On Saturday night I sat between an Australian and a German leather daddy as we watched the Pecs and Personality portion of the 35th annual International Mr. Leather Contest. Fifty-one men, wearing mostly jockstraps or some other type of assless leather, were lined up onstage at the Vic Theatre. My wardrobe completely lacks leather (except for boots—which are amateur compared to IML footwear), and I was the only person in the crowd, including press, not wearing some type of gear.

IML is an annual leather convention in Chicago that coincides with Memorial Day. Thirty-five years ago it was a bar contest: organizers put out brochures asking people to come, and 400 showed up. This year an estimated 18,000-20,000 leather folks made the trip, turning IML into one of the largest annual conventions in the city. This year’s schedule started Wednesday and was full of events like Woof Camp (limited to “pups” and “handlers”), the People of Color Leather Caucus, and the Leather Market—with a ton of vendors like “Gear Essentials” and “Marvelous Mayhem.” I wasn’t at the Vic to participate in any of those events; I wanted to see who was going to win the coveted title of Mr. International Leather 2013.