The Butterfly Bear Affect
Bruce in the City
I wanted to explore the world in which I find myself over the last few years “The Bear World”. I was a Twink until that bitch, Mother Nature, decided puberty wasn’t enough and that I was going to transform into what I first thought was a hideous beast. I’ve become much more comfortable and happy in my new skin and I was just curious how other Twink to Bears were doing and how they handled their very own Butterfly Bear Affect. It was an eye opener to me and an amazing realization that I was not alone in my experience. Here is my one on one with some Bears in my community and their journey to self acceptance. My first Gay Bear is Dann. A Queer. A Bear. A married father of one and a bearded fellow.
Bruce: Hey Dann thanks for meeting with me. This shouldn’t hurt but it could be a bumpy ride! What does being a Bear mean to you?
Dann: Thanks for choosing me. This should be interesting. Being a Bear means being happy with my body. Being happy as a larger guy. As a Bear you can say Fuck You to the stereo types people have about being a gay man. I don’t have to feel the need to fit in with gay physical norms. I’m personally so much happier. Like a weight has been lifted. That wasn’t always the case.
Bruce: Tell me what being a Twink felt like to you.
Dann: Fitting in! I recall my life in Vancouver, it was all about the right clothes, the bitchy attitude and not realizing at the time that I was conforming to social stereo types. The club scene was the norm and being a social butterfly was a must.
Bruce: When did you first come out?
Dann: I was 15 years old. Body image was suddenly extremely important. At first it was easy. I was young and thin and acceptably feminine. Quickly it started becoming a lot of work. My body was wanting to change. I got hairier, I began expanding, maturing physically against my wishes. Being a Twink was how I identified being sexy and desirable to other men.
Bruce: What was your first sexual experience with another man?
Dann: I think around four years old. I had three little buddies I explored with. It must have been around 1974. We are all the same age and all curious about our bodies. That went on for a while but then you realize early on that that isn’t the norm so those explorations stopped. I had my first girlfriend when I was around 12.
Bruce: How did you feel when your body started changing from a Twink to a Bear?
Dann: I’ve had body image issues most of my life. Suddenly I wasn’t fitting into my Twink clothes anymore and my peers were in better shape then me. It was in my 20’s that I began to work out more. I spent years trying to maintain that Twink body. In my forties I got called a bear at a club from this cute guy. I was dumb founded. I couldn’t relate to his comment. In my mind I still saw myself as a Twink but I had changed. I had not accepted that I was really a Bear.
Bruce: What turned that around for you?
Dann: Apps made it easier to cruise within the Bear community. Apps like Growlr and Grindr. I was blown away that guys were finding me attractive. I was seeing guys who were like me. Bigger, harrier, bearded, in some cases guys who looked like me.
Bruce: Where did you find your community outside of the apps?
Dann: The gay bear culture has grown and now there are more social gatherings for Bears in the community and it is even in style now to be a bigger bearded dude. Places like The Lodge and The Eagle in the village are places Bears can mingle and mix and chase.
Bruce: it sounds like your transformation from a Twink to a Bear was not an easy one. If you could help a fellow to accept who they really physically are, what would you say to them?
Dann: As a Bear I feel more at ease. Not everyone is naturally the Twink body type and that’s okay. Most of us start out that way but you have to embrace the change. It’s way sexier to be authentic. I have found men of quality to be in my life. Free yourself from those stereotypes. We are men. It is okay to be a man.
Thanks Dann. That was amazing. I could relate so much to many of your answers and hopefully dudes are having their own aha moment.
My next Bear experience with the Butterfly Bear Affect was just as enlightening and I’m thankful he decided to play along. This is John. A baker. A baseball player. A Bear. A bearded fellow. Here is what he had to say when we chatted about his unexpected transformation.
Bruce: Hey John! Tell me what being a Gay Bear means to you.
John: It means I get to be myself no matter if I’m fat or thin. I honestly don’t care what people think of me. Well, not anymore anyway.
Bruce: What did being a twink mean to you?
John: When I was younger I was very shy and I felt guys didn’t take notice of me. My self-esteem was lacking shall we say.
Bruce: When did you come out?
John: I came out when I was 16 which was 33 years ago. Yikes!!
Bruce: Were you a twink or bear?
John: I was a short, skinny, scrawny, runt so a hobbit sized twink
Bruce: When was your first sexual experiences?
John: Between the ages of 16 to 22
Bruce: How would you have described your life as a twink?
John: I was very self conscious back then and didn’t think I was good looking. I had very few friends.
Bruce: Do you think twinks get treated differently than bears?
John: To be perfectly honest I think they both get treated differently in the fact that if you are not either a muscle bear or a muscle jock then you are looked down upon by these 2 types of groups. This is my perception only.
Bruce: Perception is reality! When you were a twink, how did you feel about bears?
John: I’ve always thought that bears or big, hairy men were sexy. I realized that when I was younger and my best friend’s dad was really hairy.
Bruce: Oh those Daddy’s. That’s a whole other article. How did you feel when your body started changing from twink to bear?
John: I’ve always had a hairy body, but when I started changing my eating habits and my workouts I started to become more buff. When I grew the beard it was like I was reborn if that makes sense. I was being noticed and hit on which was very flattering since I was rarely hit on or I was too oblivious to realize that I was being hit on. I still don’t see myself as attractive.
Bruce: I’m guessing many readers will disagree with you on that one. Do you feel the gay culture in Toronto is welcoming to bears?
John: I believe it is more so now than when I first came out. Now there are all of these Bear Events and Vacation Destinations. I think twinks need to start having their events and Vacation Destinations as well.
Bruce: Oh don’t they have enough? You don’t have to answer that! Do you have body image issues because you are considered a bear?
John: I have my own internal issues with being overweight although I’m short and furry I like to watch my weight because I don’t feel comfortable when my stomach gets in the way when bending over to put on my shoes or socks.
Bruce: Is your social group supportive with your transformation?
John: I have a wide variety of friends from twinks to bears to muscle bears to muscle men to jocks. Reason for this is because I play softball and have for the past 20 years and I’ve met friends all over North America. I consider myself an Ewok because I’m the same height and furry.
Bruce: Where in the world do you think you would be most comfortable in your skin?
John: Either here in Toronto or in Europe. Sadly homophobia seems to be ramping up again thanks to Trump, religion and far right groups.
Bruce: Anything you’d like to say for the record?
John: The saddest part about the gay community is that not only do we have to deal with homophobia from around us but we also have our own internalized homophobia in the gay community. As I indicated earlier, there are many groups within the gay community and if you don’t fit into certain group you may feel alone and unwelcome. No one should ever have to feel that way.
Bruce: That’s so true. I’m glad you survived your transformation into your more authentic self. It is a scary journey but exciting too. Just like your first visit to a bathhouse. Have you ever been? Don’t answer that!?! Wink!
My final sit down is with Will. He’s a slightly different generation than my first two bears and his perspective is interesting because of this fundamental difference. Let’s see how this self proclaimed cub experienced his Butterfly Bear Affect!
Bruce: I like to start with this question because I think it helps me get a quick picture of where your head is when it comes to the bear lifestyle! So Will what does being a bear mean to you?
Will: Well, I wouldn’t fully consider myself a bear, however, it just means I am being who I am. Living my truth.
Bruce: And what did the truth look like to you as a Twink?
Will: My life was in chaos when I was labeled as a “twink”. I was young and vulnerable in the big city. Thankfully I had some wiser friends who aided in some semblance of a path. The men who did that themselves being labeled as Bears.
Bruce: What were you like during those twink years?
Will: When I was a twink, it meant something different to what I feel it means now. It meant I was desired yet judged, small but loud, though always having fun.
Bruce: I’m assuming you were considered a Twink when you came out? Or did you come out later?
Will: No I came out in my teen years. A little punk kid who needed to leave home, coming to Toronto from Niagara at the age of 16, thinking I knew what was best for my life and I did! And yes I was a Twink at that age, fresh and full of sass. I’m 31 now!
Bruce: Do you think Twinks get treated differently than bears?
Will: When I was younger, I feel it was different. I felt when I was a twink I wasn’t taken seriously. Some youths and adults who define themselves as twink are advocates and great members of the community.
Bruce: I was a Twink myself and I’m really amazed how similar all of our experiences are and also body image was a real stress when growing up. How was body image for you? When did you start really seeing your body begin to change?
Will: I would have to say at 25. I was FINALLY able to keep the weight on, I would eat so much and still not gain. At 25 that definitely changed, lol.
Bruce: What do you think about the bear community?
Will: I have a great deal of respect for most of the “bears” I know. Though I would say I am more a cub then a bear.
Bruce: Do you feel the gay culture in Toronto is welcoming to bears?
Will: I would say yes, though I feel there are times when personality conflicts come up, as in any culture.
Bruce: What is your social group like?
Will: Most are in relationships. I have a great group of friends, male and female, queer and straight, that have been with me through thick and thin.
Bruce: What other way would you describe yourself as a young man?
Will: I’m an artist, always have been, always will be. I would consider myself possibly that.
Bruce: Where in the world do you think you would be most comfortable in your skin?
Will: As I’ve recently been traveling around the world, the one place I felt the most comfortable was in Spain. The way they view body image is great, and nudity doesn’t always equate to sexuality.
Bruce: As part of a younger generation of LGBTQ people how would you describe your overall transition with the Butterfly Bear Affect?
Will: As I appreciate this interview, it’s important to note that not all fall under the labeling, that has become all so prevalent. Being a queer adult and advocate is how I see my “label”. If we’re spilling tea, I would like to note that we all JUDGE each other way too much. Some comments that people say online are truly shocking, control yourselves people. I think if you feel you can say it to their face, first time talking, go ahead. If not, don’t. Social media is a beautiful and strange thing, though, like communities, it too has a dark side.
Bruce: I hear that. It wasn’t easy for sure. Keeping busy within your community helps during your transition from Twink to bear. Some guys are naturally going to grow up and out as their truly authentic self emerges and I think the aging process is difficult on most groups straight men, gay men, bi men and more than it’s discussed. I know one thing for sure for some reason I have felt more at ease in my bear body and bears just seem to be way more inviting. Of course there are a lot of great Twink fellows out there. I just haven’t met any! I’m totally joking!
edited by Mary Ellen Monk