By most accounts, the leather fetish community is solely characterized by boots, harnesses, chaps and flogs. But if International Mr. Leather 2012 winner "Woody" Woodruff has his way, we will soon be adding charity and communal responsibility to that list of characterizations.
"A lot of people see the leather community as a bunch of guys running around doing kinky things and that's all they are," Woodruff says. "That is a part of our community; it is not the make-up of our community,"
"The general feeling behind our community is exactly that word: 'community.' It's a brotherhood. It's a sisterhood. It's a family."
Woodruff, a relative newcomer to the leather competition scene, began his journey to capturing the IML 2012 title in April 2011. Although a fan of leather in his personal time, it wasn't until he ran into former Mr. Detroit Eagle, James Finley, that he realized the opportunities holding a title offered.
"He was just an upstanding guy; he explained to me quite a bit about the leather community and what it stood for," Woodruff says. "(He) explained to me the realities of the community versus the misconceptions of the community. As a result, my interest was definitely piqued. I saw the title as an opportunity or a platform - if you will - to do more for my community."
In his very first competition at Liberty Bar in Pontiac, the Farmington Hills resident won the inaugural title of Mr. Liberty Leather 2011. During his reign, he hosted several events, which helped to raise money for the Mr. Friendly Campaign. Their mission, according to their Facebook fan page, is to "reduce the stigma of HIV one conversation at a time."
The Mr. Friendly Campaign has remained the primary benefactor of Woodruff's continued philanthropic endeavors.
His win at Liberty Bar made him an automatic competitor for the title of Mr. Michigan Leather 2012, which he also won. As the winner of Mr. Michigan Leather 2012, Woodruff was sponsored to compete in IML 2012.
As a longtime observer of IML, Woodruff was understandably buzzing with excitement as he competed for the title.
"There were so many feelings; it was difficult to identify exactly which was which at some points," he says. "I was excited, I was nervous, I was extremely proud... I never figured I'd be standing on the stage at that point."
The IML title capped off what was a remarkably successful first year of professional leather competition. This swift rise might cause some to have an inflated ego. Woodruff, however, doesn't seem to be letting it go to his head.
"I'm proud of my accomplishments" was all he had to say on the subject.
Although Woodruff's motives for competing are mostly altruistic, there is a bit of excitement behind his gruff-yet-caring exterior.
"I think leather's hot," he says with a laugh. "I like how it makes me feel."
It also doesn't hurt that several premier leather gear vendors and distributors have been exceedingly generous toward him.
"Gear is expensive. I have been very fortunate."
Besides helping to expand his gear collection, competition has also helped to further his charitable goals.
"It's notable when you are walking down the street. It's something that causes people to stand up and take notice. I think that's important," he says, referencing the leatherman gear.
"I ran for a title so I could make a difference. If I am presenting myself in a manner that makes people stand up and take notice, then those things that I want to achieve and bring notice to are brought to the forefront."
With his latest title, Woodruff hopes to continue to make his community better.
"With (the title) I am presented with an opportunity and a platform to do a lot of the things that I've been doing now, on a much larger scale," he says. "I'm going to use those opportunities to get out in the community and make people find - what I like to call - their 'sound.'"
For Woodruff, "finding your sound" is a personal motto that comes from his love of singing and music.
"I'm a vocalist. Everyone that has ever had any exposure to me knows that I am an avid singer and musician. I guess my calling-card phrase has become, 'find your sound and make it,'" he says.
"I don't really care what your passion is in life. I can't stand here and tell you what to be passionate about, because ultimately you're going to fight and work hard for those things that mean the most to you. My desire is to help you find what that is and do something about it."