PHOTOS: Scott Portugal for LeatherWerks

For most Americans, Memorial Day weekend marks the (unofficial) start of summer and, weather permitting, the itinerary is built around outdoor activities: parades, pool parties, barbecues, baseball games, and maybe an inaugural jaunt to the beach.

In the leather community, things are… a little different.

Memorial Day weekend is when the International Mr. Leather competition, perhaps the premiere leather event of the year, is held in Chicago, and the festivities — few of which occur outdoors, oddly enough — include a host of title competitions, a leather market (shopping!), massive dance parties, kink seminars, puppy yoga, fetish demonstrations, and a number of informal events (for 3 to 300) that don’t appear on the official calendar.

It’s part pageant, part pigfest, and a helluva good time. Or so I’ve heard.

Last October, Scot Blumstein, a former runner-up, earned the title of Mr. Ramrod, so he’ll be proudly sporting that sash — and hoping to snatch another one — in Chicago next weekend. We caught up with Scot for a little chat as he was breaking in the new leather he’ll be wearing on stage.

You’re a native New Yorker. Do you know the score by now?

I love that song, Bill. As for the score, I’m constantly learning. I still consider myself a work in progress.

When did you come to South Florida? What brought you here?

I moved here in January 1995. My dad passed away suddenly, and I moved here for six months to take care of my mom, and I wound up staying.

Last October you were named Mr. Ramrod. What’s involved? Swimsuit, evening gown, and talent competitions?

There’s an interview that’s not seen by the audience. Then onstage there’s a spoken fantasy scene, a pop question, and three gear changes: formal leather, jockstrap, and bar wear. The judges want to see how comfortable you are in your gear, how you handle yourself in front of an audience, and whether your personality shines through.

You were the runner-up in 2015. Did you do anything differently this time? Or had circumstances changed?

I was more well-known in the community because I’d been promoting and supporting leather events for the last three years. I looked out into the audience [during last October’s contest], and I knew everyone. All of my friends were there to support me. The host of the contest, Bill Hoeppner, asked the audience, “How many of you get Scot’s email blast every week?” and I saw everyone’s hand go up. I will have that memory for the rest of my life.

You’ll be representing Ramrod — and all of South Florida — at IML over Memorial Day weekend. Is it different from the Mr. Ramrod contest?

It’s a huge deal. It’s basically the Academy Awards for the leather community. Mr. GayDays Leather and I are the only contestants representing Florida. It’s nerve-wracking standing on a stage in front of your peers and being judged. I’ll be competing with men from around the world.

How many contestants will there be?

This is the biggest IML class so far. We are 72 contestants, including 15 title holders from Europe.

What’s your strategy?

To be myself, show my personality, and bond with and support my brothers.

I’ve heard people dismiss IML and the feeder contests as “beauty pageants.” Others complain that it’s all political, that the winners are determined based on who they know. How would you respond to those perceptions?

The winners are picked by earning points for their interview, gear, and personality. It’s like a job interview, and the judges are looking for the best candidate. Sometimes they get it right, and sometimes they blow it.

Having a title opens doors and offers you opportunities. It also puts a target on your back. You are the face and name, and that comes with responsibility. Three years ago I was first runner-up. I decided to be the best first runner up that I could be. I was disappointed that I didn’t win that first contest. But now I realize that it was a blessing; I made a name for myself and got involved, when most first runners-up walk away and disappear.

I saw a brief bio of you online that reads, “He enjoys gardening, the music of Barbra Streisand, going to the gym, and the leather subculture.” Exactly how much do you love Barbra?

I really love Barbra Streisand! Through her talent and sheer will she made others see her beauty. She changed the concept of what was considered attractive. When I was lonely, depressed, or heartbroken, her music and her movies consoled me. She was an outsider who made good, so I thought I could do the same.

How long have you been going to Ramrod?

I’ve been going to Ramrod since it opened 24 years ago. I’m usually there every weekend. It’s my home bar.

What first drew you to the place?

When I lived in New York, I was a preppy boy who worked on Wall Street. When I moved to South Florida in 1995, there were three leather bars: The Eagle, Jackhammer, and Ramrod. I walked into Ramrod and saw these muscular, masculine men wearing harnesses and bar vests, and I thought that they were the sexiest men I’d ever seen. I wanted to be like them.

I bought my first harness at LeatherWerks. I started working out, showing skin, and getting attention. Ramrod was a revelation. It felt like home.

What keeps you coming back?

It’s a fun bar, with great music and friendly people. Now that I’m Mr. Ramrod, I go to represent, meet, and mingle. When I go to events in other cities and I wear my title sash, everyone knows the bar, and they want to share their Ramrod stories.

You’ve been hosting monthly Leather Incursions for the last three years. What happens when a group of leathermen and women show up unannounced at a bar, club, or restaurant that’s not a regular leather haunt?

Leather Incursions were started to demystify and humanize the leather scene. We want the general public to see us and become comfortable around us — and to ask questions. Usually, by the end of the night, the owner or manager [of the venue] will come over and say, “You guys are fun and spend money. You are welcome back anytime.”

Do you find that a lot of gay men have masculinity issues — whether that means consciously embracing all things masculine, rejecting all those things, or just being insecure in their masculinity? What’s your take?

As a kid I was called “sissy” and “fairy” and made fun of. As a young adult I felt empowered wearing a leather motorcycle jacket. I embraced über masculinity because it made me feel more confident. I carry myself differently when I wear leather, and people treat and respond to me in a different way.

You’re a member of the South Florida Minotaurs and a former board member of The Lambda Men’s Brotherhood, and you do volunteer work for both The SMART Ride and the Comprehensive AIDS Program in West Palm Beach. Have you always been a joiner?

I’ve been doing volunteer work since I was in high school. As a young queer kid in the ’70s, I wasn’t popular or accepted. Volunteering was a way for me to meet people and feel like I was a part of something.

Besides the Leather Incursions, you host or promote a bunch of other events, including the monthly Enforced Dress Code party at Ramrod, Drag Bingo at Georgie’s Alibi, Fetish Rendezvous at Southern Nights, and Onyx Deep South Events. Have you always been a Julie McCoy?

I’ve always been an organizer. When I moved here, I was an outsider looking to get involved, searching for a brotherhood and a community. That was difficult for me to find. I’m basically a shy person. Promoting events was a way to help me get out of my shell by focusing on making others feel welcome.

You drive down to Fort Lauderdale from West Palm Beach several nights a week for events. Are you a full-time leatherman, or is there also a day job?

I wear leather every day to show my support and commitment to leather, even if it’s wearing just a wristband. I have a landscape design business.

How can people get onto your weekly email blast?

I post the blast on my Facebook page, so they can friend me. I send the blast out via text every Wednesday, so people can plan their weekends.

Do you see young queers still coming into the leather scene?

Yes, I do. I walk around Ramrod every weekend and introduce myself and say hello to everyone. I see young men there, and they are excited to embrace the scene.

What’s new in the leather scene? Have you noticed any scenes, fetishes, toys, or tools that are gathering steam?

Puppy play and puppy gear is huge and becoming a big part of the scene, as is rubber gear and neoprene. The next generation has a new vitality and enthusiasm. I’m curious to see how they will impact the scene as they get more involved.

What’re you gonna do if you win International Mr. Leather? Off to Disney?

It’s easier for me to handle things in small pieces. My personal goal this year was to enjoy and experience MAL [Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend] in D.C., then enjoy CLAW [Cleveland Leather Annual Weekend], and now to soak in the brotherhood of IML.

I get overwhelmed when I think of the big picture. If I win, I will continue to support and represent Ramrod and the South Florida leather community.

I really couldn’t do this job without the support and love of my partner Randy Goforth, who has been with me every step of the way. Or without the guidance and support of my mentors: Rich Rodriguez, Jason Pelky, Bill Hoeppner, Kirk Ruben, and Bearman. And, of course, my sponsors: Ramrod, LeatherWerks, Stompers Boots, Paul Michael Leather, Pervyology, and Tribal Son.

We wish you luck in Chicago. Any last words?

This past year has been a blast. I say it all the time: “I love my job!”

If you want to wish Scot luck yourself, you can catch him Friday, May 18 from 8–10pm for Leather Incursion at DrYnk (2255 Wilton Dr, Wilton Manors) or on his home turf Sunday, May 20 for Enforced Dress Code (three pieces of leather or fetish wear plus boots!) at Ramrod (1508 NE 4th Ave, Ft Lauderdale).