A few weeks ago we brought you an interview with Cody Elkin who recently revived the Mr. San Francisco Bear competition. What you don’t know is that we pursued that story at the behest of Manny Santos, the newly crowned Mr. San Francisco Bear 2024 who reached out to us to let us know what was going on. With a gracious and kind heart he asked for us to shine a light on Cody and the work he does with no regard for his own work and accomplishments. We were touched. And indeed we brought you Cody’s story but now we are following it up with Manny’s story.
We are pleased to introduce you to Mr. San Francisco bear 2024, Manny Santos.
BWM: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Manny Santos (MS): My name is Jose Manuel, but all my friends call me Manny. I was born in the country of El Salvador but grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I still reside here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
BWM: What drew you to the bear community?
MS: Growing up I always felt like an outsider. I am 6’5” tall when the average Salvadoran height is 5’7”. My whole family was into soccer and sports while I went the mostly artistic route. And when it came to my love life, I felt like the background extra in someone else’s RomCom. When the bear community found me, not only did I discover a community of people like me, but a family that could see me for me, not based on what I have done, or who I could become. Bears have a big heart and that is what drew me in, and has captivated my own.
BWM: What made you want to compete for the title?
MS: In all sincerity, the original reason I competed was because I had told Cody I would months and months before. I had forgotten I made him that promise until the day he sent me the application. I was like “&%$#!!!!!” As the competition grew closer so did the conviction that I needed to compete not only because I like to be a man of my word, but because representation for bears like me is lacking within the bear community. I wanted to help change that.
BWM: How was your experience competing? What was the process like? What was your favorite part?
MS: This was my first experience with a leather title competition, but with a background in community service and helping raise money through pageants and events I had an Idea. The process was very nerve wracking, but I will say that I was amazed at the level of support and attention from the Den staff. They were so good at what they did that after the first round I felt like a star with a whole team making sure I looked good. We all felt that way. All the contestants felt so taken care of. I went into the competition with the mindset that I was just going to be me and show that I am not “your average bear” and that we come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and amounts of fur, but what I didn’t expect, and what became my favorite part, was walking away with a brotherhood. The amount of love, support, advice and harmony among the contestants was unreal, and even now it brings tears to my eyes because those individuals changed my life in ways they may never fully understand.
BWM: What does winning this title mean to you, specifically?
MS: It means the opportunity to help my community at large.
It means being able to represent the bear community and all its diversity.
It means the beginning of a new legacy for the bear community in San Francisco and the Bay Area. After a decade of hibernation, it’s time.
And it means having a platform to be able to create spaces and events where bears of all types can feel welcomed and represented.
BWM: What are the responsibilities associated with your title?
MS: The responsibilities associated with my title are to represent the bear community and the home bar in all events, community outreaches, and other activities as needed. Also, I’m to create several fundraisers to donate money to charities of my choosing. That is what I am most excited about.
BWM: What are your goals for your title year? Where will you be appearing?
MS: I want to raise a lot of money for charities. That is my most important goal. Secondly is to represent the diversity within the bear community through events, appearances, and social media. Who knows, maybe next year you will see me at Mr World Bear!
BWM: What are some important issues you feel that need to be addressed in the bear/ leather communities?
MS: As I mentioned before, bears have big hearts, but they are also easily hurt or made to feel outside “the norm”. From my own personal experience, I can say that I haven’t felt represented, especially in the marketing of leather and bear events. There is a very specific look that is used when marketing bear events and a particular body type in regard to the leather community, both of which are NOT me and are NOT MOST of the bear community. I know so many bears that don’t come out to events because they feel they don’t fit in. We need to start addressing that as well as creating events and marketing materials that show that diversity.
BWM: What are you working on/ what’s next?
MS: I am working on launching my own underwear line for big boys/bears. More to come on that in the future.