Key West Bear Weekend 2018
Photo by Richard Jones

Key West Bear Weekend 2018

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On the Prowl

By Kevin Assam

There were at least two men of color participants at the coronation of Mr. Key West Bear 2018, in addition to bilinguals, other nationalities, and a variety of age ranges. That’s more than anyone accustomed to the demographics of the Florida Keys’ LGBTQ+ community would have expected. This fit perfectly with Bear World Magazine (BWM) and Shane Tate’s (organizer of Fire Island Bear Weekend and NYC event circuit aficionado)  message of inclusion. Take one look at the International Bear Brotherhood Flag and the shades of “fur” can easily be interpreted as the physical composition of this fast growing and diverse segment of gay culture.

The presentations of this event team hammered home the notion of inclusivity. Multiple continents, countries, states, body builds, and races were on display at the weekend long festivities. That could be said of Fantasy Fest, Tropical Heat, Bone Island and a slew of other events throughout the year. But this event feels different. This feels more like a laid back revival of a part of gay culture that’s not typically spotted strolling down Duval Street.

This writer happens to be a tad too young to fully grasp the intricacies of what prompted the breakaway and establishment of bear culture. Similar to most groups that experience initial marginalization, bears rallied behind the need to represent attitudes and appearances that did not fit the streamlined and hairless looks of the then popular culture. Now, evidenced by BWM and Tate’s refusal to dissuade non-hairy or non-burly attendees, the bear community has grown into its own skin and cemented its position of economic and cultural power leading to the expansion of other “bear-adjacent” identities including pups, cubs, and otters. All of which you are free to google in your own time.

Photo by Kevin Assam

From the arrival of the fire department at the marquee Furball event ,  let’s blame the smoke machines and not the steamy men , to the splashdown opener at Island House Resort and even the historical crowning of Mr. Key West Bear ,  the title ultimately going to Puerto Rican-Dominican Miami local Ryan Acosta. This team got it right. In fact, given Tate’s successful experiences in the New York circuit and teaming up with the forces of Bear World Magazine ,  a leading bear lifestyle website , this team emerged as the real star of the weekend. It would not be a big surprise if their meticulous calculations and ability to read a room help make this and other events financially viable. Potential sponsors should absolutely keep them on their radar.

What are the lasting effects of these festivities on the city? If anything, Key West Bear Weekend has served to remind local bears , and anyone else who may not fit the mainstream mold , that they should feel emboldened to carve out a bigger portion of the Key West LGBTQ+ community.

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Kevin Assam is a young writer who enjoys getting piggy-backs on older bears. He is working on the first in a series of books based on crazy things overheard in Key West.