Gael Leung Chong, who won the title of International Mr. Leather 2022 on Memorial Day Weekend in Chicago, hails from Merelbeke, Belgium. He competed at IML as Mister Leather Belgium 2020-2021. When not in leather or attending leather events he is an architect and does interior design. Gaël and his husband have been together for 16 years and have two children, 20 and 23.
Gaël started #WeAreFetish project an online platform turned nonprofit organization that is focused on promoting inclusion within the fetish scene. He has also been a volunteer at Darklands in Antwerp, which has now become one of Europe’s premier kink/fetish events.
He says that leather was something he started by trying on a pair of leather pants at Mr. B and it progressed from there with Darklands practically in his backyard. Today he even travels in full leather, but tries to be more casual on vacations. However, Gaël says he wears leather daily even if it’s just a pair of pants.
Did you have any idea as a kid that leather might someday be an interest of yours? If not, when did you get into leather?
I wasn’t aware of any leather scene when I was younger. We lived in a poor multicultural neighborhood, where love for fetish was not present at all. I can’t remember seeing guys wearing leather or biker jackets at all. It’s at the age of 35, that I unexpectedly got in touch with fetish, and I made a first visit to a fetish shop, called Mister B Antwerp. By the end of 2015, I bought my first pair of leather pants. It was by trying these pants on, that the feel for leather became clear to me. Within 2 years I had a full leather outfit from Boots to muircap.
Before Mr. IML how many other leather contests did you enter and how many did you win?
Back in 2016 friends of mine told me to enter the Mister Fetish Boots Belgium contest. The Boots Antwerp is a very well-known fetish bar in Antwerp and I was more interested in the experience of doing something out of my comfort zone, and the interesting prizes for the top 3 that came with it, than really knowing what a Titleholder would have to do. Looking back at it, I am happy I ended up in 3rd place, because I wasn’t ready for the responsibilities of a title, and definitely not ready in my fetish evolution. Months later, I was asked by members of my club MSC Belgium, why I didn’t join the Mister Leather Belgium contest. I turned down the first time, and because they kept asking me again, 1 year later in 2020, it felt like the right moment to jump into this experience. I won the title, at Darklands Antwerp, just 1 week before the world went into lockdown.
What made you enter Mr. IML?
It’s very common for titleholders of the world to participate at IML, although it’s not compulsory for Mister Leather Belgium to enter the competition. But for me, after having my Belgian title for more than 2 years, due to the COVID pandemic, and with the feeling I couldn’t do much during my reign, I decided to go to Chicago. I stepped down as Belgian Mister 3 weeks before IML, and to me it felt like a nice experience to end my Mister Leather Belgium career. In my case I went to IML to experience this big well organized international event, and never thought that I could actually win the contest.
I have judged 3 Belgian titles, but they weren’t all Leather related but definitely had a connection with the fetish scene. I was part of Puppy Belgium 2022 panel, Mister Senakers Belgium 2022, and Mister Leather Chaps 2022. It sure did help my preparation for IML. By sitting on the other side, I realized, it’s all about knowing a candidate, what they will do during their eventual title year, rather than a bunch of juries, waiting to ask you the most difficult questions. I was more calm and serene during the IML election, than I was at my Mister Leather Belgium contest?
What went through your mind when your name was called as International Mr. Leather 2021/22?
There are videos circulating, where you can see my face looking like “what?”. When David and Duke were announced second and first runner up, I immediately thought, it could be one of my European colleagues. But I never thought they would call out my name. My friend Stevio (Mister Leather Europe 2019), who was on stage with me, ran towards me screaming and cheering. You know, when they announce you the winner of IML, I don’t think you ever get prepared for it, and it takes a while for everything to settle in.
You just won approx. six weeks ago, how has it been so far?
It’s been very busy since then. I remember coming back from the States and rushing to Paris Fetish weekend. No time to realize what really happened. No one sees the work that comes with the title, from planning, organizing, and booking events, flights and hotels. It’s a back and forth of emails and messages with organizations from Michigan, Fort Lauderdale, to Australia, Norway, etc. They all want you to come to their Pride, or fetish event in the upcoming year. And besides that, I also try to work on my #WeAreFetish project to support inclusion within the Fetish Scene.
What do you want to accomplish during your title year?
I am still working on a masterplan to travel as much as I can. It’s important for an International Mister Leather to try to show up at as many events as you can, and not only the ones I am used to in Europe. The IML office has been a great support so far to help me with understanding how the American fetish scene works. It’s completely different than here in Europe. I also wasn’t aware of major event dates in the States. And I am very excited to travel back and forth ( Fort Lauderdale, Miami, MML, MAL, CLAW, L.A. Leatherweek, etc.). After that I really would love to visit Taipei Pride, to support the Asian scene, but at this point with the current quarantine regulations it’s still unsure I will be able to attend. I also have plans to attend Sydney World Pride in Australia. After the travelling I have major plans on working out my project and to collect funds and see how I could help the community as much as I can.
Have you thought about what you want to do after your title year is over?
I never expected to win IML, and after stepping down as Mister Leather Belgium, I created a Non-Profit Organization, together with my husband. It’s called WeAreFetish. We had, and still have plans to bring the #WeAreFetish merchandise to the people, and with collecting funds, we would like to invest in inclusive events worldwide. The fetish scene might be a big family on the outside, but there is still a big job to do to include everyone, like women, trans, POC, Sportswear, and so on.
You have been with your husband for a long time. How did you meet and what makes him the perfect guy for you?
We met almost 16 years ago through an online platform called Gaydar. We are very complimentary in what we do, and that’s what probably makes us the perfect match. We have been working together for years now and set up our own Architect firm. People never understand the fact that we live, work, and travel together. We are together 24/7, and believe it or not, it works quite well for us. I wouldn’t be where I am right now, if he wasn’t there being supportive, and helping me making decisions when I’m in doubt.
Are your husband and two children supportive of your leather life?
Eddy, my husband, follows me in every step in this fetish journey. We stepped in this adventure together 6 years ago, and even if I may have developed the most interest into leather, he is an all-around fetish guy, who loves to travel and visit fetish events in and out of Belgium. The (not so) kids are now 20 and 22, and they are fully supportive. They even were present at my election and stepdown at Darklands Antwerp, together with my mother and my siblings. I have to say, it was a very interesting interaction to have them at a fetish event.
Curious, timid and perfectionist.
What do you do for fun?
When not travelling to fetish events, I love travelling to discover new cultures. We are big fans of Asia (Japan, Thailand, Korea, Malaysia). When I’m home we like to go out for dinner. We are big foodies always looking for hotspots. When the weather is good, you will probably find me somewhere in the fields riding my Harley.
Are you excited about coming to Fort Lauderdale?
Absolutely! It’s always exciting to go to places I never visited before, even more when it’s out of Europe. Except for my trip to Chicago and some NYC city trips in the past, I am looking forward to discover more of the United States. See you very soon Florida!
We asked some businesses about Mr. IML’s visit and here is what they said:
From Bear Man
Since 2007 LeatherWerks and the Fort Lauderdale Leather Community have hosted the winner of the International Mr. Leather Contest. It is one of the highlights of the Fort Lauderdale leather calendar. Each year our custom department creates a unique title vest for each IML winner. We are excited to bring the tradition back after a two-year hiatus because of the Covid epidemic.
Ramrod Bar is proud to support the Leather Community by helping pay for the annual visit of each International Mr. Leather Contest winner. It is always a special weekend when the current IML is in town!
From Inn Leather
Inn Leather has been part of the annual International Mr. Leather Fort Lauderdale visit for well over a decade. We provide accommodations and host a pool party here at Inn Leather for each IML.
The Wilton Manors Eagle was excited to be asked to join in on the annual IML visit to Fort Lauderdale. We are honored to host a reception for the 44th International Mr. Leather who is traveling to Fort Lauderdale from Merelbeke, Belgium.
From Milk Money
Milk Money has a special partnership with LeatherWerks and the Leather Community. We look forward to hosting several dinners for the Leather Community each year. We are also looking forward to hosting International Mr. Leather 2022 and the Leather Community on Monday July 25th.
IML Weekend Lineup: