BWM: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Rainer: My name is Rainer, I was born 1975 in Bavaria, in Germany, and I have been living in Brighton since 2016. I have previously lived for 20 years in Berlin, and there I found my husbear and my love for bears!
BWM: What drew you to the bear community?
Rainer: Since I was young, I was always attracted to the bigger type of man. Around 18 years old, I went into my first Bear Bar and this was the place I wanted to be. But as a young slim gay man I never really felt included. In the 90’s, there was this stereotype that everyone had to be clean shaved, slim and fit, which I didn’t like. Ok, I was slim, but I loved to grow a beard and I loved body hair on others and on me – I don’t have much but what I have I am proud of haha!
But the truth was: I never felt included. When I visited Berlin, that started to change. The Bear scene wasn’t big there yet, but there was this group who met once a month in a bear bar and I became a member of their organization. I also found a man with a hairy belly and a beard, and that pushed me to move to Berlin. That was 1996. This group of people started organising little parties now and then and they grew with every party. Now they are organising/managing the biggest Bear events in Berlin like Bear Dance, Unshaved, Woof Bar and many more.
And then about 12 and a half years ago I met my amazing husbear, he was a bear cub and turned me into the bear I am now. Finally, I was accepted for who I am, I became confident with my body and gained weight.
BWM: What made you want to compete for the title?
Rainer: As I mentioned before I never felt very included in the mainstream gay scene. But the Bear scene always made me feel welcome and I realised that with them it is not only about how you look, but who you are. When I moved to Brighton UK with my husbear, everything was new and we wanted to make friends and we found them in the bear community. This Bear group organises Brighton Bear Weekend every year, which I’ve enjoyed each time since I moved here. Every time I’ve visited a different place, the bear community welcomed and accepted me in their community, and I thought it was time to show that support from my side, and make the Brighton Bears more visible by bringing everyone together and growing the community. And since I’m more comfortable in my skin and very body positive lately and I thought it was the right time to compete.
BWM: How was your experience competing? What was the process like?
Rainer: First, I have to say, if you ever thought of joining a competition, do it!
I had to step out of my comfort zone, but every step was and is an amazing experience.
We had a YouTube interview beforehand and then there was online voting from the public on the Brighton Bear Weekend homepage. Throughout the voting period we could use all internet platforms to promote ourselves and get online points, every vote was a half point. But most important was the vote taking place during Brighton Bear Weekend where the Mr. Bear contest took place.
On Friday, we had to present three different looks and go through live interviews on stage. There the people could vote with coins (full points) and on Saturday during the garden party the winner was announced. All of this was so much fun, the organisers and the other competitors have been so supportive, it just felt like we were all old friends and just having fun.
BWM: What are your goals for your title year? Where will you be appearing?
Rainer: My goals are to make the Brighton Bear community more visible and show the world we are a beautiful town with a nice Queer, Bear, Leather and Puppy scene. Brighton has amazing Queer Pubs, Bars and Clubs, but we also have an amazing network of community support here. And this is what I want to reaise awareness about. For example, we have the Ledward Center which is a queer safe space with a lot of projects in the centre of the town. It provides a cafe, meeting rooms, a cinema and it houses the Rainbow Hub, a signposting service for the LGBTQ+ community and a third party report centre for hate crimes, and it is also a place at which I volunteer.
In addition, I want to support the Mr Brighton Bear title holders of the previous years with their monthly bear social event. This event is more like a ‘Stammtisch’ where we meet, chat and socialise. We just had our 1st year anniversary, and it is very popular. It happens on every first Saturday of the month, from 4PM, and it currently takes place at the Restaurant Arcobaleno in Brighton.
Brighton Bear Weekend has also started a new lovely small party series, which is called ‘Bears at The Fallen Angle’. This party follows the Brighton Bears social, also on every first Saturday of the month. The doors are open from 8:30 to 00:30 at The Fallen Angel in Brighton. I am supporting this event as well.
There are so many great things happening here in Brighton so I don’t want to forget ‘Lunch Positive’, ‘The Sussex Beacon’, the ’Brighton Rainbow Fund’ and many other groups who help the community and I just want to thank all the volunteers who help support us. I cannot forget to mention our own LGBTQ+ rugby team, the Sea Serpents, who I proudly support and sometimes cheer for on the sidelines! Brighton has a lot to offer for everyone, and I hope to work more with these organisations, and encourage more people to volunteer.
Ohhh and of course, I want to be at more Bear events around the world. In February I will judge for the Mr. Bear Carnival in Gran Canary, I’ll attend the Easter Bear Dance in Berlin, Bear Pride Amsterdam in June and many many more.. just check my Instagram or Facebook.
BWM: What are some important issues you feel that need to be addressed in the bear community?
Rainer: In my spare time I travel a lot and I feel like the bear community is a bit different everywhere I go, with people adding their uniqueness and multiculturalism to this beautiful community. But it is not always perfect, and there is always room for improvement.
Sometimes I feel our community still focuses on stereotypes and that can lead to exclusion. Someone asked me once how I could win this title, as I am not hairy enough. And even though that person probably did not mean this as a harmful comment, something like that can be hurtful, especially to those who are still coming to terms with their body, their sexuality and their identity. Thankfully I have great support from my family, friends and community, and I took it without offence. But in general, I think we should be mindful that people are great just the way they are, and their individuality is what makes them special. As bears, we have experienced body shaming, exclusion and stereotyping before, so we should always do better and work towards a society where our differences should be celebrated, not hidden.
I should also add that this is probably just a small part of our community. And I like to believe that we are changing for the better. Brighton Bear Weekend is a free and open event to everyone, regardless of who they are, how they look and what they are into. Our Mr. Brighton Bear competition welcomes all contestants to compete. I am proud to represent Brighton, a beautiful seaside town that is a great about being inclusive.
BWM: Where can we find you? Websites? Social Media?
Rainer: You can find me everywhere in Brighton! HAHA Brighton is not big, it is easy to find me here! But as I said I travel a lot and I plan to continue going to Bear events. If you see me, in Brighton or somewhere in the world, just say hi and you will get a bear hug! (A lot of people say I give great bear hugs!)