Woof! Bears Perth are going strong in 2024 with a range of events

The Perth Bears have been an active community group for decades and in 2024 they’re going stronger than ever and pushing their message of inclusivity and acceptance.

OUTinPerth recently caught up with Bears President Kingsley Dawes, and Stewart Wheeler the 2023 winner of the Mr. Bear Perth competition.

There are always new people entering the LGBTI community, there’s younger people, there’s people coming out later in life, and if they’ve not come across bears before, how do you define a bear?

Kinglsey:  This is a very, very good question and one of the funny things about this is that it tends to change with generations and tends to change with people. But the bear movement started about being a group of people that felt body positivity, that didn’t necessarily fit into another crowd.

They were usually larger guys, hairier guys that didn’t necessarily feel fully supported inside, like a disco crowd or a muscle crowd or anything like that. So, they became their own group, and that’s what bears is about. It’s about having a comfortable environment where male identifying people can socialise and meet with other men and make friends.

It doesn’t really matter nowadays if you’re big or hairy, or bearded or non-bearded. You’ll be welcomed at Bears. I think that’s the ethos of bears. That it’s inclusive and body positive.

There’s a lot of people who are bear fans, that that don’t fit a bear mold, but very much want to be involved in the bear community, so they’re more than welcome.

We have different races, we have people with disabilities, we have cis-males, we have trans males. We have a whole gamut of people that come along to bears now that are very, very non-traditional, and this is what’s been happening in bears is in the 20 years that I’ve been going, there’s been a real shift towards a different crowd and we’re really uber-happy about that.

I’ve always found Bears events to be really friendly and welcoming, but I think it’s really important as a community that we make sure events are welcoming to the transgender community. 

Kingsley: We also have Community Nights once a quarter, because we realize there are a lot of bear fans that are female identifying, or they’re non-binary, who want to be part of the community.

I can tell you some of the biggest nights we’ve had! If I look back are our community nights from the last year, which was open gender and our ‘meet and greet’ that we hosted for Australian Pups and Handlers, which was also open gender, they were our two biggest nights of the year.

Stewart, you’re the current title holder of Mr. Bear Perth, what did you have to do to earn this annual competition?

Stewart: They really put you through the ringer.  The first part of the competition was on how you engage with the community. How you socialise and that was the ‘Meet the Bears’ night. That was all about making sure that you can socialise with people, you talk, you really make people feel welcome, and just what your presence is going to be like.

The second part was the competition, and it was split into three sections. First you had down model an ‘Everyday Bear’ look, which was what you wear every day. The next section was the ‘Bear Necessities’ which was when you stripped down and show everyone literally who you were. A bit more risqué, a bit more seductive and sexier.

The final part was a talent section, which was like ‘get up there and do whatever you’d like to do’ whether it was like singing, dancing or performance. Pretty much anything that was your talent or something you just want to show.

We need to know what your special talent was.

Stewart: This was the hardest part for me. I wanted to a performance that really showed who I am.  So, I just a little himbo muscle performance, it turned into a little song and dance around to Macho Man, and I just tried to flex my muscles as much as I could.

Kingsley: Every competitor had to have a charity that they were going to support for this year. We’ve had some amazing charities from our previous Mr. Perth Bears, including Transfolk of WA and the M Clinic. We make an initial donation to all the charities that contestants nominate and then do more work with the winner’s selection, and for Stewart that is…..drumroll.

Stewart: WAAC!

For that round where you have to expose a little bit more of yourself, what’s that like? Because I’ve been to this event before, it’s a big, crowded room full of people. 

That one was quite nerve-racking for me, to be honest. The vibe in the room was great. You could tell that everyone’s really there to like, come out and see you and support you.  I actually had my sister and my best friend, who was straight, in the audience, and they’d never obviously seen me strip down before. I had to talk my 72-year-old mum from coming.

The Bears community is incredibly accepting and incredibly diverse. They’re very welcoming. Walking out absolutely nerve-racking but once you got onto the stage you could feel the love coming, so it was really nice.

The Bears Perth will host their Community Den Night on Saturday 10th February from 8.00pm until midnight and the Loton Park Clubhouse on the corner of Lord Street and Bulwer Street in Highgate.

Upcoming events include Bears Do Board Games on 18th February at The Queens Tavern, the Bearovision party in collaboration with Euroclub to celebrate Eurovision 2024, and they’ll be a leather and fetish night at Steamworks on 22nd March.

Stewart Wheeler will be heading to Southern HiBEARrnation in Melbourne in March to see if he can take out the Mr Australian Bear title.

Head to the Bears Perth website for all their news and events. 

Graeme Watson 

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