In October, 1971, Marcus Hernandez put pen to paper and began covering the San Francisco leather community.
At age 74, he's still writing.
Penned under the nom de plume Mister Marcus, his column, which for 36 years has appeared in the venerable San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, is a weekly chronicle of events and contests occurring in the international world of GLBT leather.
It didn't always used to be that way, especially during the early years.
"In those days they didn't have all these contests," says the gentle-eyed, soft-spoken man. "There was no such thing as leather titles." Fodder for the column came from the local leather gristmill.
"I used to write gossip about the bike clubs and the bar scene because there wasn't much gay activism going on," he says, noting that before joining the BAR, he briefly wrote a leather column for The Advocate. "But the San Francisco leather bar gossip was, at first, not welcome. The leather community was an underground thing. People were in the closet and they didn't like their real names used. I got a lot of static."
Eventually, things changed -- leather organizations sprang up around the country, various contests emerged, people started to relax about seeing their names in print. And Mister Marcus, as one of the only journalists covering the leather community, became something of a legend. Now it's de rigueur to be mentioned by Mister Marcus.
"I'm inundated with press releases from every club," he says. "So leather has gotten out there."
Still, he notes, there is some discord. "Some old time leather people don't like [all the coverage]. They want leather to be like it was -- an underground thing that the population-at-large wasn't aware of."
Over the years, Marcus has served as a judge for various leather competitions. To this day, he finds it astounding when a contestant reveals a closeted streak.
"Whenever I'm judging, I always ask, 'Are you out to your family? To your job? Will winning this title be a problem for you?' Because as soon as you get that title, your picture and name are out there, and everything you do, good or bad, is subject to scrutiny. Some people hate you immediately without knowing you. Others adore you right away without knowing you. These contests are publicized. Your private life is over."
He's looking forward to MAL Weekend, his 16th year in attendance.
"This is the kickoff of the leather social season," he glows. "It's amazing what the Centaurs have been doing all these years. The brotherhood, camaraderie and fellowship of the club that puts together an event like this is impressive. It's quite an accomplishment."
As for that nom de plume, he'd rather people stop calling him Mister Marcus and just call him...
"Marcus," he laughs. "You've seen the ads in major newspapers about beauty salons -- Mister Richard, Mister This, Mister That? Well, I just hate it when people say Mister Marcus. My name is Marcus. Mister Marcus is my byline.
"But it's been going on for years," he sighs. "I guess it's too late to change it now." -- Randy Shulman
To read Mister Marcus online, visit www.ebar.com.