EV Interviews is the newest feature in Erotic Vancouver Magazine. In it we’ll sit down with the movers and shakers doing things of interest in the alt-sex scenes, burlesque, the erotic arts and more.
For our first interview we recently had the opportunity to sit down with some of the people behind Rubbout, Vancouver’s Rubber weekend for men, which runs April 14-16. Bill Houghton, Rubbouts founder, past Rubbout front man and current contributor Mitch, and the face of Rubbout today Reid.
Here’s what they had to say in an interview that bounced around between the Rubbouts of years past and today.
Erotic Vancouver: So, Bill, Rubbout is about run for it’s 22nd time. That means it’s been running 21 years. It’s old enough to drink if you should decide to take it south of the border. You ran Rubbout, exclusively, the first dozen years it was in existence. What do you see as the biggest difference between Rubbout then and Rubbout now?
Bill: More internet involvement, as far as media coverage and promotion. Social network. I mean, I wasn’t doing that. All the posters were all done by hand. I was doing snail mailing out at the time. The guy now runs Rubber Weekend in Seattle did my first webpage for, I think, Rubbout 9 or 10.
Then just before Mitch took over he started helping me and created a page also. So for Rubbout 12 probably.
Mitch: Yeah, I remember.
Bill: I was still in the closet about computers. And I think that’s the biggest difference. Well, that and latex. Latex is more available for people. When you look back at the photos I do have from those early Rubbouts it’s most industrial rubber. There’s hardly any latex at all, except on a few people who would come in from Europe. So you hardly saw latex at all in the first few Rubbouts, guys were in the black diamond gear, diving suits, all sorts of stuff, but no latex. It’s pretty amazing.
Erotic Vancouver: What about the difference between running them on your own then, Bill, versus team effort of today. Was that a choice, or was there no one else to do the work?
Bill: That’s another difference. Pretty much all of them I ran myself, I was so stubborn about getting help. I just did it. But now it’s like a committee, with anywhere from 2 people to 5 or 6, depending on the year. And so they’re doing things differently.
Mitch: Actually, it hasn’t really changed as much as you think. It’s still the basic format. There’s a meet and greet on Friday, a play party on Saturday, and a brunch on Sunday or some variation thereof. That’s the basic format. And it’s still run pretty much the same way. Even though there are more volunteers it’s not a society, it’s not a membership that votes. It’s still run by somebody at the top who just gets a bunch of people to help out.
Erotic Vancouver: So it’s still very much a grass roots thing, rather than something that’s become commercial?
Reid: Right. That’s something we’re actively trying to maintain. We’ve had offers to make it a much bigger event, and we’ve turned those down.
Mitch: It’s not a contest. Various people say “Why don’t you turn it into a contest weekend? It will get bigger.”
And we’ve always said no.
Bill: I will give them dirty looks forever if they do that. My big contention—I’ve been to enough contests, I’ve worked on enough contests, they take the focus away from the weekend. Unless they’re a very well run thing—I mean have nothing against Men In Rubber or the IML and all that.
Mitch: But the focus here is for the participants to have fun, rather than the focus on judges and contestants.
Erotic Vancouver: Yeah, the one contest portion of the weekend is just for fun and totally slip shod. Plus you’ve got that crappy host. [Laughter – Erotic Vancouver managing editor Reive hosts the Puppy Play Contest on Saturday afternoon at Rubbout, and it’s anything but a serious affair.]
Mitch: Well, no, I wouldn’t go that far.
Erotic Vancouver: I mean it seems to be very much in the spirit of fun, which is great to see you guys take it that direction, rather than the direction that Bill would kill you for.
Reid: There’s a whole host of events that do it in the other direction, and only a few doing it in the way we are.
Bill: I’ve always liked to think of Rubbout as sort of the Spring Prom. The socialization, everyone gets together and has a good time—and then we get into the other stuff other the rest of the year, the weekends or contests. Although there’s now Palm Springs, which pre-dates it a little bit, running earlier in the year.
The other difference is I’m thrilled there are more rubber event weekends going on, especially in North America.
Reid: Yeah, definitely.
Bill: I mean back when I started in the early 90s it was all Europe. You went to Europe for big rubber parties. So that’s one thing that’s definitely different, not here in Vancouver but in the States and Canada. More rubber, which is good.
[Looking at Mitch.] Do you remember when was your first one that you came to?
Mitch: Well it was after 92.
Bill: 92 was number one.
Mitch: So not number one. Somewhere close to there.
Mitch: Back to talking contests. There was a group in Seattle that really wanted to turn the Puppy party into a feeder for international contests. But we kind of closed the lid on that, because we really do want the focus to be on fun. A playful contest is one thing, but trying to turn it into something else is going to…
Bill: And it’s going to take a lot more energy to sell it and to run it if it’s not just fun.
Erotic Vancouver: Those big contest weekends, it’s a very different feel from what you are delivering. Which is fun. Those big contest weekends, they take that business seriously.
Bill: Oh yeah. Plus the whole registration thing is a different set up, where you could easily lose money. When I started Rubbout I always wanted to make sure that people could make a last minute decision to come to this. Rather than putting money down into registering, and then losing it because they had to cancel. I mean, for what I was doing I didn’t think I needed to do that. And when I handed Rubbout over I wanted to keep as much as that casualness as we could.
Mitch: Right, that was a big thing.
Bill: So my little perk, when running this, is that on the Friday evening I always got to see people I never expected. Some people from England, other parts of Europe, would just show up. They’d planned it, I knew them, but there’d been no registration so I didn’t know. I always got a kick out of—I never knew who was coming.
Erotic Vancouver: So that’s what’s the same. What’s different, now to then?
Mitch: Nothing revolutionary. It really is still the same format. But evolutionary things. More demos as time went on. People coming from all over, like Buster coming to do the balloon thing, or someone doing Fireplay, and stuff like that. And more recently puppy play has become an element of the weekend.
Bill: Stuck its wet nose in.
Bill: So, Reid, I’m curious, when was your first Rubbout? You were still living in Alberta, I remember.
Reid: Probably 19 was my first.
Reid: Another difference is the demos. We’re seeing a lot more blow up stuff, a lot more inflatables.
Erotic Vancouver: That’s a difference on the kink scene as a whole. Inflatable and vacuum stuff seems to have become a lot more common in recent years. Yet I remember going to a party at Bill’s house during Rubbout when he was running them, and there was Bill wandering around his house in an inflatable diving suit. Not a wet suit, one of those things deep sea divers wore, everything but the brass helmet!
Bill: Slowly deflating. Good times!
Mitch: Toys have always been part of Rubbout.
Erotic Vancouver: So I guess it’s always crap shoot how many people will attend, given the last minute registration. But you have any expectations? How many people came out last year, both for the whole weekend, and for your big dance party on the Saturday?
Reid: For the twentieth anniversary it was over 300 at that main party, and last year it was about 250. We had 120 weekend passes for number 20, and about 108 last year. Our goal is about 100. That would make me happy. We’ll see.
Erotic Vancouver: Last year you did a dance party on the Saturday night. This year you’ve got something different planned. Can you tell me about that.
Reid: We’re having a closed, dress code play party. It’s in the new bath house the Red Door. The old M2M space. We’re getting the space for the evening.
Mitch: For a couple of years we tried the big dance thing. This year Reid is taking it back to the basics of the weekend. The dance party was more about the gear and being seen, and we wanted to have something that was about the people and the play.
Reid: Yeah, the socializing and the play. We found, I don’t know, everybody really busted a nut getting things read last year, and it didn’t turn out quite like we expected. Anyway, everyone kind of took a step back this year, so kind of being the one looking after everything this year I’m glad we took it back to basics. We’ll wait for the dances for the big milestone years.
Mitch: What I’ve always said I like about Rubbout is how the whole community gets together to make it happen. All the vendors and the venues support the people who are there to make sure our weekend event happens.
Erotic Vancouver: So who all do you have on board this year? PRIAPE obviously.
Reid: We have PRIAPE. Mr. S. We’ve got Ware’s and Wear, who are now under Kink Store dot C A. Those are our main promotional item sponsors. Then we’ve got Xtra West on board, Gay Van, West Coast Rubber, Leatheratti, Rubber Zone, all helping spread the word.
Bill: PumpJack of course.
Reid: Yeah, venue partners. We’ve got The Red Door, PumpJack, we’ve got Junction, and then our two hotels, Sandman Suites and the Inn at False Creek.
Mitch: One of the challenges is—for the first twelve years Rubbout was always at Bill’s house, so find a venue was simple—but as soon as week took it out of that it has always been a challenge to find a venue for the Saturday night. I don’t think it has ever been the same place two years in a row. They just come and go.
Erotic Vancouver: So what new do you want to see at Rubbout. If not next year then in the future.
Mitch: I keep saying I want to bring a Zorb.
Bill: Oh my god! A Zorb ball. They’re amazing. Apart from the guy who got killed in one playing on a ski slope.
I did it in Japan. They’re amazing.
Erotic Vancouver: What is a Zorb Ball? I’m going to display my ignorance and ask.
Bill: Two people are strapped in a ball and then it’s rolled down a hill. That’s basically what it is.
Mitch: Basically. Here, let me show you a picture on my phone. It’s a water ball, not an actual Zorb, but you get the idea. [Shows a picture of a ball on his phone]
Bill: In a Zorb you’re strapped down in a harness, and sitting opposite someone else. You’re in a pocket of air in the middle.
Erotic Vancouver: It’s a giant hamster ball is what it is!
Mitch: So Reid and I have done the water ball thing, together. Bill has done the Zorb. Sometime in the future we’ll do it here.
Erotic Vancouver: So you all know, I’m sure, that Rubbout is Vancouver’s longest consistently running fetish or Kink event. About to start 22nd year. But as far as I can tell it’s also North America’s oldest rubber event. Bill, can you speak to that? When you started were there any other Rubber events in North America that you knew of?
Bill: I don’t know. I went to a couple of Drummer Contests, years and years ago, when Drummer Magazine was still around, and I went to Mid-Atlantic Leather. And, I swear to God, the number of rubber guys at those things we could fit in an egg carton. There were maybe ten of us. And it was wild to see that many of us. That was it, it was mostly a leather event. But all the rubber guys would gravitate towards each other during the cocktails hour.
It seemed to be on and off in San Francisco. Events that would happen and then wouldn’t. There were a few weekends that happened, someone would have something at their house, or once a farm, somewhere in North America. But they were grass roots, and often just once. Nothing annual.
Erotic Vancouver: Doing some research online, as far as I can tell this is certainly the longest running event, if not the first. It may be the first annual event, of course pre-dating the internet it’s hard to say.
Bill: It pre-dates Men In Rubber by a few years. I think they’re 18 or 19 years old this year. I’m not sure. We’re 21, I mean it’s number 22, but of course the first one was number one, so we’re 21 years old. We started at least 2 or 3 years before them. So we’re the longest running gay rubber events weekend in North America.
Erotic Vancouver: Not just gay. I’ve checked the straight—the pan-sexual fetish scene, and there is nothing that pre-dates you.
Bill: Wow. I thought, but I didn’t know.
Mitch: Is there even a straight rubber event?
Erotic Vancouver: Certainly there are rubber nights. No rubber weekends that I know of.
Speaking of nights versus weekends, it seems to me that the leather and rubber scene are becoming less prevalent in the gay community. The big weekends are still going, but there seem to be fewer folks turning up in the bar in the gear on just any night of the week, at the same time that the pan-sexual community is growing here in Vancouver, with more events, and kink getting more “mainstream” for lack of a better term. Can anyone speak to that?
Reid: I have a theory that back when things were a lot not quite as accepted [being gay] that kink was sort of a manifestation of that repression, of our outsider status.
Now that society has gotten a lot more accepting, as homosexuality in our culture has become more normalized, kink as a sort of manifestation has become less prevalent. I mean, to some degree you’re either born kinky or you’re not. Even curious, you might be born that or not. But you need that push in order to explore it, and there’s less of a push now, I don’t know if there’s as much as a trigger to do that, since being gay is now so normal.
Mitch: The structure of the Leather Community has really changed over time. There was the Old Guard, there were rules. You had to earn your leather. Now there’s very much a social community. It’s something you wear, it’s a fashion thing. You can just have fun. And you can do that anywhere, you don’t need to conform to a certain group. So I think that’s playing a role here.
Bill: And you still can get kinky in Seattle and not be kinky up here. That’s always been the way.
I did that years ago, because there wasn’t much going on. I had my fun in Seattle.
Mitch: Look at Leather Contests, for instance. They’re having hard times finding contestants many times now.
Bill: But it hasn’t changed. In three decades it has not changed.
Mitch: Well, I guess the idea of someone representing the community when we no longer need someone to represent the community, ‘cause it’s—
Bill: We are representing the community. We are, ourselves. It’s more open. It is more representative.
So contests are an up or down thing. I’ve seen ones where they’ve got five contestants, no problem. Other ones they have to go running out to get contestants. And then you’ve had them with single contestants and it’s a yes or no thing.
It’s like who wants to say no. I’ve seen it happen at a public drag ball in Denver. They didn’t want to tell her, I mean, wow. That was uncomfortable, and I wasn’t even a local.
Mitch: Society wise I think the leather community is changing. But I do think that Vancouver is different from the rest of North America. We’re very outdoorsy and casual. In Seattle and Toronto Leather is still quite hierarchical. Here we’ve got more of a free for all attitude.
Erotic Vancouver: New Leather seems to be what I’m hearing. New Leather seems to be more prevalent here on the West Coast, the idea that you don’t need to follow some hierarchy, that you don’t need to be somebody’s boy before you become a Master.
Mitch: Even just colours! It doesn’t have to be all black. That’s new leather.
Reid: People don’t like to commit to things here. Old guard is a commitment. That’s why contests never work. ‘Cause that’s a commitment. [laughs]
Mitch: Look at the bear community locally. They used to be very structured, planned their events—
Bill: That all went out the window back around 2000.
Mitch: Right. But now you’ve got all these different groups. You’ve got hiking bears, you’ve got movie bears, you’ve got this and that. So it’s kind of more fractured, but there’s just more going on. We just might not label it and advertise it as bear event. Which sounds bad, but there’s actually more opportunity for more different things.
Bill: You want to put something together and you have to put a group together. You have to register and raise money. And it’s a committee, and at some point people get tired and leave and the group dies.
I always tried to avoid that with Rubbout. If it was just me I didn’t need to worry about that. And when I handed that over tried to make sure it was going to be people who cared about it, and would hand it over when it was time, not committees and elections and, and, and.
Erotic Vancouver: Getting back to Rubbout, what can someone coming out of the mainstream to this, what can they expect? If they don’t have any rubber already how can they get involved?
Mitch: That’s why the swap meet on Saturday at PumpJack is such a great idea. You don’t have to have a scrap of rubber and you can come out and get something, and probably cheap.
Reid: Plus here in Vancouver we’re lucky to have a couple of retail stores that do sell latex, and rubber in general, where you can get stuff.
Erotic Vancouver: PRIAPE and Deadly Couture.
Bill: I think that with someone coming into it mostly what they’ve been seeing is latex.
When I try to do a 101 with someone just getting into rubber I tell them to keep it simple. Go and buy a pair of rubber boots. That’s all you have to do. Go to Army and Navy, go to a surplus store, get a pair of rubber boots. It’s not expensive, but it gets you in the mood, plus you’re part of it, regardless of what else you’re wearing.
Mitch: Yeah. With Rubbout you don’t need $300 worth of gear to start.
Bill: But a lot of people do think that sometimes.
Mitch: Get a $20 rubber raincoat from Army and Navy.
Reid: Or a $50 pair of rubber briefs from PRIAPE or Deadly Couture or whatever.
Mitch: Or a $20 rubber shirt second hand, at the swap meet or off of eBay.
Bill: Exactly. When people first came in I’d tell them not to go overboard buying things. In case you’re not into it. Or in case you don’t know exactly what you want.
Mitch: Like with the Puppy Play Party last year we brought extra stuff. So people could try it, and get into things, and they didn’t need to buy all that stuff in advance before they knew if this was for them.
Bill: Like for me I’m into mainly industrial rubber, which is a whole different thing from latex. Which is also nice because it’s easier to lend.
Mitch: For a lot of people Rubbout is the gear, it’s the rubber, it’s the latex, it’s how it feels. For a lot of people, however, it’s also just the attitude. It’s the slime pit, it’s the water sports, it’s the puppy play, and the gear is really secondary to that.
Reid: Bondage. Bondage and rubber really seem to go together. I don’t know why. The restriction.
Mitch: So bring the right attitude. That’s most important.
Erotic Vancouver: If you don’t mind me finishing with a personal question for each of you, what drew you to rubber in the first place?
Mitch: Start with him! [points at Bill]
Bill: I knew I was always attracted to it but I didn’t really, get it, until the late 80s.
I knew I was attracted to it, but I didn’t realize it was a thing. I picked up a mentor here in Vancouver, after having been to the East Coast, in 74 and he did all this bondage stuff in rubber. But I didn’t connect the dots. I was into bondage, I didn’t realize it was the rubber.
There were instances that happened earlier, like being a kid babysitting and finding the father’s chest waders, and walking around in those when I got a chance.
Erotic Vancouver: That might have been a hint, yeah.
Bill: I stole a pair of rubber boots in the neighbourhood and I actually talked my way out of it. That’s when my acting career kicked in. And I didn’t know why I did it, I thought it was for the thrill. The thrill of stealing. I didn’t realize it was the rubber I wanted then.
So I had these moments, early, but they weren’t connected with a hard on then so I didn’t get it.
Next. In order. [points at Mitch]
Mitch: I’d say it would be the playfulness. Leather was always about rules and stuff, where as rubber is all about things like slime pits, and water sports and— [pauses]
Bill: Science fiction.
Mitch: Yeah, science fiction. And, to some extent, exhibitionism. So for me it wasn’t really the feel of rubber, it was the attitude.
I participate in everything. Whether it be bears, rubber, leather it’s just another avenue—
Bill: Really, we need to leash him to keep him out of things.
Reid: It’s funny we all come from very different experiences of it.
Lots of the 70s, 80s TV shows had guys in skimpy tight outfits. The divers and stuff. I have been so drawn to skintight stuff since I was a kid. I did lots of spandex in the 80s and 90s, and that kind of became rubber in the naughts, in the naughties.
Bill: And then he found Rubbout.
Reid: There are all the aspects of bondage with it, and breath play, the constriction part of it—that’s the stuff I really found attractive.|
All the really cool guys get breathing apparatus: firemen, divers, hazmat guys, with the masks and stuff for sure.
Bill: It’s all sci-fi, and with rubber we get it too.
Erotic Vancouver: You get to write your own story.