Backstage at the 11th annual Mr. Nude Seattle contest, five naked hopefuls stand nervously, shifting their weight, casually pulling on each others' dongs. The pulling seems less sexual than comforting, a way of saying hello. When one of them—Vincent, who works in the navy—gets an erection, the others emit sounds of surprise and admiration. "I didn't masturbate today," Vincent explains.
Onstage at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, two drag queens, Mark "Mom" Finley and Latrina Bidet, banter between rounds (first look, stripping, Q&A, and last look, also known as "the boner round") and strip routines by the outgoing Mr. Nude Seattle and a Los Angeles porn actor named Brodie Newport.
"I wanted to do something that wasn't a drag show," Martin, the founder, says backstage. "We make between $3,000 and $5,000 a year for different charities: the Capitol Hill Alano Club, the Imperial Court." Contestants sign up at the door and win cash, between $25 and $500. "The criteria isn't a big dick or a nice ass," Martin says. "But are they having fun up there? That's what it's all about."
Jorge, a barista from Venezuela, entering for the second time, contemplates his stripping routine: "Maybe this year, a little whip and a harness, maybe a little chains up my ass." "Just be sure you work the crowd," Martin advises.
Rick, a nervous young hairdresser, is entering Mr. Nude Seattle as a first-date dare. He turns to Jorge: "It's important that I win, so if you could look fat, that'd be great." Jorge clicks his tongue. "Um, no."
Vincent and a friend have come from the submarine base in Bangor for the night. The friend, a member of the military police, has worked in Italy and Guantánamo Bay. "I was right in it," he says, and won't say any more. Vincent works "in legal." When asked if he gets harassed for being gay in the navy, he shakes his head. "I'm the one kicking the people out," he says. What about "don't ask, don't tell"? "Some bitches get caught." He shakes his head again. "You know how gay people are."
The pageant begins and the boys strut, strip, and tease, some ebulliently, some not. When asked how he would write a personal ad, Jorge answers: "My name is whore-hey!" When asked about his economic stimulus package, Vincent plants himself in "Mom" Finley's lap and wiggles. Backstage, he says Finley snuck a grope. "But it's like your mother doing it—just checking up on how it's going down there."
The professional fluffer has not appeared, so the men tug and rub for the boner round. Rick wins third prize. Jaquan, an energetic bathhouse employee, wins second. Jorge wins first and runs naked into the crowd. Dan, the retiring Mr. Nude, is taller and older than this year's contestants. When asked how he enjoyed his reign, he says: "It was everything I expected it to be—absolutely nothing."