James Butterfield, World Cub 2021, discusses destigmatizing mental illness and acceptance

World Bear Weekend happened this past August 19th – 22nd, and we now have more members to add to the World Bear family!

This year’s World Cub title was won by none other than Indiana’s James Butterfield! We spoke to James recently about winning the title, plans for the title year, and how it’s time that we truly accept our mama Bears as part of our community!

Kyle Jackson: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

James Butterfield: I grew up outside of Cincinnati, OH, and moved to the Louisville Metro area in 2000.  I’m a geek bear at heart, love all things sci fi and superhero!  I like to say if there’s a fandom, I’m probably part of it!  

I’m a musician and am a founding member of the Louisville Gay Men’s Chorus.  I’m also an instrumentalist and marched with the first ever Kentuckiana Marching Pride band in our pride parade in 2019.  I currently live in Jeffersonville, IN, just across the Ohio River from Louisville, with my black cat Isis.   

KJ: How did you find the Bear community?

JB: I discovered the Bear community in 2016.  It was at the Lexington, KY Pride Festival where I happened to stop by the Kentucky Bourbon Bears booth.  As I enjoy a good bourbon, the name just drew me in!  

It was that introduction that really piqued my interest in the Bear community, and its acceptance of all different kinds of body types.  I’d pretty much always felt like an outsider, not fitting in anywhere.  But they were very welcoming and made me feel right at home.  After that summer, a good friend took me to my first bear run, North American Bear Weekend in Lexington, KY 2017. That was an eye opener! I had the best time there, and I’ve never looked back since!

KJ: When and/or why did you decide to enter the contest?

JB: I made the decision to compete back in January of 2021. I just happened to pull up the World Bear Weekend website, and I was just drawn to it. It felt like a calling. I wanted to have the opportunity to use this title as a way of promoting my personal platform, which is destigmatizing mental illness.  

Another reason I decided to compete is because back in 2018, I won the North American Bear Admirer title, but in that contest, I came in second place. This time I was determined to come out on top! I wanted to push myself and prove I could do it. Also, I decided to compete because I wanted to join the WBW royal family. I admire each of the previous titleholders and having the chance to stand among them is just thrilling for me.  

KJ: What was the best part about participating in the contest?

JB: I would say the best part of the contest for me was the fantasy! I like to perform, so I’m very comfortable on stage, and this time was just special. My theme was action figures come to life, and I got to use my love of superheroes to act it out. Best part was, as Superman, I got to fly!  

My two scene partners lifted me up and I actually got to pantomime flying on stage. It was incredible, and the crowd reaction was amazing. I’d say after the fantasy, my next favorite part was giving the speech. It was a very personal one for me, and being able to share that with the audience was touching. Plus, I got to talk of my love for Carrie Fisher!

KJ: What are your goals for your title year?

JB: My main goal is to promote my platform of destigmatizing mental illness.  As someone who suffers from a mood disorder, I want to be able to show the world that there’s nothing to be ashamed of having a mental illness, it’s just the way the brain is wired.  Being able to stand up and be a face for that is very important to me.  If I can reach just one person and make their life better, it will all be worth it. 

 Another goal I have is to show the importance of how just one person can impact so many lives. During my interview for the contest, the judges reminded me of how I met each of them, and how I made them feel when we met. That struck me as amazing, realizing I’d made such an impression.  So I want to show the world that one person can make all the difference.  My motto this year is ‘Know Your Worth’. I want people to see that they each have an impact on so many others, and to realize that they are unique and special.  

KJ: What are some important issues you feel need to be addressed in the Bear and/or Leather Communities?

JB: In the Bear world, I think that we still have a long way to go in accepting our Lady Bear compatriots into the mix. The Mama Bears are out there, we need to embrace them and make them feel welcome. 

My very first title was Klondykes of the Ohio Valley Glitter Bear in 2017. The Klondykes were founded as a female bear group to promote just this kind of acceptance.  And as one of their titleholders, it’s an important issue for me. I really like that World Bear Weekend began with having a Ms. World Bear title. That kind of visibility is crucial to creating the kind of acceptance that we need.  

Along with acceptance of our Mama Bears, I think that we still need to work on accepting our Trans and Non-Binary bears. Just like the women, they’re out there and we need to support them.  The Bear community was founded on the acceptance of body types that didn’t fit the norm of the perfect, chiseled body. If we can do that, then we can accept anyone who doesn’t quite fit in.  

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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.