May 23, 2026

IML is the most famous American leather conference and contest in the United States. It takes place every year around the city where events, themed dance parties and leather markets spread around different areas for everyone, mainly the BDSM community to experience.

I’ve never thought Anders and Marshall were into bondage, and so attending the events and parties were part of their yearly ritual even though they’re no longer together. Both of them as well as Ellen, Brian, Philip and I went along for the fun weekend. We met up at the market taking place at a hotel in the south loop. It was fun to see how a white collar area usually filled with professionals and executives suddenly turned into a kinkfest as half-naked individuals walked down the streets wearing only their leather thongs, harnesses and other leather accessories. At the hotel entrance, a bunch of leather men socialized and smoked. The inside smelled like rubber and sex. 

One thing I didn’t immediately grasp about BDSM was the fact it wasn’t all about pain and hardcore sex. As I dug deeper into its subculture, I saw a specific way of living. While at the second floor bar, I saw two dogslaves in the distance, one of them was being dragged by its master while the other one waited on all four while his Dom socialized with other men; they were wearing leather gear and a puppy mask. At first glance, the whole thing may seem like a masquerade, but the more I observed them, the more I realized it wasn’t a joke but a specific lifestyle the leather crowd took very seriously.

Walking around the market, my sexuality was once again put into perspective; mainly the way I viewed sex. Up until I lost my virginity to Kristofer, I was extraordinarily vanilla. After that, when I became a hooker sex became like a game. The more I realized men wanted me, the more I wanted to engage with them, control them, manipulate them and have things play out strictly on my own terms. Then I met Matthew which made the tables turn; I saw things from a different point of view; the excitement of being taken, owned and abused, the delightful agony of someone running their hands roughly over my flesh, smaking it, slapping it, sometimes even punching it. As crazy as it sounds, my life was way more thrilling when Matt was in it. The rich leather scent evoked memories of the sex we had which got me hard. A romantic melancholy took over me as we walked around the booths; not being able to express my feelings to someone who’d understand them is extremely frustrating. My heart aches to the thought of having to keep my previous relationship with Matt a secret from everyone around me; knowing I couldn’t disclose any information about him to anyone made me feel so alone. I tried to purge myself out of my foul and nasty mood but deep inside I didn’t want to because that meant I had to push Matt out of my mind. Moving on from him is like trying to rid myself from a severe cold that wouldn’t go away. Ever since I left him, I’ve been craving a dark, volatile and bloomy man to come along, but all I seem to attract now are emotional wrecks and unreliable, needy men.

When me and Philip went to the custom booth to alter the size of his new harness, I felt a gaze on me from someone standing a few feet away. When I turned, I realized it wasn’t just one but two; a couple or what seemed to be naughty pair; one of them was bearly and pumped with muscle, the other smaller and smooth. I looked back at them and smiled, but my attention quickly switched to Ellen who loudly called my name; she motioned her hands towards me and showed me the fingerless black leather gloves covered in spikes she was trying on which made her beautiful long nails (polished in matte velvet red) pop. She asked for my approval before she bought them. Then, I excused myself to go take a leak. Inside the men’s restroom, I found the two guys taking a hit, they complimented my physique as I moved over to the urinal and did my business. They asked me if I wanted some G and I casually declined, washed my hands and aimed for the door. For some reason, though, I stopped and reconsidered; they said it would make me feel relaxed, warm and horny as hell. I’ve always heard how popular the drug is, and how it mixes delightfully with psychedelics; my main interest lied in the fact it was a pretty well-known sex enhancer. I was tempted to try it. Although I had just met them, I felt comfortable experimenting with them; they weren’t pushy about me trying it and gave me the right effective dose in a tiny capsule. The liquid was bitter and musty; it numbed my tongue. I drank some water from the sink to get rid of the aftertaste and proceeded in walking out with them. We went upstairs to the lubricant booth and tried some. I was impatiently waiting to see how the drug would interact with my body, and it did, slowly; the feeling of arousal came in waves. A hazy awareness took over, drifting me slowly into another dimension; one that I could only see and feel. The drug mimics the effects of being buzzed on alcohol, only it added a pleasant euphoric push that made everything feel nice. What’s interesting about it is the fact you don’t lose yourself in it to the point you start seeing things that aren’t there; it simply enhances the experience. After some touching and sloppy make outs with both Angus (big guy) and Billy (small guy), I was dragged into a more private, dimly-lit room where some men engaged in light BDSM; a man laid in a swing while another was getting slapped with a slapping paddle as he laid in his master’s lap. Red spotlights highlighted the equipment, leather gear and of course, the toned and muscled bare bodies of the beefy and raunchy men. During some downtime, we hung out in a corner and groped each other’s crotch and compared dick sizes. Soon, the stimulant started to wear off and they asked me if I wanted another dose which I had to say no to.

My initial group of friends was nowhere to be seen; I looked everywhere and couldn’t find them. I took out my phone to get ahold of them but my battery was dead. Soon, we were all hungry, so we left the premises.

As we exited the building, I stumbled across a man with dark skin and even darker features; he had a small leather-bound notebook in his hand. I tried to walk around him but he blocked my path; he said my face spoke to him, that he had something urgent to say to me. Both guys watched me suspiciously as I talked to him as if they were waiting for me to shoo him away, but I was too caught up in the moment and intrigued by what he wanted. He asked me to think of my favorite color and number which I did; meanwhile, he wrote something on a small piece of paper he shielded from my view and hid inside his notebook. Then, he read the lines on my palm and said I was going to live a long life. I laughed that off which he didn’t seem to appreciate, so I immediately stopped. Then, he looked into my eyes and coldly said:

“All you do is take. You take away people’s happiness and infect them with misery and despair.”

Hearing those words was like getting struck by a lighting. He took the small piece of paper and put it in my hand before turning and walking away. I opened it and saw my favorite color and number written on it. Ellen, who apparently witnessed the incident, walked up to me and startled me.

“Felix, are you okay? You look like you saw a ghost.”

“I think this guy just put a curse on me.”

I pointed at him just before he disappeared in the crowd then told her what happened (leaving out the part about me being a terrible human being). She reassured me he was a fraud; a charlatan who made a lucky guess. Something inside me told me there was more to it; maybe not realistically, but psychical — something intangible. I could sense something wasn’t right. I felt like I was in danger. Ellen jokingly said I could wash my hands with lemon and salt water to clear away the energy, and left it at that. It wasn’t the right time to dwell on the incident and speculate anyway, so I decided to worry about it later. The two men, were soon standing right beside us, so I introduced them to everyone and Anders suggested we go out to dinner together. Sitting at the table, I felt excluded, like I was singled out — not by anyone, but by myself. I felt like an imposter. Under the table, Philip occasionally brushed his hand against mine which I didn’t reciprocate, so he stopped. I felt bad, but he needed to get the point; that we weren’t a match. On the other end of the table, Marshall and Brian were focused on Angus and Billy; I could tell a foursome was about to happen. At the end of the night, Anders invited both Ellen and me to have drinks in his backyard; he wanted to show us the improvement he made to his garden. 

After our first round of drinks, Ellen received a phone call from Kurt telling her he’s on his way to drop Trent off at her place which wasn’t planned, so she had to excuse herself and leave because he didn’t have the keys. Not knowing what to do next, Anders decided to share more of his life with me. He didn’t immediately say what was on his mind, instead he just walked me to his woodshed and unlocked the door. I walked into a spacious room filled with pole shelves containing old bondage magazines; straight and gay. He’s been archiving magazines since the early 90s. They were all protected in waterproof transparent plastic bags. He carefully took some of his favorite out and let me go through them. ‘

As I figured out, BDSM was mainly Anders’ thing, not Marshall’s. Before officially joining the scene, he started his own blog which he called “Retrostrand”; it contained vintage photographs he took of young boys (mainly clean-cut jock types) tied up in different ways, clothed or half-naked in mundane places like his bedroom or a field. He’d tie them up and take photos of them trying to untie themselves. For him, the way their bodies struggled and moved was pure art. He showed me some of the pictures he took; going through them, a recurrent boy kept popping up. He was young with ash-blond hair; he had no facial hair and his body was perfectly smooth. His eyes were blue and a bit far apart, his teeth white but imperfect. From what I could also see, he was a nail-biter. Anders’ eyes twitched as he took out one of the pictures so I could see it up close. The boy’s name is Zachary.

I wanted to know more about him and after some reluctance, he agreed to walk me to the back where a smaller room was located. He took a deep breath before going through his keys and unlocking it. I knew the story I was about to hear was one of a kind, so in one discreet and swift movement I reached for my pocket, took out my phone and started recording him.

Zachary was Anders’ favorite model. Unlike the other boys, he was special, and that was mainly because of his history. Zachary had identity issues. After being separated from his biological family due to severe child abuse, he was transferred from one foster home to the other where families promised to care for him and love him forever. Unfortunately, those were just lies; before he could get settled in, they’d decide he wasn’t a good fit and send him away. Each family had its own set of rules and traditions, and so he never managed to blend in and become part of any of them. When he finally met Anders and felt comfortable around him, he told him how being tied up and owned allowed him to cope with the trauma he’s been through; to him, it was freeing. Anders quickly developed feelings and fell in love with him in a fatherly way, and after discussing the situation with Marshall, they brought him under their wing. They provided him with a home, financial stability, the opportunity to go to college and most importantly, they offered him security and a sense of belonging. But self-harm isn’t something you can easily get rid of. You can minimize it, but it’s something that stays with you, so Zachary insisted he’d be chained, owned and managed, so Anders came up with the idea of locking him chained inside the woodshed’s backroom as a way of discipline. Unlike common beliefs, there’s a lot of love and care in Dom-Sub relationships. For Anders, building that relationship came with a lot of trust and respect. Both parties, mainly the person acting as the submissive, need to feel safe. But Marshall abused that by putting his own pleasure ahead of Zachary’s safety when, unbeknownst to Anders, he’d creep inside the woodshed late at night, wake him up and have rough sex with him. Zachary kept quiet because he thought coming between Anders and his partner would ruin the whole relationship, including the one he had with Anders, but apparently things went too far he couldn’t take it anymore. One night, he asked to be untied to go out with some of his friends. That was the last tine Anders saw him. All he left him was a letter in which he explained to him what happened. 

Anders thinks the world of his Submissive; he was like a son to him. When he touched his collar, he almost cried. When I asked him why he was still on good terms with Marshall, he said they had so much history together the roots were almost impossible to cut off. I realized then that I’ve misjudged the whole relationship. Although Marshall was still at fault for the wrong things he’s done, their separation took place on mutual grounds and not necessarily because of Brian.

As we were heading out of the woodshed, I received a text from Ellen which caused my phone’s log in screen to pop up which also displayed the sound recording logo. Anders saw it and looked at me.

“Are you recording me”, he offensively said.

“I’m sorry. I do that sometimes when people share something insightful or interesting.”

“What I just told you isn’t for your own entertainment or to be shared with anyone. This is private. Please, delete it.”

I didn’t want to cause any problems, so I did, reluctantly.

 “I don’t feel comfortable making conversation or discussing anything with you if I know I’m being recorded. This better not happen again.”

I apologized but his enthusiasm to share his story with me faded and his demeanor changed; he looked at me weird, like I made him really uncomfortable. For the remainder of the night, I made sure to keep my phone away from me, but that didn’t really change much. The conversations we had, if we had any, were basic and depthless. I feel like I’ve somehow burned a bridge with him. I’m not sure he’ll ever trust me again. And for that, there’s no one else to blame but me. Because it’s I who lit the match.

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