Besides helping to give the latest season of “American Horror Story” its kink-perfect period look, Chris “Cadet” Kelley is doing his Mr. Eagle 2023 sash proud with good causes, sexy events, and a mission to make fetish affordable for all!
Thotyssey: Hello Chris, thanks for chatting with us! How is 2023 treating you so far?
Cadet Kelley: It’s been lovely so far, thanks. I’ve been traveling, organizing a couple national events, and listening to a lot of the Cocteau Twins. So all in all, no complaints. What about you?
So far so good… excited to see nightlife thriving and trying new things! Belated congrats to you on your current Mr. Eagle sash, by the way! In your young reign, you’ve already been a prolific representative of the Eagle and the leather / kink scene.
That’s very kind of you to say. It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to work with the various queer, fetish, and kink communities represented at the Eagle.
How long have you been a part of that world?
I’d say that I’ve been into leather officially since college, when I bought my first harness… but unofficially, way before that. I’ve certainly been influenced by artifacts in my youth that led me to leather: Hugh Jackman’s leather bodysuit in X-Men (woof), some classic James Bond villains… I’m a pretty firm believer that pop visual culture really shapes your fetishes and kinks down the line. You might not understand it in the moment, but it certainly changes your sexual makeup down the line.
So where are you from originally… and besides leather and kink, what were your creative interests while growing up?
I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My dad really introduced me to classic film and music growing up, so he’s a huge influence for me. Now I’m a set decorator for film and television… so since I was young, I’ve lived and breathed film.
Yes, I understand you worked on the recent American Horror Story set! That took place largely in the New York gay clubs and bars of the 1980s.
That’s correct,. I was one of the set decorators. I primarily focused on the queer and fetish-heavy sets, but I also did the primary police station. It was an honor to decorate the Eagle as a Mineshaft-esque cruising bar.
Many cite the cult 1980 film Cruising as also being a big influence on the look and plot of this past AHS season.
I definitely am a fan of Cruising, as well as other 80s queer camp classics like Nightmare on Elm Street 2. That being said, however… objectively, these are films designed for a straight audience where kink and fetish are put on display in a disparaging light, almost like a circus act. They are not done with respect. What I loved most about AHS was that it was done by and for the queer leather community. We rarely are able to author our own stories and own our own histories.
Lots of people don’t get that besides having a shared fetish and aesthetic, the leather community in NYC is a very close-knit and diverse group that often dedicate themselves to queer causes!
I would say “communities” rather than a singular “community” because you can own a harness or gauntlets and enjoy going to the Eagle on a Friday, and not consider yourself a die-hard leather fetishist. It’s not black or white.
I certainly have found a wonderful and open leather family at the Eagle who are profoundly dedicated to service and queer mutual aid. My experience may be similar to some, but I wouldn’t say it’s the same for everyone.
Was Mr. Eagle your first competition?
Yes! It was really lovely, from the crowd to the judges to the other contestants. We’ve worked together on numerous events post-contest to make sure everyone feels included, regardless of whether or not they won. I’ve been picked last in gym class, and I never want anyone to feel like that… especially when you have to be so vulnerable on stage in front of hundreds of people. I try to work with my fellow Mr. Eagle NYC 2023 siblings as much as possible.
One great / fun thing you did: The Eagle recently had a meme moment when a picture of a woman preparing paella in a giant pan on the premises for an Eagle staff holiday party inspired everyone to joke about the idea of eating such a fancy dish in a cruisy venue like the Eagle. It was mostly harmless fun, and you leveled up the good natured-ness of it all by presenting a merch t-shirt with that Paella Lady image and a funny slogan, and had all sales proceeds go to the wonderful charity RAINN! That’s a true and creative Mr. Eagle step-up!
Honestly, the paella is iconic. Legendary. It set off the fire alarm. It’s this four-foot diameter wok in a spot where many people have been rotary-dialed, and there’s just about fifty pounds of seafood cooking. Absolutely wild. I feel like memes are such short-hand in our culture now, so it makes sense to continue adapting our kink and fetish presentation to our ever-changing world. Who wouldn’t want to memorialize shellfish at the Eagle and support justice for sexual abuse survivors? I’m very focused on making the various kink, fetish, and leather communities more accessible to everyone, and this is just one example of expanding our tent to be more inclusive.
Tell us a bit about these “Into?” events that you are spearheading at The Eagle! They seem to exemplify the diversity in the scene that you’re talking about.
So on a simple level, “Into?” focuses on handing accessibility back to the people.
It’s a bi-weekly gear party (every other Thursday) that gives specific space for any and every kink and fetish presentation to thrive in a judgement-free zone. The nice thing about “Into?” is that there’s no dress-code, cover, or singular door person deciding who gets into the party — everyone’s welcome. Before ‘Into?’ there weren’t events designed to be all-inclusive. You would have to spend $3000+ just for a set of dress leathers to walk in the door… and that’s not exactly economical in this day and age.
“Into?” looks at kink, fetish, and leather on socioeconomic and ethnographic levels… meaning that based on unfortunate realities with wage gaps, it’s more likely for a cis white queer man to be able to afford gear over a trans person of color; roughly 30% of transgender Americans make less than $12,000 a year. For many, wearing “full cow” proper leathers are an impossibility (saving $200 a month for a pair of pants versus paying a cellphone bill), and spending thousands of dollars on leathers can be extremely alienating.
This disparity gap also creates echo chambers of wealth and privilege. How can our beautiful patchwork quilt of communities be accurately represented if they can’t afford to get in the door?
The next “Into?” event scheduled is Thursday, January 26th: “Sex Scenes!” What’s this about?
“Sex Scenes” is a partnership with Frock the World, an all-gender and all-body inclusive porn company. We’re focusing on consent. There will be live performances, a killer DJ, and fantastic atmosphere — all while continuing to celebrate diversity at the Eagle.
What else is going on with you?
I’m currently pretty deep in designing and bringing back The Black Party with Saint-At-Large.
Ack! The Black Party is so missed! Do you have any deets on that revival yet!?
I’m drawing inspiration from St. Vincent’s album St. Vincent, Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, and other neo-punk staples of pop culture to bring a fully realized future space for [cough] longer than just a weekend circuit party.
In addition to this, Rob Montana (first runner up Mr. Eagle NYC 2023) and I are continuing to spearhead our SoBar initiative, which offers gear takeovers in alcohol-free spaces.
And, of course, I’ll be getting ready for IML and traveling. I’ve begun to meet some of my classmates for the year, and they’ve all been so wonderfully talented and incredibly gracious.
All very exciting! Lastly: what’s the sexiest kink ever?
There’s nothing sexier than consent. Or loving, deep, and trusting communication between partners. Or fisting… please, someone fist me.
Check Thotyssey’s calendar for Chris “Cadet” Kelley’s upcoming appearances, and follow him on Facebook and Instagram.