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Credit: Ryan Shea

It is a very bizarre experience to feel alone in the ever growing bear community, when you happen to be somewhat known by a lot of people.  Loneliness can be palpable throughout one’s lifetime, and that can especially be true when it comes to breaking into the bear and gay community, and then maintaining yourself throughout it all.  For me, it has been a rocky road to get to where I am, but for some reason, still leaves me feeling left out, alone, and above all… confused about the next step to take.

To start from the beginning, I was an overweight gay kid who knew from a very young age that he was not like the other guys in my grade.  I knew I liked guys, and that always gave me some sort of a unique separation from the other ones in my class as I couldn’t tell them that I was (I didn’t even know what the word “gay” meant until I was 12), and even if I joined them in on conversations about other girls in our grade and ones we saw on television and movies, it didn’t feel authentic as I saw them as just friends and nothing in a physical or desirable sort of way.  So in a sense, the loneliness began very young and it was something I didn’t even realize until years later.

Cue to the high school years where I was out, but no matter how accepting your surroundings are of you, you still don’t feel like the norm.  Especially in the early millennium years, where being gay was something that society was still having a hard time accepting for the most part and about 95 percent of my school was straight (or straight at the time).  Where was I to go?  The drama club provided some sort of unity for me as there were many other LGBT people involved, but even that can become a fraternity/sorority of sorts in where if you don’t fit in with the lead actors and whatnot, you are left out.  So even though I went through high school being relatively known, popular and well liked outside of my sexuality, there was this still glowing stance on being alone in my eyes.

Me and Mom.
Me and Mom.

The college years were primarily not enjoyable for me, as I went through my mother’s death four months into my freshman year.  It took me two years to really get adjusted to her death, not to mention the new surroundings in a city like Providence.  I started experimenting in the bear community, a word that I first heard of when I was a sophomore, and started to feel a sense of unity but it wasn’t really what I wanted.  For as long as I can remember,  I have had issues with immersing myself into “groups”.  Straight, gay or anything in between, they seem to be a ball of stress for me as I always get the sense that I have to keep the conversation going, talk about interesting things, not get involved in the gossip and bullshit that surrounds them, all while coming out smelling roses when I head back to my apartment.  It is too much, which is why I have always preferred one on one interactions with my friends.  This particular anxiety might be the reason why this loneliness exists inside of me, and it didn’t get easier when I returned home for good after college was over.

I have spoken about this in detail before, but at the time I tried to get involved in the bear community in New York City back in 2009, I found that it was a very “dog eat dog” mentality, as it really was survival of the fittest.  Not many people were that inviting to me, a lot of it was very sex based, and I found my generally friendly demeanor slowly diminishing with every shady moment I dealt with over the course of three or four years.  Not to mention being diagnosed with HIV in 2012, it furthered me wanting to go into my little shell and hide from the judgment, cruelty, and nasty words that I would receive should anyone find out.  It didn’t feel good, and to this day still has a sting to it even though I have gotten past a lot of the initial fear/hurt that this disease unfortunately brings.

Alone
Dancing at Furball. Credit to: Gustavo Monroy

The known part for me in this community has come from my presence on social media, primarily through the articles that I have written and how much bigger Manhattan Digest has gotten in four years.  I try to write articles from a positive point of view, and make sure that it helps the people who have these fears and anxieties that have riddled this community for decades.  Yet, it seems as if it has become a “practice what you preach” sort of thing, as deep down inside, the issues still ring very true for me.  Whether it is going to events like Bear Week, hosting or gogo dancing at Furball, or a myriad of other bars here in New York City that I inhabit, the same problem keeps happening.  People know me, they are friendly to me always, but I can’t seem to figure out if I want to pursue a friendship with them outside of the “on the surface” type of behavior in “Hey, how are you?  Oh, that’s good.  I’m fine, been busy.  OK, bye”.  There has to be more to it than that, yet because I have went through hell and back over the past decade with personal problems, I fear that issue will bring itself all over again and that is something I do not want.

Alone
Credit: Ryan Shea

The older I have gotten, the more I believe in “quality” versus “quantity” when it comes to the friendships that I have kept.  It is why to this day I have a ton of great friends around me, but only a hand full I can truly say are “lifelong”.  On the contrary, I can see how short life is as my mother passed at such a young age of 42, and my diagnosis was a huge shift for me mentally as if this was even 10-15 years ago, could’ve been a short term life for me as well.  Those two things should propel me into living life to the fullest, which I try to do, and really put myself out there with other guys in this community.  I have to really understand that rejection happens, no matter what, but when you already have some sort of a relationship developed with someone, what is the worst that can happen?

When it comes to practicing what I preach, this is a prime example of letting go of the past and realizing that each day has something unplanned that is up to me for figure out.  That is true in life, and true in friendships in the bear community, and one that I should listen to when I am in these surroundings.  Don’t let fear of the unknown stop you from building something that could be what you’ve always wanted- to make the word “alone” in your world, past tense.