OPINION: Hey Bears, this is why we should treat our Mama Bears better

We all know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, right? In the story, the Bear family had three members: Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear. Goldilocks, the uninvited visitor, assumes that she is entitled to the Bears’ space, and quickly learns by the end of the tale that she isn’t welcome. 

Goldilocks is the outsider. Even though the Bears all have their separate identities, they’re almost a “Holy Trinity” of sorts. They’re a family who are all affected by Goldilocks’s disregard for their existence, and they are united, not only in their relationship to one another, but in their call for justice. Our Bear community is a family; We have our Bears (Papa Bears), our Cubs (Baby Bears), so it’s only fitting that we also have our Mama Bears. We need to make sure we protect one another.

But the topic, for some reason, seems a bit controversial in the Bear community. So many of us want to own the Bear community as some sort of He-Man Woman Haters Club. Yes, the Bear community is a space that was created for hairy gay and bisexual men of a certain size, however many of us forget that these spaces were often nurtured by women. 

When speaking to former Ms. New Jersey Leather and current Ms. World Bear, Nikki Wireman, the image of her as a mother is undeniable. Nikki, who we also refer to as “Mama Bear” and “The Queen of the Bears”, began identifying with the Bear community during the 80s at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. 

In my recent podcast interview with Nikki, she recalls being kicked out of her house at a young age for being a lesbian, and being taken in by two Bears, who she refers to as her “Papa Bears”. “If it weren’t for them, I don’t know where I’d be,” she says.

She eventually found her place in the Bear community, and after being Christened “Mama Bear” by a friend at a Bear bar, the name stuck. Nikki felt at home with the Bears, and she was welcomed with open arms.

During this time, Nikki also began to care for some of her Bear friends who were suffering with AIDS. Through teary eyes, she recalls those very difficult days, and some of the dear friends who are no longer with her. 

This is why Nikki, who also has a son, continues to be Mama Bear to the community; She wants to be there for her Bears and Cubs as much as possible, whether it be at a bar night or a sex club. “You need someone to serve shots, I’m there. You need someone to pass out condoms, you got me”, she jokes. 

Nikki’s story, though unique and special, echoes the stories of many other women, both queer and heterosexual, I’ve heard throughout the years. One of the most popular stories circulated on social media belongs to Ruth Coker Burks.

Ruth Coker Burks was a woman from Arkansas who cared for hundreds of dying gay men in the 1980s and 1990s. In an article from Out Magazine adapted from a 2015 article from the Arkansas Times, Burks recalls the moment she was moved to care for those dying from AIDS complications. 

When she was a 25-year-old young mother, Burks went to University Hospital to care for a friend with cancer. While there, she curiously entered the room of a young, dying man who asked for his mother. She told the nurses who laughed and told her that his mother wasn’t coming. 

She was able to locate a phone number for the man’s mother, but when she called, the man’s mother told her that her son was a sinner and she didn’t care what happened to him. He was already dead to her. 

Ruth then went back to the man’s room, and in a dazed state he called her “Mama”. “I went back to his room,” Burks said, “and when I walked in, he said, ‘Oh, momma. I knew you’d come,’ and then he lifted his hand. And what was I going to do? So I took his hand. I said, ‘I’m here, honey. I’m here.’ I stayed with him for 13 hours while he took his last breaths on Earth.”

Burks’ story is extremely touching, and it demonstrates the level of compassion that women and female Bears have for their Cubs. Whether they are straight allies or members of the queer community, Mama Bears have been an important part in the growth, nurture and stability of our Bear community. 

Another reason why welcoming our lady Bears is important is because many of them are also queer themselves. Yes, it is important for every community under the queer umbrella to have its own space. However, having our own space is not synonymous with completely isolating and disregarding other members of our family. Any queer space that does not openly welcome all queers completely defeats the purpose of having a queer space. 

For this reason, World Bear has created the Ms. World Bear title, in addition to the already existing World Bear and World Cub titles. The first winner of the Ms. World Bear title in 2018 was Oshun Onyx, our first Queen of the Bears. Nikki Wireman, Ms. World Bear 2019, will now be holding the title through 2021, since the World Bear competition will be postponed to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Other female Bear titleholders now include Sunny Haynes, Virginia Mama Bear 2020, and Lisa Smith, North American Mama Bear 2019, who we also covered in our special Mother’s Day Mama Bear feature.

Needless to say, it appears that our Mama Bears are making their presence known for anyone who may have forgotten the contributions that they have made, and continue to make, to our community. Mama Bears are nurturers, protectors, counselors, friends, allies, lovers and partners of our Bear family, and we should treat them as such. 

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Kyle Jackson

Kyle Jackson (He/Him) is Senior Staff Writer at Gray Jones Media, and additionally works as a writer, editor and theatre artist/actor. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, he studied at Dillard University, received a BA in Theatre from Morgan State University, an MS in Arts Administration from Drexel University, and completed the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer in Oxford Programme in 2017. Having lived in Baltimore, the Washington, DC area, Philadelphia and New York City, he now resides and works in London, United Kingdom.