Being judged, shirtless, in front of a crowd was a turning point for Zac Cannell’s body confidence.
Cannell last year became the first trans man to be awarded the coveted title of Mr Adelaide Leather.
The gay leather scene is changing, increasingly embracing trans identities and gender diversity.
In recent years, trans men have taken out leather, bootblack, and fetish titles around Australia and internationally.
A special International Mr Transgender Leather also exists, which was won by Australian Dee Chryssomallos in 2015.
‘Pecs and Personality’
Cannell says the Mr Adelaide Leather contest was “anxiety inducing”, though he knew he had the support of his peers from the LGBTIQ community.
“An element of the competition is called ‘Pecs and Personality’, which requires you to get up on stage wearing fewer items of clothing than I’d rather and also answer a question from the judges,” he explains.
“As a bigger guy, that’s scary enough, but being a trans man added a whole other layer.
“My assumption was the crowd wanting to see a sculpted bod and crotch bulge, and I have neither.
“But it was actually really empowering, and more so to go on and win the sash.”
Cannell ultimately felt so safe with the contest group that he was comfortable spending the afterparty shirtless in a harness – a big deal for most trans men, who may be self-conscious about their chests.
Though he was the only trans man competing for the title, several trans pups (kinksters who can be seen in leather puppy masks) were in attendance.
The winner of 2019’s Australian Puppy contest, also held in Adelaide, was trans man ‘Pup Dodger’.
Joining the leather community allowed Cannell to find acceptance through a shared interest.
“I’ve struggled with body image stuff over the years and it’s held me back from many things,” he says.
“The folks at Adelaide Leather and Fetish have welcomed and encouraged me, and it’s made a huge difference to my confidence and wellbeing.”
Cannell has been part of the kink community since 2018, but has long had a passion for leather gear.
“I’ve always loved leather, going back to my childhood, seeing my dad and an uncle ride bikes,” he says.
“I have always followed pages online and had a few jackets in my wardrobe, but wearing leather, seeing the #Gear365 movement (RIP Cal Rider), it’s amazing.”
More than just a material, leather is a way of life for the community.
“Leather is an amazing resource that is hard-wearing and durable, smells and feels amazing, and has this look about it that I just love,” Cannell says.
“To wear it, it’s empowering for me; it’s a confidence boost.”
Since winning the title, Cannell has connected with other titlists across the country, including “huge inspiration” International Mr Leather Jack Thompson, who is also trans.
Thompson was a source of motivation for Cannell during the contest.
“Having Jack there and to hear him give his speech of love to the crowd, it was a feeling so indescribable, really encouraging and motivating,” he says.
The support of his “amazing” partners and housemate also eased Cannell’s anxiety when all eyes were on him.
‘Predominantly a cisgender gay male space’
Cannell believes trans people are becoming more visible, and events are reflecting that the leather community in particular is embracing more gender diversity.
The Ms Adelaide Leather title, currently the only one of its kind in Australia, has had non-binary entrants both years since its launch, including 2018 winner Jody Anderson.
“Much of the time, the leather community still feels like it’s predominantly a cisgender gay male space, but I’m seeing that diversifying slowly and I’m keen to support that to continue,” says Cannell.
He is using his position as Mr Adelaide Leather to increase the visibility of the trans community.
“Having this platform is so important to me,” he says.
“I feel willing and able to be visible, and I want others to feel they can be too.
“Now more than ever, in a political climate where our basic human rights to access things like education, employment, and healthcare are being discussed in regards to how they can be legally denied, I want to show I am visible.
“If being Mr Adelaide Leather helps give that platform then I will do so with pride.”