It’s an interesting coincidence that on that the last day of Pride Month 2020, a friend of mine – a black man who identifies with the bear community, would send me a controversial new article entitled, “White Bears, it’s time for you to be uncomfortable.”
The article posted to Bearworldmag.com, calls out what the author claims is a reflective microcosm in the bear community of the mainstream world’s systemic racism. Much like the segmentations of class, race, and ethnicity cause division in the ‘regular’ world, these attributes have become increasingly apparent in recent years within the LGBTQ community as well.
At the focus of the article is one of my favorite places in the world to visit in the summer; the gorgeous, gay, New England coast location of Provincetown, Massachusetts (PTown). It’s one of the premier gay vacation destinations where the town is comprised of mostly LGBTQ residents within a quaint seaside “city” nestled between the ocean and the bay.
I am a member of a group on Facebook called PTown Bears, where mostly these days, it’s full of threads of guys grappling with the fact that the infamous “Bear Week” got canceled this year due to he Coronavirus outbreak. The town along with the rest of the state of Massachusetts has been shut down for months but is re-opening up for summer in a limited capacity. Many guys have decided to make the best of it, even though staple activities like Tea Dance at the Boatslip and the D*ck Dock won’t be on the agenda.
Earlier today, the article my friend sent me began to circulate in the PTown Bear Group on Facebook, and immediately, things escalated into heated debates. The provocative piece starts with this scenario proposed by its author Kyle Jackson,
“Imagine walking into an LGBTQ space and not seeing anyone who looks like you. This should not be unimaginable since the whole point of the Bear community is to give space to men of size who feel excluded by the broader gay community because they don’t look like pin-up models. “
Jackson goes on to call out what he and some others claim is a lack of diversity and inclusion in events such as Bear Week and other circuit parties around the country. He also cites that hardly any black men or other men of color are featured on fliers and event promotions. Jackson also recounts the backlash he has received for bringing up these concerns on Facebook, only to be told, ” Hey this isn’t the place to have that conversation. This group is about partying and having fun.”
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That dismissive response is a prime example of the silence of White gays Jackson speaks about when it comes to the lives of their black, gay brothers and sisters and even people of color in general.
Jackson does not shy away from his plight, discussions about race, which he feels makes white gays uncomfortable. In response to claims that he’s merely a party pooper, Jackson offered the following,
“White Bears, it’s time to wake up. No one is trying to destroy your fun, but you literally have people telling you that they feel excluded from your events. People are literally telling you that they feel mistreated and underrepresented. People are telling you that their lives are in danger and they are being killed in the streets, and your reply is “Okay, but I want to have fun without you bringing this up, though.”
After I read Jackson’s article, I became engaged with a Facebook thread where a seemingly, well-meaning, older white gay man expressed he had been going to PTown for 20 years. It was his generalized opinion that there are hardly any black men in marketing content for PTown because black men are often not out to families and don’t want their faces seen in LGBTQ marketing content, let alone for gay resorts. I found that to be ridiculous. Naturally, I called him out on that and told him his assessment was insulting and bogus.
To which he replied:
“My assessment of there being relatively few people of color to be found is born of seeing the many images of attendees over the past 20 years. Not finding people of color and black men who want to be photographed is not a bogus assessment, it is based on chatting with my black and people of color friends, and on media, I have read that points out that many people of color do not want the publicity or notoriety of getting into the press for their own privacy concerns. Many guys have not had any discussion with their families about being gay, never mind being at a gay resort.”
I assume when he gave that answer, he did not realize that I too have been a PTown regular over the past 20 years, renting houses 1-2 weeks in the summer. So, I know countless black gay men of all body types, many of whom I would see every summer. Many of them were featured on fliers for gay clubs in their hometowns across the country in cities like Chicago, D.C., and Atlanta. There is a massive black bear community too of out proud men all over the world, so this notion that no black men want to be featured as models is just absolute bullsh*t, and I let him know,
“Gary, have been coming to PTown for 20 years renting homes a couple of weeks each summer. This idea that you can’t find black people who want to be in marketing is bizarre considering all the thousands upon thousands of black men I know who create content for black gay events all over the world. Sorry, it makes no sense to me, but if you say that’s been your experience, okay.
Yes, it is a silly idea that it’s challenging to find people of color and black men who want to be photographed for press or media. It’s really offensive. If you can’t find any, what that means is that you aren’t looking very hard – if at all.”
You see, this is par for the course. I have found, part of the problem with having race conversations with many white people is that they try to reshape the narrative, like in this instance. Rather than listen to what we, the often isolated, are trying to tell them; instead, the blame gets shifted back onto us.
According to Gary, when it comes to marketing and imagery for PTown in 2020, there are no black models available anywhere because we’re mostly closeted and in hiding. Yes, some are, but so are white men, and yet we still find plenty of them for promotional images at circuit parties, clubs, etc.
Gary’s automatic defensive response was to deflect because the more significant conversation of racial bias and exclusion, which are evident, make him uncomfortable…just like Jackson suggests as he concluded in his article,
“White gays, it’s time to be uncomfortable. LGBTQ People of Color have never had the privilege of being comfortable. And maybe, in order to finally help fix things, you need to understand what that discomfort feels like.”
Read the full article at Bearworldmagazine
This piece is an opinion piece by one Contributing Writer for Instinct Magazine and may not reflect the opinion of the magazine or other Contributing Writers.