positive Women Victoria - the only community based support organisation in Australia that is specifically dedicated for women living with HIV. In August 2018, James announced that he had raised an awe-inspiring $18,000+ for his chosen organisation over the course of his title-holding year.
In this interview, Demasque chats with James about his own leather journey and the impact his fundraising efforts have had.
How did you discover PWV and what made you choose it as your organisation to fundraise for?
In early 2017 I attended The Positive Leadership Development Institute, where, for the first time since my diagnosis in 2014, I met and heard the stories of several women living with HIV. Hearing how different their experiences were from diagnosis to living with HIV and the stigma that comes with it completely blew me away. The weekend definitely showed me how privileged I was to be a white gay male living in a major city. When I decided to enter the Laird Leatherman competition, Positive Women Victoria was the organisation I wanted to support from the start. I felt like we needed to start talking abut this, and I thought ‘What better way to honour the support that women gave gay men during the AIDS crisis than to bring our two communities together to support them?’.
Why do you think it is important that wider society is aware that these organisations exist? How do you think we can further increase exposure to and support for the issues that PLHIV face? The HIV landscape has changed drastically in the last 10 years. PLHIV who are able to achieve an undetectable viral load through their medication are expected to achieve a normal life expectancy, and on top of that, the message of Undetectable = Untransmittable is finally making its way out there. That’s right! People who are on effective treatment cannot pass on HIV to their partners! But not many people know this. As a newly diagnosed person, it’s absolutely terrifying even considering telling family or friends about your diagnosis. People need to know that organisations like PWV exist because they need to know that HIV is still here, it needs to be talked about, and it’s not the HIV they remember.
Can you tell us a bit about how you fundraised for PWV?
During my year as Laird Leatherman I did three fundraisers. First was the monthly Sunday Social barbeque at The Laird. The second was a book called ‘An Illustrated Guide To The Hanky Code’, which was a collaborative project with over 50 men from around the world involved. And the third was an event called Save or Shave, where I was joined by three other bearded men and the community voted with their wallets on whether we went clean shaven. Sadly my beard got the chop. The event raised an amazing amount for PWV, but I can definitely say I won’t be shaving for a very long time.
What inspired you to create 'An Illustrated Guide To The Hanky Code'? What was the creative process in developing the book like?
An Illustrated Guide To The Hanky Code was such a challenging but rewarding project. Earlier in 2017 I became inspired by the hanky code and started to do a series of drawings based on the more common flagging colours. I’d considered putting the series of work into a coffee table book and sell a few copies to friends if it turned out well. When I became Laird Leatherman 2017 I was talking to my partner, and previous Laird Leatherman, Ben and we thought it could be a fantastic fundraiser. It evolved over time from a book of my own art to a project that included over 20 artists from around the world and over 20 unique insights and stories about each of these fetishes. There was a lot of planning and reaching out to people via social media to gather interest. Almost 6 months after the competition, I held a book launch at a space provided by one of my major sponsors, Mannhaus, where a lot of the local contributors came along to sign the book. At the launch all 30 copies sold, and in the months following over 50 copies were sold. Putting the book together and collaborating with so many people took a lot of time, but the definitely something I’m proud of beyond words.
What other sorts of responsibilities come with being an ambassador for The Laird and Mannhaus within the local and international leather communities?
You’ve pretty much summed it up! The Laird and Mannhaus sat me down at the start of my year and essentially said ‘no pressure’. From the get-go there weren’t expectations that I had to achieve anything spectacular, that I had to be at every event in an official capacity and be fundraising all year long, nor did I have to hold myself up against the Laird Leatherman of years past. They wanted me to be present throughout the year, represent them with pride and make the year my own. But more importantly, they made sure I was able to have a fantastic year and not burn out by having to commit to too many local or international events. And that’s definitely something I’ll always be thankful for.
What inspired you to enter the Laird Leatherman competition?
I fell in love with The Laird the first time i walked through its doors. It’s much more than a pub, it’s a community hosted in a unique men-only space. When I moved there I became a regular almost instantly, and going to the weekly events I saw people involved who weren’t just patrons. I kept asking myself ‘how can I get involved? How can I contribute and make my mark on this amazing group of people?’. I’d made friends with several of the previous Laird Leathermen, and hearing their stories of competing and representing The Laird and Mannhaus inspired me to take that step to be involved. Entering the Laird Leatherman competition was like jumping in the deep end, going from that new guy who likes walking around in nothing but a harness and leather jock to the Laird Leatherman in a reasonably short amount of time. But the wonderful thing about being a titleholder is that you’ve got your own leather family to support you.
What was your favourite part in running for the title of Laird Leatherman 2017?
My favourite part of the competition definitely had to be the fantasy round. Mine was essentially A Journey of a Leatherman, where my partner Ben took me from my casual clothes and transformed me into a Leatherman. Firstly because I got to perform with him. Secondly because there was a fun role reversal at the climax of the background track that involved him being on his knees in front of me with my arse bare for everyone to see.
What is your next step as a Leatherman?
After my title year ended I decided to step back and take a break to readjust to life. After an amazing year of planning and fundraising and being so involved, I couldn’t imagine what I would do to keep myself busy, and yet the last few months have flown by. So now I’m looking to the future.
If my year as Laird Leatherman taught me anything about myself, it was that I have a passion around gathering people to support others who need it. And there are plenty of people in our community who need support. I can see some fantastic opportunities in the future to get more involved in the wider Australian Leather community, and I can definitely see there are things we as a community need to start talking about.
Do you have any advice for an aspiring Leatherman? Or for someone who is looking to get more involved in their local leather community?
For those who aspire to become a Leatherman or just want to get more involved, put your hand up and let the leaders in your community know that you’d like to be more than just a participant at your local events. If you love your community and want to see it grow, nurture it and contribute in a way that makes it flourish. Welcome everyone. Talk to everyone. Ours is an amazing community, and not just because we elevate members to represent us every year, but because of the amazing work we do to support amazing organisations and charities like Positive Women Victoria. It’s a community that spans the globe, and it’s one I’m so glad I found.