Rubber Blowout Weekend sounds more like a sale on condoms at Cupid's Treasures than the largest rubber-fetish event of its kind in the U.S. It's a weekend devoted to latex obsession and the crowning of Mr. International Rubber 2006. And it only happens in Chicago.
The first such event took place in the late '80s at Boystown bar Cell Block, its annual home base, but because rubber fetishism is still relatively underground, it took awhile to get organized. "The rubber scene is still very new in the United States," says 2003 International Mr. Rubber title holder and co-organizer William Schendel. "In Europe, this is monstrous." The event is in its ninth year.
Rubber Blowout Weekend 2005 is expected to gather together about 600 latex fetishists from around the world. Last year's international lineup included contestants from all over Europe, Australia and North America. "Chicago is known for doing these big, fetish-leather things for the gay community," Schendel says of the city's annual hosting of the event. "This one event gathers the critical mass of serious rubber fetishists together in Chicago."
The festivities begin Friday 11 with attendees and judges engaged in a meet and greet with the roughly nine or ten contestants competing for the title. Saturday 12 includes breakfast and brunch in rubber gear catered by the Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club, followed by afternoon demonstrations. One such demonstration, Kitchen Kink, teaches how one can use utensils in the worst-case scenario of arriving at someone's house for an afternoon of erotic play having forgotten floggers, tit-torture devices and so forth at home.
That Saturday night, contestants compete in three categories, including rubber image, a Q&A session and a final category called wet rubber. "Contestants come out on the stage, we have a little hose in the ceiling and they stand under a warm shower of water," Schendel says. "The judges are looking for this person's ability to convey the erotic and sensual nature of rubber gear and rubber play."
The winner is announced that evening, and he assumes the role of Mr. International Rubber for the following calendar year. "It's very much like Miss America," Schendel says with a chuckle. "We just don't have an elimination round."
Schendel is proud of his enthusiasm for rubber, but is quick to point out certain misconceptions. "Rubber for me is part of a fetish. It's part of my kink-play-sex-exploration kind of thing. I don't wear it every day; I don't wear rubber under my work clothes...it's not a daily thing for me. It's my fetish side, but I'm [also] a fund-raiser. I'm an uncle. I'm a brother. I'm a very diverse person."
He also acknowledges that competing in the International Mr. Rubber contest is not for everyone. "It takes a very special person to be able to get up onstage and actually proclaim, This is my fetish, I'm proud of it, I'm willing to stand up here and tell people about it."
As the fetish community in the U.S. grows, so, too, will Rubber Blowout Weekend. Next year, the event will hit its ten-year anniversary and possibly move beyond Cell Block. Schendel, however, is not looking to turn this into International Mr. Leather Weekend anytime soon. "We're kind of at that stage where we're ready to make that next step, [but] we have to figure out what that next step is, if it allows us to retain our unique quality."
In the meantime, Schendel and others will continue to enjoy rubber-fetish play at home, and at other Chicago bars, including the Eagle and Touche.
"It's about the look, it's about [rubber] being a second skin, a membrane that is outside of your skin," Schendel says. "Rubber and latex is a huge transmitter of heat and sensation. If you're comfortable in it, I say wear it."
Rubber Blowout Weekend takes place at Cell Block Friday 11 through Sunday 13.