By David-Elijah Nahmod, May 2018 Issue.
When Scott Darby decided he was ready to claim his place in the community, he had no idea his journey would lead him to an international stage just 145 miles north of his hometown.
Born and raised in Danville, Ill., a small farming town about two and a half hours south of Chicago, Darby relocated to Phoenix three years ago. Because his family owns a business in Sun City West, he was no stranger to the Valley and, ultimately, it was his path in recovery that landed him here permanently.
“I remember the first time I drove into central Phoenix, while on one of my visits, about six or seven years ago,” he recalled. “I was in love with the weather and the architecture, and I thought to myself, ‘I could totally live here!’ I finally decided to move here when I was in rehab … I had spent so much time pushing my family away and rehab taught me that I missed being a part of them [my family], so I moved here to actively participate in my family. Best choice I ever made.”
Since then, Darby has become involved with the local LGBTQ community – specifically the leather community, which prompted him to compete for in the 2018 Mr. Phoenix Leather contest. And, on Jan. 6, he became the 10th Mr. Phoenix Leather, qualifying for the International Mr. Leather (IML) competition, which will take place May 24-28 in Chicago – just up the road from his hometown.
“I look at winning the title as one of the gifts I received for being in long-term recovery,” Darby said, adding that he will celebrate three years of continuous sobriety on April 20. “It’s important to speak in public about this. I chose a 12-step program because of the spiritual aspect of it and I needed that. I now go to bars and order Red Bull, which is non-alcoholic.”
It was Darby’s self-discovery along his road to recovery that led him to the title of Mr. Phoenix Leather.
“In January, when the competition started, it was a huge and scary moment for me,” he said. “I knew I had these feelings of shame that I had to let go of. So, standing there being truly authentic about who I am was my second most profound experience, next to the moment I realized I was going to die if I didn’t get into recovery.”
Darby’s journey in recovery runs simultaneously with his path to self-acceptance, and together they’ve given him a new outlook on community.
“On a primal level [the leather community] was something that, when I saw it, felt it, and smelled it, I instantly knew that it was for me,” he recalls. “That was in my early 20s.”
Darby distinctly remembers his first experience in a leather bar.
“I walked into the Spike in New York City and saw two guys fisting,” he said. “I found it exciting. That form of expression interested me but because of the stigma I stayed in the background. I didn’t come to you, you came to me.”
Initially, Darby found himself relying on alcohol to explore his newfound interest.
“I needed to get drunk in order to give myself permission to express myself sexually,” he said. “Someone said to me ‘why don’t you just give yourself permission? It was such a simple concept that never even crossed my mind. That gave me the permission.”
In the years since, Darby has learned to navigate the leather community as a sober and empowered individual.
“I discovered this open, honest community that’s free of shame. They express themselves against the norm and feel no shame or guilt about it,” he said, adding that the 2018 Mr. Phoenix Leather contest was “the first time I claimed my space in the leather community.”
In the year ahead, Darby hopes to use his title for the good of the community, and to him that means combining a message of hope with dialogue that raises awareness and compassion.
“I want to create a conversation in hopes that we can ultimately reduce the stigma placed on how we, in the kink and fetish community, choose to express ourselves,” he said. “I carried shame about my sexual practices for so long that if I can create a conversation that allows one person to release his/her shame, then I have won!”
Through these conversations, Darby also hopes to connect with the broader LGBTQ community as well.
“Community, to me, is the people you feel most comfortable being your authentic self with. They are the ones who love you enough to support your crazy ideas and call you on your bullshit,” he said. “There is more than enough room for everyone at the party. We need to talk to each other. It’s about celebrating all aspects – popular and unpopular – of our community.”
As for his message to anyone who is experiencing shame, guilt or stigma that he once did, Darby advised, “Talk about what you are feeling. Feelings are only energy. When we speak them, we release that energy. If we don’t release it, we start hurting ourselves, or worse, we hurt others. There’s enough hurt in the world already. Understanding and compassion are where true growth is at!”
While he’s only a quarter of the way through his reign as Mr. Phoenix Leather, he’s already been met with an overwhelming sense of camaraderie and support.
“The Phoenix Boys of Leather have been the best source of inspiration for me,” he said. “They have embraced me and made me feel included. They have inspired me to speak my truth and explore myself. Also, every person I meet has had an effect on my experience. This community is full of the most honest and authentic people that I have ever met. We call our experience of this lifestyle our ‘journey’ and I have had some pretty amazing people influence my journey so far. I am proud to call them my brothers and sisters.”
While executing his plans locally, Darby is also making preparations for his upcoming trip to Chicago.
“The leather apparel industry is getting a steady portion of my weekly salary in hopes of amassing a wardrobe suitable for a national competition,” he said. “I’m speaking to my friends in the community who have competed nationally and getting pointers as well as reading about leather history.”
In preparation for the International Mr. Leather stage, Darby has also been traveling to other competitions and keeping in close contact with the other members of his IML class.
“I want as much information as possible, so that the choices I make on my journey are as informed as possible,” he said of his preparations for the IML competition. “Also, selfishly, I want to create a network of friends across the country because I love to travel. Having friends nationwide provides me with a great excuse to visit them while seeing the country … [and] I am very much looking forward to visiting the Leather Archives in Chicago on competition weekend!”
Amid all the travel arrangements and competition preparation, Darby said his biggest goal is to always remember to have fun and to listen to my community.
“One of the reasons I had the courage to compete was because I wanted to get people in the community to know me … Listening is very important to me because I believe he community will tell me what it wants and needs,” he said. “It’s been a wild, crazy and exhilarating ride and it’s only just beginning.”
– In what ways do you hope to inspire others as Mr. Phoenix 2018?
“My wish is to carry a message of hope to someone who began drinking or drugging to deal with their shame and guilt and now wants to stop, but feels that he/she can’t,” he explained. “It is possible. It takes work on a daily basis, but the work is worth it. You can express yourself in a healthy and kinky way.”
For more information on the International Mr. Leather competition, visit imrl.com.
Mr. Phoenix Leather Celebrates 10 Years
The 2018 Mr. Phoenix Leather contest marked a decade since it was co-founded by Kenneth Anthony and Stephen Bloom, brought their experiences as Mr. Padlock Leather 2001 and Mr. Cellblock Leather 2008, respectively, together to form the new contest.
Scott Darby marks the 10th individual to earn the Mr. Phoenix Leather title.
“I really appreciate that Scott has committed himself to doing this,” Anthony said. “He’s very enthusiastic and eager to represent the Phoenix Leather Community.”
In reflecting on the past 10 years, the contest organizers announced that there are plans to expand the competition for 2019, specifically the addition of a Ms. Phoenix Leather title.
“What I would like to see is continued growth and continued engagement with all facets of the leather community,” Anthony said. “This is one reason Mr. Phoenix Leather is adding a Ms. Phoenix Leather title to our contest this coming year. That title will be open to any female presenting members of the leather community who wish to go on to compete in International Ms. Leather.”
For more information on Mr. or Ms. Phoenix Leather, visit mrphoenixleather.com.