An excerpt from Dennis Milam Bensie’s book, One Gay American.
In addition to internet dating, I threw myself back into the gay scene and started going out to the bars again a few times a week just so I felt some connection to the community. I was earnestly looking for a life partner. A husband to call my own.
I grew my mustache and goatee longer than I ever had.
I ran into my friend Mary for the first time in months. The next day she asked Jim, “When did Dennis become a bear?”
Jimʼs response was classic. “When he realized he could get laid and not have to go on a diet.”
I was thinking more “ distinguished writer” than “bear” when adopting my new look. I still wasnʼt the most masculine guy in the world, but I was pleased that I was able to grow a very thick set of facial hair.
After resubmitting my profile to bear411.com with my new whiskers, I was accepted. I started getting lots of attention for the new look. I loved the attention but wondered how sincere it was. The admiration was often coming from the same men who wouldnʼt give me the time of day when I was clean shaven or had mere stubble on my face. I was the same gay man I had always been. Is it really just the whiskers that made me attractive? (I had the same sense of false admiration in my twenties and thirties when I lost weight and bleached my hair.)
The winks and nods at me online and in person became frequent with more facial hair. It confused me. Were the guys being shallow for liking my new look, or was I being false and disguising who I really was? Every day I would look in the mirror and contemplate shaving my face in protest. I wasnʼt sure the facial hair was really me, the writer or a bear, but I was lonely and wanted to find love. How could I turn down all that attention? I made an attempt to go out on a date with every man who formally asked me.
I was reminded of the old days when I seemed to be only interested in dating younger, ethnic guys. Was the bear scene a more organized version of that same ideology? Should a person be faulted for liking what they liked? It was a bigger question than I could answer. Thankfully, I had grown out of that phase and had a more open mind about dating.
As my whiskers grew out longer and longer, I was reminded of another facet of gay culture: open relationships. I learned quickly that bears loved to freely play with other bears. It seemed many bears were coupled, yet had an agreement with their partners that they could have sexual situations on the side without accountability. This concept went against every fiber of the little bride boy inside of me.
My goatee was already extending three inches below my chin when a handsome young man approached me at my (still) favorite bar in Seattle, the Cuff. His beard extended almost to his belly button. His name was Joe and his shirt was completely open, displaying a thick coat of chest hair. I had seen Joe at the Cuff off and on for years, yet we had never spoken. All of a sudden, we were two animals in the woods, sniffing at each other. Within minutes of our introduction, he asked to see my chest hair and was rubbing the hair on my ass. It was mating time.
It had been a while since a man had looked at or spoken to me the way Joe did. He held nothing back as he touched my chest and casually announced that he had a partner twice his age. His relationship status didnʼt dampen his enthusiasm for me. He played every card he had in his hand to get me alone and naked. I was his playful prey.
Joe and I had one intimate encounter.
“May I please suck your cock, Daddy?”
“Does that feel good, sir?”
I was torn. I certainly enjoyed our playtime, but the role playing felt displaced. Joe was masculine and was calling me “Daddy”. It would have felt more appropriate for him to call me “Mommy” if he really knew me.
I saw him out at the bar with his partner after our tryst. Joeʼs other half looked like Santa Claus with his long white beard and rosy cheeks. I went about my business and was never intimate with Joe again.
I was a brand new man with my serious goatee. I posted more pictures of my new look online and, for the first time, posted a picture of myself without a shirt. My hairy chest got much attention. I was the toast of many open-relationships. I got many offers from bear couples to have sexual three-ways. Yet I was merely “fur” to the community and very little else. I had way more offers to have sex with partnered men than single men in the bear community.
I saw rings on left hands. It was very different from what I knew. A new vocabulary came with my new lifestyle and hairier look. I occasionally heard the word “married” and “husband” and even “hus-bear” in reference to two bears in a relationship. Words like “playful”, “woof”, “chub”, “panda”, “partner”, “otter”, and “cub” all had new meanings.
The bears even developed a very complicated and long numeric and letter code system to let fellow bears know exactly what they liked.
Bear411.com profiles all started adding the code. Why not just write out in words what you like? To me, the “bear code” was as petty as a 7th grade girlʼs slam book. I wasnʼt sure what my opinion was of the hairy subculture.
What was the Universe telling me—-the retired haircut fetishist and the author of a memoir called Shorn? I was now being objectified for my own facial and body hair. The tables had turned on me. Was this my sexual Karma?
I crossed paths with a “married” bear named Alan. He had been with his partner for several years. We were the same age and had a lot in common. Alan wasnʼt hung up on the bear scene, but certainly looked like a bear and had a job that put him in the bear circuit on a regular basis. Just like Joe, I had seen Alan around town for years and there had been no connection until he noticed my new facial hair. Everything changed. It was blissful as I found myself passionately kissing him one night in his van.
What the hell am I doing?
Am I a home-wrecker?
The connection and attraction between Alan and me was undeniable. He said and did all the things I craved. It was perfect…except he was “married”.
He isn’t really married.
Gay marriage isnʼt recognized in our state.
Does that make a difference to Alan and his partner?
Does that make a difference to me?
I wondered if that was the crux of gay men in open relationships–if it isnʼt legal or equal to the heterosexual world, then why should a relationship be as stringent? Being considered a second class citizen with less civil rights your whole life couldnʼt help but influence judgment and behavior.
Alan had clearly explained to me that he and his partner had an open relationship before we were intimate. I had heard his speech from other men many times before. I didnʼt feel I could judge Alan (or anyone) for being in an open relationship. His relationship with his partner was none of my business. But Alanʼs relationship to me was, and it felt odd. All the loopholes seemed to give me permission to go ahead and have an emotional and sexual affair with the beautiful, bearded man.
But I wasnʼt sure that I would thrive in a no-strings relationship.
I thought about my parents sixty year old wedding photo.
I thought about JR and Troy Skott and their beautiful baby, TJ.
I thought about Matt and Scot and their commitment ceremony with the gay pride ribbons.
I honestly did not know what to do as I was being held and kissed tenderly by the man who was sweeping me off my feet.
Am I going to be swept under the rug?
This excerpt is from One Gay American from Coffeetown Press.
Photo by Guilliaume Paumier