Even with many of the controversies and valid critiques in the past few years, bear communities throughout the world remain some of the most open and accepting spaces within the LGBTQ+ community. However, there are many in the community who are working hard to make these spaces more accessible to people with disabilities.
Recently, I had a chance to speak with the newly-sashed Mr. BearScots 2019, Andrew Baillie, about his plans to help make these spaces more accessible.
KJ: Hello! How are you?
AB: I’m doing great! How are you?
KJ: I’m well, thank you. Can you start by telling us a little about your background?
AB: Well, my name is Andrew. I have been Hearing impaired since I was born, and for the last few years I have been using a cochlear implant to help me hear and speak. Mostly, I use BSL (British Sign Language) to communicate, but I can sign in three different sign languages – American Sign Language (ASL) and International Sign (IS) too.
I was raised in a Deaf family but I have some Hearing siblings. I really enjoy getting involved in both the Deaf and Hearing world socially at events.
I came out of the closet about 5 years ago, at age 25, after having a secret relationship with another man for ten years! Back then, there was a lot to learn about this new thing through the gay scene.
I am an artist, and a professional model-maker/sculptor. I adore graphic design and illustration, and I love getting involved with creative work. Alongside my main job, I run a small business called CUB de CROCHÉT, where I create hand crocheted jockstraps and harnesses.
KJ: Nice! I’ve seen some of your crochet work online. You make some very nice stuff! So, when did you begin identifying as a Bear? Can you tell us a little bit about your journey as a Bear?
AB: Identifying as a bear really started, I think, alongside the growth of my business. It was while setting up CUB de CROCHET that I started to call myself a Cub. Before starting the business I wasn’t really aware how huge and diverse the Bear scene is. That being said, I have been attracted to large, hairy men with beards for a long time!
I remember Manchester Pride was my first time attending a pride event. While there, my friends dragged me down to The Eagle bar. In the Eagle, I saw many hairy and bearded men, so I had to ask what that was all about, and my friends told me all about Bears. From there, I started to realise there was a whole thriving bear scene, and I started to call myself as a Cub. However, I have now won two Mr. Bear titles, so I guess it turns out I have become a Bear!
KJ: What made you enter the competition?
AB: I have been wanting to get involved in the Mr. Bear competitions for a while, and last May I was delighted, and a little surprised, to win the local title of Mr. Bear Pride at Club XXL. From that contest, my confidence was built up so I decided to enter Mr. BearScots.
I entered because I want to have an impact in our community, and to show that barriers can be overcome for disabled people who want to get involved in our competitions. I want to prove that our events are inclusive. As a BSL user, I also want to encourage more language access for the Deaf community, and I felt that I was maybe the right person to try and do this.
KJ: What was your favorite part about taking part in the competition?
AB: That I was allowed to express myself as whatever I like! When I was on the stage, I really enjoyed doing a saucy performance in front of hundreds of bears. Hearing the loud roars from the people there was astonishing and great! It also inspired me to see all the bears and cubs who waved their hands instead of clapping, as this way of showing appreciation instead of traditional applause is a big part of Deaf culture.
KJ: What has been your experience so far in the bear community? What is your platform?
AB: A bear event can be full of surprises and magical moments. I think this magic happens as every bear or cub brings their unique body and sizes, and as we accept each other without judgement. I love seeing more guys start to grow in confidence with their bodies, whatever shape they are. That has been my experience.
Bear events have helped me to now feel so good with my body. Accepting me for who I am is not just about my shape, but acceptance as I am Hearing impaired as well. Bear events have been good ways for me to meet and make new friends – as long as they know that my communication is a bit different from many others. I like how I can be flirty with other bears, and share a cuddle to help us feel good.
Once I was on the stage at BearScots my nerves vanished, as I already knew many of the bears out there. I was looking forward to surprising them with a show!
On stage, the first challenge the presenter gave me was me to tell my saucy secret and I did share it – but that does not get repeated here however! For the second task, I had to choose a cake to eat sexily. I chose a Tunnock’s tea cake and it got rather messy! The third task was to strip off my t-shirt off and tear off a vest. I think playing with my nipple while kneeling on the stage helped with this task! For the last task, I had to explain why should I be Mr BearScots. And I think that’s really what is important to me – helping make bear events where everyone can be themselves.
KJ: In what ways do you think you can help to promote growth or change in the bear/cub community?
AB: I would like to help every event to be as accessible as possible for everyone’s needs, so that no one feels left out or isolated. It would be great to allow everyone to feel included when they attend our events.
KJ: What’s the most important thing about the bear/cub community for you?
AB: For me, the most important thing about the bear/cub community are the times that I have been made to feel so welcome. I appreciate when I have been part of groups where people don’t see me as different from the other bears and cubs. I have noticed that that bears/cubs are often more accepting of all the differences in other people. Plus, I love when they say yes to cuddles!
KJ: What are your plans for your title year?
AB: I have an idea for some projects over 2019/20, which relate to accessibility and BSL sign language. I am going to teach the basics of BSL on my Bearscots 2019 Facebook page to encourage people to learn something new and be able to communicate with the other people out there.
I also always remind people that Sign Language is not just a way to communicate with Deaf people, it is for everybody. This is especially true in a noisy club – although maybe not so much in the dark areas!
I also want to make sure that bear events are more accessible for every person’s need, as I want to see all of us being welcomed and no one feeling isolated or left out from the events.
KJ: Will you go on to enter other competitions once your title year is done?
AB: Yes, I am going to enter the Mr. Bear Europe competition in May 2020! I also might enter Mr. World Bear in a few years time, but let’s see how it goes with my current title first.
KJ: Finally, what’s your advice for anyone entering the competition next year?
AB: My advice to those who want to get involved in any competition is to remember that it is about being yourself and showing who you are. You don’t need to get worried about the other competitors because, when it is about being uniquely you, there is nothing to compare. Try your best, and remember it’s all about having fun and entertaining our bear community.
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