Papa bears

Gays love a big softie — tough but tender. These kick-ass cars have muscles over gentle souls

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer
crwauto@aol.com

In one of my favorite movies, Latter Days, the character Christian describes getting hypothermia and being rescued by a big warm guy holding him naked in a sleeping bag. He felt loved, warm in the arms of a big ol’ papa bear.
Like the ranger, these muscular mighties will hold you safe, but also respect a little nature along the trail.


VW Touareg.
At the recent media launch for the VW Passat in Chattanooga, Tenn., the P.R. team had journalists riding in the back of VW Touaregs. Getting onto the freeway, our driver put the big SUV into a sweeping uphill curve at high speed with confidence rarely seen off of a racetrack. I was in awe of his driving skills and the Touareg’s ability to carve up Appalachian highways. Turns out, the driver was a state trooper working part-time. I never felt safer.

This SUV flaunts a cabin built to Bentley standards, but flexes a range of powertrains. Base models offer a 280hp 3.6-liter V6 that achieves 16/23-MPG city/hwy., but the tree hugger in our beefy driver was a big fan of diesels and hybrids. VW’s turbo diesel generates 225hp and 19/28-MPG. The supercharged hybrid manages 380hp and 20/24-MPG.

Prices range from $44,500 for a V6, $48,000 for the diesel and $61,000 for a hybrid.

CUDDLE MONSTERS  |  VW’s Touareg, opposite page, boasts Bentley-quality styling and a powerful hybrid engine; Ford’s F-150 with Eco Boost, left, treats the environment well; GM’s Arlington-built Yukon Denali, above, puts a bit of Alaska inside Texas. (Photos courtesy VW, Ford, GMC)

CUDDLE MONSTERS | VW’s Touareg, opposite page, boasts Bentley-quality styling and a powerful hybrid engine; Ford’s F-150 with Eco Boost, left, treats the environment well; GM’s Arlington-built Yukon Denali, above, puts a bit of Alaska inside Texas. (Photos courtesy VW, Ford, GMC)

GMC Yukon Denali Hybrid. GMC. Yukon. Denali. Just the name sounds tough, doesn’t it? But Hybrid? Sounds like a Muscle Mary — where do we go with this? Probably to a good place. Despite an interior that spoils with heated leather seats, Bluetooth, DVD player, sunroof and a YMCA locker-sized center console, the full-size SUV achieves 20/23-MPG city/hwy. — comparable to a mid-size sedan.

Without diminishing its gleaming Denali looks, engineers coerced some hard engineering out of this softie. The core of its professional grade persona is a 332hp 6.0-liter V8 that can shut down four cylinders during cruise. There’s also a battery pack two-mode transmission that can vary depending on workload.

Yukon can drive up to 30mph on electricity alone for very short distances. Revised air dams, running boards and rear body enhance aero. Best yet, the Yukon Denali Hybrid is a local boy, built here in Arlington. You’ll have to bring at least $59,000 to play.

Ford F-150 EcoBoost. This F-150 is kinda like that furry bear who started jogging, lost a little pudge and trimmed the foliage: He’s still tough, but has taken a liking to more contemporary expectations.
EcoBoost, in Ford speak, means smaller engines with turbos for maximum fuel economy and power. In fact, the turbo V6 in the F-150 generates 365hp – more than the base V8. It is as smooth as a twink’s legs as it eases itself around town and steps up briskly when hitting the freeway. Low-end throbbing from the turbos is an absolute joy.

It’s also pretty sexy. A big chrome grille flashes bling like diamonds while the interior is industrial chic with silver panels, leather seats, SYNC voice-activated infotainment and space for friends. (If you like the engine, but want a more compact ride, the EcoBoost V6 is also found in the Taurus SHO, Flex, Lincoln MKS and Lincoln MKT; four-cylinder EcoBoost engines will soon be in the Ford Explorer, Edge and Focus.) Life in Turboland is pretty snug. Want more proof? The Texas Auto Writers Association just named the F-150 “Truck of Texas” at its annual Truck Rodeo.

This F-150 starts just under $30,000.

Honda Ridgeline. Nothing is more papa bear than a hard-working pickup that is soft at its soul. Based on the popular Pilot, but with a reinforced under-frame, the Ridgeline is essentially a fuel-efficient crossover with a bed. It is the only pickup with an independent rear suspension for the best of rides. An in-bed truck is large enough to hold a cooler of your favorite inebriation or energy drink.

Moving the marbles is a 250hp 3.5-liter V6. AWD is standard. Authentically capable, the Ridgeline also looks handsome with its chiseled, integrated bodysides, beefy front profile, flying buttress sail panels and off-road rubber. Inside, navigation, 115v outlet, 160-watt audio, moonroof, Bluetooth and back-up camera satisfy. Honda isn’t exactly blowing Ridgelines out the door, but that’s only an opportunity to end up in the arms of a very loving truck without a lot of guilt. Prices start under $30,000.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

COVER STORY: Bear Hugs

 

Bear-Hugs-art
As The annual TBRU approaches, some locals talk about what it means to be a bear

ARNOLD WAYNE JONESLife+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

With the arrival of TBRU, we ask a fundamental question: What is it that makes a gay man a bear?

With the warming weather and approach of spring, bears across the continent are emerging from their winter hibernation and striking out to enjoy what life has to bring. And many of them will be headed toward North Texas.

Ahrens.John
PAPA BEAR | John Ahrens says bear culture is for gay men who don’t fit the buff, young mold.

Not, of course, the ursine variety: These bears shop in the big and tall department of the clothing store and have been known to pound back beer like men in the desert.
Texas Bear Round-Up XVI is almost here.

By the close of official pre-registration earlier this week, the annual fellowship of the hirsute gay male — which chose for its theme this time Bears of Justice: Heroes and Villains — had exceeded 1,100 confirmed attendees, and organizers say many walk-ups are expected throughout the weekend at various events. That makes it among the largest of gay-specific social events in Dallas.

But why do bears feel they need their own “runs” — the common name for the dozens of bear gatherings around the country?

“That’s a very interesting concept,” observes John Ahrens, when pressed to explain why bearevents have proliferated (See sidebar, Bear events and resources).

Ahrens has attended several TBRU events in the past and, at 6-feet, 2-inches and 270 pounds of furriness (everywhere but the top of his head, he notes), has long identified as a bear.

“Why do they have to have a bear round-up [and not a twink round-up]? I really don’t know. The whole concept of bears was originally that we never fit the cut, buff, skinny young look [that dominated gay culture]. This is a culture for the rest of us. It was to counteract the exclusivity of the rest of it — a place where big hairy guys could go to be themselves.”

The Bear Movement emerged from a reaction to a kind of cultural elitism within the gay community that tended to value youth, gym memberships and low-digit waistlines above all else. Bears dared to stake a claim on the alternative to the stand-and-model twink ideal  or the flamboyant drag queen that often defined gay culture, both in mainstream society and within the LGBT community itself.

Which raises a fundamental issue about bearhood: What, exactly, is a bear?

It’s a question that, when posed to self-identified bears, does not elicit quick or consistent responses. The term, by design or accident, has become a portmanteau word that tends to encompass all those gay men who like to identify as “other.”

But other than what is not wholly clear. (See sidebar, What is a bear?) For that matter, beardom is something that often must be embraced, almost like its own version of the coming out process: When does a bear admit he is one?

“I never thought you’d ask that,” says Rafael McDonnell, programs manager at Resource Center Dallas and a member since 2007 of the Dallas Bears, the organization which mounts TBRU.

Rafael_McDonnell
BEAR IN MIND | Dallas Bears member Rafael McDonnell says bearhood is an identity you have to claim.

“It’s a question of identity which, to a certain extent, is claimed by people. There are different parts to what our identity is; it’s where you end up fitting in the world as it is.”

“It’s very flexible and fluid and very personal,” says Ahrens. “I have a really close friend who never identified as bear for years, but there he is now, right on Bear411.com. The definition is so vague.

Generally, I want to say the bears tend to be older, but that’s not really true, either.”

Not at all. Carlos Deleon lives in Chicago and will be returning to TBRU for a fourth time later this month. And he just turned 30.

“It depends on where you come from. Some guys don’t look particularly bearish but identify deeply with it. Then there’s the big guy who goes to a bar and is told he’s a bear.

“For most of the guys around my age, it ends up being driven by an online thing: Looking at the various websites and finding one where you find guys who you think are attractive. You start dating those people. Then you spend more time in that part of the world,” Deleon says.

For a long time bears couldn’t go into regular gay bars and couldn’t find people to interact with, says Deleon, “so they kept finding safe spaces to congregate.”

That led to events such as TBRU.

But that was nearly 30 years ago, Deleon points out; “It’s a lot different than it was. Now it’s big business.”

And business sometimes leads more toward exploitation than inclusion.

“What finally put me off the whole [bear] thing is that it has become anything but inclusive — if you aren’t big or hairy, or are morbidly obese, you would be asked, ‘Why are you here?’” says Ahrens. “And that crap about bear codes? Oh, geez. The whole concept is trying to find an alternative community that accepts you. But [some in the bear community] have gone to the opposite extreme.”

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, although McDonnell says he has seen it.

“I think one reason TBRU has been successful is we are inclusive and organized,” he says. “I attended my first bear run outside of TBRU last fall in a city I won’t name. This event was disorganized and exclusive.”

Scott-Moore

LEATHER BEAR | Mr. TBRU 2007 Scott Moore says being a bear is something you grow into.

The myth of masculinity
Bear culture hasn’t always been its own beast, although the cliché has usually been that bears represent a less metrosexual, so-called “masculine” version of gay culture. (See sidebar, Celebearties.)
“Some gay men didn’t enjoy the prevailing ideas of looking and acting and being a certain way — that urban aesthete gay man,” says  Deleon. “They grew up being truck drivers and wanted to stay truck drivers even though they were gay.”

Initially many such men joined the leather community, but bears slowly carved their own, separate identity.

“There is the crossover with the leather stuff, too. There’s a basic assumption of masculinity in bear culture, which we both know is perfectly false. You can wear lots and lots of dead cow and be the nelliest person in the world,” says Ahrens.

“I think about guys who are rugby players but do leather, too — are they in both communities?” asks Deleon. “Bears were more a part of the leather community [once] and now are more separate from it. Younger guys who are attracted more to traditional daddy types may feel they are still separate communities.”
Scott Moore, who was Mr. TBRU 2007 and is the current Mr. Dallas Eagle (a leather title), is a prime example.

“I think the easy part for the crossover is that leather is a fetish, so it’s open to anyone of any type and background — it’s something you choose to be,” Moore says. “Being a bear, you grow into — it’s more of a character trait than a choice.”

“I think in my case it was both nature and choice,” says Ahrens. “I don’t like skinny hairless guys; I like big hairy guys and I am one. I just turned 60 and there’s this whole daddy thing that kind of goes along with it.”

“Here’s what I find interesting: Among the Dallas Bears, there is lots of cross-pollination with the court system, the Leather Knights, etc.,” says McDonnell. “I don’t know if that’s unique among bear clubs.”

One thing that newcomers often notice that is typical among bear clubs is that bears often engage in their own rituals and forms of, well, etiquette.

“If you can call it that at all,” laughs Ahrens. “Compare the balcony at JR.’s to the patio at the Hidden Door: There are fewer boundaries. That ultimately for me was kind of off-putting,” although he agrees it probably contributes to the conventional wisdom that bears are among the friendliest of gays.

“The boundary lines are somewhat different,” agrees McDonnell. “There’s much more of a tactile physicalness [to bear culture], but I’m not sure where it originated. The thing I have found is, it is an extraordinarily welcoming and affirming community, to borrow some religious language. You can go into a bear bar in Vancouver and receive the same level of acceptance as you would in Denver or Dallas.”

Whatever the definition, or the appeal of the culture, one thing is certain: Sometimes you can’t put your finger on something — you just have to know it when you experience it, and be open to its mystery.

“It’s pinning Jell-O to a wall. Some of it has to do with body size, but [being part of bear culture] is a combination not only of physical characteristics but that elusive thing that is chemistry,” says McDonnell. “Life isn’t the Sears catalogue.”

The Texas Bear Round-Up runs March 17–20 with events across the city. Visit TBRU.org for a complete schedule of events.

………………………………..

What is a bear?
The terminology associated with bear culture actually reaches deep into a variety of other animal identities: Bears “woof” at each other (a distinctly canine trait) and have subclassifications with the community that relate to other wild animals.
Although definitive descriptors are elusive and subject to change, here is a primer on some of the most common and the generally accepted definitions.
Bear — A member of the Bear Movement, usually identified as tallish, hairy (on the face and/or
body) and with a certain amount of meat on his bones. Can be anywhere from morbidly obese to a few extra pounds around the middle.
Musclebear — The same as a bear, but the meat is usually more muscle — often, though, while maintaining a stocky build. To be considered a musclebear, one normally has to have and keep a certain amount of body hair and not merely have a gym body.
Cub — A younger and/or smaller (McDonnell theorizes 5-feet-8 and under) bear; also, a bear who identifies more as a submissive in a sexual relationship.
Otter — A hairy guy who is usually thin; can be old or young, but often considered younger.
Grizzly — An older, heavy, often aggressive or dominant bear.
Polar bear — An older, often larger bear with white or grey hair.
Wolf — An older, sometimes thinner bear-identified male; also, one who tends to be aggressive.
Grey wolf — The same as a wolf, but with salt-and-pepper hair.
Daddy — Not strictly part of the bear culture, many bears are considered daddy-types, being older and somewhat nurturing of younger, more docile gay men.
Admirers/chasers — Gay men, usually younger, who do not personally exhibit the characteristics of a bear but are physically attracted to men of that type.
Cougay — A creation of my own, used to describe a gay man over 40 who is attracted to, or sought by, younger men, who can be bears or not. The cougay can, but does not need to be, a bear himself.
— A.W.J.

………………………………..

Celebearties
Here are some celebrities who, if they were gay, would probably qualify as bears:
Tom Colicchio, chef and TV personality on Top Chef.
Zach Galifianakis, comic and actor (The Hangover).
Steve Holcomb, Olympic bobsledder.
Jamie Hyneman, special effects whiz and host of Mythbusters.
Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears linebacker.

………………………………..

Bear events and resources
In addition to the Texas Bear Round Up, well-known national bear events include Lazy Bear Weekend in Guerneville, Calif., International Bear Rendezvous in San Francisco, and Bear Pride in Chicago.

Several magazines and websites are devoted to bear culture, including Bear Magazine and A Bear’s Life.
Scruff is a smart phone application, similar to Grindr, dedicated to bearish guys. Bear411.com is a dating/sex website for bears.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 11, 2011.

 

 

—  Kevin Thomas