During a recent reading of his book Resilience: A Polemical Memoir of AIDS, Bears and F*cking at Ptown Bear Week, Les K Wright went public with the official announcement of the Bear History Project Reboot; something he previously alluded to in our interview with him back in April.
The Bear History Project Reboot (BHPR) will pick up where Les left off in 2005 when he officially retired and stopped archiving historical documents related to bear culture. We here at Bear World Magazine immediately signed onto the project when we initially heard about it in April. Since we’ve been around since 2013, we are more than happy to contribute any archival stories from our vaults towards the BHPR in addition to helping compile new information for the project.
When Les retired he sent all of his records and archives to Cornell University who have dutifully housed and filed over 75 boxes worth of material in their Division of Rare Documents and Manuscript Collection Repository. Every year since 2005 Les has sent additional archival materials over to Cornell, but no official record has been made of bear history for the last 20 years…until now.
According to Les, the BHPR will begin anew by recording the stories of our bear elders who were there in the beginning of the movement and who helped shape the initial culture. The recently departed John R. Burrows was at the top of the list of people that were to be interviewed due to his massive impact on the bear world as the founder of both the Provincetown Bears and Provincetown Bear Week. With him went an encyclopedia of knowledge that can never be replaced which is exactly why the BHPR is prioritizing interviews with our elders.
In addition to that, the Bear History Project will also seek out stories from younger bears from the Gen X, Millennial and Gen Z age groups who are having just as big an impact on the future of the bear scene.
“We’re very mindful of recording the elders” Les said, “ but we’re also very much looking to talk to the younger people coming into the community. We are both trying to widen the scope to include the fluidity of sex and gender and to be more truly international because it (the current bear history record) is Anglo-American centric.”
Indeed, one of the biggest shifts in bear culture over the last 10-15 years is a movement away from being categorized as a bear by others based on body hair and body type to a movement towards self-identifying as a bear regardless of gender identity and sexuality. Recent years have seen mama bears and pets welcomed into the bear world in addition to trans bears and gender nonbinary and nonconforming bears too, all of which will be reflected in the work of the BHPR.
Bored with retirement, Les began taking steps to revitalize the BHPR a few years ago when he realized no one was going to continue his archival work on bear history. Even here at BWM, we chronicled everything we could over the last 10 years, but it admittedly was not with a view to document history, although looking back we did so accidentally, which is great news in terms of the BHPR.
Now three years later, the Bear History Project Reboot has grown into an 8-person committee that meets monthly over Zoom and is steadily picking up steam. New members who want to dedicate their skills and talent are most welcomed to join in and Les stresses that if you feel you have an important story to share related to bear history or can point us in the direction of someone that does, to please feel free to reach out via the Bear History Project Reboot Facebook Page. You can also learn more about the mission and methodology of the group by checking out its Wiki Page.
“One of the reasons I stopped doing this (archiving) in 2005 was that bear culture was taking off so fast that one person couldn’t do it alone and I just got overwhelmed” Les said. “For the last year and a half, the BHPR committee has laid the foundation and infrastructure and we’re ready to come out and move forward. We’ll of course see what happens, but the sense is, it will take off again.”
Come help us make (bear) history.