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InstaBear of the Week: Taylor Leigh discusses journey as a Trans Bear

Recently, former Mr. Brighton Bear 2019, Taylor Leigh, who is also the first Trans Bear to win the Mr. Brighton Bear contest, experienced one of the best life-changing events — he had top surgery. Taylor has been absolutely over the moon about this, and we couldn’t be more thrilled for him! I decided chat with this very handsome Bear to about his journey with top surgery, and what it’s like being a Trans Bear in the Bear community.

Kyle Jackson: Hi, Taylor! It’s so nice to finally talk to you! What has your experience been in the Bear community as a gay Trans Bear?

Taylor Leigh: Hi, Kyle! It’s so nice to finally talk to you as well! I think, in the Bear community, it’s been really great. However, in the gay community, it’s been up and down, if that makes sense. In the Bear community, everyone has been really lovely and accepting, and they just see me how I see myself, you know? I did Mr. Brighton Bear, and everyone was lovely and positive.

But, in the gay community, sometimes it can be a bit rough. People say things like, “Oh, you’re not a man”, or “you led me to believe you’re a man and you’re not” and other hateful and unnecessary comments. 

KJ: Yes, hateful and unnecessary things that no one should have to go through.

TL: Yea, it’s like… I haven’t done you any harm, and here you are giving me hate.

KJ: It’s very cruel and unnecessary. No one should have to go through that because of who they are. Can you talk a bit about your journey? I know, as a cis gay man, a lot of us always say we knew who we were from a young age. How did you come into knowing that this was who you were, as both a gay man and a trans man?

TL: Yeah, it sort of just clicks, doesn’t it? And you kind of just know. 

I first came out as trans in 2015, and I didn’t tell anyone before that. I kept it a secret. And then, in about 2016, a year or so after I came out as trans, I came out as gay. During that time, I was feeling more comfortable and I was on testosterone, so I felt more confident and at ease with myself. It was tricky at first, but I realized I still wasn’t happy, so I came out as gay. 

When I came out as gay, I realized that the community I would fit the best in was the Bear community, so then I found my place as a trans gay Bear. Again, just about everyone in the Bear community has been really lovely and positive; I would say about 99% have been positive. 

KJ: Good! I’m glad you’ve been able to have that experience in the Bear community. We’ve been having some conversations recently about acceptance, diversity and inclusion in the Bear community. I don’t know if you’ve read my article directed towards White Bears regarding the lack of acceptance and inclusion in the Bear community, but it was pretty popular for a while. 

TL: Oh, yes! I think I did see that one, actually. 

KJ: Yes, there were lots of opinions about it. But we had to put that out because, even though the Bear community can be one of the most accepting and diverse communities under the LGBTQ umbrella, there still are instances of racism, transphobia, misogyny, and other prejudices or discriminatory actions that need to be addressed because i would like the bear community to remain open and accepting. 

TL: Everyone’s welcome.

KJ: Exactly. Everyone’s welcome. Now, you are from Edinburgh, correct?

TL: Close! I’m from Aberdeen!

KJ: Dammit! So close. But, you are definitely from Scotland. 

TL: Yes, I’m from Scotland. 

KJ: I think I could definitely tell by your accent.

TL: (laughs) I have a bit of an accent, even though I think I may have lost a bit of it, but yes it’s still there. When I say certain words, you can hear it more. 

KJ: So, when you came out, were you in England or Scotland, and how did you find it as a queer person in Scotland versus England?

TL: I was still in Scotland when I came out, but there isn’t as much of a scene there. I found it a bit harder to be out in Scotland, and I’m not sure if that’s because I was still early in my transition or not, but it was a lot harder than in Brighton, for example. There’s just not a lot of people there, or if there are people there, then they’re not out. It’s just that, in Brighton…


TL: (laughs) Exactly! I mean, in Brighton, you could walk down the street in a rainbow jockstrap and people would be like, “Oh, that’s really great!” Back home, people would probably be like… (gasp) “Oh, my GOD!” It’s almost like they’re in different times, you know? Aberdeen is basically known as “The Oil City”, but Brighton is just fabulous, you know? 

KJ: Yea, I guess it would be the same for people like me who grew up in the south. I mean, it wasn’t that different for me because I’m from New Orleans, which is fabulous. But people who grow up in other parts of the south, it takes them a while to adjust to the open, free nature of it all when they move up north to places like New York, Boston, Philly and D.C.

TL: Yes, exactly!

KJ: I kind of notice that the less progressive southern United States is more like the north in the UK, and the less progressive north in the UK is more like the south in the US. 

TL: Yes, that’s a great way to put it!

KJ: So, it sounds like you’ve found your pack or your tribe in Brighton. What made you go to Brighton in particular?

TL: I came down for Pride one year! (laughs) I came down for Pride, and I loved it. One of my friends said, “You have to come back a few more times because it’s not always like this.” So, I came back a few more times and I still loved it, so I moved. So, that was pretty much it!

KJ: So, I’m curious — How do you feel about the Bear or LGBTQ community in Brighton versus the Bear or LGBTQ community in London? Are there any differences?

TL: I haven’t actually been into London that much, actually. I think I may have gone to one or two gay bars in London, maybe. When I go to London, I’m generally going to see a show. I haven’t seen or been out a lot in London… Yet. Hopefully, when we’re allowed to congregate safely and be fabulous again, I will see more. 

KJ: Hopefully many of the places will still be there. There’s a lot going on right now!

TL: Yea, totally. Fingers crossed!

KJ: So, you did talk a bit about Mr. Brighton Bear. You were Mr. Brighton Bear 2019, correct?

TL: Yes, 2019! And I was the first ever Mr. Brighton Bear to be a trans man, which is pretty incredible!

KJ: Wow! Congratulations!  What was your journey or experience with Mr. Brighton Bear? How did you find out about the contest, and what made you want to participate in it?

TL: So, I saw the post for the contest, and I said to myself, “I might enter that at some point.” But then, I was just like, awe screw it. If I don’t do it now, then I’m not going to do it. And I figured it would also help give me a little boost of confidence. So, i contacted them and told them my situation — that I was a trans man, and if it was ok for me to enter. They were like, “Yea, that’s fine!” I mean, the post said they were inclusive, but I just wanted to check to be sure. You always have to check, especially for something like this. You always have to check! 

As part of the contest, you had to wear three outfits — Day Wear, Night Wear and Wear What You Dare! So, I did my three outfits — I think it was eight of us in total. So, when they were about to announce the winner, I remember hearing the name for third place called and thinking, “Aw, I didn’t even get third!” Then, they called second place and I thought, “Aw, I didn’t even get second!” Then, they called my name as the winner, and I was like, “What?! Me?1” Honestly, I’m still shocked to this day. 

KJ: That’s great! So, doing this was a great experience for you, and it was really a confidence booster?

TL: Yes, and because I did this pre-top surgery, so it just made me feel included. It helped me to feel like a man, and made me realize that people see me as a man. Especially in a competition that’s specifically for big, hairy men. And I won it! 

So, yea it really did help boost my confidence. And… I got a sash and a crown, which was pretty cool!

KJ: Of course! Everyone wants their roses. “Give me my crown and my roses!” (laughs)

TL: (laughs) Exactly!

KJ: And you’re awesome, so you deserve them!

TL: Aw, thank you!

KJ: What events did you put on?

TL: I did a Halloween Party! It was the Brighton Bear Halloween Party, and I got to announce the winner and runner-up. That was different for me, because I had this microphone and I had to speak, and I’m usually so shy with public speaking. 

I was at work the day of the party, and I didn’t have a costume so I had to improvise. I went as a Build-A-Bear Gone Wrong! So, I just got a checkered shirt and some shorts and cut it all up. (laughs)

KJ: (laughs) I love it! I think all of my Halloween costumes in the previous years have come together like that. Very last minute, but they turned out great!

TL: Absolutely. I was just like… What can I cut up that I won’t be sad about? (laughs)

KJ: So, you said when you did the contest, it was a confidence booster because it was pre-top surgery. Now, we’re post-top surgery, and it’s very obvious that you are glowing. In some of your pictures on social media, you just have a ray of light encircling you. 

TL: Yea, definitely. I just feel a bit more chilled, you know? I just feel very comfortable and great!

KJ: So, when did you decide that top surgery is something you wanted to do, and was something that would make you more confident and comfortable with your body? What made you decide to do it?

TL: I’ve always felt like I wanted to do it for years. And then, I had some friends tell me that it was fine because I was a big guy, and big guys have big chests, you know? Apparently, I was well-proportioned because I wasn’t small with a big chest. And then I thought, “Well, maybe….” But then, I realized I would go back to feeling really uncomfortable. I would change my clothes three or four times before finally leaving the house, or I would wear tight vests, because I stopped binding some years ago.

KJ: Oh, you did the tight vest thing too? I used to do that, but moreso for my belly!

TL: Yea, totally. They work very well as some sort of security blanket, don’t they? 

So, I stopped binding in 2017, so I did it for two years. It was so uncomfortable. Then, I started wearing the vests. I think at that time I was like a XL or XXL, and the vests were like a Large or XL, so it was quite a significant difference in size. But, it was still very uncomfortable. I got a kilo, removed from each side, but they were still just sort of there because they’re attached to me, you know? 

And then, I thought for a couple of months about what I really wanted. I kept thinking back to how uncomfortable I was feeling, and I thought that the only way to be completely at peace was just to get top surgery. That way I can be topless — I did go topless a few times swimming. That was pretty scary and made me pretty nervous. I’d still like to be topless outside, though, but it’s not quite the weather for that. (laughs)

And you know, when you do a lot of running, those tops — like rugby tops — are very tight. And I just always felt like they were sort of out there. Of course they weren’t, but mentally…

KJ: You felt they were in the way. 

TL: Yeah, exactly. They were in the way, and I can never get rid of them. And, I’ve had some positive comments about them, but I’ve also had some negative comments. But, of course, the negative comments stuck out more because of where I was mentally. 

KJ: Do you notice any difference in the way that people talk to you or communicate with you after your top surgery?

TL: I don’t think I’ve noticed any difference yet; None that I can think of. I’ve had a lot of support, which is incredible. But I don’t think I’ve noticed any difference, and I usually notice the tiniest bit of difference. 

KJ: I asked that question because I’ve noticed myself that when I changed — I lost some weight years and years ago, which I’ve since put back on — but I noticed that so many people who didn’t want to talk to me when I was fat were suddenly wanting to talk to me. They were all like, “Heeeeyyyyyyy!” (laughs)

TL: “Oh, HEEEEYYYYYYY!” (laughs)

KJ: And I was like…. Hmmmmm…

So, anyway, back to you. You finally got this done and now you feel more free and confident. I know you had been trying to have this surgery for a while now, but something happened and it was pushed back numerous times for some reason. 

TL; Yea, it was because of COVID. 

KJ: Oh yes, of course! And I was really upset for you, because you had been looking forward to this for a while. 

TL: Yes, I was heartbroken. I have literally never felt so heartbroken in my entire life. Because they gave me a date, and they stripped it away from me, but they didn’t give me a new one. Which is understandable because of the situation. I don’t fault anyone or anything, it’s just a really crappy situation. I think I gained a stone in a couple of months. But, I lost the weight, so there you go!

KJ: Yay! End of story! Yay!

TL: Yay! (laughs)

And then, I lost a couple of kilos in about 3 hours. The quickest weight loss in my life! (laughs)

KJ: (laughs) That’s awesome! So, how is your family with all of this — you coming out as trans, then gay and now having top surgery? I know, of course, sometimes families struggle to understand or accept this for many of us queer people. 

TL: Well, my mum has been supportive since day one. She’s been my number one supporter. She helped me fund it privately to begin with, and I will be forever grateful for that. She sometimes doesn’t understand some things, but if I explain it a few times, eventually she gets there. My dad… It went as I thought it would, meaning it didn’t really go that well. But now, five years later, he’s been asking me every day for seven weeks “How’s your chest doing?” It took some time, but we got there, and I’m grateful for that. 

The rest of the family is pretty good. I’m not out to everyone, and I haven’t officially come out to my dad as gay. But I’m pretty sure he knows. He doesn’t have any social media or anything, but I’ve got my aunt on there… So I’m pretty sure he’s put two and two together, especially since I’ve never mentioned a girl. 

But the family has been overall pretty positive. I don’t think I can say anything too negative in that regard. 

KJ: That’s great! You know, we like to point out how we queer people are so lucky when we have an easy time coming out. But I don’t think it’s “lucky” at all — that’s the way it should be. 

TL: Yeah, this is the way it should be. People shouldn’t have to go through their families disowning them or anything like that. 

KJ: Yeah, we’re not lucky for experiencing life the way normal people experience life. 

TL: Exactly. I’m still a person with feelings. I’m the same person now that I was before I told you this. Nothing has changed. I may have changed physically, but I’m still the same person on the inside. You can see just on the outside what I feel on the inside now. 

KJ: So, my last question is: If someone in the Bear community asked you what you needed from us in order to continue to support you, what would your answer be?

TL: Just continue doing what you’ve already been doing, and continue being open-minded and appreciating that everyone isn’t the same, but our differences shouldn’t stop us from being included in the community. 

For the most part, everyone has been lovely. It’s just that 1%, but the 1% won’t stop those other lovely people. Just continue doing what you’re doing.

Follow Taylor Leigh on Instagram: @hairy_scotsman!

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Kyle Jackson

Kyle Jackson (He/Him) is Senior Staff Writer at Gray Jones Media, and additionally works as a writer, editor and theatre artist/actor. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, he studied at Dillard University, received a BA in Theatre from Morgan State University, an MS in Arts Administration from Drexel University, and completed the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer in Oxford Programme in 2017. Having lived in Baltimore, the Washington, DC area, Philadelphia and New York City, he now resides and works in London, United Kingdom.