Chch's first Big Bear Weekend

VICKI ANDERSON
Last updated 10:22 16/11/2012

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Vicki Anderson talks to Richard Tankersley, co-organiser of the first multi-day Bears event in the South Island, being held this weekend as part of the Christchurch Pride Festival.

This weekend is Big Bear Weekend. Running as part of the Christchurch Pride Festival 2012, it is the first multi-day Bears event in the South Island.

Co-organiser Richard Tankersley says it is a social event for gay and bisexual men and, starting last night with drinks at the Honey Pot Cafe, it offers six events over four days.

Festivities include a day trip to Hanmer Springs on a 40-seater bus ("think Priscilla"), the Mr Canterbury Bear competition, a film screening and a farewell barbecue.

The third annual Mr Canterbury Bear competition is tomorrow night at Burgers and Beers. The winner will get a sash and will win travel and accommodation to participate in the Mr New Zealand Bear competition in Auckland in February.

What is a bear?

There is ongoing debate in bear communities about what constitutes a bear. However, the consensus is that inclusion is an important part of the bear community. Bears are almost always gay or bisexual men.

Increasingly, transgender or transsexual men and those who shun labels for gender and sexuality are also included in bear communities. Heterosexual men who have bearish physical traits and are affirming of their gay friends and family may also be informally accorded "honorary" bear status.

Younger or smaller men who identify with bear culture may also be labelled as cubs while "overweight" men are sometimes referred to as "chubs".

"The bear sub-culture sprang up a few decades ago around the world," Tankersley says.

"As I see it, and this is just my way of looking at it, the counter-culture developed from the overly feminised stereotypes of gay men that exist. It's about celebrating masculinity rather than suppressing it.

''But we're a very inclusive group. We've been going for three years but there are probably many in Christchurch who don't even know this event exists."

Registrations for this weekend's event have included people from Invercargill, Auckland and Australia.

Tankersley describes a bear as having certain physical attributes but says tomorrow night the five Mr Canterbury Bear contenders taking the stage at Burgers and Beers will be judged mostly for their bear attitude.

"We're calling it bears at Beers," Tankersley says.

"Bears generally have certain characteristics, lots of hair, no tweezing or trimming of hair whether it's your face or your armpits, and not a gym body. We're a very inclusive group. However, we're not fussy. Well, we're all fussy, but we don't check your beariness at the door, put it that way.

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''We have a few women come along to our monthly gatherings and events.

"The Mr Canterbury Bear winner will be the person with the biggest bear attitude. It's not about physicality, hair or body frame. Mostly it's about attitude; how congenial and embracing of others they are."

Last year's winner was awarded a leather vest but organisers have opted to go back to the original sash prize this year.

"From here they go to Auckand for Mr New Zealand Bear - Mr Canterbury Bear won this in 2010 - and from there, if successful, they go on to Mr Australasia Bear in Melbourne,'' Tankersley says.

"Part of the prize is the airfare and accommodation, but last year's winner chose to do a road trip up on his bike instead."

Since the quakes, Tankersley says, attendance at the bears' monthly drinks night has doubled. He attributes this to limited social opportunities because of venues having been either destroyed by the quakes or still behind the cordon.

"Attendance doubled straight away after the quakes. At one meeting we had 80 guys turn up. There are limited social opportunities for the gay community and with the venues inside the cordon out of action, it limits it further."

The biggest challenge in organising the Big Bear Weekend was finding venues, and Tankersley says he is impressed by the support the group has been shown.

"We've had good venue support but it's definitely a challenge for everyone in this city trying to put on events. The venues have been great. Places like Burgers and Beers have bent over backwards to help us."

The theme for tomorrow night's event is "rough trade".

"There will be lots of high-vis, tradies, mechanics, army stuff, people dressed as policemen. We'll have half the Village People; it's a bit of fun. There will be prizes for people who excel in their costumes."

For more information go to bbw2012.co.nz.

Today: Day trip to Hanmer Springs - departs 9.30am from Woolston Tavern, 604 Ferry Rd, $45 casual tickets. Film screening, South Island premiere of documentary Men Like Us, which follows the different lives of nine gay men, at The Open Stage, Hagley Theatre Company, 510 Hagley Ave from 7.45pm, film screening - $20 "including snackbag".

Tomorrow: Burgers and Bears at Burgers and Beers, 355 Colombo St, 8pm, then the Mr Canterbury Bear competition. $10 registered, otherwise $15.

Sunday: Brunch at Cargo Bar then a barbecue at Club 604, Ferry Rd, 1.30pm. Entry costs apply.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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