In the Pit
Interview with bear legend Scott McGillivray
Published Thursday, 10-Jun-2010 in issue 1172
Scott McGillivray is the editor/co-owner/publisher of 100% BEEF magazine, where he has been since its inception in 2002. He also volunteers his time on the board of the Lazy Bear Fund, which has raised more than a million dollars for charities throughout the years. I first met Scott when we worked together at Brush Creek Media, where he was the editor of the original BEAR magazine from 1997-2002. With many questions concerning identity and image surrounding the bear community, it seemed fitting to talk to the man who is an expert on anything and everything bear.
Gay & Lesbian Times: The motto of the original BEAR magazine was “Masculinity Without the Trappings.” How do you interpret that phrase?
Scott McGillivray: As editor of the original BEAR magazine for several years, I was always consciously respectful of the magazine’s refusal to define what a bear was. So, for me, the “Masculinity without the Trappings” motto, as an expression of the bear identity, afforded gay men the unique opportunity to finally celebrate masculine identities without the uncomfortable burden of a figurative stick up our ass, so to speak. Masculinity is often interpreted as hard and rigid and lacking emotion, liberation and creativity. So that motto, for me, was to redefine masculinity in a way that said it’s OK to be gay and masculine, and still have fun.
GLT: The earlier bear magazines featured men who ranged from tall and thin to short and stout. How has the bear image changed through out the years?
SM: In 100% BEEF issue 45, I wrote a “From the Editor …” page about the evolution of the bear identity. In the early days, simply wearing a beard, not trimming your body hair, and having a stomach, which was more likely to hold a six pack than resemble one was enough to rage against the machine of mainstream gay culture. Through the years, that initial bear identity has evolved into a sub-cultural smorgasbord of bear-identified themes. Right off the top of my head, I can think of so many different varieties. Daddy bears, pocket bears, big bears, chub bears, muscle bears, polar bears, grizzly bears, panda bears, black bears, leather bears (and, probably... black leather bears). There are cubs, ball belly bears, trans bears, husbears, cowbears, bears in flip-flops, and the whole wolf/otter/meerkat thing, which, I admit, I’ve never quite understood.
Of course, we can’t forget the post-bears; guys who at one point identified with the bear thing, but who are now more likely to stand across the street from the International Bear Rendezvous host hotel, like South Park’s goth kids begrudgingly commiserating with one another on how the word “goth” means nothing any more.
GLT: How much does imagery (magazines, videos, calendars) play in the perception of the bear image?
SM: These days, it seems like everybody knows what a bear looks like. And while the if-you-think-you’re-a-bear, then-you-are rule opens the definition to a variety of physical types, I think those early days of the original BEAR magazine, and to a lesser degree American Bear and Bulk Male cemented a certain physical iconography, for many, of what a bear looks like. Today, in videos and magazines, like my magazine, 100% BEEF, we’re more about celebrating the idea than establishing it, because that’s already been done.
GLT: The bear community tends to welcome most individuals to their events including twinks and women. Is there a danger of the bear community losing its identity by attempting to be all inclusive?
SM: There is an inherent conflict, in the current code of “If you think you’re a bear, then you’re a bear.” Because lots of folks want to be bears, and the code says that everybody is welcome at the clubhouse.
The piss-on-this friendly, all-inclusive bowl of cornflakes is that if you think you’re a bear, but you don’t look, dress, groom or act like some folks think a bear should, they’ll morph from bears into catty bitches. And they’ll uninvite you from participating in their reindeer games.
I have a buddy who once compared this scenario to The Emperor’s New Clothes. He said, “For those of us who don’t really fit the look, we love that ‘you’re a bear as long as you think you are’ slogan.” And as long as everybody around you goes along with it, things are great. But there’s always that one bitter bear who stands up and shouts, “Hey... what’s she doing here? She’s not a bear at all!” Aside from confusing you through his use of feminine pronouns, he makes you feel like you don’t belong, all over again.
GLT: Lately, there have been editorials and articles written concerning the unhealthy lifestyle of some men who identify as bear. Is there a way to embrace one’s bearishness while staying healthy?
SM: Should people’s health be a priority? Yes. Obesity in our society is an epidemic, yes. Is celebration of bear identities responsible for the fattening of America? No. Do we encourage unhealthy lifestyles by celebrating husky bodies? I can’t answer that, because I like to think of it another way. We see beauty in areas where mainstream gay culture never did before. When I can take photos of a man who, for most of his life, was ashamed to walk shirtless on the beach because people pointed at his hairy back, or chuckled at his roundish hairy gut, and feature him on the cover and in a photospread of magazine that actually celebrates his masculine non-traditional beauty, that’s a good thing. Making people feel good about themselves, whatever their size or shape, is a really good thing.
The bear community is about acceptance.
So, it saddens me when I hear people barking in bitter, divisive tones about how this group or that subset has ruined, polluted or otherwise compromised the strength or focus of our community. I saw online recently where some misguided, wordy malcontent had ranted in print about how awful life is since the bear community “fattened up,” with the acceptance/celebration of bigger and chubbier over gym-toned, more athletic guys.
If you ask me, what’s really gotten fat in the bear community are the egos and attitudes of a few self-righteous, self-congratulatory folks who have appointed themselves as the “voice” of our community and who presume to speak for the rest of us.
GLT: How do you see the future of the bear community?
SM: The community continues to grow and evolve. I think we’re at a point in our development where people are really starting to look at this whole thing more closely, partially in retrospect but also for the future. Folks are trying to understand what it’s all about, which might help to move it forward and into the future. Certainly, lots of people are trying to make money from it.
For me, the core of the bear identity has always been based in sexuality. What is it about bears that we think is hot? What do bears have that is unique to us? Why do we find each other attractive? For me, the bear identity has never been about lifestyle, recipes or decorating or fashion or electronic stuff. None of those things are unique to bears. What bears have in common is sex, desire and an attraction for other masculine-identified, burly, bearded like-minded men. As long as men have these desires and urges, there will be a bear community of some form. But that’s just me. There are those who disagree with me, and they’re completely entitled to that.