This bank holiday weekend Mark Ames and his team are joining forces with Ruggercub at the Two Brewers and the boys from Beefmince to bring us the three-day fur fest that is XXL Bear Pride. Dave Cross had a catch up with Mark to find out more about this annual gathering of the bear clans.
Hi Mark, why is it important for you to do Bear Pride each year?
It’s important because, although the bear scene has really grown and developed into a whole melange of sub types now, there are still issues; issues with people who have got certain bigotries or dislikes when they still don’t accept people of sizes that are different to the typical gay image. It’s there to continue to promote the bear image, but it’s also there to actually break some of the bear barriers down, because a lot of bears have a fear of being criticised, or just because they were so used to being pushed aside for so long I’ve noticed some bears can sometimes be anti other groups. That’s why we do Fusion, because it helps break down barriers, and the whole point of XXL is to make the bear image acceptable to the wider community.
Which takes us to the club’s tagline ‘one size fits all’…
Exactly. And it’s funny when I hear people say ‘The crowd [at the club] has changed…’ It hasn’t. It’s always had this vast range from 20 year olds all the way up to 60 year olds – there’s nothing different.
And do you think that even though there are, like you say, still problems, one of the things that has changed, and XXL has helped, is that whereas before the twinks or the muscle boys didn’t want to be seen on a dancefloor next to bears, now, at XXL, you do get all those people partying together?
Yes, but I don’t think it’s just XXL. I think as a whole it’s more acceptable to grow old gracefully, rather than this Peter Pan image that every gay man thought they had to be. The Rod Stewart song about Georgie boy says “Youth’s a mask but it don’t last…” The most attractive thing about any human being is themselves, their personality. If XXL has gone out to push any agenda, it’s: yeah, be part of our group, but be yourself too, and be happy about who you are, whether you’re big, small, hairy or not hairy. XXL’s about making people content with who and what they are, not what they think they should be.
Once again you’re working with other venues and other promoters, Ruggercub at the Two Brewers, and with the guys from Beefmince, so that’s obviously something that’s important to you…?
I think it’s incredibly important to work together. We’re all getting so complacent about our venues disappearing. There’s hardly any support for the venues. I’m not talking about XXL, I’m talking about tiny little venues, bars and pubs – one minute they’re there, the next they’re gone. Once they’re gone, we’ve lost them, and we’re losing that backbone of what our society’s based on. It’s all well and good having Facebook pages and apps and stuff, but apps aren’t going to sway any politician when it comes down to it; people do and groups do, and at the end of the day we have to be a venue for creating a healthy community vibe.
We’re symbiotic. Bears don’t just go to bear venues, they go to cabaret and all sorts of things. And I think it’s really important that, while we don’t step on each other’s toes, we do learn to dance with each other. We have an amazing scene in this city, but it’s being knocked all over the place, and we need to protect it. We need to keep it as this vibrant, multicultural, all-types-of-parties kind of place.
You’re hosting Mr Bear Pride on the Saturday night too at XXL. It’s a bit of fun, obviously, but what do you hope to do with it? What type of guy would you like to see win?
Someone who is really, really content and happy with who they are. I mean, obviously, it’s Mr BEAR Pride, so it shouldn’t be a 19 year old, with a 30 inch waist…
So it’s very much a body positive statement…
Yes, but it doesn’t need to be someone who’s 25 stone either. It’s someone that’s growing with who they are, where they are and what they’re becoming. You know the saying ‘what the caterpillar calls the end the butterfly calls the beginning…’ There is a stage where you start looking in the mirror and it’s not about your looks or whether you’re super-fit or whether you fit the stereotype of what society regards as beautiful. It’s about looking at yourself and feeling content. And what Mr Bear Pride’s about is finding a handsome, rugged, manly gay guy who’s happy in himself, who’s got personality and wit and is a good ambassador. People that think a stereotypical bear, if they don’t come on the scene, that they’ve just let themselves go. It’s completely different to that, it’s somebody that actually lives well, parties well, looks after themselves, but they don’t have to be a Muscle Mary to be attractive and to have fun. They just need to be themselves.
One of the big elements on Saturday night at Bear Pride is the cabaret, with Myra DuBois, Sherry Vine, Peppermint and Doctor Woof. How has that progressed for you and what has the reaction been?
It took us a while to get it right at Pulse, but it’s fantastic now and all those acts are brilliant. I don’t want XXL to be a cabaret venue, but special events require a bit more effort and something special. I’ve had so many different events and people try to step on my toes and do what XXL does well, but thankfully for me they’ve come and gone and I’ve remained, so I would never try to compete with those amazing cabaret venues on the scene.
And on Sunday you’ve got Fusion, with Pagano doing a nine-hour set and the guys from Beefmince – tell me what the idea is behind that.
I’m a great believer in pushing the bear scene forward, and the guys from Beefmince are progressing, so it’s supporting them and giving Pagano a chance to really showcase his talent. It’s not all about XXL, it’s about all the different elements of the bear scene coming together.
And unlike XXL on a Saturday night, women can come to Fusion on Sunday, can’t they?
Fusion is open to everyone, males, females and everything in-between.
So this is a chance for XXL regulars to bring their female and trans friends etc?
Absolutely, it was the main reason we started Fusion.
Enter Mr Bear Pride on Saturday night at Pulse!
The Mr Bear Pride contest is being held this Saturday night (26 May) during the cabaret. If you want to be considered for the contest, please enter by sending a photo of yourself to firstname.lastname@example.org If you are selected as one of the final seven guys, you will receive free entry to the club on the night in order to compete.