David Phillips started to feel stress as time drew near for the Coverboy of the Year contest. ''Particularly the last three or four months. I've been thinking: Should I be working out harder? Should I be losing weight?''
Then he gave himself a mental slap: ''Just stop it. Stop it, stop it, stop it!'' Too many people, of course, don't stop there, and go to extremes, from binging and purging to doing steroids.
''People do that stuff,'' Phillips says with dismay. ''We do lots of destructive things to try to live up to certain images.''
That is, essentially, his message for the gay community, particularly his fellow queer men: Stop it. ''Accept that you're enough,'' he says. ''You're complete. Stop trying to fit all these images that are thrown at you all the time. That you're not tall enough, you're not smart enough, you're not pretty enough, you're not smooth enough, you're not hairy enough, you're not young enough, you're not whatever. Just leave it alone. Don't swallow that stuff. You're enough.''
Phillips, 41, doesn't fit the mold of the typical coverboy -- or, he would add, the typical leatherman. But he is, obviously, enough. He thinks his being different -- older, hairier, manlier -- is exactly the reason why he's a Coverboy of the Year finalist. ''I guess that turned people on.''
Phillips arrived for his interview wearing a beat-up T-shirt with a core principle printed on it: ''Promote tolerance.'' He tries to live by the principle in everything he does, from his job as an information technology consultant to his grad school studies for a master's degree in information systems technology.
In both spaces, Phillips has become what he calls a ''kinky evangelist.'' He coined the term a couple years ago, after his office had a Mexican Christmas-themed decorating party. His cubicle was designated the ''leather shop'' -- the idea being PG-rated moccasins and belts. Naturally, Phillips brought in his leather lifestyle gear -- ''three trunks'' worth of it.
''Within 48 hours I knew who all the kinky people in the office were,'' he says, including some neophytes who had some surprising desires for exploration.
At first, Phillips thought, ''This isn't happening to me!'' But he quickly saw it as ''an unexpected consequence'' of being so open. An essential part of being a kinky evangelist is serving as a confidant for fledgling kinks in a vanilla world.
Phillips considers himself a ''daddy,'' though not strictly a ''top'' or a ''sir.''
''I like to nurture people, see them grow,'' he says.
He also loves to cook, a hobby picked up by the maternal grandmother who raised him. ''She always said that she didn't want me to have to depend on a woman for anything,'' he laughs.
About his self-described kinky lifestyle, he says: ''It's hard to ball it all up in a word that fits nice and perfectly. It's not always about dominance and submission. It's not always about bondage, about discipline, or sadomasochism. It's so much bigger than that, and yet we slap that convenient label on: 'BDSM.' We use the label 'leather,' too, when really leather's a small consideration to it all.''
Phillips is especially committed to advocating the principle of tolerance among the queer community. Not only tolerance of kinky sexuality in all its ''31 flavors,'' but also the simple tolerance of gay men's own bodies, identities and healthy living. The majority of his volunteer work is on gay men's health concerns, from HIV prevention to anti-crystal meth campaigning.
''I'm involved in anti-meth work simply because I understand what drugs did to us as a community back in the '70s and '80s,'' Phillips says. Those decades -- especially the 1980s, Phillips's formative decade -- really took a toll. ''I started watching all of my mentors and my friends die on me,'' he says. ''That was hard to handle.''
About the same time he began having major headaches and vision problems -- symptoms of a developmental brain malfunction in which his spinal fluid wasn't draining properly. He had a series of major surgeries in the early '80s with major complications, including a weeks-long coma and a months-long state of quadriplegia.
Because of the losses and especially the surgeries, Phillips says, ''I didn't feel too terribly terrific about myself.'' In fact, he now realizes, ''I was subconsciously looking for ways to kill myself. I got into a horrible relationship in college with a drug addict. I hustled for money for drugs for the two of us, and eventually he was abusive to me and raped me.
''That's there in my past, but I don't let that rule me.''
The experience does, however, inform his outreach to gay men.
''The things I do now, the involvements I have in the community, are largely formed by those sorts of experiences. I can see more than ever how the little pieces of my life tie together, and I don't need to keep them compartmentalized. I can let my kinkiness bleed over into work around queer men's health.''
The kinkiness also bleeds over into his private life, which otherwise looks pretty conventional. Together five years now, he and his partner, George, made their relationship official three years ago with a marriage in Toronto.
''I've gotten to a place where I'm happy with who I am and I don't feel the need to go out and be destructive to try to get something that's not going to make me any happier,'' Phillips says.
It may have taken a couple of decades to get here, but Phillips is clearly now out and proud as a kinky evangelist. And a Coverboy, to boot.
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