Alexander Cheves – sweetbeastly on Recon - is a sex and relationships writer, editor, and artist. In this article Alex talks about his experience of working fetish events
In mid-January, the U.S. capital hosts leathermen from across the East Coast. Mid-Atlantic Leather — MAL for short — takes place every year at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. The Capitol building itself is in full view as you walk from the train station to the hotel, its white columns and elegant dome towering over the buildings. Despite the cold, men gather every year outside the hotel entrance in various states of dress — from jockstraps and singlets to head-to-toe leather — with the most important building in the country two-thousand feet away.
The weekend event is a smaller, more relaxed version of International Mister Leather, or IML, a male leather pageant garnering contestants from around the world that takes place every May in Chicago. The one-day MAL competition is less intense than IML's four-day throwdown. The event is mostly a chance for kinky people and sex pigs from New York to Atlanta to meet, socialize, and play; the competition seems almost incidental. At IML, by comparison, it is the raison d'être.
Last weekend's MAL was my first as a regular attendee, not a worker. I was a vendor in the market downstairs for the last few years, working for a popular adult retailer that most people in kink should be somewhat familiar with. To avoid the accusation that I'm writing an ad or speaking for the brand, I will not say the business name. I was Senior Copywriter then — now I've transitioned to freelance in order to take on more clients and expand my writing more earnestly into editorial.
Being freelance means, I no will no longer join my ex-teammates at sales events — which, for fetish retailers, are what these gatherings are. For us, they are a lot of work and involve long days, hours of setup and takedown, and little sleep.
Attendees at these events don't often think about the people who work them, the countless volunteers who get up early and stay after everyone's gone, the vendors who spend weeks and months prepping inventory — and they shouldn't. We perform a service. This is what service is. We are often unable to join in the nightly revelry because we have to be up early to do it again.
Being attractive helps sell product, and I think I'm easy to look at. And if you flirt a little, guests buy. But the responsibility that falls on us is more important than selling. For attendees at these events, vendors become de-facto sex educators — roles that require knowledge, patience, humility, and honesty. It takes patience to explain proper rubber maintenance. It takes time to explain how to care for high-grade silicone. Slings and sex furniture require meticulous setup demos, and if you're customizing leather on the spot, you need to listen and work efficiently in the middle of a crowd.
These events were my favourite part of the job. At my first, a man asked a teammate how to use a douche. The teammate froze — and sent him to me.
I asked him about his bottoming experience. He had never done it before. We discussed everything: ass training, toys, lube, fiber supplements, all of it. We may have talked for an hour. Eventually he had what he needed (a douching bulb with a one-way valve and some condensed silicone lube) and left.
He came back the next year, asked for me, and shared his news: he learned how to bottom and found a great, patient top who was now his boyfriend. He also had fisting aspirations in his future. "OK," I said, "let's talk about training for that."
I've explained to countless gentlemen how to use cock rings and how to optimally clean and store silicone toys (hand wash with warm water and mild soap, air dry, dust occasionally with talc powder to avoid stickiness, never let silicone products touch in storage, avoid heat and moisture). Many came back to tell me their progress and say thanks — and that made the work beautiful. It became more than to me "sales," which is a dirty word that most people justifiably associate with a manipulative and deceitful art. I eased fears and fought stigma, shared stories and listened.
I directed guests to other vendors if someone else had what they needed. I became the go-to person for intimate questions: "Every time I try to bottom, I can't get clean. What am I doing wrong?" "I've never stretched my balls. How do I start?" People returned with friends because their friends had questions, too. Some brought their partners to go over techniques one more time.
Nothing I said was novel. It was knowledge gained from working in this industry and living as a sex-positive, socially cognizant human being. Once, while I was explaining a metal cock ring, a man asked me what "undetectable" means. He saw my Recon profile earlier in the day, which states that I am HIV-positive and undetectable, and recognized me in the shop. I explained: thanks to modern HIV meds, I am unable to transmit HIV.
He couldn't believe it. He lived through the early years of AIDS and watched friends die. He had no idea that the meds had improved. The virus, I explained, was no longer a death sentence in the Americas and most of Europe, but we still needed to get the word out, combat stigma, and reach those who live far from urban meccas and in countries with weak or non-existent public health infrastructure. I sent him on his way with powerful knowledge and a shiny new cock ring.
Arriving last weekend, I was happy that I didn't have to spend the next three days selling dildos. I was fun because I was able to participate — I could stay up late, sleep in, and fuck freely — but by the end, I felt like I had missed out on something. It took me the full journey home to realize what it was.
If you work these events, never underestimate your impact. Regardless if you work Folsom in San Francisco or Folsom Berlin, you will meet someone who's new to all of this. Sure, you can sell products. That's not hard. You also have the chance to teach and empower someone — which will, in turn, teach and empower you. Seize it.