A little over three years ago I penned an article about racism in the bear community, and essentially how prevalent it really was at that point. The article led to an endless discussion about said racism, in particular the debate of “preference vs. prejudice” when it comes to finding a desired mate for fun or relationship. Given that race relations in this country has become a hot buttoned issue yet again due to the unfortunate presence of Donald Trump and his followers, it begs the question to examine this issue internally and see if there have been any strides made since my original article’s inception.
The visibility of diversity in this community can be seen at a minimal point of view when you are attending large scale bear events, and notice the stream of white men that engulf each one of them. Bear Week for instance, which I attended in 2014 and 2015, immediately drew my attention to this in that I could count on one (two in certain scenarios) hand the amount of Asian men that I saw, and African-American men were not that much larger as well. Whereas I did see a big portion of Spanish men attending the event, it was definitely an eye opener how at the big event spaces like the Provincetown Inn Pool, Crown & Anchor or at The Boat Slip just how primarily white the scene was.
Speaking of Bear Week, the issue of racism drew a ton of criticism a couple of years back when the poster that went out for it featured 7 or 8 white men, and no men of color. The social media outrage was plentiful and noticeable all through Facebook, as tons of men from all backgrounds and races complained of how one note the poster seemed, which then led to the admission that I have heard for so many years as to why men a color don’t show up to these events, or certain bars for instance. “We don’t feel like we belong”, one person who prefers to remain anonymous told me. “When you consistently see bear event flyers and ads that seem to promote the same race, it makes you think that we really aren’t wanted. It echoes the same for a lot of the apps that I am on. One website even rejected me for trying to be a member at all years ago. I just don’t understand why this community, which used to be the outcasts and now seem to be the popular girls, are acting like this”.
Identifying yourself in this community has been a struggle that so many of us have faced for years, no matter what your background is. We strive to find it in the minimal amount of LGBT programming that is out there, and bash it when we can’t seem to find that illusive “Waldo” character that we can find ourselves in, which can further deteriorate someone’s perception on how they are viewed in this particular community. It has gotten to a point where a poster of men smiling can keep someone from packing their bags and having a fantastic time, as this can also hinder someone from putting themselves out there in a dating sense. “There is one bear app that I am on, that for every 100 men that show up on the Global option, I can count maybe 15-20 men of color overall,” another person stated. “If people think racism doesn’t exist it does. I have had men call me the N word for no reason, just for being on there. Seriously? How are we expected to truthfully come out when many of our own are being this low ball just because of their ridiculous ignorance? I don’t get it”. I have actually received messages from men of color who say “I’m surprised you are into me. A lot of white men don’t answer me back or reject me on here”.
The debate of “preference vs. prejudice” in this community has been an epic debate, as previously discussed, as it has sort of become a “what came first: the chicken or the egg” type of thing. On one side of the coin, there are those that argue that you have a type and others just don’t work for you. On the other side, there are people who see that viewpoint as short-sided as this community tends to be about vanity and looks before personality and mind, and that if they got to know the person who may not necessarily would be their type, that they would be pleasantly surprised with how great they are. I tend to agree with the latter, but it is a circumstantial situation in terms of preference when it comes to finding what you want in that particular moment. I enjoy getting to know the person more than just the color of their skin or waist size, but that is just me. Some people are zebras in that you can’t change their spots, so if you don’t feel like they are going to come around to you, don’t bother. There are several fish in the sea that will.
At the same time, there are a ton of us who see equality and have open arms for every color and size of gay man that comes into their lives. Taking mental illness out of it (cough cough Trespass cough cough), there still seems to be this rampant thought process that men of color aren’t wanted in this community. Coming from a city like New York, I do see a ton of diversity in bear bars like Gymbar, Eagle, and Rockbar mostly, but this “pink elephant” issue still seems to exist online and in person.
How do we break down these barriers so that all kinds of men feel welcome at whatever event, bar, or gathering possible moving forward? I’m not sure I have the answer for that, but I do hope as the years go by that our community can open all doors possible in terms of acceptance within it, and the insecurities that we all feel that start to disappear.