Scott De Buitléir attends BearScotFest and finds himself asking the question: Does size matter?
Bear. Cub. Chaser. Polar. Camp. Queer. Twink. Wolf. Otter. Panda. Chub. Lion.
You’d really have to wonder how the gay community invented so many sub-categories. You also have to ask, since when did they become so obsessed with forest animals. Either way, I wondered which category of guy I fell into as I made my way to Edinburgh for Scotland’s annual BearScotFest. I was too old (and no longer a 28-inch waist) to be called a twink, and I certainly wasn’t big enough to be a bear. It was almost confusing when the label ‘guy’ just wasn’t enough. I was, however, called a “cute Irish cub” by a drunken bear on Saturday night, which immediately inspired me to plan a new diet once I got home.
The whole ‘body conscious’ mentality that is typical with gay men was still present at this bear festival, but it was reversed. Instead of being slim, toned and athletic, these men had no problem showing off their bellies and beards. Size wasn’t a problem; in fact, it was probably an asset. My few visits to London, though, told a totally different story. While Dublin has its fair mix of types as well, never before had I seen so many athletic and immaculately-groomed men in one place as I did in Soho on a glorious summer’s afternoon. It was like I stumbled into a convention for Abercrombie & Fitch models, and while I’m hopefully not the worst-looking, I felt completely out-of-place. The membership card was a six-pack, and mine was probably in a gym somewhere, crying out my name like a lost child.
There was a certain relief, though, as the same pressure to be perfect wasn’t present in the Scottish capital that weekend. Having a belly didn’t matter, whereas you could almost be deported for walking in with one in some other nightclubs. Looking a bit rough probably got you more positive attention than negative, and if you looked like a truck driver, you’d fit in perfectly. Not a six-pack was in sight, which was in some ways a relief. Still, it definitely wasn’t me, that these men were trying to attract, it was each other. And they did, seemingly successfully. That’s not to say that everyone paired off, but there were a fair few new couples by the end of the weekend – or maybe just for the weekend. And that was largely helped by the wonders of modern technology, as an apparent requirement of the festival was to use a dating app every five minutes. Never before had I seen an entire bar use Scruff all at the same time, as the bears (and others) that gathered in a little bar on Edinburgh’s Dublin Street had a pint in one hand, and their smartphones in the other. Thank God for free wi-fi.
I did briefly wonder, though; could it be considered discriminatory, that there are festivals established for men of a certain body type? Well, not really, as anyone was able to attend. There was no air of bitchiness to the festival, no sly looks of judgement from others and no passing remarks. Those who gathered were there to have a laugh. Despite my “cub” compliment, I considered myself one of the “friends” when the festival website said that it was open for “bears, cubs […] and their friends.” I wasn’t looking for a man there, I was just glad to be in Scotland for the first time and to be enjoying myself with new friends.
Still, at least if I ever gain a few (more) pounds, I know where I’ll be welcome.
(PS: Thanks to BearScots.org.uk for a great weekend!)
‘Scottie’ Illustrations by Stephen Charlick