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Friday, April 14, 2017

Put Your Best Facebook Forward

Written by  Rodney Burger
Mr. Long Beach Leather 2016 Ali Mushtaq (r) and his biggest fan Mr. Long Beach Leather 2016 Ali Mushtaq (r) and his biggest fan

I started using Facebook in 2013. Prior to that I stayed away because I was working for the State of Maryland Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services and we fired employees as a result of information posted on Facebook all the time. Felicia is a corrections officer and her new boyfriend just got out of jail yesterday. Bye Felicia. Joe is really sick and can’t come to work today, but he is really having fun in Ocean City. Enjoy the time off Joe – you’ll now have lots of it. Sir Steve and I once missed a local leather titleholder’s charity event because we didn’t know it was going on. When we asked an organizer about it he replied, “It was all over Facebook!” Guess he didn’t want people who are not on Facebook there.

Facebook is a great way to promote events, but it should not be the only way. Good old fashioned posters or postcards work well too. (As do emails and even conversations!) Not everyone is on Facebook. It always surprises me how many bars and leather clubs no longer keep their websites up to date. Nothing like looking at a schedule of events in 2016. Since I’ve gotten onboard, I’ve seen the power of Facebook. I’ve reconnected with leather friends who have moved far away. I’ve seen lots of good discussions about leather related topics. I’ve also seen lots of drama. I’ve learned some interesting things about my leather family and I’ve learned some things that I would rather not know. Once when judging a leather contest I even asked contestants this question: What role does social media play in being a leather titleholder, and is it a good thing or a bad thing? Facebook can be a good thing if you use it correctly or it can be your worst enemy.

A few years ago a recently-sashed local leather titleholder returned home from a night of celebrating and went online. During a heated discussion regarding another current and prominent leather titleholder she used the n-word and I don’t mean “Nordstrom.” Needless to say that person was stripped of her newly-acquired sash very quickly. Thank God for a good runner-up. When the Baltimore Pride Parade rolled around someone turned to me and said, “I was at the contest and the person in the convertible is not who won.” I simply explained that the winner could not fulfill her obligation and the runner-up was gracious enough to step up. Another person is out of a job thanks to Facebook.

Most leather titleholders set up a new Facebook page to promote themselves and their title year. It is filled with pictures of this titleholder out doing things, meeting people, and attending leather events all over the country. He can post a flyer and with one click of his finger hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of people know about his event. He can even do a separate Facebook invite and invite all his friends to his benefit. It really made me wonder recently when I was talking to a reporter from another big city LGBT newspaper and he told me that he tried several times to send a friend request to one of our current leather titleholders only to not have his request accepted. He now says he is blocked and although he has never met this person, he has a very low opinion of him. Guess you will not be reading about this leather titleholder’s fundraisers in that newspaper.

And don’t get me started about some contestants for leather contest who post that they were not selected because the contest was fixed, the community was against them, the judges were idiots, they were discriminated against, or that the contest was poorly produced. What will happen when that person runs for another leather title? One usually has to go to a vineyard for items of that nature. I’ve also seen long ugly rants from leather titleholders who are on their way to compete at the International Mr. Leather Contest or some other major contest. They go on and on about the problems in their community, their unhappiness with other leather titleholders, or their stressed out life that resulted from becoming a leather titleholder. Should this person earn a bigger title? Lordy – maybe they shouldn’t have earned their current title. Was there a runner-up?

The role of a leather titleholder is to promote one’s local leather community by being a positive force, a role model. Someone that new members of the community can look up to. It is all about a positive public image and social media is the new public. I even saw one post complaining that there were no leather events in that person’s area. I have an idea – host one! Some folks even post questions like: When is International Mr. Leather? (You have Facebook but don’t have Google?) You can be anything you want to be on the internet, – why would anyone choose to be mean or stupid? In the immortal words of that great philosopher Cher: “Words are like weapons. They wound sometimes.”

I’m happy to report that I’ve used the power of Facebook for good rather than evil. I’ve promoted this column and have gotten feedback from all over the country. I’ve promoted my ShipMates Club events and was delighted at the attendance for December’s Daddy Christmas fundraiser at Grand Central. I was never prouder to be a member of the ShipMates than a few years ago after my club hosted a 40th anniversary dinner at an upscale downtown Baltimore restaurant and I went on Facebook and saw beautiful pictures of leather folks from all up and down the East Coast smiling in their formal leather with Baltimore’s Inner Harbor as a background. (You can’t buy publicity like that!)

I have used Facebook to meet new leather titleholders from all over the country. One guilty pleasure was my admiration from afar of a certain leather titleholder in California. He is so beautiful that I had a big schoolgirl crush on him. I sent him a friend request and would comment on some of his post. In January on the Friday night of Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend in Washington, I was walking into a large hotel suite for the Onyx cocktail party and he was there. He immediately shouted, “Rodney!” He then quickly pulled me into his furry chest and armpits. I was in heaven! It turned out that he was every bit as nice as I dreamed he would be. That is a good leather titleholder who knows how to use Facebook to build a fan base. Worked for me! We live in the information age and Facebook is a big part of it. Facebook can be wonderful. I love seeing pictures of my leather family with their Christmas trees, celebrating a birthday, or hosting a fundraiser. Facebook can help you promote events, and it is a way to show your community that you are out there representing well. Facebook can also show that you are an asshole. One of my leather titleholder friends put it best when he posted, “Don’t feed the trolls!” Facebook got me through the long winter while Sir Steve was away for four months. My leather family is just a click away. And if you use Facebook wisely and put your best Facebook forward even a new leather titleholder in California will know your name. Thank you Facebook!

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