Family Portrait: Stephen Mercer

He holds many titles: Mr. Philadelphia, Master At Arms for the Philadelphians MC, Mid-Atlantic leatherboy 2008, founder of the Keystone boys of Leather, host of Laid Saturdays. But Stephen Mercer’s about to get a new title: husband. Mercer, aka boyshark, took the time to meet me one week before he exchanged vows.

PGN: So, this is the last chance I have to call you Mr. Mercer. Where are you from, Mr. Mercer? SM: I was born in Champaign County, Ill. My parents were very poor … and Republican, which doesn’t make any sense to me! I lived mostly with my grandparents. My parents moved around a lot: They were good for pulling up a U-Haul and taking off to a new trailer. I must have lived in over 30 houses or trailers growing up. I graduated high school in Champaign when I lived with my grandparents and then went from there to Michigan, then to Pennsylvania, then Colorado, back to Pennsylvania, Texas then to Jersey, and I eventually settled back in Philly, where I live now.

PGN: Any college? SM: I went to Parkland College for a little while to study broadcast, and then I went to school for massage therapy, which I did for several years.

PGN: What did your parents do? SM: My father’s a very intelligent man, despite never having gotten a degree. He did engineering work. He built conveyors for Harcourt Publishers. I haven’t seen my mother for ages, so I have no idea what she’s doing. I know that she’s alive and recently moved to Texas. I don’t really ever see anyone in my family: In fact, there’s not anyone from my side coming to our wedding. And I’m even wearing a kilt for the occasion!

PGN: What is your ancestry? SM: I’m Irish, Scottish, American Indian and German.

PGN: What were you like as a kid? SM: Extremely shy and introverted. Some kids are momma’s boys, I was a grandmomma’s boy. I never left her side. I have a younger sister, who is a lesbian by the way, so we are 100-percent gay, but I grew up with my grandparents and my sister didn’t, so I was kind of an only child. On top of that, my parents were in their teens when I was born, so my uncle was like my big brother. So I was kind of the baby of the family too. I came out in high school, the only person to come out at my school, and that helped bring me out of my shell. An interesting thing was that I was picked on a bit when I was still in the closet, but once I came out, they left me alone. It was like, “Well, we got nothin’ to make fun of now that it’s out … let’s move on.” Later on, as I got involved with the gay community, I became more introverted again. I was not used to being the new kid and then I started seeing someone who was very closeted. He was Catholic and his family didn’t know. We lived together for 13 years and I helped raise his son, whom I eventually told, but no one was supposed to know.

PGN: How did you get in the bar business? SM: After we broke up, one of the owners of The Bike Stop, Don Lewis, started introducing me to people and I started working in The Gear Box at The Bike Stop. Then I got involved with the Philadelphians and I just went crazy from there! I ran for Mid-Atlantic leatherboy 2008 and won. And let me tell you, it’s not easy being up on a stage in front of everyone in a jockstrap! That definitely brought me out of my shell.

PGN: What’s the biggest misconception people have about the leather community? SM: I think people think that when we have meetings, it’s some kind of clandestine affair where we are all in a basement having sex, when the truth is it’s a social club and we have minutes and by-laws and spend most of our time participating in AIDS walks and doing fund drives and other positive things for the community. I mean the sex does happen, but not during meetings and usually not with each other!

PGN: What was the Gear Box? SM: It was a little store that sold novelties — leather pants, chaps, jackets, dildos as big as fire-hydrants, nipple clamps, that sort of thing. I loved it there; I met a lot of wonderful people. Sometimes you would get touristy types who would giggle and joke about the stuff, but it was always the one who laughed the loudest who would come back the next day to buy everything! He who laughs the loudest …

PGN: Tell me about Laid. SM: I’m running a party called “Laid Saturdays.” It’s about getting people off the Internet and into an environment where they can meet face to face in a safe spot and where they can exchange information, where people can let you know if someone is safe to play with or if there’s someone you need to be careful of. As a titleholder, you have to have a message and a cause. Mine came about because of a bad encounter I’d had. I met someone online and made the mistake of meeting him at his house. I let him tie me up, which I never do, and he proceeded to punch and kick and beat the crap out of me. Then he took my cell phone and wallet, saying that he didn’t want me to leave. I eventually convinced him to let me go by leaving my toys and promising to come back for them. I went home and cried and cried. Eventually I took stock of the mistakes I’d made. I should have met him somewhere safe first. I should have made sure I knew someone else who’d played with him and vouched for him. So part of the idea for the party was to have a safe place and to exchange information. Now the party has morphed to be more social. I saw a lot of chat boards online where people were saying that they were tired of every event being attached to fundraising or some kind of message, and just wanted to have fun, so we’ve steered away from that a lot. It still accomplishes the same objective, but we don’t beat people over the head with it. DJ Barney, who started WOOF! and Jim KZ, the captain of the Philadelphians, helped me get started.

PGN: That was a close call. SM: Yeah, it could have been a lot worse, but it really shook me up. It’s amazing how 10 minutes can change your life.

PGN: Changing gears, do you collect anything? SM: Oh, this is embarrassing. Yes, I collect “Wizard of Oz” memorabilia! And I’m really into horror films. Especially zombie films,;I’m a zombie groupie. I have a poster from “House of 1000 Corpses” signed by Sid Haig. It’s a classic horror film and there’s a line in the film where his character, Captain Spaulding, says, “Fuck yo mama.” When Sid signed it, he wrote: “To Steve, Fuck you!, Sid” It’s great. I also have an autograph from Russell Streiner, who plays Johnny in “Night of the Living Dead.” He’s the one who says, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” And I have one from the little girl who stabs her mother with a spade. So that’s it, “Wizard of Oz” and horror memorabilia. What a pair.

PGN: Speaking of pairs, tell me about your upcoming nuptials. SM: His name is Marty McGinly and he’s amazing. He truly is my rock. It sounds cheesy but it’s the truth. I mean, I run a leather party, for God’s sake, and he keeps me stable. He keeps me focused and helps me with all my activities. We’re getting married right here in Philadelphia at Illuminare. Then in one year, so that we keep the anniversary date the same (so I won’t have to remember two dates), we’re going to go to Massachusetts and have what we’re calling our legal day. We were going to go to California and get married in San Francisco, but since Prop. 8, that’s out.

PGN: Who did the proposing? SM: He did. [Laughs.] I was in a really bad mood too, because he wouldn’t let me come over. I’d had a horrible day and got off work early. I really wanted to go home and he kept saying, “Just stay out for a little longer.” When I showed up, he’d made a wonderful dinner, pulled out our best china and everything. Suddenly he was kneeling next to me and I was like, “What are you doing? We’re in the middle of dinner. Why are you on the floor?” and he handed me a box in the shape of a jack-o’-lantern. I didn’t know what was going on, I thought maybe it was some kind of crazy Irish tradition. I opened it up and saw that it was an engagement ring, at which point I shouted, “Yes, yes” and broke down and cried. So now at the wedding we’re going to have pumpkins all around the place. I have a thing for pumpkins. And when we do the legal thing, we’re probably going to go to Salem, Mass.

PGN: What’s the hardest part of planning a wedding? SM: There are so many options. It’s so easy now; it’s not a big deal for two men to walk into Robbins at Eighth and Walnut and pick out a wedding ring or to order a cake with two men at the top. It’s so wide open, we can do anything we want, which is cool.

PGN: Tell me a funny story about you. SM: Every other year, the Centaur group in D.C. puts on a camping trip in Oxford. The Philadelphians are known for doing crazy things, so last year we dressed up as the eight Amy Winehouses with fake beehive hairdos and slutty dresses and terrorized the camp. We would jump into the shower with people or into their beds or slings and take pictures. There’s a long outside staircase that goes down into the pool area, so we came down the stairs dancing to Amy Winehouse songs, jumped into the pool and did synchronized swimming. You can actually see it on YouTube under Marvelous2 or Philadelphians MC Swimming. Oh, and I have to embarrass my friend Phil: One year, he got so drunk he basically redecorated the whole place with his vomit. Sorry, it gets worse. My dog came along that year and said, “Oh, free food!” and cleaned it up. Well, it was so toxic, the dog got drunk!

PGN: A habit you’ve kicked? SM: Smoking. I quit it from 21-35, but now I’ve started again.

PGN: First or favorite toy? SM: Rufus the Lion. He was a stuffed animal. I had a lot of them and would have little tea parties for them. For some reason, I was always afraid they would burn up in a fire, so I used to take my mother’s big purple robe and tuck it up underneath me and belt it so I could carry them all around with me stuffed in the robe. One time the fire alarm went off and I went tearing through the house wearing the robe stuffed with toys.

PGN: You haven’t been in contact with the family; are you estranged from them? SM: Well, they just disappear. I talked to my father once last year, but now his cell phone is off and no one knows where he is, including the folks at his job. But that’s typical.

PGN: Celebrity encounter? SM: I used to work at the Prince Theater, so I got to meet a lot of people. My favorite was Patti LuPone. She had a roaring temper. She liked me, thank God, but she did not like our stage manager. The stage manager was in the green room once talking on the phone and Patti walked in, grabbed the phone and threw it on the floor, saying she’d messed up her show. It was great drama.

PGN: Any pets? SM: I have a century-old cocker spaniel and a cat named Milo. From my soon-to-be sister-in-law, I’ve asked for a pug, which Marty isn’t too happy about.

PGN: Last time you laughed until you cried? SM: Just before I got here. I was watching “Wife Swap.” Guilty pleasure. And the part I watched started with the announcer saying, “Wife Christina was so distraught, she sat down to tell her troubles to a plant named Alfred.” I just rolled on the floor.

PGN: Song you’re embarrassed to admit you like? SM: OK, I’ll confess. Mr. Philadelphia is into The Carpenters. Anything by them. OK, I’m going to my support group now.

PGN: Three sounds that disturb you? SM: Whining, Melanie Griffith’s voice and the sound of someone screaming for help, not on TV.

PGN: Most unusual job? SM: I was a Merry Maid in college. [Laughs.] It ruined me for life: Now I don’t clean at all. I hope my husband doesn’t mind!

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