What does it mean to be a Bear or Cub Titleholder? Most would agree that the main responsibility is to serve as a visible representative of, and positive role model for, both the Bear/Cub community and the greater LGBTQ family at large. This usually includes raising money for charitable endeavors as well as lending time and energy to worthy causes. Of course, looking good while doing it is always a plus! Brooklyn native Robert Benedetto should know. In early October, Benedetto won the national Title of Mr. Unlimited Cub 2019 in Hickory, North Carolina– 637 miles from his hometown. Benedetto was already part of the prestigious JR’s Unlimited family when he had won Mr. New York Unlimited Cub 2019 earlier that year. Anyone who knows Robert personally would agree that he had reasons to be proud of his victory in the Old North State that night: This woofy winner had already been volunteering his services at LGBTQ events all over the Naked City and beyond, always willing to lend his hirsute charms for a worthwhile mission. Benedetto first discovered the gay community when he became involved with the Gotham Knights Rugby Football Club (RFC)— first as a player and then as an officer. As New York City’s most predominant and well-known non-discriminatory rugby team, The Gotham Knights have regular practices and compete with other teams in their Division during the season. To soothe those sore muscles, they engage in many social activities throughout the entire year.
In between his philanthropic endeavors and promoting the anticipated Gotham Knights 2020 pinup calendar, Robert took the time to speak to me about rugby, his plans for his Title year, and what makes a Bear a Bear (or a Cub a Cub!)…
JR: Hi, Robert. Thank you for speaking with me! So… As we enter 2020. what does being a part of the Bear and Cub community mean to you?
RB: I always identified as a Bear. I’m your hairy chubby dude. Whenever someone asks, I tell them that a Bear is a stocky hairy guy. But being a part of this community is something that I finally see for myself. At first, I always saw the community through the eyes of other people. But now, I’m finally at a place where I believe I’ve hit the marks on what everyone considers a Bear to be. Say you’re playing Mario Kart: You can be the one with the really good speed, the one with the really good turning, or… you can be the one who does decently in everything! That’s how I see myself in the Bear community. You got the really hairy dudes, you got the beefy muscle guys… but I’m pretty much like a solid “B+” in all Bear categories! It’s nice to be in a community where I “hit a lot of boxes” for a lot of people… and it makes me feel pretty! (Laughs) I find that when I’m with the Bears, it doesn’t feel like how it feels in other parts of the gay community. If I go to a random drinking night, I find that the bar “cliques up” very quickly, people get judgey, and they stay with themselves. But if I go to a Bear event, everyone there is welcoming. Everyone is drinking. Sometimes there’s food. It’s a place where people can talk and be themselves. I see a lot of Bears out there doing a lot of really great work, and it’s just heartwarming to see that. We’re not just that stereotypical and judgey and manicured thing. We can be messy and we be friendly! We’re just an open and welcoming community.
JR: Well, I always thought so! (Laughs) It’s great to just be able to hang out and drink beer– or drink whatever you wanna drink– and have a good time. As long as the music is good (Laughs). So… You’ve really put yourself out there as a volunteer and as a representative of the community for so many events. Is it difficult to balance that with the so-called “day job”?
RB: No more difficult than it was to balance rugby back when I was in charge of it. I will say that right now I have a job that is a little different for most people: I can be called on to fly away at any moment. So I’ve just had to be really clear with my office that there are days I can’t do that. And sometimes I’ve had to turn stuff down for Bear events and things like that. But for the most part, I’ve found a balance. When I have downtime at work, I capitalize on it for the Bear stuff. I know that if I don’t do it, then it’s not going to get done.
JR: Right! Yeah, I know that sometimes it’s tough to find the balance. I mean, there’s only 24 hours in a day… sadly!
RB: Yeah, we’ll sleep later! (Laughs) I’ll sleep at the office!
JR: How true. I wish I could learn to sleep standing up! So, what has been the most memorable or the most rewarding experience so far since you’ve entered the title circuit?
RB: So far I haven’t had a lot. I’ve only done a few fundraisers, which always feels good to help out with. The pageant itself in Hickory was incredible. That was an experience that I’ve never had in my life– and it was just such a competitive but also friendly environment where everyone was talking to each other, everybody was there to support each other, and it just felt good to be around people who were just there to make sure that everyone did their best.
JR: Oh, wow!
RB: As for events: I’ve got a few coming up. I haven’t started doing any of them yet. I think my first one is November 10th for Mr. Rockb(e)ar 2020. I’m gonna be judging that, and then I’m working on getting a fundraiser for the LGBTQ+ Suicide Hotline. It may not be the “sexiest” cause, because no one wants to go to “the suicide party”. So, I’m gonna try to brand this in a way that people are still gonna want to come and to give money– but also to party, and have fun, and not get bogged down in what the cause represents. My idea for branding events for “not so sexy” causes is to just do parties called “THOT-ful Causes”. “T. H. O. T.”!
JR: (Laughs) I like that!
RB: So, that way you can have your fun party, and do whatever you want, but all the money still goes to a good cause. People KNOW it’s going to a good cause. They just don’t have to have it on the forefront of their mind the whole time, because sometimes it can get a little sad and bring the party down.
JR: Right! Well, they may be having a great time, but it will also get the them to realize, “Oh, wow, there’s an organization behind this!”
RB: Absolutely. And then, of course, all the information links will be available. But that’s for the people who want to do the research.
JR: Yeah! And they might think, “Oh wow, this is something I should look into.” or “This is something that I’m making a difference in!” Partying for a worthy cause: That’s a great thing! So… Many of us look at title holders as being role models and as sex symbols. As a title holder, what do you personally find attractive in a guy? What makes a guy sexy?
RB: Honestly, if a dude is actually a genuinely nice person, it’s one of the hottest things. It’s something that I don’t see very often– but I like when a dude comes off genuine and actually cares about what he’s saying, and actually does what he wants to do. He’s not doing it ironically. He’s not doing it for any other reason other than just for being who he is. That’s going to be one of the sexiest things for me. But for physical attributes, I like hair. I like body hair. I like a LOT of body hair! (Laughs)
JR: Well, who doesn’t? Yeah! (Laughs)
RB: That said, if someone is a genuinely nice person and is truly, genuinely themselves, it will stand out well above what they look like. They can be the smoothest person ever! But if they are genuine, I’m still gonna be super attracted to them.
JR: Right! Yeah, it’s tough. It’s challenging for all of us to really let our guard down and to be our genuine selves sometimes!
RB: Oh, absolutely. I am terrified of it. I find that when I am not comfortable enough to be myself, I’m just quiet. Once people know me, I’m not quiet anymore!
JR: Well, a lot of guys like that too. They like the “strong, silent type”, right? (Laughs) So… I think I know the answer to this next question already…. but for the benefit of our out-of-town readers: What are some of your favorite hangouts in New York City… and why? If someone you knew was coming to visit New York City, what are some of the places that you would tell them, “OK, you have to come here. This is definitely an essential spot to hang out!”
RB: It depends on what I’m going out for. If I’m just going to have a drink, I really like GYM Bar. That’s fun place to go out, and talk to people, and have fun. It’s not too loud. If I’m feeling sexy and want to show some skin and rub up against some Bears, I’ll go to Rockbar, which is always a fun time. And if I’m feeling somewhere in between the two of those, I’ll go to Nowhere— which is a fun little bar. Whenever I send people to Nowhere, I tell them that they have to be a little cautious because it’s a basement– and to just be ready for that. But it’s a lot of fun. You’ll have a good time.
JR: (Laughs!) Yeah. Nowhere is a fun place. I remember I went there a few years ago, and the New York City gay softball team was there, and they all eventually stripped down to their underwear– probably for a fundraising thing– and I was just like, “Oh my God, why can’t the Gotham Knights do this more often?” Maybe it was something in the drinks! (Laughs)
RB: (Laughs) No, it wasn’t the drinks! Nowhere just feels like a place where you should be mostly naked. You’re hanging out in the basement and you’re just like, “All right. Yeah, let’s get naked!”
JR: Agreed! So, while we’re on the subject of rugby: How did you first get involved with the Gotham Knights? As you know, in America, most of us don’t get the chance to play it in high school. It’s not available as an option. Unless you go to a college that has a rugby team, most of us discover it later in life– whether we watch it or we play it. What made you discover the sport?
RB: So. here’s a funny story: Back in the days of Bear www and Bear 411…
JR: Are they still around?!
RB: I don’t think so. But anyway, I was a cheeky teenager, maybe 18, who was pretending to be in his 20’s and trying to flirt with dudes from the city. I ran into a couple of rugby players, and that’s when I first heard about the team. And then when I finally moved to the city, I was like, “Oh, I’m going to go join this.” I had stopped doing a physical job. I started working at a desk. I needed some do something physical again. So I was like,”Allright, I’m going to go join this rugby team. There’s going to be hot dudes.” I got there, and there were some hot dudes, but I mostly fell in love with the sport itself, and just really got along with the people there, and just had a great time. And then more hot dudes started joining after that. At first it was a sport that I didn’t know anything about. I knew that the guys were hot, and I joined, and found out that the sport is hotter than the dudes.
JR: The rugby player is the fantasy of a lot of guys. And it’s kind of funny what you said: I think a lot of guys that might want to explore the sport later in life are attracted to that image. You know: these really big, burly, wild and crazy guys. They work hard on the pitch, but they play hard as well after practice or the game. I can understand that. But rugby is also a rough sport with a high chance of injury. What advice would you give for someone who really wants to give it a “try”?– pun intended…
RB: Honestly, just make sure you have a good mouth guard, and go for it. You might get hurt. That happens.
JR: Trust me, I know. My nose used to be straight! (Laughs)
RB: That’s part of the fun. Just listen to everything. Everyone will tell you: It won’t make sense for a year and a half. But yeah, go for it. It’ll be fun. You’re gonna hurt your shoulders. You’re going to hurt your knees. You’re gonna hurt your back. It can be awful for at least a week, but then it’ll get better. Then you’ll stop feeling the pain. You’ll stop getting that aching in your neck. You’ll hopefully not hurt anything too badly in your first few games, so you can keep getting used to it and… yeah, it’s worth the risk!
JR: Understood! Now, the Gotham Knights also have a lot of social events too all year long, true?
RB: Yes! And, we have a 2020 Gotham Knights Calendar launch– and we’re going to be having a launch party for that. So if you want to check out my Instagram, I will be posting when that is.
JR: Oh, nice. Well, the holidays are coming and we all need gifts, right?
RB: Yeah. You want some calendars with some pretty rugby boys. I’m in it a few times wearing lots of leather.
JR: Did you design a pair of a rugby shorts and jersey in leather?
RB: I’ve thought about it. That was almost going to be my look for Unlimited. I ended up going with chain instead!
JR: That’s good. I’m partial to both! So, in addition to the events that you just mentioned, anything else you have in store for us, for the future?
RB: There’s a secret event that I’m not allowed to talk about yet… but that will be coming out soon. I’ll be helping out with that one. And then I will be in Providence for Mr. Providence Bear and Cub, which will be fun. And I will be at IML hanging out and having fun. So if anyone wants to say hi, that’s a good place to say hello.
JR: Yay! So, who do you want to give a shout-out to in the Bear family?
RB: I have to think Dan Jimenez because he has been great with this whole journey. He’s the one who approached me about getting involved in this community. I’ve sent him so many late night text messages and be like, “Hey, I don’t know what to do for this. What should I do about this?” He has been a resource, a pageant parent, a sash Dad, and all that fun stuff!
JR: Oh yeah. We all love Dan! Lastly, anything else you want to add or anything you’d like to tell the masses?
RB: I’m drawing a blank right now! (Laughs) I would say that this year started out really hard for me. I was in a really bad place and ended up needing to rely on the LGBT Suicide Hotline a few times– and I’m really excited to give back to that organization. The pageant stuff has really helped me out a lot with finding my own beauty and finding myself, plus finding my value again. And I’m really excited to give back to all of that. I’m excited for Unlimited to grow. I’m excited for this opportunity to keep this platform going. That’s my main platform: mental health, and letting people know that there are resources out there.
JR: Well, we thank you for that! And thank you for speaking with me!
You can buy the Gotham Knights RFC 2020 calendar here.