Jonathan and Heath: A Couple of Bear Titleholders

Being a titleholder is an important job. As a titleholder, you’re basically a representative for your community, whether your community is Leather, Bear, Rubber, Puppy or Furry.

For this reason, I was very impressed when I met Heath, Mr. Bear Providence 2020, and Jonathan, Mr. Cub Providence 2020, and learned that they were actually a couple! I was very interested to learn how it was to have two titleholders under one roof.

I had a chance to sit down and talk with the two of them via Zoom about being titleholders during a pandemic, how this current sociopolitical climate has affected them personally, and their plans to continue to take New England by storm once restrictions are lifted.

Kyle Jackson: Hi guys! So, can you guys tell me a little bit about yourselves? What do you do for work, school, etc?

Heath: Ok, I’ll go first. Well, I’m a dad of two adopted sons. I just recently came out in July 2018 at 45 years old after a long marriage, which is still in its pending stages. I’m currently the Director of Human Resources for a nonprofit Human Services agency in New Hampshire that services Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. 

We service anyone in the population, as we say, from birth to end of life and anywhere in between, with about 1,800 employees. I enjoy it. I’ve been in Human Resources for about 25 years. 

I’m also an event DJ — I DJ weddings, parties and all types of events. I started that about 6 years ago, just doing pro bono work for nonprofits and charity events. And then someone came up to me and said, “You should do this as a business.” 

The first year I did it as a business, I believe I did four weddings. It became a good side business for me up until the virus started, and then everything started to cancel. My DJ equipment is sitting in what I call my “DJ trailer” in the yard, just crying out for me. 

KJ: That’s very cool that you’ve been in Human Resources for 25 years doing nonprofit work and Djing on the side — and you say you also just recently came out? Congratulations!

Heath: Thank you! In between there, I was also diagnosed with colon cancer in August of 2015, so I fought that for about 3 years. The first year was really rough with the chemotherapy, radiation and two surgeries, and then constant monitoring after that. 

And then, in July of 2018 — the same month I came out — I was cleared with less than a 5% chance that it was going to come back. 

KJ: Wow! That’s amazing. Congratulations again!

Heath: Thank you. You know, I thought life is too short, and I need to be myself. I need to be myself for my sons, because I always tell them “You need to be who you want to be, and don’t let anyone else tell you any different”. 

And I thought, Who am I not to be a role model for that? So, it was a combination of that and then meeting Jonathan, and he was just that extra little push for me to be myself. 

We met shortly before I came out, and we’ve been together since July 11, 2018. So, it’s been a fun ride!

Jonathan: A very fun ride.

KJ: I bet! And Jonathan it looks like you now have some things to say. (laughs) So, I’m going to jump to you. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself.?

Jonathan: So, I am a two-time titleholder. This is actually my second title. I’m also a college student, and I’ve been taking some time off. I haven’t gone back yet, but my major is Communications with a minor in Philosophy. So a lot of my wants in the world are about thought, communication, speaking and understanding people. 

Right now I’m unemployed, but I was working at Things Remembered, which is an engraving company. I was also working for the company that Heath is the Human Resources Director for.

However, because my job description meant I had to work a lot with the elderly clientele, going into their houses was a big safety risk for them. Who knows if I was carrying COVID-19 and just not experiencing any symptoms? I just didn’t want to take any chances like that. 

I came out when I was about 16, so very rough and different years. I’ve done a lot in the community, and I’ve run for multiple titles. 

KJ: When you say titles, do you mean both leather and bear titles?

Jonathan: Yes, leather, bear and rubber actually.

KJ: Oh cool!

Jonathan: When I was a Drummer boy, my platform was to help abolish kink shaming, which it still is. I realize that, in the Bear community, there still is a little bit of a kink shaming dilemma going on. And I figured it was time to shift the focus.

Heath is also still sort of new to it, and not as kink central as me. I’m not kink central by practice, but I’m kink central by understanding. I’ve gone to enough seminars, and I’ve listened and learned enough to say, “I understand x, y and z” or “I can probably do x, y and z.” 

So, it’s just about getting everyone else into that mindset of understanding that just because you don’t enjoy it, it doesn’t mean you have to bash it. 

KJ: Exactly! What do we say in the leather community?

Jonathan: “Don’t yuck my yum!”

KJ: Yes! I’m a part of ONYX, so that’s something I hear people say all the time. 

Great! It’s great to learn a little bit more about you guys. So, the next thing I want to ask is how did you guys meet?

Heath: (laughs) It’s actually a funny story – 

Jonathan: (interrupts) Growlr. 

Heath: (laughs) Just put it out there.

KJ: Hey! Yes, just put it out there. Nothing wrong with that. A little Growlr love story. I love it, and I’m here for it. 

Jonathan: It was at the time that I had just moved up to Dracut, Massachusetts. At the time I was living with my Daddy and his partner, and we were kind of trying the triad thing but that didn’t really work out. 

I had seen Heath’s profile, and at the time, he had a profile picture that showed just his stomach. And he had a weird name that I can’t even remember now, but it was hilarious. And I thought, “Oh, that’s funny.” 

Heath: I think I shot some shade at somebody through my username. It was something like that. 

Jonathan: Well, I messaged him. We met at the Mall of New Hampshire, and went to Buffalo Wild Wings. 

KJ: One of my favorite places.

Heath: (laughs)

Jonathan: He was just so nice, and I was like, What is this human, and where did he come from? 

KJ: Do you guys get into the zodiac thing at all?

Heath: A little bit.

KJ: What are your signs? 

Jonathan: I’m a Gemini. 

Heath: Aquarius.

KJ: Ok, that makes total sense. I see that, and it works!

Heath: We have our moments, but it’s great. 

KJ: I’m the sign after Jonathan’s. I’m a Cancer.

Jonathan and Heath: Oh…..

KJ: (laughs) Everyone does that to me when I say that. (laughs) Yes, we’re an emotional bunch. I can own that.  

Heath: Oh, I’m very emotional as well. I always say that I can walk in any room and feel the energy and emotions. If the emotion of the room is sad, then there I am boohooing all over the place. Movies or anything, it doesn’t matter. I’m just very emotional. 

Jonathan: He was once watching Instant Family, but he didn’t actually watch the movie. He was watching it through his tears. 

KJ: (laughs) I totally get it. You guys seem like the sweetest guys, and you work well together, it seems. What made you guys enter the Providence Bear and Cub contest together?

Jonathan: I’m going to give you the short answer: He made me do this. 

Heath: (laughs)

Jonathan: He said, “I want to do this.” And I thought, Oh god! I can’t let him go out there by himself. Lord Jesus, no. It was two years after he came out, and I wouldn’t expect someone to run for a title within two years after just coming out. 

KJ: Yea, I was going to say. You moved really fast there, Heath! (laughs) But, I think that’s really cool that you were able to get acclimated that fast, and just go out there and win a title.

Heath: Yea, I feel like I had to, you know? Looking back I know there were some things that I jumped right into and I maybe should have taken time with. But I think this was good in particular because, growing up as a big guy you always have those body image issues. 

People are cruel, and you have those cliques in high school and things like that. If you looked different from everyone else, or you were the chubby kid, then you got made fun of. And that wears on you after a while, and you bring it into adulthood. 

I will tell you that, in the last year and a half or two years, I’ve taken my shirt off to go swimming for the first time since I was a kid. I go through body dysmorphia cycles here and there, and because things have happened so fast I’ve been able to be more open and free. 

I saw the titles and I learned about them from other friends that we have, and I kind of just went after it. I told myself that this is something that I need to do, and people are either going to accept me or they’re not. I don’t really care, I’m doing this for me. 

And then Jonathan said, “I’m going to hold your hand, and walk through this and do this with you.” I met some really great people in the process — people who I still consider friends. We actually consider it kind of a court, if you will. 

Yes I have the Mr. Bear Providence title, but I also have the other person who ran with me, and the two or three cubs who ran with Jonathan, and we all collectively did it together. And we made sort of a family or a pact and said we are going to tackle things together. All these charities and events that we have, I told everyone, I want you by my side. 

I can’t do this alone, and this is my first title — Actually, this is my first time doing anything like this in the LGBTQ community ever. So, as with anything in the LGBTQ community, I need help. Sometimes those are the words we are most afraid to say. 

KJ: Yea, many people are afraid to ask for help. It’s good that you are asking. So kudos and congrats to all of you. You guys are working great together. And you, Jonathan, being there to assist with certain things that he may need guidance with, I think it’s great. 
I guess this sort of goes into my next question — What is it like with you both being titleholders at the same time? I think it’s really cool that you two are able to do this as a couple. I was in a relationship with a titleholder, and I know all about the titleholder life and how busy it can be.
So, it’s just interesting thinking about what if the both of us would have been titleholders at the same time. Do you sometimes find it kind of stressful because you both have so much going on, or do you find it easy since you’re there to help one another?

Jonathan: So, there are some points where things are really easy, such as when we’re running an event. That’s really easy because it’s two of us. We live together, so there’s no worrying about us being able to get there on time, or being able to arrive at the same time, and things like that.

But, because I’ve won a title, I know how to advertise an event. I know how to make it something that’s a little provocative and makes everyone want to be there. Heath hasn’t really had that much experience with advertising to the LGBTQ community, and making things a certain way so that they will come. 

And that’s one of the struggles that we have, because my mind thinks one way and his thinks another. But one of the great things having your partner also as your co-titleholder is that he does see things a different way than I do. 

It makes me think, “Well, Heath suggested it this way so maybe we can try it this way.” And it opens your eyes up to another perspective, and makes you think of other ways things can be done. 

KJ: Yea, I was going to say, it adds another perspective. 

Heath: Yea, it’s kind of like the Fab Five in a way. You always have your subject matter experts, and Jonathan is culture. He knows the culture, and he’s been in it a lot longer than I have.

I’ve known all my life that I was gay. But I grew up in a different time with different expectations and different pressures. But Jonathan’s been a titleholder. I know the business side of things, because I own a business. I’ve run nonprofits, I’ve been the President of the Parent Association for almost ten years. 

So, I also help our producer to sort of keep us in line. We also have someone on our team who’s really flashy and creative. It’s about tackling this as a team, which is something I think we should always do as a community — tackle everything as a team. If we utilize our talents together, it’s amazing what could be accomplished. 

KJ: Yea, there’s definitely two sides to running  an event: The creative side and the business side. You guys seem to have that, because one of you has the creative mind and one has the business mind. 
So, I’m currently in an interracial relationship myself. And I wanted to ask you guys, if you don’t mind, how is it for you being in an interracial relationship in this time of racial tension and Black Lives Matter? 

Jonathan: For me, it’s very difficult. Because I know all people of color feel like the system has always been oppressive to us. It has never been helpful to us. It’s a little difficult right now because I see my brothers and sisters fighting out on the front lines, and I’m not there. I don’t want to put myself at risk, and he’s immunocompromised.

It hit me really hard the other day when Heath and I were driving to Portland, and I said, “I feel like I need to be doing something. I can’t just be sitting here. I could be out there wearing my hood in public and being a symbol.” 

I don’t think I’ve said it already, but I am into Puppy Play. However, I identify as a lion, and I had my hood modeled after Scar. I feel like a lot of us POCs feel like Scar, in a way. We’re doing everything we can, but if we do one bad thing in trying to change the world it’s like, “No, you did everything absolutely wrong. You can’t do anything right.” 

And I felt like my hood might be a Beacon of hope, maybe. So, that’s part of the internal struggle I go through. And sometimes it’s not really easy to convey those feelings to Heath, because it’s not always something that can be put into words. You can’t always put 400 years of oppression into words and make it comprehensible to someone who has never experienced that. 

So, that’s one thing, but I think the good thing is that he’s very good at comforting me. And, even when I’m going through hard times like this, he’ll stand by me. And he has yet to ever falter when something like this is going on. 

He has his moments when he doesn’t really understand fully what’s going on. But that doesn’t change anything for me. He’s still with me, he’s still by my side and he still holds my hand. And I can guarantee, if I was out there on those frontlines, he’d be right out there with me. He wouldn’t let me go by myself. 

KJ: Yea, that’s amazing. Do you have anything to add, Heath?

Heath: Yea, it is hard for me because I don’t always understand. And I went through a couple of days where, if you look on Facebook, I was lost. Because I didn’t know how to feel or how I could help. I was thinking about whether or not I was doing good, and all these other thoughts bouncing back and forth in my head. 

My oldest is Hispanic, and he’s darker skinned. He told me a few weeks ago that he had racist comments said to him. And I thought to myself, Damn. This is ridiculous. These things just need to stop. Things need to change. 

But I think the ability to do that starts with us just listening first. We need to stop, close our mouths and just listen. And, after listening, we say, “What do you need? How can I help?” And I think that’s the key to it. 

I’ve struggled back and forth with the “All Lives Matter” thing. Now I’m like, well yeah of course they do. But we need to fix this portion of it right now. We need to focus on what this is right now in order to make change. Let’s focus on what this is, and then we can continue to move on using what we learned from this movement and bring it to the next one. 

It’s like when people say you have a big elephant on your plate. Well, how do you take care of that elephant? You have to do it one bite at a time. So, it’s about taking a bite of that elephant and doing this right. Let’s get it done for once in our lives and try to get it done as best as we can. 

So, it took me some time to really get it down and to get in that headspace, and listening to Jonathan, a few other people and my son, who basically said, “Let them know who you are. Let your voice be heard, and let them know that you are frustrated and this needs to stop.” He’s 17, and he came out with these words. And I’m like, damn I’m 47, where have I been? 

Being titleholders, we have to do three events a piece. So, that’s six events between the two of us, and six charities that we have a chance to impact. I also think our title is being extended through 2021, which will be really nice because we haven’t really had a chance to do much. 

KJ: Yeah, I was going to ask about what events you all had planned, and how it has been to have a title year in the middle of a pandemic? 

Heath: Yeah, it was December 14th when we won, so that started our title year. But, it was December, so you have the holidays and the New Year right after that. Our last event was at the end of February, which was also sort of a celebration of my birthday. 

My birthday is actually on Valentine’s Day, so we had an event to celebrate it. It was supposed to be a jockstrap contest and a fundraiser. It was fun, but not a lot of people participated. 

That was also when the news was starting about the virus, and Providence was actually one of the first cities to shut down. So, February was sort of the end of it all. 

Jonathan: And then we were supposed to have another event in March, literally the weekend when everything was starting to shut down. 

Heath: Yeah, and then we were supposed to go to Bears, Bikers and Mayhem in April. 

KJ: Yeah, I was supposed to go too! This was supposed to be me and my partner’s first Bears, Bikers and Mayhem. 

Jonathan: It would have been ours too! I was so excited!

Heath: It was supposed to actually be my first Bear event. I was looking forward to it too. I mean, I’ve never been to a Bear event. I’ve seen them. I saw them advertised when I wasn’t “out” yet, and I remember thinking it would be so much fun to go to one. 

KJ: You said your title is being extended to 2021, right?

Heath: Yes, according to our producers, the title is being extended through December 2021.

Jonathan: Depending on if he changes the dates. 

Heath: Yeah, so fall/winter will be when the transition happens for 2022. 

Jonathan: I already have plans for when this title is over. I think we should go for North American Bear and North American Cub. I think that’s the next step. 

KJ: Hey, maybe you guys can start a trend, where you guys run for titles together and encourage other couples to do it as well. And maybe you guys can advance to IML together. That would be cool!
What are the leather crowns you guys are wearing today, by the way? Is this part of your title sash?

Jonathan: Oh, this is just every day! This is part of the wear. This is wrath. 

KJ: Ah, ok. So this is just your thing. I like it! I was just wondering if they had given it to you as part of your title or something. 

Heath: No, we just got our sashes, we got a medal, and we got a big trophy. We got ourselves some vests, and we’re going to get some patches made just to make sure we’re recognized.

Before the pandemic hit, Jonathan and I went to New York City because we had tickets to sit in the audience of the Rachael Ray Show. We actually wore our sashes around New York City. We went about 6 or 7 stops, and then when we got there, we just wore our sashes in the audience. 

The date of that show was actually March 14th, and we had fun doing that. That’s what we want to do — represent New England wherever we go.

I’m originally from Maine, and you don’t hear much about Maine in the Bear community. And definitely not much in New Hampshire, which is where I spent most of my life. There’s some great little clusters of the Bear community up here, but I just think they need to flourish a little bit more. 

And so Jonathan and I have sort of taken on the Northeast, and we’ve gone to different events, such as the Furry Bowl — which is a bowling event with people from the Furry community. 

Jonathan: That was fun!

Heath: Yeah, that was really fun. And there was a bar in Haverhill, Massachusetts that started doing an LGBTQ night. So, we went to the opening of that. We’ve gone to some stuff in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but Maine is still closed until about mid-July. 

So once they open, we’ll start to visit those places just to get out there and build our network. It goes back to that word “change”, and Jonathan and I can’t do it ourselves. 

KJ: I think you guys being at the forefront of this is great, because you represent so many aspects of the community. You being together represents a lot for the community. One of you has the experience of growing up Black in America, and the other has the experience of spending so much of his life in the closet and now becoming free. 

Heath: I think I’m the only gay guy in my family, too… That I know of. (laughs)

KJ: Exactly! (laughs) But you guys coming together in the community represents so much. It’s great that you guys are the promoters of this growth and change. So, did you guys say you live in Massachusetts or Maine?

Jonathan: We live in Maine now. 

Heath: Yes, as of June 1st.

KJ: Oh, so you guys literally just moved to Maine. 

Heath: Yea, we moved to a family cabin that we have. 

KJ: And where are you from originally, Jonathan? 

Jonathan: I am originally from Brockton, Massachusetts. 

KJ: Ok, that’s like right outside of Boston, right?

Jonathan: Yea, literally right outside of Boston. It’s that shadowy place that you’re not supposed to go to. (laughs)

KJ: Ah ok. I’ve actually only been to Boston once, but I’ve lived in multiple different places. That sounds awesome to have a cabin in the woods, though. Are you basically in the woods?

Jonathan: Oh yea, it’s in the woods.

Heath: On a lake, though. 

Jonathan: I be hearing noises at night and I’m just thinking sometimes, I’m going to die here. He’s like “Go outside and turn the light off”, and I’m just like…. (laughs)

KJ: You’re like, “I’m from the city! I can’t do this!” (laughs) I totally understand, because I’ve gone on numerous camping trips with the cub scouts when I was young, and I went on a trip to a farm a few years ago with some friends, and I’m just like… This seems cool and everything, but it also seems like the beginning of every horror movie I’ve ever watched, and I’m the only Black guy here. 

Jonathan: Exactly. (laughs)

KJ: Well, I think you guys have answered all my questions. Was there anything that you guys want to talk about that I didn’t cover?

Jonathan: (to Heath) Can I say it? Because you are so nervous about me saying this. 

Heath: Yea, you can say it. It’s totally fine. 

Jonathan: So, I actually proposed to Heath at the contest on December 14th. 

KJ: Wow! I didn’t know that! Congratulations!

Jonathan: Thank you! I worked with the producer beforehand and I planned everything. 

KJ: Have you guys set a date yet? 

Heath: Not yet. We said three to five years. 

Jonathan: I want a better job, and he wants to be a little more comfortable…

Heath: I have to get a divorce. (laughs)

Jonathan: Well, yea. A divorce. 

Heath: Just a little technicality there, ya know? (laughs)

KJ: Yes, that has to happen first. (laughs) 

Jonathan: Oh yes, absolutely. That’s a law. Excuse me! (laughs) But, we’re thinking we may not stay up here. Who knows what may happen? 

But we want to get married when we can have all of our friends there, and we want to give everyone enough time. We want this to be an event we really enjoy — We want to take our time and look at stuff, and the biggest thing is we want to be able to afford it. Getting married is not cheap. 

KJ: Well yes, if you want to do it a certain way. You guys seem very outgoing and social, so this isn’t going to be a courthouse thing. 

Jonathan: I want a fifteen minute procession, and he’s like… No. 

KJ: Yes, you guys are very outgoing. (laughs)

Jonathan: Extra. 

KJ: Well, you are wearing crowns right now. I’m kidding, of course. I really like those crowns.

Jonathan: Thanks, we got them from Wolfstryker!

KJ: Oh nice! I like Heath’s Bear flag-colored one, as well. You know, the Bear flag is actually 25 years old this year. 

Heath: I actually got this as well. (raises sleeve to show arm tattoo) This is my very first tattoo, which I also did this year. It’s the colon cancer ribbon, of course with a bear claw. 

KJ: That’s really nice! And it symbolizes so much of your journey!

Heath: Thank you!

KJ: Thank you guys! I hope everything goes well with your title, and we will chat soon!

Follow Heath and Jonathan on Facebook .

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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.