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My Life as a Bear


A former 'Out' editor learns to embrace his burly belly.

Life is full of surprises. Losing my hair in my late twenties was one. Going from being a young, left-winger who briefly worked for Marxism Today magazine to being a fashion and luxury journalist who, these days, could cheerfully vote Conservative is another. But becoming a bear? How did that happen?

At 18, I was a skinny, pretty boy, "with cheekbones like wing mirrors," as a friend once quipped. At 28, I was even skinnier, thanks to whole weekends spent partying and dancing in sweaty basements, while living on Lean Cuisines during the week -- a regime which, astonishingly, produced a 26-inch waist. At 38, I was in decent shape: still partying and dancing (why is it many gay men live entire lives like teenagers?) but training, and eating, like a normal person.

But now, at 48, I look like a bear -- bearded, on the butch side, possibly, but certainly on the burly side. Cheekbones? It sometimes seems to me that my face has so filled out as to be almost round, like a medicine ball. And if, until now, I haven't identified as a bear, lately I have come to realize that if I retain any sex appeal at all today, any remnant of pulling power, it's as a bear. To be a bear, in other words, and go to bear clubs, might just be my last play of the dice, my last half-decent hand in life's great game.

A few things have brought this home. Talking at a party to a handsome 25-year-old a few weeks back, his gaze kept returning to my chest and belly. I assumed he must be thinking, Why do some old poofs let themselves go like that? only to realize there was something like desire in his eyes. Although, come to think of it, as a skinny young man, I, too, was drawn to burly older men. Couldn't get enough of them. Now I've become one. Yet it's a complete fluke. If I'm hairy, that's genetic. I've had my beard for over a decade, and just about every man under 50 in London has a beard right now. And my paunch wasn't a choice so much as a consequence of my greed, combined with a job that revolves around business lunches. In England, these are still likely to involve a glass of wine, or two, with rather more to follow in the evening.

If the end result of my genes -- plus the tippling, the lunches, and the often-slack approach to personal fitness -- is that I've become a classic bear material, it's not an ideological choice. I'm just not inclined to diet or wax, to forgo wine, eat egg-white omelets, or follow any other of the abstinences required to imitate Michelangelo's David.

Come to think of it, maybe there is something ideological about my rejection of the buff gay aesthetic -- a post-gay sensibility perhaps, only played out on my burgeoning waistline. That, and the feeling that at a certain point in life, we needn't try too hard -- indeed, it's arguably more graceful not to. It's better, surely, to accept aging than to fight it and end up as some high-maintenance-but-faded simulacrum of one's younger self.

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James Collard