Bear HistoryBear Tracks

Bear Tracks: Jacques Zonne and the Organization of the First Dutch Bears

For this installment of “Bear Tracks” Les K Wright invites guest columnist Jacques Zonne to give us his firsthand account of the creation of the modern Dutch Bear scene. Read on to see how this proud activist went from casual participant to chairman of board, so to speak and Mr. International Grizzly Bear 1996.

Hi, I am Jacques Zonne, I live in beautiful Amsterdam in the Netherlands. On a beautiful summer day in 1992 I was walking home with my then friend Dig Space, after being out shopping. Dig was (and is) a Chubby who also likes chubs. (I was more the guy who frequented leather bars, and liked kink and fetish). Suddenly he stopped, noticing a striking figure on the street. To my surprise, he commented on the stranger right away, saying how intriguing he found the stranger. Now, I could definitely agree with him on that, because the man was a super-sized chubby about six feet tall. A nice, spontaneous conversation ensued with this giant man, who told us his name was Frank Vanenburg. He and a colleague were on a lunch break from work , which was a little further down that street.  Dig confessed that he had a crush on Frank. Frank, in turn, explained that he was involved with an association for big men, bears and their lovers. The association was called Dikke Maatjes, which translates as both “big friends” and “best friends.” This group had monthly meetings, and Frank invited us to check them out.  My friend Dig accepted the invitation right away and said he would definitely come. I said I would rather go to the Leather scene, because that’s where my friends were. And I didn’t think I would go for the men in this group. But I had no objection to Dig going to these meetings on his own. He did so with great pleasure.

Jacques Zonne

A few months passed during which we each found our own way. But then Dig started asking me more often if I would come along to the big men’s meetings. Finally, I agreed that I would go along. And so I ended up in a kind of lunchroom, which had white curtains stretching from ceiling to floor. There were big men everywhere, sitting at round tables, drinking coffee and tea. Most of the conversations focused on their diabetes and dinner recipes. It really wasn’t the atmosphere I had imagined when going out.

Frank, who had invited us, came and sat at our table. He started an enthusiastic conversation and was happy that I had come. He also asked what I thought of the meeting of the Dikke Maatjes. I decided to give an honest answer and told him that I actually found it extremely boring. I was not used to a tea party where men drank their drinks with their little finger up, I would rather have a beer in a rough bar.

I told Frank that I had been going to cruising bars all my life and that I had been a member of various S/M & fetish associations. I had even taken on the role of chairman and had organized different types of events there. Frank listened attentively but understood that I would limit it to this one visit.

I was surprised that Frank came to visit me at home a month later. (My friend had invited him.) It turned out to be a serious conversation. He had discussed with the board what I had told him. This resulted in a crisis in the board of the Dikke Maatjes. A members’ meeting was planned, and Frank asked if I could be present for any advice. I had little faith in it, but eventually I committed to being there.

I went to the members’ meeting and because I was not an official member I sat in the back of the room. I was right by the exit, which was a good feeling for me because I would be able to escape. The meeting started off intensely–because the board did not want change. In the end it turned out that the majority of the members did want to change though. At that most of the board abruptly resigned and left the room. Since I was sitting next to the door, I got angry looks from these ex-board members because they thought I had caused this.

After a brief moment of confusion, it was asked who would like to join a new board and some members spontaneously volunteered. The tasks of secretary and treasurer were assigned, but the position of chairman turned out to be unfulfillable. There was quite a bit of discussion about that—until I saw Frank stand up, his tall figure towering above everyone else. And in the midst of these members, he pointed to me and said that I had experience in organizing. I cringed and thought, “Jacques, what have you gotten yourself into, you with your big mouth.” I defended myself and said that I was not even a member of that association. But in spite of that they managed to convince me. This turned out to be no problem for the members of the association, and that is how I went from not even being a  member to the chairman of the Dikke Maatjes. This meeting has gone down in history as “the coup d’état”!

After that it was hard work and making new friends among the brand-new board. They all turned out to be nice people, and without them I would not have achieved anything. The first decision was to hold the meetings in a cozy gay bar called “Le Shaco,” where we had a beautiful view of the Amstel River. Monthly sauna parties started. And instead of talks about dieting, BBQ parties were organized.

It slowly became a more positive movement, but it all took a little too long for me. We wanted the members to become proud of themselves, and that was not easy. I studied the scene I had unexpectedly ended up in by reading BEAR magazine. I saw that contests were being organized and decided to try that together with the board. Together we decided to start holding “Mister Chubby Netherlands” contests in 1992. These turned out to be very enjoyable evenings, and the number of members started to grow. The membership even increased tenfold. But still, despite the success, it was not what I had hoped for, and I continued to look for ways to improve it.

In 1994 my friend Dig and I went to the EBMC, the European Big Men’s Convergence, at the Hilton Hotel in Brussels, Belgium. It turned out that a contest for Mister Chubby Europe was also being organized. Even though I didn’t really want to participate, Dig decided to sign me up for it. During a walk-through beautiful Brussels that afternoon, we saw a beautiful bear suit hanging in a carnival shop and we came up with the idea of doing a nice strip tease on stage. No sooner said, than done! It was a special evening, in which I was unexpectedly chosen as “Mr. Chubby Europe 1994.” It was an unforgettable weekend. I could perhaps use something for our own contests in the Netherlands. But still, despite it being fun, it didn’t improve our own events.

And so, I kept looking for ways to improve the contests and the moment came where it turned out that with the title Mister Chubby Europe, I could participate in the “Mr. International Bear” contest in 1996. This was reorganized by the BOSF (Bears of San Francisco). This could be nicely combined with a visit to Dig’s family in Tucson, Arizona.

It turned out to be a great event, where I learned a lot about organizing. All the contestants were given various assignments, including selling lottery tickets. The contest night was in a huge hall. And with 28 beautiful contestants on stage, I thought that I had no chance at all. I didn’t mind because I had already achieved my goal of learning a lot about organizing a Mr. Bear contest.

The striptease I gave in my bear costume was a huge hit. My very first speech had to be in English, which is not my first language. I started with the following and honest sentence: “I feel like an ultimate Bear spy” and told them my thoughts about the experiences I had during that weekend. And I also talked about my plans for what I would do in the Netherlands. To my great surprise, at the end of this special evening I received the title “Mr. International Grizzly Bear 1996,” a title I still wear with pride today.

Jacques in his Mr. International Grizzly Bear jacket

Back in the Netherlands we were able to make the association stronger. We decided to work together with another group, The Netherbears, and our contests were given a different name– “Mr. Big and Bear Netherlands.” Our Big & Bear weekends became very successful. After I had served as chairman for seven years, the entire board decided to resign and turn it over to a new board. Unfortunately, the new board turned out to not be that strong and the association declined into an internet association.

Later, this gap was filled by two groups, “Furball” and “Bear-Necessity.” The last of these two still organizes the annual contests for “Mr. Bear Netherlands.” I am happy that, along with good friends, I was at the cradle of the Dutch Bear scene. I remain actively involved in all Bear events in “The Web Bar” Amsterdam, and I remain a proud Dutch Bear.

In closing, I want to honor my friend Frank Vanenburg, who passed away on May 23, 2023. He was an important figure in the start of the Bear scene in the Netherlands.


72-year-old Jacques Zonne is from Amsterdam. He has always been active in the gay scene and has held various board positions in Bear and S&M associations. For 25 years he has been working in the gay cruising and Bear bar “The Web” in Amsterdam.  Jacques was known for several years on national television as “Leatherboy” in a Dutch TV show called:  “The Pain Game.” He has also been a fighter against Gay Conversion Therapy (“healing” gay people through religion) for 45 years, beginning in 1979. He hopes to get a ban on this soon.

Latest Articles

BWM Staff

Our Staff Writing Team works hard to bring you great content and share news & events from the bear community and beyond.