Straight people love latex, and we’re not talking Trojans here. “The straight women’s community is probably the biggest consumer of latex gear in the world,” says William Schendel, co-organizer of the 13th annual Mr. International Rubber 2010 (MIR, mirubber.com) happening November 6–8. “It’s straight men who are driving that. They like to see these women in tight, form-fitting, shiny outfits. It’s kind of a way to turn your woman into Barbie with really sexy gear.”
Of course, many gay men love rubber, too. So much so that the pageant-style competition—which includes presentations, interviews, live demos of rubber play and an audience vote—has ditched its old digs at Cell Block, where more than 600 rubber fetishists annually have taken part in the event, for the more spacious Center on Halsted.
In 1997, MIR, a.k.a. Rubber Blowout Weekend, began under the ownership of Cell Block. Much like its counterpart, International Mr. Leather, the weekend includes a competition, vendor market and after-hours events. But according to Schendel (or “Rubberwilli”), who won the pageant in ’03, while the event may have boosted drink sales, it also cost a lot for the bar to underwrite. And Cell Block’s cramped quarters meant it couldn’t properly accommodate MIR. Holding the vendor market each afternoon while the competition and after-parties happened each night was a logistical nightmare, Schendel says. “The vendor would have to set up then tear down, then set up then tear down,” he says. “It was really just a mess for them.”
At last year’s event, Center on Halsted executive director Tico Valle, who served as a competition judge, suggested the Center as an alternative venue: Its Hoover-Leppen Theater and Billie Jean King Recreation Hall could better house the competition and market. Valle’s offer inspired John Jacobs, also a judge last year, to purchase the contest from Cell Block and form MIR Contest LLC with Schendel.
This year, visitors will travel, via free shuttle, between host hotel Days Inn Chicago in Lincoln Park and the Center on Halsted as well as venues such as Cell Block, Steamworks, Jackhammer and Touche, which will host after-hours parties including the Rubber Ball and Full Fetish MIR.
Granted, the shiny Center on Halsted might seem a strange place to peruse rubber undies and hand-crafted chastity belts or to watch a contestant creatively integrate Cheez Whiz and a plunger into rubber play. But Schendel says the Center’s message of inclusion extends to the fetish communities as well. “The Center is there for the entire community, which includes kink and fetish,” he says. “We’re planning on bringing the aesthetic as much as possible. There will be bar service available, [but] we follow the local ordinances and rules. There’s no nudity.”
This may all seem like a lot of fuss given that International Mr. Leather already has the fetish community covered. But there’s a common misconception that leather and rubber fetishists are one and the same, Schendel says. “Leather has this hypermasculinity to it,” he notes. “Rubber is more of a sensual and sexual look. It’s thin and skintight; it transmits temperature very well. If you were to take your fingertip and set it on someone’s chest while they were wearing rubber gear, that heat and that sensation would be transmitted through the gear and to that person. It just has a different feel, texture, smell and taste than leather.”
Schendel hopes MIR’s expansion will draw upwards of 750 to 1,000 patrons—who may include rubber’s aforementioned aficionados: straight people. “We’re always open to anyone who’s interested in the weekend,” Schendel says. “It’s International Mr. Rubber, but we’re not going to turn away people in latex, spandex, sports gear or pup outfits. If you’re kinky and want to have a good time, welcome to our event.”
Mr. International Rubber Weekend happens November 6–8.