(Photos of Jay by Edward Lindquist)
JAY EDWARDS: Your Cub For All Seasons!
The Stonewall Inn, in New York City’s colorful Greenwich Village, is considered to be the birthplace of the modern gay liberation movement after being the site of the famous Stonewall Riots in June 1969. Forty-two years later, in June 2011, Stonewall held its first-ever “Mr. Stonewall Bear Contest”. Actor/musician/model Mike Fass, AKA “Drummerbear”, won the Title of Mr. Stonewall Bear 2011, and 22-year old Jay Edwards won Mr. Stonewall Cub 2011. Raised in Virginia and now living in Connecticut, Edwards spends a lot of time in New York City. The 5’10”, 315 lb. Bear could be seen shaking his ample charms with The Boys of BEAR-lesque to raise money for charity one night, and hanging out at New York’s woofy hangout Rockbar the next. A member of the NYC Metrobears, the young cub hopes to use his Title and his creative talents to unite the gay community in a unique way. He wants to create and perform cabaret- and variety show-style events that can not only be enjoyed by his fellow Bears and the guys who love them, but also for twinks, Leathermen, lesbians, drag queens, … in short, our entire community and our straight allies. Over pizza in New York’s Greenwich Village (Where else?), Jay spoke to me about his upcoming Title year. Jay was born in 1989, the year when singer Debbie Gibson reached her height of popularity, and Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” and Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” were big hits. Throughout our interview, I was continuously impressed by the depth of knowledge and intellect displayed by a guy who just became the legal drinking age not too long ago…
JR: Congratulations on winning the Title of Mr. Stonewall Cub 2011. What specific goals and/or endeavors do you have in mind for the year?
JE: As a Titleholder, you have many responsibilities: one of them being to make a name for yourself . Also, you are expected to raise money for charity– for a cause that you feel confident about. In addition to getting MY name out there, I also want more Bears of color out there to come out and be seen. There aren’t too many other Black Bear Titleholders around. I don’t really know any others around the country! I also want to raise money for Sylvia’s Place, which is an emergency 90-day shelter for homeless queer youth. In distinction to The Ali Forney Center (another resource for homeless queer youth), Sylvia’s Place will “take you in” right away– whereas with The Ali Forney Center, it’s a little more work to get in. Ali Forney is a long term shelter. From what I understand, you have to apply to get in there. Sylvia’s Place does a lot of work, and they are struggling. Sylvia’s Place will take you in right away, even in the middle of the night– if you are running away from someone who is trying to make you do something you don’t want to do, for example; or if you’ve been kicked out; or you’re running away from home and you’re in a strange city. One of the things with queer youth is that when they “come out“, they get “put out”. For a lot of them, New York City looks like so much fun. They only see the Pride Parade on TV, for example. They don’t know that when you come here, it’s a totally different ballgame. It’s not that easy. You can make it anywhere, but it’s work. And, like I said, I want my name out there. One of the things about being a Titleholder is that you should be getting your name out there… or you’ll be like “Mr. WHO?”! Your Title reign is only for a year. I’m young and I have a lot of energy for it.
JR: Sounds great! Now, in your opinion, what makes a “Bear” a “Bear”? As a Titleholder, you are going to be looked upon as a role model, and you’ll have to explain what a “Bear” is to people who may not be familiar with our lexicon.
JE: You may be a hairy person, but I think that what makes a “Bear” a “Bear” is the attitude. I believe that a Bear is someone who is nice, but also has that “viciousness” about them, like a wild bear on a hunt. A bear can be just as vicious as a lion or a tiger, but he also has a heart too. Whether you’re a Chub, or a Muscle Bear, or somewhere in between, to be a Bear you have to believe that you ARE one. It has to be because of what you DO, not just because everyone else that looks like you calls themselves a “Bear“. (Laughs) The whole point of life is to be your own person. Even if you “label” yourself, you’re still your own person regardless. I am a Bear, and a Black Bear. I am a bunch of things, but at the end of the day I am still me… which is basically a nice person with a pretty filthy mouth!
JR: (Laughs) We can all be thankful for that. I won’t object! Now, do you think that some people get bogged down by labels like “Chubby Bear”, “Muscle Bear”, “Otter”, etc… Do we get too focused on the terminology?
JE: Some people do get tied up in the terminology, but I think that if you want to call yourself a “Muscle Bear”, for example, then that’s fine. Whether you are a Muscle Bear or Chub, you’re a Bear regardless. Accept what you are. I feel like a lot of Chub Bears see the Muscle Bears, and they get down on themselves because of that. They want to be that. But it doesn’t matter whether you are a Chub Bear or Muscle Bear, or whether you go from being one to the other. Just learn to be what you are, and take that feeling with you everywhere you go and just live with that. I’m a big Chub Bear, and I don’t care whether I would be perceived as a Chub Bear or a Muscle Bear. I’m still a Bear regardless. I feel I can compete with either. But, I don’t TRY to compete. I just have that attention, that thing that I can be seen having and be known for. No matter what you call yourself, you’re still your own person at the end of the day.
JR: How true! Now, you mentioned before that there seems to be a real void in terms of men of color who call themselves Bears. Why is that?
JE: I think that with the Bear community, pretty much all that we have seen has been very Caucasian-oriented. It’s been mostly white people with a few black people in there. There are Caucasian bears who are accepting of other Bears, but then there are others who are like, “What are you doing? This is OUR territory.” Rather than say, “Fuck it, I’m still gonna stick around.”, they just take a back seat and let themselves be brought down. When I first came in, that’s how I felt, and I spoke with Heriberto (Heriberto Oquendo, Jr., Mr. Metrocub NYC 2011). He gave me one of the best insights: No matter where you go, there are always gonna be people who don’t want you in their area, but don’t let that push you away. I don’t know much about the Leather community, but from what I have seen, there are a lot more men of color in the Leather community: all races, colors, and shapes are there. In the Bear community, maybe one day it will be like that.
(Photos of Jay by Adam Woomer.)
JR: I hope so. I think a lot of Caucasian guys may have fetishes about men of other races (Hispanic, black, Asian, etc…) … I am making sure I distinguish between “preference”, which just means that you are attracted to someone of another race; and “fetish”, which implies that you’re objectifying the object of your desire.
JE: You’re allowed to have your own preferences and fetishes, but all you need to remember is: You’re not Jean Claude Van Dam or whoever the hell there is! (Laughs) Who the hell are you to sit there and be like, “I don’t want you because you’re ‘this’ or ‘that’…!” Remember, one of these days your ass is gonna get up to that age where everything is gonna get old and sag, and nobody is really gonna want you… and you might not even be able to get them back with money! (Laughs) I know a lot of men who have fetishes for big men. You have your chasers who just want to have a big man. One of the things I said on Facebook was, “I’m no one’s fetish!” I never was and I never will be. I refuse to be that person who you want because you want to lay on my fat, rub my fat, and feel my fat. My fat is a part of me. I am human! I think I have to remind them that I’m as regular as the next person. But if you’re OK with being someone’s fetish and that’s your thing, then do it. I think that if you have a fetish for a specific thing, then that’s kind of sad… because that fetish that you’re going for may not want you nine times out of ten! It has to be mutual.
JR: What was it like growing up in the South?
JE: The South has been called upon as being very racist. But the South is not really racist. I feel that coming up North, it has been more racist than anything. In the South, everyone just kind of loves one another. Up here, everyone is much more “picky”, and I have to make sure that I “have this“, or that I‘m “on top“ or “the best”. Down there it‘s not really about who‘s “the best“; it‘s more of like living in the moment. There are things that I miss about the South. But, I wouldn‘t want to live there now at this point of my life– it‘s too damn slow for me!
JR: I agree! So, who is your Bear role model?
JE: I have numerous Bear role models. One of them is, of course, my Daddy Bear Mike Fass (AKA Drummerbear, Mr. Stonewall Bear 2011). I also admire Richard “Sunshine” McLean, Mr. Metrobear NYC 2011, my fellow performer with The Boys of BEARlesque. He’s big like I am, and he stepped out of the box; Everyone sees Bears as being manly and masculine, but there’s also that feminine side to him. He’s shown that by breaking out and doing “Bear drag“, and he went forward and just didn’t give a shit. This is the same man who was on stage stuffing food down his throat and didn‘t give a damn. It made for a good damn performance!
JR: He’s also the same guy who will go out partying wearing his Mr. Metrobear sash and a wig and a tiara. It’s not just “drag”, it‘s renegade drag, it’s genderfucking…
JE: Right! Another role model is Heriberto Oquendo Jr., being a Latino Bear. He’s one of the first Bears I really spoke to kind of regularly. He gave me good advice about what to do and what not to do. One of the things I have been offered to do a few times to do is Bear porn. I am not against it, but I just question what it could do for me. With those kind of things, I have gone to him for insight. One of the other people I admire was not even a Bear: Sparkle Southerland. She was the MC of The Boys of BEARlesque, “Queen of the Bears“. She’s a drag queen and I am a Black Bear, so we were both “different”. Being more experienced, she knows how to handle things. I give Sparkle one clear Title: “Reality Check”. She’s very honest.
JR: She’d agree with you!
JE: What you don’t want to hear is what she’ll tell you. I think that you’re lucky to find people like that.
JR: Thanks so much, Jay!