“When we started the event in 2005 no one had a clue what we were doing and for a long time people did not understand what this was all about and why we were doing this.”
It’s bear season. Meaning that this coming Thursday sees the opening of BEARS ON ICE, Icealand´s only Bear event. Over one hundred guys from all over the world are heading this way to celebrate, mingle, make friends, explore the country and have fun, making it a record in number of participants. We met one of the organizers, Frosti Jónsson, who not only told us a little bit about the annual event, which is steadily becoming very popular, but also gave us insight into the Icelandic bear scene and what it really means to be a bear. Or a cub.
The most common definition of a bear is a gay man who is hairy, has facial hair and a cuddly body. However, the word “bear” means many things to different people, even within the bear movement, according to Frosti Jónsson, one of the organizers of BEARS ON ICE. “A Bear is often defined as more of an attitude than anything else – a sense of comfort with our natural masculinity and bodies and not being slaves to the fashion industry that is so common in gay circles and the culture at large,” he explains to us in a calm manner.
But then you have Bears and Cubs. What’s the difference. Is it say, like top and bottom?
“Cubs are usually simply younger bear-ish guys who may eventually grow into a big bears but also those who would not be described as “big bears”.
Frosti says that personally says he’s not much into labels and adds that in no way do these labels indicate any preferences in the bedroom. “We don’t care which way you go. Friendship, affiliation and inclusiveness are much more important.”
Why do gay men see the need to categorize themselves as such?
“I think this is not something that only gay men do, it’s something people do, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. But I think there is nothing wrong with doing that. We all want to find a common ground to identify ourselves with and that’s what this is all about. For us it’s about enjoying the company of likeminded guys of all ages, sizes and shapes and enjoy life as much as possible.”
Since beards, long hair and hairy chests are currently popular in Iceland, don’t you think its going to be hard for the guests to spot the difference between bears and cubs from the rest of the population?
Frosti shakes his head. “Gay men don’t necessarily look any different than other men so we appreciate beauty wherever we find it.”
Another silly question we feel inclined to ask. Do bears and cubs mainly dig similiar types of men?
“Again, the bear scene is not about the way you look,” Frostie patiently explains. “It´s about the way you think. And bears are not necessarily only attracted to other bears. Love knows no boundaries and we welcome all.”
The bear culture originates in the US and can be traced back to the late 70’s and 80’s. Frosti says that in a way the bear culture stems from a rebellion against the mainstream gay culture with gay men feeling alienated because they did not fit in for various reasons. “This grew into something bigger as more and more men realized they were not alone feeling that way and eventually the bear scene came to existence.”
Bears seem like a fairly new concept to us in Iceland. Why did it take us such a long time to pick up?
“Iceland’s gay scene is small and for that simple reason there hasn’t been much demand or room for thriving subcultures such as a bear scene,” Frosti states. “It took us a while to be heard, taken seriously or even approved.”
According to him a lot of gay guys imagined this event to be something it wasn’t. Mostly because they didn’t show up to the events to see what it was all about before making assumptions. “When we started the event in 2005 no one had a clue what we were doing and for a long time people did not understand what this was all about and why we were doing this.”
So for those still unsure, BEARS ON ICE is a social event he explans. “It’s a platform for men to meet other likeminded men, socialize, mingle and have fun. We try very hard to make this a very welcoming event and I think the number of guys attending speaks for itself.”
BEARS ON ICE has grown from a small party with 20 people to an event where 130 guys from all over the world come to enjoy the company of each other. “And we’re very happy to see the number of Icelanders showing up for our events growing as well which is fantastic.”
What’s the Icelandic bear scene like the rest of the year? What to you guys do together – well apart from the obvious?
“Like other men we are social creatures, we like to hang out, grab a beer at a local bar or throw dinner parties for each other,” he answers adding with a sarcastic smile: “Is that obvious?”
How did you figure out you were a bear/cub?
“I’ve never been obsessed with defining myself as a bear or a cub or whatever label you can come up with,” he says. “The best aspect of the bear scene is the simple fact that I find it friendly and I fit in socially.”
Frosti also points out that you don’t need to be a bear or a cub, have beard or whatever to be part of the bear scene. “Just be yourself and respect everyone else for who they are. Simple as that. It’s just a bunch of likable guys and a lot of them happen to be damn cute too!”
Does it feel like coming out of the closet for a second time?
Frosti ponders. “No, I’ve never felt that way, but I know for some it has been like that.”
He says it makes him sad when gay men as with everyone else are afraid to show their affection openly towards someone they love because they’re afraid of being judged, or rejected by their friends, society or whomever.
“If you like chubby guys, then that’s who you are and you should be proud of it, no excuses needed. If your friends can’t take it, they’re not your friends. They’re fake. If we are able to change the way people see themselves and make them more confident, happy and proud then we are happy.”
After our talk with Frosti we feel a lot safer to show up for BEARS ON ICEWe are safe to assume that, right?
Frosti starts by diminishing our hopes of going. “Actually both the package deals, Complete Pass and Simple Pass, which include a trip to The Blue Lagoon and The Golden are completely sold out,” he says, which only shows how popular the event has become.
But mind you, Frosti says there’s no need to despair. A big part of the program is still available to all gay men.
“You have a chance to come to the Welcome party at Iðusalir (Lækjargata 2) and Top-Off party at Club Kiki (Laugavegur 22) on Friday night which both are free. Then a Men Only Dance at Haarlem/Volta (Tryggvagata 22) on Saturday Night which you buy tickets for at the entrance.” There The Dream Bears from London will not only put on a show but DJ Coling Gaff (Australia) and DJ John Eltong (Copenhagen, Denmark) will also make sure everybody has a great time.
“My advice is not to miss this, it’s going to be a fantastic weekend. Show up, mingle and make friends. Take pride in who you are. It all comes down to this: Friendship, love and lots of hugs,” Frosti finally says and gives us a big smile.