Wearing your underwear in public isn’t something I make a habit of doing.

But it was shortly after the great Queensland floods of January 2011 that I found myself in the basement of the famous Brisbane gay watering hole, the Sportsman Hotel, surrounded by grown men wearing nothing more than their jocks, briefs and boxer shorts.

The Bear community had come together to celebrate all that makes a man a bear by throwing a party appropriately called Underbears.

This was the first time I’d ever appeared in public without clothes and for moral support I had my South African friends along, a 40-something couple called Jan and Pieter. They were the epitome of what a Bear represented and what Premier Bligh meant when she said, “We are Queenslanders! We’re the people that they breed tough, north of the border”.

She could have added we grow them big too. Pieter and Jan were over 6ft and easily tipped the scales just past 100kgs. Handsome beards completed the bearish ensemble.

Jan was the one with the wry sense of humour and he liked to joke that attending Brisbear events made him feel petit. And he was right. In comparison to some of the Bears around us, Jan and Pieter were slim and the XXX-size of the bigger Bears would have made it hard for me to get my arms around them.

Of course, not all Bears where big. Some were average height and weight and they came from every walk of life. Of the men I was introduced to, one was an accountant, another a welder and one was even a rodeo rider. Refreshingly, there was not a sales assistant, hairdresser or florist in sight.

As the night wore on and I relaxed more, I became less conscious of the fact that I was wearing only a pair of camouflage trunks, white socks and running shoes.

Stripped of our usual outer clothing meant we couldn’t pretend to be something we weren’t because our imperfections were all out there for everyone to see. Underwear was the great social leveller.

Watching Jan and Pieter greet their Bear friends with a big kiss and hug made me feel something I rarely experienced in the gay world — I was content to be myself. I no longer worried about not having bigger muscles or a flatter stomach or fewer wrinkles or no grey in my hair. I felt comfortable in my own skin.

By the time I had collected my clothes from the cloakroom and covered my bare flesh, I wondered what it would be like to be a Bear and live life without ever worrying about how you looked or what age you were or what friends you had.

To be a Bear 24 hours a day would be a truly liberating experience. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if everyone was a Bear?

by Paul Purcell

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