Why Black Bear Brotherhood?
By L. Michael Gipson
Big Boy Pride. Heetizm. Heavy Hitters. T.H.I.C.K. Da Big Dawgs. So many groups and events that came before us, on whose shoulders we stand. Spaces created for and by Black gay, bi, SGL, pansexual, and gender non-conforming men of size who wanted to see bigger, wider, more luscious bodies get centered and celebrated. The Black Bear Brotherhood (BBB) was borne to follow the spirit of their example and would not exist without those entities that came before us. BBB was also moved to create a unique kind of personal space for Black gay, bi, SGL, and gender non-conforming men of size and their allies/admirers that is distinct from our forebearers. We could not be without them any more than BBB could exist without the foundation laid by forefathers like Richard Bruce Nugent, Wallace Thurman, Alain Locke, Tony Jackson, James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Chester Himes, Billy Strayhorn, Dr. Donald Shirley, Andy Bey, Labi Siffre, Sylvester, Ellis Haizlip, Tony Washington, Essex Hemphill, Joseph Beam, Marlon Riggs, Assoto Saint, Issac Julien, Melvin Dixon, Steven Corbin, Craig G. Harris, Mario Cooper, Gil Gerald, Reginald Harris, Samuel R. Delaney, Dr. Ibrahim Farajajé, Dr. Ron Simmons, Phill Wilson, Curtis Lipscomb, Larry Levan, Ron Hardy, Frankie Knuckles, RuPaul, Kevin Aviance, Patrik Ian Polk, E. Lynn Harris, James Earl Hardy, Stanley Bennett Clay, Steven G. Fullwood, Mufasa Ali, John Keene, Keith Boykins, Thomas Glave, Marlon James, Darnell L. Moore, Charles Stephens, the creatives of Pomo Afro Homos, the artists of Adodi Muse, the rappers of Deep Dickollective, the men of Adodi, the men of Onyx, and so many artists, writers, activists, organizers, and academics who came before us, making a way for Black gay/bi/SGL/GNC men to be seen and to live lives of dignity, respect, and achievement. We urge any of you who feel negatively about being who and what you are to go and research this purposely laundry listed names of men and be awed. We at BBB are of a beautiful, complicated lineage. This lineage is one we embrace. It is also one that owes a deep debt to the ‘60s to ‘90s-era Black feminists that inspired the voices, works, and perspectives of many of their allied brothers from those same eras as it does to the men whose names we uplift.
It is because of them that Black Bear Brotherhood is focused on arts, culture, politics, economics, and wellness, as much as it is committed to men having a healthier vision of the bodies they live in, carry, love, struggle in/with, and that are loved and lusted after. More than a dedication to body positivity and affirmed race and sexuality, BBB is interested in focusing on the whole brother, celebrating the many intersections of social and cultural identities that comprise the everyday man of BBB. So, in a BBB space you’ll hear as much about gaming and anime as much as you will voting rights and loving the skin you’re in—even the sex we most enjoy having, because BBB men are their race, body, sexuality, gender expressions, but we’re also more than that, and all of it needs feeding, all of it needs nurturing, all of it needs a space to just unapologetically be, without explanation or permission. Whether online or at a chapter event, monthly potluck, weekly bar night, book club meeting, or quarterly forum, BBB strives to be that for those brothers who share the aspiration of realizing our mission, values, and principles a little bit more every day, to be the kind of men we want to be and live our best life.
BBB started as a monthly potluck on Memorial Day Weekend in Detroit, MI in 2017 at my home. The idea was based on a roving card party that brothers over 30 in Philadelphia cultivated to create a space just to be together outside of clubs and bars that had grown younger by the day. It was also crafted out of a simple need to connect and have fellowship with good brothers who desired a sanctuary where they could bring their whole selves and be embraced. Simultaneously, it also functions as a space where they could still be challenged from a place of love, not a place of judgment or condemnation or phobia, to be even better, to realize the best self each brother has it within them to be. A place where both those brothers into kink and those who have zero interest in fetish would be equally affirmed as worthy brothers of size. Twelve men showed up that day, played games, debated, shared, drank, smoked, ate, and had the time of their lives just being in one another’s company. Today, that same space averages 45 brothers per potluck and is growing.
From that monthly potluck of cubs, bears, chubs, otters, superchubs, chasers, big boys, and good old-fashioned “I don’t do labels” brotherly supporters, there has emerged a movement with four chapters and counting. The movement wasn’t any more intentional than the location of those chapters, whose founding leadership decided they wanted to answer the call and challenge of building and mobilizing community right where they lived, men who felt BBB’s aspirational mission, values, and principles were something worth holding themselves and other brothers accountable to.
Others may follow. Maybe not. All we know is that we who are present are here to serve one another, to help one another grow, to check each other’s bull and crazy, to support and celebrate one another to the finished line, whatever that line looks like for each one of us. We know that it was the belief of other Black gay men, brothers at the Counter Narrative Project, who poured faith, resources, and their mentorship into us to help take us to the next level of our journey. And, through their example of solidarity and brotherhood, as well as through that of brothers who give, show up, and show out at each and every BBB event, outing, action, and mobilization, we know exactly who and what we are, and what greatness we’re capable of manifesting together.
Accordingly, we at BBB reject and rebuke any energy that tries to tell us who we are not, from anti-Blackness to homophobia to fatphobia to those who would deny us love, affection, and fellowship because we don’t fit their image of who they think we’re supposed to be. We are us. And, we are damned good at being that and that alone. We don’t have time to try to be anybody else. If you’re here to be part of this experience with us, we don’t believe you have that kind of time to waste either. As my big brother, Reverend Kevin E. Taylor, always says, “All I can be is me; all of those other positions are taken.”
Amen and Ashé.
Welcome to the Brotherhood.