"Welcoming"

Words of Love and Encouragement to Bears Of Color.

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As Black History Month comes to a close, 

BearsLA would like to honor one of our long time members who has been a major force behind our organization: James Fields

 

He often goes unsung and has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make Bears L.A. successful.

At our last meeting, some of our members brought up the topic that Black men in various Bear Communities were saying that they felt unwelcome at different bear events in LA and elsewhere.We began to discuss the possible reasons why and how Bears L.A., while being a diverse and welcoming organization to everyone, could make sure that all bears and admirers feel even more welcome at our events and help them navigate feelings of not belonging.

James began to recount his experience to us about being the only Black man at Bears LA events, at time when it wasn’t as diverse as it is today, and how he navigated through the adversity and what he learned from it. I thought it would great for him to share his experience for anyone who has or is currently feeling unwelcome in any way.

So in his own words, James Fields:

"Recently a few members of Bears LA lamented to me that they heard some concerns from black men in the Bear community that they didn't feel comfortable at Bear events, not just in the L.A. area where I am from but across the country. This is something I really relate to as I have been a member of our local Bear group for years and have attended numerous bear events across the country. I can only recount my own experiences and I'm in agreement with the fact that I wasn't made to feel welcome initially when attending bear events. I was even made to feel unwelcomed in my own house when hosting a bear pool party but I will give the details of this later.

I would first like to impart some history regarding Bears LA. The founder of Bears LA was a friend of mine. We once had a conversation where he told me that he was going on vacation to Europe in a few weeks. I told him that he should reach out to the Bears of London to see if they were having any events that he could attend while he was there. I had read some great things about them. He did attend some of their events in London and had such a great time on his vacation there, he decided to form Bears LA when he got back. I have always been attracted to bears so he invited me to become a member as soon as the group was formed. After the formation, I attended a number of events but not with any consistency because I wasn't really made to feel welcome either. There were only 2 board members besides my friend who founded the group that bothered to chat with me at early events I attended. One of them is still a friend of mine today. At that time I could strongly sense that it wouldn't have mattered at all to many of the other bear members if I wasn't there. I'm a friendly guy, but not overly so and I don't self-identify as a bear. Nor do I consider myself a 'chaser'. I'm not the kind of guy who would chase anyone. I more identify as a bear admirer.

Anyway, my patronage of the Bears LA events was minimal until I was fortunate enough to meet and get involved with one very handsome bear. I would take him with me to some of the Bears LA events and suddenly many of the bears that previously ignored me, would speak to me. For the most part, they weren’t really that interested in anything that I had to say. They were only interested in my then partner. This was made clear to me by the disrespect that some of them demonstrated. Some of them would come up to me and not ask me how I'm doing, they would ask me how he doing, just as if I didn't matter. Even with the disrespect, I did eventually get the opportunity to meet a lot of bears in the L.A. Bear community. After a while, my then partner was asked to enter a couple of the Mr. Bear L.A. contests and eventually, he stepped up and became a Bears L.A. board member. A while after he was on the board, he asked if I would come and sit in on some of the board meetings as he felt the organization was having some issues that I might be able to give some advice about. After attending some board meetings, I was asked if would step up and join the governing board of Bears LA so I accepted. Since then, I have had a number of incidents where I was not really accepted but it didn't deter me from showing up. I attended a few bear events where Bears LA was an exhibitor. When attempting to engage people by starting with a polite hello, I sometimes got served shade and some of the bears just walked right past me not responding at all, except when I had a bear friend of mine or my bear boyfriend with me. They always stopped and my bear friend and bear boyfriend never experienced the same issue.

I was once disrespected in my own house when hosting a pool party one year, these 3 guys started playing in my Den. I asked them to go outside or go the designated space and they completely ignored me. It wasn't until my boyfriend came into the Den and told these guys that I was the homeowner that they stopped and when outside. At that moment I realized that these guys couldn't imagine that I, a black man was the actual owner of the home. I remember the shocked look on their faces when they finally got that it was my house and I had the right to stop them from desecrating my den. My boyfriend told me that a number of guys paid him compliments on the house knowing we were a couple but presuming he was the homeowner because he is white. He would let them know that I was the person whom they should be acknowledging because I owned the home.

There have been times when I felt unwelcome but I realized that it wasn't always because I'm black. Sometimes I was because I am not a bear in the traditional sense. Many bears prefer other bears. Through it all, I made a decision a long time ago that if they have a problem with me, that is their problem, I wasn't going to make it mine. I'm a fairly happy person so smiling comes naturally to me. My philosophy is that if someone is not smiling, I just give them one of yours. If you sometimes feel uncomfortable at bear events, don't give up on going. Familiarity breeds eventual acceptance. Be friendly and smile. You might be surprised at what could happen. If it would help, I have some suggesting for Bear organizations who are aware of this issue and wanting to become more accepting. I am open to chatting with anyone about this."

If you are a bear or an admirer who has gone through similar situations, whether that be due to race, body type or any other circumstance where you didn't feel welcome, we want you to know the Bears LA is always there to welcome you not matter who you are.

Please have fun with us, come to our events when we're able to have them and join our organization! We'll be happy to have you!

For more information about Bears LA, go to bearsla.org and please reach out to us or anyone of our members.

#BlackHistoryMonth #BearsLA #JamesFields #BlackBears #bearsofcolor #allbearsandadmirersarewelcome 

Posted on Facebook on February 27, 2021