BEAR Is a Four-Letter-Word

…but not a dirty one. Not anymore, for me, anyway.  
_________________________________________________________________

In case you’re unfamiliar with the LGBT lexicon, (per Wikipedia) In gay culture, a Bear is a large, hairy man who projects an image of rugged masculinity. As a rising subculture in the gay and bisexual male communities, Bears are one of many LGBT communities with events, codes, and a culture-specific identity.

Image

“Large” is a fairly contentious term, if well-intentioned. Basically, in same-sex parlance, a bear is a non-skinny, generally hairy dude who generally exhibits typical traits associated with masculinity. 

I used to be afraid of this term. I used to deny and run from it. When I was younger, in my twenties, I idolized my thin male friends, and wanted to be one of them. Alas, it was not meant to be. I was furry, and bigger than they were, and I hated it. At the time, I identified as gay, and in the “gay community” there is a visceral idolization of the thin, the tanned, the perfected, the artificial.  I wanted to fit in, I just wasn’t built to do so.

I associated bear with ‘fat guy’. No offense to men who identify as bears and relish the identity. This was really more about my own insecurities with my physical self. I didn’t think of self-identified bears as ‘fat guys’. I just didn’t want anyone to think of me as such. 

Flash forward to my early 30s, and I had gained a great deal of weight, becoming the ‘fat guy’ I so feared being. I’m still a stocky guy, but I have also lost over 100 lbs this year. Funny thing is, I now feel ‘stocky’ to be an accurate descriptor of my physical presence, rather than the ridiculously inappropriate descriptor it was – you’re not really “stocky” when you’re over 350 lbs and have associated health problems. 

Anyway, I digress. Truth is, though, by the standards of the lgbt term “bear”, that’s exactly what I am. I don’t identify with the “bear community” though, per se. I mean, I don’t attend bear pride events or sport the bear flag. Did you know bears have their (our?) own flag?

Image

Yay bears.  Anyway, so yeah, but one can be something (if one prefers labels, which I generally do not) without being part of said community of something. But I don’t run from or fear the term bear being applied to me. Now, I kind of relish it, actually. I don’t usually refer to myself as one, but I associate the term positively with masculinity, confidence and self-assurance. So yeah, I wouldn’t mind being called a bear.

I think it has to do with a combination of losing weight, and still being a bigger man, but one who is much, much happier with his body than he used to be, and with the wisdom and self-confidence that often comes with age and time. I’ll be 35 on Tuesday, and I’m totally still navigating this crazy world I inhabit, and finding my place within it. 

And that’s okay.

Oh, and GRRRR, Woof, and whatever.

Advertisements

30 Days – Day 9 – Someone Who Drifted

If you’re following this blog, you know I’m participating in the ‘30 Days of Truth‘ project I’ve seen on other blogs.  It’s helping me commit to posting every single day, since I’m also taking part in The Daily Post project.

Day 09 → Someone you didn’t want to let go, but just drifted.

"Drift" by Marni Mutrux

Many people drift in and out of our lives.  As we grow older, we come to accept this as fact, and are better equipped to deal with it as a part of life.  We come to understand that some relationships are transitory, and sometimes a person’s presence serves as a learning experience for us.

“Every moment in life is a learning experience. Or what good is it, right?”
– Paul, ‘Six Degrees of Separation’

His name was Jesse.  He was my best friend in the last couple of years of high school.  We became like brothers after he transferred to my school.  Both only children, we came from different worlds.  His parents were pretty small town and friendly, but they had money.  His mom drove a sports car and his dad bought him a sweet little jet black Nissan pickup with tinted windows and chrome rims with low-profile tires.

Every single time I hear “Pony” by Ginuwine (which isn’t often, but still) I think of that truck, and him, and us riding through town on Friday nights, cruising the main drag just like all the other kids, because there wasn’t shit else to do in that town.

My parents’ old house sat right next to our new house, in total disrepair.  Half the thing was torn open/falling down, literally.  My dad started tearing it down, and well, stopped.  We, being the industrious young men we were, turned the old living room (which was fine but had no heat) into a bachelor pad.  We each had a sofa to sleep on, a TV, and a fridge.  That was the life.

We got measured for prom tuxes together.  I used to buy us 30 packs of Natty Light when I was 17, from a convenience store in town – it always seemed to work – maybe it was my goatee and chops.  He caught me jerking off to a nudie mag once and then casually asked me which pics I was looking at.  lol.  We smoked so much pot I actually hallucinated (pink elephants – wtf was in that weed?) and threw up outside.  We were 16 and 17.  We were brothers.

He was the first person I came out to, a few weeks after I graduated high school.  I was terrified that he’d reject me.  He didn’t.  He thought it was the coolest thing.

It was the summer of 1997.  He and his family had moved to another town about 30-40 minutes away.  I was busy getting into college and getting a job in a town 45 minutes in another direction.  And, as life goes, we drifted apart.  Less and less calls between us, and so forth.  I saw him one other time.  I was back at my parents house for a bit, and he just happened to be in town visiting.  He dropped by for about 45 minutes or an hour or so, and we just visited.  But I’d already changed.  And he had graduated, and was changing himself…off to start his own independent life.

And so it goes.  But once upon a time, we were best friends.  I wonder what ever became of him.  I miss him.

Gay Culture, and Moving Past It

*BONUS POST*

The following is an article I wrote for the January 10, 2011 relaunch of Escape OKC Magazine, Oklahoma’s premiere queer culture magazine.

 

Illustration by David M. Buisán

A friend recently posted an open question on his Facebook profile about the mainstreaming of GLBT culture, and whether or not that is a good thing.

He posited that there are vast differences in heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and that moving away from a typically gay culture may send the wrong message to GLBT youth who have yet to take their place in our adult society.  He asked if we are perhaps sending the message that it’s better to “blend in rather than be who and what [we] are.”  In a response, I offered my unique perspective, which I will expand upon here.

I came of age in the late 1990s, at the tail-end of a very different type of “gay culture” replete with rainbow boas & bumper stickers, pleather pants, and frosty tipped outrageousness.  It was very much the “in” thing to know someone who was gay, or especially to be gay.  Being gay was still rather underground.  Far from being illegal – as it had been only decades before – gay culture was still taking baby steps toward becoming a part of mainstream life and discourse in America.

As has often been pointed out, there was no Will & Grace, no Ellen, and no real positive portrayal of GLBT life in mainstream media.  To see someone gay on television or in movies (apart from indie gay films) was usually to witness the sad clown, comic foil, evil perpetrator, or lowly victim.

As Peter Tatchell remarks, greater visibility of GLBT men and women today is a welcome change in our society, although it has yet to afford GLBT people legal equality, and that homophobia still exists, if only in a more subtle fashion (Tatchell, 1998).  Filmmaker and provocateur John Waters once said in an interview that he “had more fun when it was illegal to be gay,” and stated that while he does not desire to marry or serve in the armed forces, he recognizes others’ right to want that (Smith, 2007).

Indeed, the advances GLBT people have made in recent years are to be celebrated.  People are realizing more and more that GLBT people are their friends and neighbors, children and coworkers.  The truth, however, is that once something becomes integrated into the mainstream society’s consciousness, it loses its edginess and uniqueness – that sense of identification as ‘different.’

As one who has always considered himself on the outside of things, I miss that edginess somewhat.  I miss when it was “cool” to be gay, just like it was once verboten and “cool” to have tattoos – something else which has been integrated into mainstream society, and could arguably be said to have lost some of its edge.  But, I miss it in a nostalgic way; much like I miss a time when we could hear more than today’s top pop-starlets on the radio.  We regard such things with a fondness, but we move on.  Change is the only constant.  Personally, I would love to hear PJ Harvey, Sufjan Stevens, and Patti Smith on mainstream radio, but I don’t think that’s happening any time soon either.

So, is the mainstreaming of gay identity and culture a good thing?  Is it natural?  Political?  Reactionary?  And why does it matter?

When something becomes more broadly accepted and understood, there is less of a need for it to be regarded as “different;” rather, it begins to blend into the wider cultural landscape, and becomes just one more thread in the vast fabric of humanity.  While I speak for no one but myself, I think that moving away from typical (and, to some, stereotypical) gay culture says to GLBT youth that “being gay isn’t weird anymore.  You’re okay; it’s just one part of who you are, like your hair color, musical tastes, and so forth.”  It says that we’ve moved past the need to define ourselves by our sexuality.

I do not identify with much of so-called “gay culture,” and have not for many years.  And so, by choice I have moved away from it, both literally and figuratively.  I do not consider myself part of the “GLBT Community” simply because I have identified in the past as a gay man.  For me, the fact that someone is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered no more connects us than the fact that they are Caucasian or that they wear Converse “connects” us.  Sure, we have some shared historical cultural associations for belonging to the same societal subculture, but that’s often where the similarities end.

And therein lies my point – we don’t need to ghettoize ourselves anymore.  The majority of my friends have always consisted of other men – many of them gay-identifying men, with a couple of straight people and lesbians in the mix.  However, since moving myself outside the gay universe, I now find my friendships are comprised of the entire spectrum of humanity – different genders, different backgrounds, different ideals and occupations, having perhaps no shared cultural identity between them.  In fact, as I think of these friends, I realize at least as many if not more identify as heterosexual.  Not that it even matters, but I provide this detail simply for contextual reference.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am in a long-term relationship with a transgendered female, so I’m sure this does inform some of my opinions.  My wife transitioned a few years after we began our relationship.  I find myself straddling the heterosexual and homosexual worlds equally.  I have experienced “heterosexual privilege” on an intimate level that I had not prior to her transition.  We maintain our gay friendships and ties to the community, but to the larger world we are seen as just another opposite-gender couple.

It is no secret that GLBT people today still face many challenges, and (for the moment, at least) a sort of conservative/fundamentalist backlash to recent inroads.  However, on the whole, many people (including me) simply don’t deem it necessary to continue defining ourselves by culturally-imposed labels.  As John Morley famously put it, “Labels are devices for saving talkative persons the trouble of thinking.”

Some GLBT people are wary of blending into the larger identity – indeed, some rail against it.  I am on the other side of this fence, I suppose.  I used to strongly identify myself as part of the GLBT world – so much so that a friend once told me it seemed as if that was all there was to me.  Today, I identify myself first and foremost as a man, an artist, a friend, a husband, etc.  I only aim to present myself in this world as Jason, and everything that comes along with that moniker, whatever it entails.

In fact, I am finding that sense of edginess and freedom again in the expression of surprise people have when they casually learn that my wife happens to be transgendered.  And these conversations do not happen in our city’s gay enclave, Oak Lawn, but rather when chatting with our neighbors, or in a conversation with a coworker…that is to say, if it ever comes up at all.

In short, we exist not in the confines of the “gay lifestyle.”  We do not live and breathe our way through a lavender world, but in real life, lived on our own terms.  Those of us who choose to move outside the prescribed roles of the “GLBT Community” may someday be seen as pioneers rather than defectors – perhaps time will tell us that.  We may someday be known as those who chose to buck the trends of all that gay culture has become and strike out on a new path.  We are not ignoring or negating gay culture, or aping heterosexual conventions.  Instead, we are helping create a new world where being gay isn’t any more noteworthy or separatist than preferring chocolate over vanilla. So, I guess you could say that blending in is being who and what we are – just people.

In closing, I leave you with these words…

“I came to live in a country I love; some people label me a defector. I have loved men and women in my life; I’ve been labeled ”the bisexual defector” in print. Want to know another secret? I’m even ambidextrous. I don’t like labels. Just call me Martina.” – Martina Navratilova

Click on the illustration of the men at the top of the article to visit David M. Buisán’s blog, and see more of his outstanding work at his official website: www.buisanart.com.