This past December, the Connecticut leather and bear community came together to choose a new title holder – the handsome and adorable Mike Criscuolo!
Mike is a 25 year old bear based in Branford, CT that is rather new to the bear community, with a heart of gold and a personality that shines brighter than his stunning smile.
I recently caught up with him to discuss winning the 2023 Connecticut Bear title, and what we can expect next from him!
Bryce Quartz: Hey there, Mike, how are you doing today?
Mike Criscuolo: Hey Bryce. I’m doing pretty good. Doing my best to keep warm during these chillier days. Definitely feeling like a big bear getting ready for hibernation lately.
BQ: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
MC: I’m Mike aka Mikey Bear. I’m a leather bear who loves being active in my community by planning events, performing at drag shows with the Imperial Sovereign Court of All Connecticut and just supporting my friends and some of the amazing local queer owned businesses we have here in CT.
I’m also a big fan of LGBTQIA+ history especially when it comes to the bear and leather communities and I believe it’s important to educate the people around me about the people and events that have allowed us to have the freedoms today that many of us take for granted. I’m also very big on body positivity and helping others accept who they are inside and out whether that’s just from posting some positive words to my Instagram story or working with them individually to help them release the fear and self hatred that builds up over time.
BQ: What was your journey like that led to you identifying as a bear, and what is the most important thing about the bear community to you?
MC: Growing up I was always a big kid. I was taller, broad and chunky, I was embarrassed by my size and often covered up especially in the pool or at the beach. Around the same time I was realizing I was gay, I also began growing hair and discovered my attraction to larger hairier men which is how at a young age in my preteen years I discovered I was going to be a bear.
Upon this discovery I dove deeper into the history of the bear community and learned about the flag and how the community was created as well as the custom of the bear and leather contests. The most important thing about being a bear and the bear community as a whole is inclusion. The bear community was created because the bigger and hairier guys weren’t welcome in typical gay spaces and groups because they didn’t fit a mold. So instead they created the bear community with inclusion as a fundamental ideology.
BQ: So let’s get right into the good stuff. How did you first find out about the Connecticut Bear Contest and what made you want to compete for the 2023 title?
MC: Back in my teen years when I was reading about contests and things like that I knew I Wanted to run for one when I was older. My decision to run for 2023 goes back to 2022. I decided to run for CT Bear 2022 when I joined the Northeast Ursamen, the group that produces the CT Bear Contest as well as Out of Hibernation and Spooky Bear, Summer of 2022. I wanted an opportunity to dive in even more than I had been and really get involved. So I ran and I got first runner up. I had only really been around in the community locally for 6 months at that point and I still got first runner up against someone who I have so much respect for who’s been active in the community longer than I’ve been alive. So that night when I lost, I decided I’d run again the next year and have my own All Stars redemption arc.
BQ: How has winning the title affected your life so far?
MC: I’ve gotten a lot of Facebook friend requests and I’ve been interacting with a lot of other title holders from around the country and across the globe even more than I had been already. Emotionally I’m a little nervous. Winning the contest is the easy part. That’s just one day of stressing over but now there’s a whole year ahead of me and even more after my step down. I’m excited for what’s to come for sure. I just hope I can live up to everyone’s expectations of me without losing sense of who I am. I know I’ll be just fine but it’s definitely something on my mind.
BQ: How will you use your platform to promote growth and change within the bear community?
MC: My big platform is body positivity and loving yourself. I know so many guys still struggle with that and I know how tough it can be. I’ve been there. I’ve covered up I’ve been afraid to show who I am. But if you work at it, you can overcome those fears of judgement and self hatred and really focus on loving the skin you’re in and realizing you’re sexy at any size. I’m also going to work on breaking down the barriers that separate us. There’s still so many cliques: the muscle bears, the otters, the daddy bears, the chubs. Everyone has a label and whole labels are great for figuring out where you fit in, they shouldn’t be exclusive. You don’t need to interact solely with people who are just like you or that you’re sexually attracted to. This is a community. A family. We’re all outcasts and we should be doing everything in our power to lift each other up. Not tear each other down.
BQ: Where can the community connect with you in the near future? Are there any events you’re currently planning that you can give us a sneak peek on?
MC: Throughout the year I already have some events planned and in the works. You’ll definitely catch me at MAL in DC in January, Out Of Hibernation in Ptown in March and Spooky Bear in Ptown in October. I’m also going to be hosting some amazing events like a Jocktion with jocks from all your favorite bears, pups, daddies, title holders and more, as well as other events like a paint and sip with a local artist, and even fundraisers to wax my chest or put me into drag. You can also catch me every other month at my all inclusive kink night, IGNITION: Ignite The Kink Within, every 4th Saturday of odd months at 168 York Street Cafe in New Haven. Definitely keep an eye out. All of the events will be fundraisers for The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation which helps people around the world with Body Dysmorphia which is such a major issue in our community.
BQ: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Mike!
Be sure to follow Mikey Bear on social media to keep up to date with what he’s doing next.