An animal trainer
“Don’t eat that!”
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Cub,
The (Bear) Catcher in the Rye:
The Coming-of-Age Saga of a Homosexual Hipster in Portlandia
By Daniel Granias
User ID: BigBadBareBear
Weight: 280 lbs
Identify As: Bear, Muscle Bear, Daddy, Dom/Top
About Me: i like stanky pits, bubble buts, and using my nightstick to teach boys ur lessons. Bottoms only, no fatties. Tested neg….
User Online: 2 hrs ago
Located: 3.9 mi away
A cold drop of water crawled down my forearm and hung by my elbow—overflow from the mix of condensation from my well-whiskey soda and the nervous sweat that had accumulated on my palms. Deep bass thuds bounced their way through the speakers and subwoofers mounted every three feet around the club, obliging me to bob my throbbing head and pout my lips in such a way that I could look like I was as chill as the last remaining ice cube dissolving in my cocktail glass.
At 9:02pm, BigBadBareBear said,
“you going to Bearracuda tonight?”
“Is that the party at Branx?”
“yeah u goin”
“I’ve heard about it, some of my friends
are going, I might check it out!”
“i will look 4 u there.”
“What’s your name?”
[BigBadBareBear is no longer active]
I lied. My friends weren’t going to Bearracuda. At the time, I didn’t really have any gay friends to go anywhere with, much less a bear party. I was in my last semester of art school and lived in the suburbs. I’d been following talk about Bearracuda over the few online communities to which I subscribed, including OBA, the Oregon Bears Association, Bear411.com, and Grommr, the new social networking site for chubs & chasers, gainers & encouragers. After much deliberation and soul-searching turmoil, I took a shot of Peach Schnapps (the only alcoholic substance in the house), buttoned my single designated slim-fit “going-out” shirt, and boarded the inbound bus to downtown.
Sucking down my second bottom-shelf cocktail, I found myself excessively grinning out of amusement and discomfort instigated by my surroundings. Immediately I recognized two distinct facts: I was clearly one of the youngest and smallest people in the room, and I didn’t know a single well-padded soul in the house. I found myself barricaded by plaid flannel walls of bear backs, a salt and pepper static screen of furry fronts, and a bumper car ball pit of bulging bellies. I had never been more excited and awkward at the same time. This was definitely crossing itself off my bucket list as either one of my most awesome solo flight adventures, or one of my stupidest mistakes yet.
2. You’re Talking About Men, Right?
Given that there is a crapshoot chance that a reader may not have any preexisting knowledge of the bear community, let’s start with the basics:
According to Ray Kampf in his book The Bear Handbook: A comprehensive guide for those who are husky, hairy, and homosexual (and those who love ‘em), a bear boils down to “the right size man with the right amount of hair who is willing to do things that Jesse Helms says are wrong.” If it can’t get put any more simply, bears are gay men who are big, furry, and like to cuddle. They are the counter-counter culture to the gelled, tanned, buffed, and polished GQ cover boy drinking Jaeger bombs and dancing in cages at Boxxxes. Unlike the Radical Faeries, bears re-embrace masculinity and share an overlap (but not an entire correlation) to the Leathermen, according to Peter Hennen. Where those distinctions segregate is another chapter in another story, but a highly important one to read nonetheless.*
User PDXButchBear checked you out 6 mins ago
User DomLeatherBoots checked you out 19 mins ago
User Twinktastic checked you out 2 hrs ago
User BigBadBareBear checked you out 4 hrs ago
Bears are a jovial bunch and celebrate their girth and gayness equally. A layperson could be intimidated approaching a group of bears—which would appear very similar to a Harley Davidson bike gang, or a rugby team, or a Santa v. Paul Bunyan convention—but if given a moment, they would overhear a conversation such as,
“Oh my stars, I made my husbear a pineapple upside down cake for our three-year beariversary and it was dee-lish! I caramelized some extra sugar on top with the blow torch form Steve’s motorcycle shop and it worked perfectly! And you should see the new side table he got for our foyer! 19th century Dutch teak!”
Bears also date back as far as gay culture has been out and proud. You can bet that there were bears at the Stonewall Riots pounding ass (not an entendre) and then cleaning house with a 15% non-toxic bleach solution with blue rubber kitchen gloves (best to leave that one to those in the know).
Do not be alarmed or confused by the mention of other mammalian species, either. Within bear culture you will find cubs, otters, wolves, silver foxes, grizzlies, polar bears, etc. George Mazzei first put bear identity in public writing in his July 1979 Advocate article, “Who’s Who in the Zoo?” Since then, there have been countless bear clubs, organizations, hanky codes, websites, and now smart phone apps that categorize and define the hirsute realm of homosexual homo sapiens.
3. The Mentorship of Cockrates to Gayto, Part One
User ID: MatthieuBooBoo
Weight: 180 lbs
Identify As: Bear, Cub, Vers/Bottom
Looking For: Friends, Dates, Relationship, Casual Sex
About Me: I’m a Taurus that likes art, sports, nature, and photography. Chill, down to earth (signs!) and looking for same. Neg 4/12.
User Online: 5 mins ago
Located: <250 ft away
Not knowing what to do with myself after approximately twelve minutes of head-bobbing and hand-wiping, I dodged and weaved around the bombastic obstacles between where I stood and the edge of the bar so as to put my glass down and look like I was occupied with the slightest task. Through the crowd, several lumbering superiors made eyes at me, the most mal-proportioned and dermatologically challenged even waved. For fear that any of these men could be BigBadBareBear, I dropped my head and proceeded to return through the crowd of bellies, backs, and butts towards my thoughtful spot. There, waiting for me, was a not-so-bearish fellow with a welcoming and surprisingly non-threatening smile on his face that, without speaking, said, “What the hell are you doing here?”
Matt was slightly larger in build than I, dark featured and olive skinned in an ethnically ambiguous complexion, flashed a charming smile wrapped in a black, neatly shaven chin strap, and had a look in his eye that was somewhere between curiosity and deviance. He wore a tight black tank top with a bear claw printed on the left side of his chest; his torso was softly sculpted, marking a healthy balance of barbells and burgers.
“You need anozzur dreenk!”
“What?” I wasn’t used to attempting conversations in loud clubs with guys who were either drunk, foreign, or both.
“You can’t just stand here with nossing in your hand or else ze ozzurs will zeenk you want ZEM to buy you a drink, and you don’t want zat.”
Matt tipped his head and glared at me, “No. And you see zat bouffet table over zaire?” he pointed to a long table set with disheveled bowls and plates of indulgent treats like ruffled potato chips, cakes, cookies, snack mixes, etc. “You DEFINEETLY don’t want to eat ANY of ZAT!” Matt was short for Matthieu, and I had met probably the one and only French bear cub in the bar, much less the whole city. And he had taken it upon himself to educate me on the way of the bear party, which I didn’t quite know how to appreciate.
“Well, what are you waiting for?”
“I’m out of cash.” I told Will I hadn’t anticipated the overpriced cover charge upon entry and spent my last four dollars on my empty cocktail.
He scoffed, “Fine, I will buy you your next drink, what is it?”
“What happened to not trusting guys here to buy me drinks?”
“Zey are not me! Now, what is zees garbage you are drinking?”
And so MatthieuBooBoo threw his tenderly toned arm over my shoulder and shoved and dragged me through the crowded club for the rest of the night introducing me to some of the most boisterous and follicularly endowed bears I had ever encountered. Now, I knew what bears were like in theory, mostly from subgenre web communities and video channels that I’d surf in the comfort and solitude of my twin-sized bed, but here I was, very up close and extremely personal, in a claustrophobic club bursting with bears in the most excessive and highly textured flesh. As the beasts they were, the bears could smell my freshness, my fear, and my folly. Tomas, a musty and rotund Belgian with red suspenders, grabbed my hand, lifted his shirt, and encouraged me to give him a thorough belly rub. Perched on the bar behind Tomas, like two neckless owls scoping the crowd left and right, sat Jacques, a squat, silver-haired French Canadian with a bright smile who kindly introduced himself as a professional chocolatier, alongside his squinty-eyed and open-shirted partner André, who baked in patisserie. They greeted me, assured me that Tomas was harmless, then turned to each other and resumed eating a doughnut together in a most unspeakable way.
User BigBadBareBear checked you out 25 mins ago
It was then that I noticed the go-go dancers. Again, this was not an unfamiliar concept: scantily clad and well-sculpted showboys dancing on a box or in a cage with an expression of utmost nonchalance on their faces. Except this was Bearracuda, and the 300+ lb jock-strapped go-gos undulated as if a Chia pet and lava lamp had crossed genetic codes. The sight was disturbingly hypnotic, like watching a Military Class M561 Humvee try to tow a beached manatee back to sea.
Finally, after tearing myself away from the go-go bears, I turned around to find Matthieu making face with Tomas, hands and elbows and bellies and knees and toes, knees and toes. I was afraid to look, but I then saw Jacques and André continuing their doughnut practice, sans doughnut.
User BigBadBareBear checked you out just now.
“So how was your night? Crazy?” asked my cab driver on the way home.
“Not what I expected, that’s for sure.” I said.
“It’s funny how you learn to get used to that.”
4. A Burgeoning Virgin, or, Why Come Out of the Closet When It’s Full of Such Fabulous Clothes?
User ID: VuVashaVuVasha
Weight: 250 lbs
Status: In an open relationship
Identify As: Everything and nothing
Looking For: Sharing the love of the earth that supports us
About Me: My chosen name is Vuvasha, I practice
Pranic Healing and brew my own
Vuvasha’s Kombucha; I am also a
Professional Manscaper and Resident
Photographer for the Cub Cleaners.
Call my direct line for service info at
User Online: 45 mins ago
Located: 2 mi away
It should be pretty clear by now that this was not only my first time out at a bear party, but it was really my first time out out at a club party to any degree. I’d been out of the closet since high school (thanks to a surreptitious cover of being really into WWF Wrestling and Motorcycle Digest), but my being gay mostly served as the target for my own queer humor and sarcasm, and a persuasion to watch Project Runway with all the girls in my dorm. It wasn’t until that year of the February Bearracuda that I attempted to take the leather studded reigns of my sexuality into my own hands and bull-whip my soft and un-touched Asian ass out into the foray.
I was a newbie (noob, noobie, nube, etc.) as explicitly defined by Greg Berlanti’s 2000 D-rated camp classic The Broken Hearts Club:
The new millennium also introduced America to Queer as Folk, an overacted Showtime melodrama—and I was Justin Taylor, the blond, baby-faced estranged gay runaway art student who falls in with a group of self-loathing Philadelphian thirty-somethings. Like a good member of the young American public, I soaked up this media exposure like an all-natural oceanic loofah and constructed my identity around it. I expected to have five friends exactly as cliché as each cast member from whatever sitcom or movie, although every character is essentially written so that any self-righteous gay man has all five or six circulating within his gym-going, camera-clicking, rugelach-baking, web-designing, comic book collecting headspace, kept warm and cozy by his cable-knit angora stocking cap. I wanted to have the feisty female “fag hag” attached to my hip like in the 1999 NBC series Will & Grace, which was the first time I saw a gay man exhibit everyday qualities in his life, stabilized by his redheaded Lucille Ball-esque roommate. And so did the majority of the people in the room at Bearracuda, as it was granted that almost every gay man who grew up with a television was keyed into the homoerotic subtext of everything from The Odd Couple to Bert and Ernie to Batman and Robin. But for a practically post-collegiate newbie in 2012, times had changed, predominantly due to the Internet and smart phone technology.
User ID: YrBBJoJo
User Online: Now
Located: 1,372 mi away
At 1:56 am, YrBBJoJo said,
[PRIVATE PHOTOS HAVE BEEN UNLOCKED]
[TuesdayTaurus is no longer active]
5. The Mentorship of Cockrates to Gayto, Part Two
At 10:17 am, MatthieuBooBoo said,
“Where did you go?”
“Home. You guys looked busy.”
“We were having fun, yes. I also wanted you
to have fun.”
“That’s how you show it?”
“Of course, what do you expect?”
“Something less awkward?”
“Don’t be stupid, sex is meant to be
awkward. We’re going to the Eagle
tonight. I’ll pick you up at 9.”
The Eagle is the place for “Portland’s Mature Men” to enjoy themselves, drink scotch, smoke cigars, and watch gay porn on hi-def screens that supersaturate the pre-tanned models to a shade of burnt orange that pennies envy. As if that’s not enough, that night was the biggest L.U.R.E. Party* of the season. Upon entry, I was greeted by a hulking and giggling gingerbear (readhead w/ redbeard) that stamped my wrist and squeezed my hand with his leather-gloved paw.
CRACK went the woven leather bull whip on the floor as four men that looked like Tom Sellek in leather gear prepped the “participant” for his public demonstration. On the other side of the bar, a big black bear that looked like Mr. T shook the chains on his Hispanic show pony** that pranced on bent knee and hoofed at the air.
“Just wait until ze Pride Festival in ze summer.” Matthieu whispered in my ear as he handed me a beer. “Come out back.”
User DomLeatherBoots is <250 ft. away
User BigBadBareBear checked you out 8 mins ago
I was surprised how comfortable I felt as I slid through the dark bathroom hallway, through a scummy plastic curtain, and onto the back patio, to be greeted by our French chefs as well as other familiar members from last night’s debaucheries. My comfort came from remembering the cab driver’s comment from last night: expect the unexpected. At this point, I was beyond a full-immersion curriculum and had essentially been thrown into the center ring at the circus where bears dance with elephants and leather-clad clowns pull bizarre things out of bizarre places.
Later we were joined by none other than the trainer and his pony boy, panting and sweating but smiling and embracing his A-Team partner. I asked them how they got started in this practice, and the trainer, who’s name was Todd, started, “Well, Fernando and I met at Sunday mass at the Laurelhurst St. Mary’s Parish back in ’82 and there was this flyer for a retreat…”
Matthieu led me to a quieter corner.
“You see? Nothing to worry about here.”
“Are you kidding?” I was bewildered at every bit of absurdity around me.
“Look, you’re safe with me, and even not with me, as long as you are smart, and you are smart, so zare is nothing to worry about!”
“How can you say that?”
“What? Are you saying you are not smart?”
“No, of course not.”
“Zen zare is nothing to worry about. Now shut up and finish your beer.”
At 11:42 pm, DomLeatherBoots said,
“Hi, look I don’t mean to be rude or
anything, but I’m not really interested.”
“I understand. Have a good night, sir.”
[DomLeatherBoots is no longer active]
As the night went on, I was brought into a group of men who were not only as big as bulls, but wore their entire hides over their shoulders. Just as I was about to get swallowed into a cave of cigar-smoking Husky Harleys, Matthieu crammed through and bolstered me out the patio door and back into the bar towards the exit. “Let’s get out of here, ze smoke is making me noxious! Are you hungry? I know a fantasteek place!”
In all my life, I’ve eaten at Taco Bell maybe twice, but the year that I knew Matthieu, we must have made at least a dozen late night pit stops chomping cheap chimichangas after all manners of events from Amateur Drag Night at Embers to the ballet to the Bear-ly There Underwear Party to my thesis graduation show in the Pearl District. To this day I never want to eat another fast food taco ever again.
6. Luncheon of the Bearing Party
User ID: JacquesDilettante
Weight: 190 lbs
Status: In a relationship
Identify As: Cub
Looking For: Friends, Bears, Cubs
About Me: Chocolate is love, so come share our love!
User Online: 3 hrs ago
Located: 3.8 mi away
At 1:32 pm, JacquesDilettante said,
“Hello Daniel! We are so looking forward to
you joining us for dinner this evening!”
“Thanks! I am too! Would you
like me to bring anything?”
“Just your wonderful smile!
What kind of wine do you like?”
Jacques and André lived in a lovely home they remodeled several years ago with a spacious porch that overlooks the St. John’s Bridge. By the time Matthieu and I arrived they had already laid out an aperitif platter of fresh cut fruit, cheese, and charcuterie, and were just pouring the wine. Hugs and kisses were in abundance, and I was also introduced to Scott, an incredibly sized Nebraskan grizzly bear with a laugh that rang through the river valley. Scott also lived with Jacques and André, but to what level of involvement I left unquestioned.
As the sun set behind Portland’s southwest hills, André bounced up and scurried inside, shouting back, “It’s time for dessert!”
I looked at Jacques, “No doughnuts.” He winked back at me.
“Not tonight anyway!” Wailed Scott and the entire St. John’s neighborhood vibrated from his tumultuous guffaw.
André waddled back outside carrying a plate of homemade macaroons and truffles; hanging from his neck, a beautiful, shining black SLR camera of a model I’d never heard of before bounced off his hairy, exposed chest.
“Don’t tell customs!” André bit his nails mischievously. “Now, with Daniel as a new member of our family, we must take a picture with him!”
CLICK And so my bewildered, chocolate-smeared face ended up on their photo family tree, an actual maple sapling from which they hung framed photographs of all their friends, bear and non-bear alike. There were photos of Jacques and Scott in Paris, Jacques and André in Hawaii, André and Scott in New York, and other couples, individuals, and groups of the most colorful persuasions shot from locations atop metropolitan skyscrapers to posing like Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” in front of barns and cornfields.
“You see? And some day this tree will grow, and we will tap it for the syrup, and it will be the sweetest nectar of love and life!”
7. Caution: Wet Floor
At 3:03 pm, VuVashaVuVasha said,
“Have you ever been to Steam?”
“I’ve heard of it, but never been there.
I always thought it was kind of sketch?”
“It can be, but doesn’t have to be
if you’re smart about it.”
“I do like a good sauna…”
At the end of our Wet Hot Abearican Summer, Matthieu met some guy from the suburbs and nobody’s heard from him since. André, Scott, and Jacques said that’s what he does, and he may or may not come back, but not to take it personally. It’s been almost a year now, and the only thing I regret is not getting Matthieu’s opinion on SteamPDX.
Steam is your quintessential local men’s bathhouse, as every city needs at least one, two if it’s seriously competitive about its market. Bathhouses were especially big back in the 60’s and 70’s when gay men had to keep their illicit activity under wraps, so to speak. Incidentally, the men that were trolling through the dark halls of Steam on this particular day could all very well have been the same men doing such activity circa 1969. One gets used to admiring male bodies of aesthetically appealing proportions thanks to both public and private media, and Steam is where everyone else hides (although it’s hard to hide when the only approved attire is an equally malproportioned bath towel). But there I was—at the ready—my penultimate test of courage, exploration, and sheer skank. But I knew the signals, and when one hunched, sagging, toothy, and string haired piece of leftovers gave me the “come hither” finger wag, I said “no thanks” and told him to get his precious ring somewhere else!
User BigBadBareBear checked you out just now.
[User BigBadBareBear BLOCKED]
As I pedaled my Schwinn hybrid roadster home from the bathhouse, the unusually cloudy summer Portland sky dripped a small shower onto my glasses, refracting my perception of the world into dozens of topsy-turvy micro-spherical lenses. The fresh humid air was a bright contrast to the heavily menthol-infused vapors in the dark bathhouse sauna. I checked SteamPDX off my mental bucket list of adventures in gay Portland, shook my head, and ditched the whole list in the running gutter on Northeast Broadway Avenue and biked home.
User ID: TuesdayTaurus
Weight: 150 lbs
Identify As: A person?
Looking For: Friendships with the right chemistry
About Me: Hi! I’m a working artist in Pee-Dee-Ecks; I enjoy
a good nightcap after a long day in my studio!
Some words that I like:
Trail, Kale, purl, beards, beers, crafts, laughs, vests, vino, vinyasa, matsah, and gazebo.
Some words that I don’t like:
Smoke, coke, corporate, late, or ‘another mate’
User Online: Now
Located: 0 ft away
* NSA: No Strings Attached
** Twink: A young gay male of slender build and boyish features, typically blond, with little to no body or facial hair, often effeminate and/or juvenile in nature.
* Hennen, Peter. Faeries, Bears, and Leathermen: Men in Community Queering the Masculine. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2008.
* L.U.R.E. Party: Leather, Uniform, Rubber, Etc. (i.e. Fetish Night)
** Show pony: Pony play is a popular role play in the BDSM world, historically noted as the “Aristotelian Perversion,” as Aristotle evidently took pleasure in being ridden like a horse. This particular trainer attempted to adapt his show pony’s name to “Hair-Ass-Throttle.”
© 2013 Daniel Granias