I went down to the BearScotFest woods on Saturday but there was no need for a disguise: These Bears welcome all.
Walking up Broughton Street on Friday I noticed the quota of burly bearded men had increased in Edinburgh and there was no doubt in my mind that BearScotFest 2014 had begun.
BearScots is Scotland’s group for bears, cubs, chubs and their admirers. Founded in 2000, they hold monthly bear events in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, and host the annual “BearScotFest” extravaganza in October.
I attended this year’s focal event, Bears in the Caves, with trepidation. I know bears. I have bear friends. But, I’ve never considered myself nor wanted to be considered a bear. I figure as a gay black American I don’t need another label to contend with. But what I found as I opened the BearScotFest honey pot weekend was sweeter than I would have expected.
There was fun flowing in abundance. The atmosphere was that of a laid back bacchanal that even the god of wine and partying himself would have in his annual calendar. There’s no doubt that the bears know how to party. But there is more wonder beneath the fur, belly and beers.
I wanted to know “what makes a bear.” To help, I attached myself to Aaron Oreschnick (I designated him my amBearssador) a mate who now lives in Manchester and a BearScots veteran. “Sure, people will be happy to talk to you,” he said with his usual big hug and a smile. So, with my resident bear and handy notepad I set off like Nancy Drew in search of what it means to be a bear.
The most common answer I got was “hairy, burly and over 30.” But the age was debatable. So was the requisite size and hairiness. The men at the BearScots event were happy to debate with each other and what came out was a list of bear sub-categories so long I could have wrapped it round their collective waistlines.
However, the only criteria for being a “bear” that everyone could agree on was “attitude” – an attitude of acceptance for yourself, who you are, your body, your sexuality and, just as importantly, acceptance of others to be who they are as well.
“It’s about attitude, or a lack there of,” said Stewart, a pocket bear. “Being a bear is about embracing nature, who you are and being non-judgemental,” was how the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who were in attendance most eloquently put it.
So, say what you will about their penchant for paunch or the fact they don’t give a damn about body hair grooming – the bears are all about acceptance. Even if their physiques do not meet your criteria, their spirit of invitingness will make attending a BearScotFest event a breath of fresh air.
So, would I call myself a bear? Probably not. But, I can be for a night if it want to be. And I’d certainly go back for seconds. The bear attitude is definitely something I buy into. I think everyone should try it out and BearScotFest is the perfect place to give it a go. Check your judgement at the door and you too might find yourself dancing with your shirt off in The Caves laughing with a bunch of strangers by the end of the night as well.