Meet Ben Thomas, Mr. Bear Netherlands 2024

Just before the festivities for Amsterdam Bear Pride kicked off the election was held to determine who would be the next Mr. Bear Netherlands. After a spirited but good natured competition, Ben Thomas took home the title and immediately congratulations started pouring out from all corners of the world to celebrate his victory. Ben is the first bear of color to win the title and as such he’s made history. Recently we sat down with him where he was super forthcoming about his journey into beardom and how he’s grown to realize just how important representation can be in the bear world.

BWM: Can you tell us a bit about your background?

Ben Thomas (BT): I am 43 years old and live with my partner in Amsterdam currently. I was born on the beautiful island of Curaçao in the Dutch Caribbeans. When I was 6 my parents moved to the Netherlands, and I grew up here. So, I’m very Dutch in many ways but without ever forgetting my Caribbeans roots.

Ben Thomas, Mr. Bear Netherlands 2024 (Photo Credit: @norden_magazine)

BWM: What drew you to the bear community? 

BT: My ex-boyfriend had a big bear beard and we always joked that we should be more part of the Bear community which we weren’t at the time. Not so long after, we saw an ad for Bear Necessity here in Amsterdam and decided to go. That was my introduction to the bear world. At that particular time I was pretty fit and in good shape so didn’t feel like I belonged to the Bear community, but the Universe had different plans for me hahaha.

In December 2022, I had an accident and had a severe concussion. I was in bad shape and couldn’t work. I briefly lost my balance and couldn’t work out or lift anything heavy for more than a year.  

I was at home and depressed and got confronted with all the old emotions and shit I didn’t want to deal with. You should know at this point that I grew up in a religious cult and only got out when I was 34 years old. But because of this I’ve been shunned by my entire family of almost 10 years now. This combined with the fact that I experienced a lot of physical and emotional abuse in the cult and at home, well, you can imagine what it does to your psyche. 

Pretty soon after escaping the cult I discovered drugs and found a way to quiet all these negative voices that told me that I was sinful for being homosexual and that I was not good enough and never would be. 

So being sick at home and confronted with so many unprocessed emotions made me want to smoke even more cannabis and I started to eat to comfort my inner child who was hurt and was seeking  approval. With this I started gaining a lot of weight and hated myself even more for this. 

A wonderful friend of mine who had also escaped the cult invited me to attend a chem sex therapy group with him. At first I didn’t want to because I’m not a chem sex kind of guy, but he was pretty convincing and persistent. After attending I realized that I needed help to connect back to myself and learn to love and accept myself the way I am in my current situation. 

The rest of 2023 was a year of healing and learning to love myself unconditionally. This also meant loving my body just the way it is right now. By this time I pretty much had a bear body. 

This whole experience taught me so much about myself. It taught me to be compassionate with myself and because of that also compassionate with others and their situations. Winning Mr. Bear 2024 was the culmination of this amazing journey to loving my inner bear and bear body. 

BWM: What made you want to compete for the title of Mr. Bear Netherlands?

BT: My predecessor encouraged me to do so and told me I would make a great Mr. Bear. I wasn’t very interested at first but he kept on persisting. Also, one of the organizers of Mr. Bear NL heard my story and kept asking me to participate. I thought about it and after much consideration decided to participate. 

BWM: Tell us about the competition and Amsterdam Bear Pride this year.

BT: This year the competition was tough. We had three very good candidates for the title. All three of us had very different talents. I chose to do a dance routine inspired by vogueing. I’m not a voguer myself but I took a lesson to get a few basics down. The number two of the contest was a 1,97m (6,4ft) daddy with a great voice and 26,000 followers. So, I knew I had to come up with something very good to beat him. During the vogueing class the idea was born to do it on high heels. You can imagine with my big bear body this was a huge challenge. I couldn’t even walk on high heels properly let along dance on them. So, this forced me to practice my ass off and so I did. The rest is history!

The whole weekend of Amsterdam Bear Pride was a celebration of body positivity and owning your uniqueness. I owned mine by dancing on high heels and wearing my beautiful earrings that are slightly fem.  

(Photo Credit: @norden_magazine)

BWM: Tell us about your platform. What was the issue you campaigned on or addressed during the competition?

BT: My platform was twofold. I wanted to bring more color and diversity to the scene here in Amsterdam to start with. The Netherlands is very multi-cultural because of its many colonies it had in the past, but this is not reflected in the Bear scene which is very white here in Amsterdam. 

But being the first Mr. Bear Netherlands of color puts me in the perfect position to bring these two worlds together. I have a few ideas and I have a full year to realize them. 

The other part of my platform is self-care or what I like to call Bear Care. I’m a big believer that you can only build a strong community if you have strong community members. This means that every single member of our community shares the responsibility to take care of themselves physically but also mentally. Only then we have the strength to support each other. 

One of the problems that I see in our scene is the use or the abuse of drugs. This is a very very very sensitive subject since people don’t like to be told what to do. So, before the competition I spoke with an organization here in Amsterdam that focusses on the safe use of drugs, with all the consequences of usage, and not so much immediate abstinence. This way members of our community have a choice and don’t feel like they are being judged or told what to do.

I also post Bear Care vids on my Instagram page to remind Bears to take care of their bears, do a face mask, meditate or read a stimulating book. 

BWM: What are the responsibilities associated with your title? 

BT: It’s expected of me to be visible at socials in the Bear scene but also show support to other scenes like the leather and rubber scenes. Also to organize events where Bears feel welcome and, in my case, try to bring more color to our scene. In the near future I might be asked to participate in judging panels for competitions of other titles. It is going to be a very very busy year for me….

BWM: What are your goals for your title year? Where will you be appearing?

BT: My goal is bringing more color to the bear scene in Amsterdam and hopefully the rest of the country, and promote self-care. And just leading by example and showing love and kindness everywhere I go. I take my title very seriously in this way. I want to be remembered as a kind Mr. Bear who made people feel good about themselves. 

I will be appearing at Cologne Pride, Brussels Bear Pride and Darklands in Antwerpen in 2025. 

But for me personally I’m really looking forward to Amsterdam Canal Pride in August where I will be appearing on the Bear Boat. This for me will be one of the highlights of the year. I love our Pride and it is unique because it’s celebrated on boats through the canals of our beautiful city. Nowhere else in the world do we celebrate pride like this.

(Photo Credit: @norden_magazine)

BWM: Upon the announcement of your win several prominent bears of color took to social media to congratulate you and celebrate your win. What does winning this title mean to you and can you tell us about your experience in the bear community as a man of color?

BT: This was an almost out of body experience. To be honest I didn’t give it much thought that I was the first Bear of color to win the title at first. It was only after I won, and the reactions started coming in that I realized the impact I had. From all over the world I’m getting messages from people of color congratulating and thanking me for being an example for them. On the Saturday after we celebrated my win, at the main event of the Bear pride week here, the Bear Necessity party, a guy from Ivory-Coast (in Africa) came and asked me if he could also participate in the Mr. Bear competition because he has never seen a Mr. Bear of color before. Right after that a Bear from South Africa came to me with tears in his eye almost rejoicing that finally we are being seen in the scene now that I won. 

I honestly did not realize how important and empowering representation is and I intend to inspire other BOC (Bears of color) to strive to better themsleves and be more visible in the Dutch Bear scene.

BWM: What is your favorite part of being a bear? And where can we as a community improve?

BT: I love the fact how despite how much shame there is put on bigger bodies that I have found my inner sexy. So much so that I was able to stand on stage and do my act for the Mr. Bear competition only wearing a harness, a thong and my high heels. So being bigger and still dancing and moving like skinny bitches gives me a kick! I also love the fact that I don’t have to stress about staying thin or losing weight but just enjoying life as it comes.

Our community can improve in the area of queer and fem bears. I notice even for myself that when going to a bear party here I’m worried that people are gonna think that I’m too fem if I wear my beautiful earrings or that extra-large ring on my finger. But more and more I’m breaking that limitation and more and more I’m becoming myself and expressing it in what I wear and how I carry myself.

Keep up with Ben Thomas, Mr. Bear Netherlands 2024 on Instagram @Bentho2980

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John Hernandez

John Hernandez is the Editor in Chief of Bear World Magazine. In addition to bear culture, he specializes in entertainment writing with a special focus on horror and genre films. He resides in New York City with his husband.

One thought on “Meet Ben Thomas, Mr. Bear Netherlands 2024

  • Ben, I want to congratulations you on making history, I am so proud to see another Afro Caribbean become a spoke person to othe bears of color and diversity.
    If you ever need any help I am here for you, Congratulations!!, go make history!!
    Ali Lopez International Mr LeatherBear 2019-24, Bear World Magazine Icon and Member Of the Centaur Motorcycle Club!

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