As I walked up to the door at Rockbar, the site of this year’s Mr. American Rubber contest, a trim older gentleman in skin-tight black overalls asked, “Are you a rubber man?”
I confessed I wasn’t. In fact I had never worn a item of fetish gear in my life.
He welcomed me anyway. I could tell from his knowing look that I wasn’t the first curious outsider who wandered in “just to check things out.”
It was mid-October and the rubber community was coming together to choose its kinky ambassador to the world. But since the contest’s website was scant on details, I wasn’t sure what I was in for: How did it all work, exactly? What would we be seeing? And, more importantly, how much did audience members have to participate? As a journalistic outsider I considered the stakes comfortably low, although I hadn’t foreseen how infectious the crowd’s enthusiasm would be. There’s no denying that rubber does some nice things for the male form. (Think bad-ass Spanx for men.)
Once inside the West Village club, I saw guys of every age, body type, ethnicity and degree of commitment to the rubber lifestyle. You have to hand it to the kinsters—they’re one of the few groups that are truly welcoming. (Call me sheltered, but I’d never seen guys greeted with a kiss to the armpit before.)
The pageant kicked off with a stretchy striptease by our host, boylesque sensation Go-Go Harder, who tamed the lively crowd with boyish charms and smoky-transparent Klawtex lederhosen. Harder introduced the judges—including regional champs Mr. New England Rubber and Mr. Midwest Rubber—before bringing out the contestants: Joe, affectionately known as “Pup,” was a stout little fella with an engaging grin. Arthur had more of a boyish superhero look. And Cody was a bearded hunk with a fledgling porno career.
The guys were to be judged by their answers to judges’ questions and on their performance in a fantasy sequence. That meant frequent intermissions so that, somewhere in the murky depths of Rockbar, frantic and slippery costume changes could take place. As we waited, a regular revealed that the local rubber scene was susceptible to “a lot of drama,” but that he participated anyway as a way to ease out of his own comfort zone. “I would come to work like this if I could,” my newfound friend claimed.
It turns out that the fantasy segment was more than just a costume contest: the contestants are asked to play out their hottest rubber fantasy in front of the audience. Pup was the standout here, bound and zipped into a slicked-up body bag by a clan of daddy bears.
The Q&As were surprisingly revealing, too: soft-spoken Arthur overthought his answers, which were drowned out by the unruly crowd, anyway. Cody’s comment about being better qualified to reach out to young rubber lovers because of “the stigma placed on older members” might have been a little tactless. Pup had his pageant etiquette down, though: He offered his stocky self as an example that you don’t have to be a gym rat to get your kink on.
As the judges deliberated, Harder eased the tension with a good old-fashioned Lube-Off: Two audience members raced to see who could most effectively coat his resilient outerwear (and then, his underwear) with Astroglide. Everybody wins!
But everyone can’t win all the time—eventually it was time to declare the official winner of Mr. American Rubber 2012. The judges awarded Cody and Arthur first and second runners-up, respectively—meaning Pup was the man of the evening (and the year). It was clearly a genuine honor for the stocky stud, who looked like he was on the verge of crying as he bowed to accept his medal and sash.
In the end, I can’t say witnessing this skin-tight spectacle turned me into what the bouncer called “a rubber man,” but it certainly opened my eyes to a range of interests and aesthetics that I hadn’t run across in my usual nightlife crawls.
If you’re tired of the drama and clique-ishness within your own little tidepool, consider wading further out to sea where the fish are a little stranger. Wetsuit encouraged, but not required.