Here’s a bearish statement for you: oral history is the best kind. And there’s enough of it in the Revised Edition of Bears on Bears: Interviews and Discussions, edited by Ron Jackson Suresha, to satisfy even the most orally-fixated Bear, Cub, Otter, or what-have-you. An expanded version of the book that was first published in 2002, the new BoB adds an updated section on Bear Arts and Culture, as well as an engaging interview with Metropolitan Community Church founder Rev. Troy Perry.
For anyone who has been living in a cave (ha ha), I should explain that in the context of gay life, a Bear is a big, hairy male. From that starting point the definition can go almost anywhere. How big is “big”? How hairy is “hairy”? Are we talking butch, or nelly, or both? It turns out that there are as many variations on Bear as there are people—thus we have the older, or “polar” bear; the slimmer bear, or “otter”; bears of color; even female bears. This inclusive book even contains a lively discussion by a group of men who identify as ex-bears or postbears.
It’s tremendously entertaining to read about, say, the history of the Lone Star bear bar in San Francisco—destroyed by the 1989 earthquake just three months after opening, only to re-open ten months later and become a Bear Mecca. And it’s inspiring to read the stories of men from all over the world who have learned—often after periods of loneliness and rejection—that it’s okay to be big and hairy, and/or to be turned on by big, hairy guys.
Not only engaging and inspiring but often laugh-out-loud funny, this new and improved Bears on Bears is brought to us by Bear Bones Books, an imprint of Lethe Press, with Ron J. Suresha serving as acquisitions and development editor. Some might say that the imprint is another sign of the dreaded ‘commodification’ of Bear culture. I would argue that the culture is rich enough and lively enough to support this effort.
In addition to this book, Bear Bones has provided a valuable service by reprinting Jeff Mann’s first book of personal essays, Edge: Travels of an Appalachian Leather Bear. And forthcoming is a new collection of erotica entitled Bears in Heat: Hot Macho Fiction. This polar bear can hardly wait!
Reviewed by Wayne Courtois