I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about things like event drop, sub drop, and most recently title drop.
Most anyone who has ever had a title and then stepped down has felt this on some level. It's the change from being noticed back to being just a regular Joe (or Jo, as the case may be). To be completely honest, when people used to talk about it, I always kind of thought that it was just a pride thing, "oh, they're not getting the attention that they used to." Looking back, I realize how judgmental I was being. Somewhere inside of me, I thought that missing the status somehow meant that they had taken the title for selfish reasons. But there is so much more to it than that.
Part of the reason that I didn't understand title drop is that my first two titles were very different than my last one. Mr Mephisto was a leather-store title. The expectations of it were to compete in IML and have fun. I competed in IML, I placed very well, and I had a shit-ton of fun. When it was over, it didn't really affect me because no one else had had any real expectations of the title, so no one really treated me differently.
From IL Leather Sir, my first year I voluntarily stepped down because of a personal issue that was going to prevent me from fulfilling my commitments. A year later, I was asked to take the title again. From there, I worked my way up to International Trainer with no gap. Stepping down from Trainer has been tough, I'm not going to lie. So, I've compiled just a random list of thoughts about title-drop, in no particular order.
- Being in the center stage is nice. It's nice to recognized and it's nice to be appreciated. When that attention goes away, it's not just 'returning to the past,' there is a new void that was created by the title experience. That void is real and that void is unexpected. Thinking that you can just “pick up where you left off” is an unreal expectation.
- While most everyone else has gone out to regular (and sometimes slow and sometimes boring) bar nights, a titleholder has spent a year or more traveling to events. Each one of the events is big…often the biggest event of the year in the city's leather community. So, despite having busy, tiring schedules, it's easy to become used to every weekend event being spectacular. Once the year is over, and life returns to normal, the let down from dozens of amazing, back-to-back events is tougher than people think. On top of no longer being chased after by the "silver lame-ers," titleholders have often forgotten what regular bar nights are like. Their expectations have been reset to a much higher level, so regular nights out feel like something is missing.
- For some people, this has been a multi-year process. A local title to a regional title to an international title, may mean that they are walking away from something that they have been working toward for 3-4 years of continuous effort. And then, after one 3-minute speech, it's gone. The spotlight shifts to someone new, and it's shocking the people who never even talk to you again…the very same night...because you no longer have something to offer. You are no longer the “next, best thing.” You are no longer asked to judge a dozen contests and no longer asked to teach at the leading events...those spots are reserved for titleholders. You suddenly realize that it wasn’t YOU who earned the right to those things...it was just the title. As a person, you just didn’t matter that much.
- Once the step-down has occurred, it comes to light how many people only propped you up because it was politically motivated…a stepping stone for them…or out of fear of saying how they really feel. And once the title year is over, you find out how a lot of people really felt. It makes for a lot of anger and hurt.
- No matter how successful you felt during your title year, you begin to second-guess everything that you did. Did you do enough? Does anyone remember that time that you REALLY fucked up? Did you leave any kind of lasting legacy? All of these thoughts come rushing into your brain, and there is no one there to give you the validation that you desperately need...because they’re all paying attention to someone else now. If you try to stay in the limelight, you are judged. If you don’t do enough, you are judged. And so, you try to find some way to feel like you’ve made a difference...but you have to do it alone.
- The hardest part for me is that my circle of friends has changed.
**I have new friends scattered across the globe that I have become accustomed to seeing regularly, and they are suddenly "less present.” And that is harder to explain than it seems. common experience builds friendships very quickly. We've crashed at each others' places, we've been out eating and drinking, and whining and bitching to each other about things that not everyone can understand. And yes, we've even cried together. Those experiences amidst high pressure, builds an amazingly strong bond.
**my other friends have moved on. Depending on the level of title and the expectation of the producers, the title holder may have been traveling more often than not. Some local/bar titles expect the winners to hit the "big three" (IML, CLAW, MAL), but much of the rest of their work is locally. The regional and international titleholders are sometimes gone more often than not…and even when we are home, we are generally helping with local events, or simply in desperate need of sleeping in. My point is that the titleholder has been working their ass off traveling, while most of their friends have been at home…hanging out with new people, getting in new relationships, or just moving on to a different point in their lives through a different job or a change of lifestyle.
When the titleholder comes back to their old world, a year (or two, or three) later, it's often not the world that they left behind. If I go out to a Chicago Puppy Patrol event now, I don't know a lot of the pups that are there. To them, I'm just some old guy who *isn't* a pup. I have spent a couple of years away from the organizations that I love, and they've changed.
Beyond that, and perhaps the hardest transition for me, is that I'm not popular among my friends anymore. A few harbor a little resentment that I haven't been able to make them a priority for a couple of years. But in honesty, it's mostly that they've moved on. No one thinks to invite you out for dinner or a movie or to the bar, because you're no longer on the forefront of their thoughts. For so long, when they thought about you, you were traveling someplace that sounded a lot more fun than it actually was. After a while, the invites stop…and then the thoughts about inviting you stop. And so, you come off a huge multi-year tour, to boredom and some people being assholes and the people that you love either being too far away to see or having forgotten about you.
Be gentle on us.