Gelato chef Jack Duke hopes to give Dallas a repeat as home to International Mr. Leather
Jack Duke’s life has been a series of major journeys. One journey was his relocation from Italy to Dallas — a city he ‘d never even visited before moving here. But the latest one is, in some ways, even bigger: A quick flight to Chicago to representing Texas at the International Mr. Leather 2010 — and the opportunity to bring the title back to Dallas for consecutive victories.
"I moved to Dallas in June 2005 for work, but I had never been here before," he says, a thick, romantic Italian accent informing every syllable. "I had to go online to find the gay bars, and the first bar I went to here was the Eagle."
Duke had been part of the leather community in his homeland, where he was a soldier in the Italian army. He found a support system here, both in the leather community and playing volleyball with the Dallas Independent Volleyball Association.
"The leather community and DIVA were really the two places I got to make friends," he says. "You don’t think of DIVA as being a place for two leather contest winners."
Within four years, Duke found himself atop the heap of the leather scene, first winning the Mr. Dallas Eagle leather contest last December, followed by taking the Mr. Texas Leather title in January — a path that bears notable parallels to that of the current IML titleholder (and former DIVA member) Jeffrey Payne. And none of it’s lost on Duke.
"I have a big model in front of me and he’s been a big role model for everyone. Jeffrey has just been amazing," he says.
While he feels the pressure to repeat for his adoptive hometown, Duke tries to remain focused on the tasks at hand. When not traveling for work (by day, he’s a gelato master and trains chefs in the art of creating frozen desserts) or making appearances as the current Mr. Texas Leather, Duke is preparing full-time for IML. The pace has taken its toll. No matter how tough you might expect a leatherman to be, he’s still human.
"I really am super-stressed because I want to do my best and make my community proud," Duke says. "I’m preparing as much as I can. I’ve done some studying; I’m getting my leather ready and my boots cleaned. I’ve been talking to my mentors and even working out with a personal trainer."
You can tell. Physically, the tall, beefy Italian is fit and tanned. But mentally, he admits he gets both excited and nervous about the upcoming event. Plainly, IML would mean a lot to him personally. But while he certainly has thoughts of winning, he’s also considered the possibility he won’t.
"I discuss it with my partner Ryan and I’m prepared for the commitment," he says. "For me, if I win, it would be like creating a bridge between my two countries. But also, it would be saying thanks to those communities that accepted me here. And if I don’t … well, I’m still going to be Mr. Texas."
His optimism is ebullient. Duke dispels the notion of the super-serious leatherman without losing the hyper-masculinity associated with the scene. He is both the approachable, friendly guy you’d like to have a beer with and the stoic, iconically intimidating image of the leather scene.
But ultimately, all he really wants to do is enjoy the journey and make his impact on the community — whatever shape that impact might take.
"This year is a once in a lifetime experience. This is my moment. Once you walk a step, even if you miss that step, you’ll keep going," Duke says, then pauses. "Still, winning would be awesome."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 21, 2010.