Tuesday, January 25, 2011

“PLAYING BY THE RULES” by Justin Crockett Elzie: A Marine's True Story

(Book cover image of Justin by Randy Davey.  Photo of Justin in 2010 by Jo Ann Santangelo.)

“PLAYING BY THE RULES” by Justin Crockett Elzie
A Marine’s True Story

     “Gays in the military” has been a hot topic for decades. Since even military experts acknowledge-- perhaps reluctantly-- that gay men and women have served honorably throughout history, a more accurate term would be “the right for gay men and women to serve openly and safely in the military”. It seems like everyone has something to say about this divisive (and, as it turns out, distinctly American…) issue-- particularly since the recent overturning of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in December 2010. Despite that recent decision, however, it still promises to be a long and tough road for GLBT’s struggling for full equality in the Armed Forces. Justin Crockett Elzie, author of the new book “Playing By the Rules”, is a hands-down expert on the military’s policy on gay and lesbian soldiers. As the first Marine to be discharged under the President Clinton-era military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, Elzie became something of an accidental activist: an openly gay, model soldier who wanted to stay in the Marines and was willing to fight for his cause. Elzie challenged his discharge with a Federal lawsuit, and was re-instated. He wound up serving four years as an openly gay Marine before retiring in 1997.

     The author opens his fast-moving memoir with a recollection of the day he planned to come out… in a big way. Emboldened by then-President Clinton‘s promise to overturn the ban, Elzie decided to come out publicly on ABC Evening World News in January 1993. The tension is clearly palpable as the soldier was guided by an almost compulsory force: “I had an instinctive internal drive, almost animal-like, to come out in a public way, and nothing was going to stop me. I felt like I was on a train to destiny that I couldn’t get off, even if I wanted to.” Elzie’s decision led to a parallel struggle: While fighting the military’s anti-gay policy one slow battle at a time, he also struggled concurrently in his personal life as well. Specifically, this was the lack of approval or support by his parents and by the most of the rest of his family (Only his sister, he points out, was supportive.) as well as opposition by his then-boyfriend, who was also in the military. At one point, he described the dynamic between him and his parents as something of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy itself.

     Readers, especially those who have never served in the Armed Forces, will likely find the story of Elzie’s journey from Wyoming farm boy to seasoned soldier to be very interesting. When the book is looked upon a statement about equality in the military, the most effective aspects of “Playing by the Rules” are Elzie’s deconstruction of the theory that being openly gay or lesbian can damage military security or cohesiveness. Alongside the details of his struggle to stay in the Marines, he incorporates his own military fitness reports throughout… and those reports are consistently no less than superb. Still, the military powers that be stood by their core “reasons” for pursuing their discriminatory policy-- despite unwavering evidence to the contrary. For the reader with any level of intelligence, the arguments that were used to attempt to discharge Elzie and countless other soldiers ranged from inane to ludicrous: Ludicrous to the point of almost being funny. As so often in the case of gays in the military, the discourse always seems to be reduced to talk about “foxholes and showers”. It’s no joke, however, that the effort to identify and discharge gay soldiers was very real. Elzie often addresses this specific issue, usually through the stories of many of his peers who dealt firsthand with this modern-day “witch hunt”.

     Typically, I’m not too crazy about the almost perfunctory beginning chapters of most biographies where the authors talk about their childhood. Yet with Elzie’s book, it seems almost vital to learn about his past to understand his adult journey. Elzie reveals having felt something of a “kinship” with The Village People when seeing them on TV as a youngster, and he recalls his fist rumblings of same-sex attraction as a child as well. He also writes about having been bullied by other children. With the issue of bullying finally getting the attention it deserves in the media, his insight couldn‘t be more timely or important. Later on in life, while fighting to stay in the Marines, we learn that Elzie had many opportunities to settle for a so-called “compromise“. Elzie refused-- and in retrospect, we believe that his struggles in childhood may be the source of his tenacity in adulthood.

     “Playing by the Rules” deserves to become an important book in the library of GLBT history. What the book is NOT, however, is an indictment of the military as a whole or a portrait of Justin Crockett Elzie as a victim. Indeed, the author makes it a point to tell us about the moments of pure joy that he experienced as a gay military man -- most notably about spending time with his fellow gay and lesbian soldiers (He considers them as family.) in various “safe zones” throughout the world. In addition, Elzie reminds his readers many times that he still has an unbreakable love and respect for the United States Marine Corps.

     “Playing By the Rules” tells the story of a man who took on a personal battle, and wound up succeeding on a much bigger, more universal level. Readers will likely relate in an equally big way.

     You can purchase “Playing by the Rules” at here

BEYOND “MOMMIE DEAREST”: Joan Crawford’s Life Explored in “Possessed”, A New Biography

Joan Crawford’s Life Explored in “Possessed”, A New Biography

     Celebrity biographer Donald Spoto says of late actress Joan Crawford in his new book “Possessed” (Harper Collins, hardcover, 336 pages): “No other star in the so-called golden age of Hollywood projected Joan’s brand of glamour: it was not seductively soft or otherworldly -- it was defiant, challenging. In her photographs and in her movie roles, she demanded that we rethink what it means to be female.” A longtime ally and icon of gay men and no stranger to an occasional same-sex liaison herself, Crawford (perhaps best known for her roles in “Mildred Pierce” and “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”) was by all accounts very open about sexuality-- both her own and in general. She reportedly called her openly gay actor pal Billy Haines and his boyfriend Jimmy Shields “the happiest married couple I ever knew.” Years ago, a friend of mine named Joe called me up to tell me that he had just seen a black and white movie on cable TV starring Ms. Crawford. Joe‘s first reaction, it seems, was to realize why so many drag queens imitated Ms. Crawford-- especially the Crawford of the ‘40‘s and ‘50‘s-- through the years. Those lips. Those eyebrows. Those big shoulders. That imperious, almost masculine presence. The movie on TV, it turns out, was “Sudden Fear” from 1951. Joan Crawford’s status as a gay icon has no doubt diminished through the years with the younger generations, although she survives quite well (via Faye Dunaway) in a certain cult phenomenon known as “Mommie Dearest”. Despite having a filmography of over 90 movies, the most enduring aspect of Joan’s legacy today seems to be an association with Kabuki makeup, wire hangers, an ax, and the zinger “Don‘t fuck with me, fellas!”

     More than thirty years after her death, author Donald Spoto has released a new biography about Joan Crawford, named “Possessed“ (The book’s title is actually also the name of two unrelated Crawford movies, one from 1931 and one from 1947.). The author had been a fan of Crawford’s since seeing one of her movies as a child 60 years ago. (The movie? “Sudden Fear”!). My initial reactions upon news of a new Crawford bio were “Why wait so long to write a book about her? And why would this generation be interested in yet another book about Joan anyway? Wasn’t everything written about her already?!” Part of the reason for the new book is the authors’ quest to “clear” Joan’s name and reputation after “Mommie Dearest“-- both the book and the movie.  In fact, “Possessed” the book is quite a meaty read which succeeds on two levels. Spoto explores Joan’s personal life, where great highs existed alongside great lows. He opines at the book’s conclusion, “Her life had been a battle between the fantasy of movie stardom and the intrusion of reality-- mostly in the form of failed marriages, disappointing love affairs, and the constant terror of losing her professional status.” Along the way, Spoto also talks about the star’s struggles with alcohol and ageism in Hollywood. As far as her professional life, Spoto makes very valid arguments about Joan’s contributions to cinematic history, spotlighting many of her films which can be seen with a new appreciation in 2011. He states, “With the passing of decades and the unfortunate image created by ’Mommie Dearest’, it became unfashionable to suggest that Joan Crawford was, in simple fact, one of the few truly great actresses in the history of American film.” But in case you’re wondering about “Mommie Dearest” anyway, we get to learn about that era of Joan’s life almost halfway through the book. That‘s when the author describes how, on the dawn of the 1940’s, Joan suffered an emotional crisis (Or, as the author calls it, an “interior crisis”) which Spoto hypothesizes was likely the manifestation of being childless. It was shortly afterward, he states, that Joan considered adopting children. Although he doesn’t hide his distaste for “Mommie Dearest” the book (Among almost eight pages of criticism of Christina Crawford’s best-seller, he states, “…’Mommie Dearest’ offered at the least an overstated, skewed image of its subject. At its worst, it was a vituperative act of revenge after Joan excised her two oldest children from her will after many years of discord.”), Spoto’s bio will no doubt help us to take a more balanced perspective on Joan‘s notoriously strong-willed persona. Put another way, Christina Crawford‘s story was only ONE side of the story. One of the criticisms of Christina’s book, incidentally, was that Joan’s OTHER two adopted children seem to had been almost entirely left out. Spoto makes a admirably attempt to include something about Joan’s younger children in his book.
     Film buffs will be motivated to track down some of Joan’s underappreciated movie gems (My favorites, incidentally, are “A Woman’s Face” from 1941 and “Queen Bee” from 1955.), even the ones which Spoto personally disliked. (He says of the campy “Torch Song“ from 1953: “The result was simply one of the most dreadful motion pictures in history-- it could have been the textbook guide for creating the ultimate drag show, except that ‘Torch Song‘ seemed to have neither wit nor purpose.”) There’s also one Crawford movie he writes about which surely NO ONE will get to see-- “Great Day”, a MGM musical which was ultimately shelved. For a nice touch, Spoto’s book intersperses some biographical tidbits about many of Crawford’s peers throughout the years, including Greta Garbo, Constance Bennett, Norma Shearer, and her enduring friend William Haines, a rare case of a movie stair who was not only living as an openly gay man but also but living openly with his boyfriend back in the 1920‘s. It’s adds some interesting insight to the world that Crawford was living in.

     As much as the author would probably want you to forget “Mommie Dearest”, “Possessed" the book won’t do that. But it will no doubt makes us consider that any emotional instability depicted in Christina’s memoirs was only a small part of one woman’s complex and fascinating personality. Joan Crawford‘s story is also one of balancing one’s personal and professional lives. It‘s about surviving as a female actor in a male-dominated Hollywood and as a female in general in a male-dominated world. And it’s also a call for a new appreciation of her movies. Joan Crawford movie night, anyone?!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

MR. EAGLE NYC 2011 SPEAKS: CB Kirby's New Year's Resolutions!

CB Kirby’s New Year’s Resolutions!
In full leather gear, newly sashed Mr. Eagle New York City 2011 CB Kirby makes an impressive sight. Even more impressive than his physique, however, is his philanthropic spirit. Most would agree that it’s the responsibility of every Leather Title holder to serve as a role model for our community, and Kirby has taken his new Title VERY seriously. Even before becoming the new Mr. Eagle NYC, however, the 45-year old personal fitness trainer has been active with his reigning issue of choice: HIV/AIDS awearness and fundraising. It’s a issue to which Kirby reminds us, “It‘s not going away. And it affects us ALL.“ For the last three years, the intelligent and articulate Leatherman has participated in the annual Braking the Cycle, a three-day, 285-mile bike ride from Boston to New York City. The event raises money for HIV/AIDS services of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Center of New York City. Tonight, he’ll be co-hosting the 300th (Wow!) Porno Bingo at the Will Clark Show at Pieces, 8 Christopher Street, at 8PM. The night benefits the Positive Pedalers (AKA the “Poz Peds”), a group of men and women living with HIV/AIDS who participate in awareness through bicycle-related activities. On Friday the 28th, Kirby will be throwing his support behind the kickoff of Gear, a new party at The Eagle. The next night, he’ll be hosting “Jail and Bail 5” to benefit Team Eagle. There’s much more in the works, including plans for a night at The Eagle dedicated to Pups and their handlers-- the first party of its kind in New York City. With the dawn of the New Year in sight, CB Kirby and I met at a West Village coffee house to discuss his personal crusade for our community, his goals for the year as Mr. Eagle NYC 2011, and whether or not carbohydrates are really as bad as their reputation!

JR: Thanks for meeting with me, CB. First off: Being a Title holder is more responsibility and harder work than meets the eye. You’re representing not only The New York Eagle, but also the New York City Leather community, and the Leather Nation at large. I imagine it’s NOT as glamorous as it looks! What is it like to balance being a Title Holder with the rest of your life-- including that busy travel schedule of yours?
CK: It’s just like being a parent, or like anything else in life. It’s about juggling and keeping thinks in a healthy balance. I traveled to Toronto for Thanksgiving, so I kind of gave up my holiday to be there. I guess you can call it “priorities“. For me, it’s a little bit easier because being a personal trainer, I can make my own hours and can schedule around long weekend trips. So for me, it’s a lot easier than some Title holders who have the nine-to-five job and have to use their vacation days to do the traveling. So, I’m kind of lucky that way… but you know, a missing day is a missing day, and being on the road is being on the road. Going to Toronto meant flying out of the country. That was kind of interesting-- taking all the leather gear with all the buckles and the D-rings and all of that through security. I was actually followed out of Customs by a Customs agent, and she stood for 20 minutes watching me at the luggage carousel… and when I finally got my luggage, she actually stopped me by stepping out in front of me! She actually demanded that I show her my declarations page and my passport and asked me why I was there.
JR: In Canada?!
CK: In Canada! And when I did, I told her that I was a guest of Mr. Leatherman Toronto and she was like, “Oh, OK.”. She was a lesbian, so it was kind of funny. Coming back into the States was even funnier. Going through security, I was the one who was chosen to be swabbed for bombs. They swabbed my hands, my shoes and all my luggage for explosive residue. Do I look like a terrorist?! (Laughs) But you know, travel is what it is. It’s kind of nice to travel with somebody, but I traveled with nobody up to Toronto, and it’s just like it is here. It’s just another extension of the Leather family, with wide open arms. You’re accepted. So as far as travel, it’s all juggling. It really is. Thursdays is Code night at the Eagle, and I really should be at the bar as the ambassador. Considering I have an 8AM client on Friday, I‘m very rarely there past midnight… because I need my sleep! Again, it’s about priorities. I can actually stay out a little later tonight, because I don’t have that 8AM client tomorrow. I can take advantage of that. But to stay out later than 1 or 1:30, it’s just not me!

JR: Gotcha! Now, since you won the Title, do you find that you get hit on more often… or at least, get a lot more attention?
CK: Let’s put it this way. On October 2nd, I became Mr. Eagle. Today’s date is December 30th. So, that’s almost three months. My number of Facebook friends has gone from being about 250 to 300 friends to almost 1500 friends right now. Everybody wants to be Mr. Eagle’s friend. You know what? I maybe turned two people away. One was because of being age-inappropriate, and the second I just didn’t have the right feeling towards. As far as being approached at the bars or on the streets: If I don’t have the vest or sash on, nobody knows who I am! In the bar, people approach me, but it’s more congratulatory. Yeah, there are those people who want to sleep with me-- guys and girls-- but overall, it is what it is.
JR: It can work the opposite way too. Some guys might be intimidated by you if you’re wearing your sash. A guy might be like, “Oh, I can’t go up to him. I’m too scared!”
CK: I think that with my smile, I am very approachable, and always have been! I think Facebook is the only increase in the number of people approaching me. At the bar or anywhere else, they approach me anyway. I would hope to say that I’m not that much of an ugly duckling (laughs)!

JR: (Laughs) I don’t think so! So, New York City is a crazy place. New York used to be the epicenter of the Leather Nation on the east coast, but today we only have two bona fide Leather bars in town. I suspect that part of it is that many so-called “movers and shakers” of New York City nightlife always want to give the impression of being two steps ahead of everyone else-- and they may view the Leather community as being, shall we say, “dated“ or “vintage“. In your opinion, what direction are we going into as we enter 2011?
CK: I’ve been involved with the Leather community for a long time. The original Leather community I was involved with was in Florida. With all the travels, I found out that the Leather communities are different everywhere. There may be slight nuances, or there may be some pretty extreme differences. For example, the Leather bars in Fort Lauderdale: They are code all the time. They have a required dress. They are stricter, stauncher-- kind of an Old Guard feeling. Here in New York, that’s changed. In the ‘70’s, it WAS Old Guard. It WAS The Leather Man. It was nothing to see Leathermen walking down Eighth Avenue in Chelsea wearing full gear. Now, if somebody‘s wearing leather, it’s not so much because they are a Leatherman, but it’s turned more to the fetish aspect of it and not the Leather LIFESTYLE. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but… I think that HIV/AIDS did a big number on the Leather community and took a lot of the Leathermen away from us. It’s changing. It’s evolving. Not better or worse, just different. It’s different on the West Coast, East Coast, Chicago, Florida… “Different” is not bad. So, I think Leather has individual qualities to it, and people make it their own for whatever reason. In the past few months, I have been aware of the influence of the younger generation. It may be more of a fetish for them, but they are not afraid to wear their gear in public. So, who knows? There may be a new generation, a new breed that’s coming out of it. It’s ever-evolving, just like the gay lifestyle at large.

JR: There is a controversy about the Leather community in that many members believe that you have to be initiated through the Old Guard or through a mentor, versus those who believe that you can just call yourself a Leatherman to be a Leatherman. But overall, I believe that our community is unique in that we have a great respect for tradition, yet we’re simultaneously looking toward the future.
CK: But… you will see the new, younger kids-- I’ll call them “kids” because they’re kids to me-- coming into the Leather community and actually LOOKING for mentorship. They’re actually looking for someone to teach them, to guide them, to educate.

JR: So, out of all the worthy causes benefiting our community, which one do you feel most passionate about?
CK: There are two really big causes, and there are three I am involved with in my title year. Two are similar… and the other is a little bit different. Braking the Cycle is one, of course. This is my third year. Next year I’ll ride as Mr. Eagle for Team Eagle. It’s an incredible experience. It raises funding for HIV/AIDS services for The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Center. The money we raise is what really generates the funding for that program for the Center. This past year, the net was $358,000-- of that, a little over $100,000 was raised by sixteen riders of Team Eagle. That’s my big cause. In fact, on my business card there’s more about Braking the Cycle than there is about me. It’s more about the causes than about me. The other cause-- and this is the biggest fundraiser that I will do in my Title year-- is with Housing Works. It’s also an organization for HIV/AIDS services. We’re doing a brand new event in February called Love and Leather where they are going to completely stock their store on 143 West 17th Street with leatherwear, fetish gear, leather furniture, and more. We’ll have a DJ, we’ll have beer, we’ll possible have hors d'œuvre, there will be a Bootblack, and right now we are talking about having a well-known gay star to be a guest there. This went from being the size of a quarter to being about the size of… uhm, Lake Michigan! Which is great. The more money that we can generate and bring in, that’s great. The other cause that I have is working with The Harvey Milk High School at the Hetrick-Martin Institute: developing a mentor program within the High School and doing a clothing drive next month for homeless LGBT youth that go to the High School. And, also possibly doing an after-school fitness program once a week, because of my health and fitness background. So, those are my causes-- and they’re very dear to me. My platform for my Title year is mentorship. This goes back to the whole idea of the younger crowd coming in and the mentorship that they’re looking for.

JR: Very impressive! So, what can all of us in the Leather community do, on a day to day basis, to benefit the Leather community as a whole?
CK: I think it starts by being true to yourself. I know with that sounds really clichéd (laughs), but it’s about being true to yourself and being honest with yourself. I know, and I’m friends with, a lot of guys who are in the Leather community during the evening, but during the day, they’re absolutely not. You won’t find anything on their Facebook page about it or whatever else. You know, I totally respect that. I think there’s a healthy balance between responsibility and respect and accountability. I think that what’s good is being proud and at peace with what you are, and not being afraid to show it-- because you never know who is going to approach you. I am not only out about being a Leatherman and being in the Leather lifestyle, but I am also out about my HIV status. It was just about a month ago I had a young kid in the middle of Pennsylvania, in the middle of nowhere, who had just found out a couple of weeks prior that he was HIV positive. He had nowhere to turn, he was freaking out… so, I’ve been talking with him. It kind of goes back to just being there when the need arises. It’s kind of like the old adage, “It’s better to give a hand up than a hand-out”. There’s a lot of people with interest in the Leather lifestyle, and even the fetish aspect of it. So: Just be willing to talk about those when approached.

JR: Yeah! So, as a personal trainer, do you wanna spill any secrets about health and fitness? Like, are carbohydrates really the Antichrist? Of course, I know that if you tell me, they won’t be secrets anymore!
CK: Well, let’s face it. The number one New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. I think that the biggest piece of advice I can give is: Don’t buy that home gym. It’s always, ALWAYS going to turn into a clothes rack. You know what? You may get a week out of it, you may get a month out of it if you’re lucky, but it’s always gonna turn into a clothes rack. If you’re going to join a gym, join a gym with a friend. Going with someone to the gym, you’re nine times out of ten more likely to stick with it than if you join a gym by yourself and try to do it alone. If you can afford it, get a personal trainer. You join a gym, you get those couple of personal training sessions free. Take advantage of it. Don’t be scared. If they try to hard-sell you and that’s just not your deal, “no” is an answer. As far as carbs being the enemy, you know what? Use moderation. If you’re sitting down and eating a six pack of cupcakes from Crumbs, no wonder you’re sixty pounds overweight. If you were sixty pounds overweight when you started, you’ll gonna be sixty pounds more when you’re finished. It’s all about eating less and moving more and doing what you can. Don‘t overwhelm yourself, and don‘t set unrealistic goals for yourself-- ’cause you’re gonna fall flat on your face. You really are. Also, a big thing is staying consistent. Pick a time a day when you’re able to be consistent, and you’re going to go at that time every day-- because pretty soon what will happen is you’re going to make a daily habit of doing that, and you’re GONNA do it. And when you miss, you WILL know you’re missing, and you’re GONNA want to go back to it. So, it’s consistency!
JR: How do you feel about supplements?
CK: I feel everyone should be on a good daily vitamin. The one thing is: Talk openly to your doctor about things. We all should be going to get the annual checkup, regardless of whether you feel healthy or not. It’s the people who feel healthy who may find out that they have cancer in a late stage. Breast exams for women… it’s a simple thing that can save a life. Prostate cancer checks for men. Gay men should not be afraid to get a prostate check! (Both laugh.)

(CB plays Sexy Santa at a New York Boys of Leather event at Stonewall Inn.)

JR: Lastly: A lot of men and women look at Leathermen as the epitome of masculinity and sexiness. Being a Title holder, what do you personally find sexy?
CK: I guess you’re talking about what my tastes are! My taste run the spectrum from left to right. I think the bottom line is: It’s the eyes. It’s about a great smile. It’s about somebody who takes care of themselves. I can’t be with someone who’s not gonna take care of themselves. I want to be honest: Being a Bear is one thing, but someone who is morbidly obese-- it‘s unhealthy. Come on. Sometimes I think that some of our society encourages unhealthy behavior or unhealthy aspects. And, let’s face it: Who likes bad breath? Also, I think it’s important to be able to carry on a conversation with some intellect… and, a sense of humor is really important. I mean, we all have our ideal, but few of use find our ideal. But if we don’t find our ideal, we shouldn‘t be settling for anything that’s going to be harmful for us, whatever that may be!

JR: Thanks, CB!

     Mr. Eagle NYC 2011 CB Kirby will be co-hosting the 300th Porno Bingo at the Will Clark Show at Pieces in NYC tonight. He will also be at Mid Atlantic Leather in Washington, D.C. in January, and International Mr. Leather in Chicago in May. Visit for CB’s schedule, gallery, biography, and much more!  

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011


(Photo by Peppa Bear)

What makes a “Bear” a “Bear“? Ask ten different people (assuming that the person you ask is even familiar with our unique queer lexicon!), and you‘ll likely get ten different answers… although most of the definitions will surely involve a mention about hot hairiness or beautiful bulk. Joe Mannetti-- a multi-titular, passionate community activist and performer-- is both hotly hairy and beautifully bulky… and he embraces his role as a bona fide Bear icon in a big way. But Joe’s dedication to the community-- to the Bear World and to the GLBT community at large-- goes way beyond his notoriety as a woofy pin-up. For starts, Mannetti is a dedicated and skillful fundraiser. He was named “Bear Fundraiser of the Year 2009” in "The Best of the Bears" Poll… and at the time of our interview at the dawn of 2011, he was busy as ever planning his next big thing. Joe is a member of Sandy Reinhardt’s philanthropic org Mama’s Family, where he was named “Mama's Care Bear” for his dedication to our community. These accolades are just the start of a long list of titles. Joe is also (get ready!) Mr. Southern California Cub 2006, Mr. Long Beach Pride Bear/Cub 2008, Mr. Los Angeles Bear 2008, Mr. Southern California Bear 2008, Prince with The Imperial Sovereign Court of All Connecticut, and Mr. International Daddy Bear 2009. Joe is also an Ambassador of Hope 2010 for The Dab the AIDS Bear Project, a community-based organization of concerned citizens infected and/or affected by HIV and AIDS. Their goal is to prevent new cases of HIV while helping to empower HIV-positive citizens, through awareness and education.

Joe was raised in New York, lived in California for 23 years, and now calls Connecticut his home. He is also a performer as well as an activist, having been seen in Todd Stephens‘ “Another Gay Movie” and most recently in Doug Langway's "Bear City" in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as "Hot Daddy Bear”. But this underused actor is seeking to be seen on the big screen in a much bigger way. (Casting agents, are you reading this?!) As articulate as he is affable, Mannetti has a Master’s Degree in Counseling, has worked as an HIV testing counselor, and is a busy freelance writer whose work has appeared in "All Bear“ and other magazines. I guess you can say, Joe Mannetti is… smarter than the average bear! Mannetti spoke to Jed Ryan about the Bear community, his goals for 2011, and much more!

(Photos by Christopher Leonhardt)

JR: Hi Joe! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me! So, as one of the most visible members of the international Bear community, what defines a “Bear” in your opinion?
JM: Hey! Thank you for taking the time to allow me to be a part of this interview. It’s a great honor. Most visible? Me? Well, I suppose that I cannot argue with that remark. There is a lot of me “exposed” all over the place – for better or for worse. I am clothed more often these days than in the past. I catch less colds now. In response to your question about what defines a “Bear,” I am inclined to say that Bears should remain indefinable. By that I mean that Bears should avoid becoming too mainstream or easy to categorize. In my opinion, the core of what defines a “Bear” is a willingness to embrace diversity while rejecting pretentiousness. I think that the original physical traits that were identified as “Bear-like,” such as huskiness, a rugged blue-collar look, and facial and body hair were about celebrating a more “mature” look as opposed to the boyish “Twink” image that was all the post-AIDS rage in the LGBT media at the time. But times have changed, and it’s only natural that the Bear should morph into something that reflects the changing times. Today we have Transgender Bears, Leather Bears, Muscle Bears, and an assortment of other people who identify as “Bears.” I think that’s a good thing. I also think celebrating a more developed and “mature” and “earthy” look is also a good thing. None of us stay young forever, and not all of us want to be Fashionistas. We should still be able to feel like viable and desired members of the community regardless of a lack of designer labels while proudly allowing ourselves to celebrate looking our age. It’s not all about the youthful boyish looks that a “Twink” represents. At the same time, I like seeing “Bears” mix with Chasers who like them and vice versa. “Bears” also wouldn’t suffer any damage by doing more outreach with LGBTQ youth. All of us benefit from connecting effectively with young people. Just my humble opinion.

JR: Well said! Now, as a bona fide expert on the subject, where does the Bear Nation stand today as we enter 2011?
JM: Well, I wouldn’t call myself an expert. But, based on my own experiences and observations, I’d say that the Bear “Nation” today is at a crossroads. It’s odd. There is currently a lot of media buzz about marketing Bears online, in movies, and in magazines. But if you speak to the majority of LGBTQ youth today, you will discover that many of them don’t have a clue about what “Bears” represent at all in our communities. But, interestingly, I have found that a lot of them are very aware of the Transgender communities. I think that “Bear” and “Leather” have been predominantly about “adult” activities and the adult members of our LGBTQ communities. So, it makes sense that many LGBTQ youth might not feel included or a part of those scenes. But many LGBTQ youth might grow up to be “Bears” or “Leather” folk. So, if the Bear movement wants to thrive, I think that it has to start mentoring and connecting with young people more effectively. It also has to get back to connecting with people of all ages on a more grass-roots level again. Media marketing and online promotion can never replace the power of real community connections and outreach.
JR: How true! So… we’ve talked about this many times: Being a newer subculture, The Bear community doesn’t yet have the same history of tradition, or philanthropy, or political motivation as… let’s say, the Leather community. Do you see the Bear World eventually moving in that direction?
JM: The Bear community has certainly engaged in its share of fundraising for many important organizations that support our LGBT communities. But, IBR (International Bear Rendezvous) is coming to a close after seventeen years while IML (International Mr. Leather) is still going strong in its thirty-first year. That contrast is worth exploring. The Leather community has a rich history of radical political activism. I think that Bears can do more of that too. There is nothing wrong with partying and socializing. But you can do that in conjunction with effective outreach that makes a statement about very important community issues. The Leather community built itself on that foundation. The parties and play themselves represent a radical stance against convention while also promoting freedom, sexual diversity, and the right to stand out radically with uniforms as an out and proud LGBT individual. Leather was NEVER about blending or assimilation. Therein lays the difference between “Bears” and the Leather community. Bears can blend as regular blue-collar people who dig the t-shirt and jeans look. They are not pretentious. They welcome anyone, and they blend easily with similar crowds from Straight communities. So, while both Bears and Leather advocate diversity, Leather is a lot more radical about standing out and making a loud statement that does not assimilate as readily with Straight society. I guess that I am saying that the Bears might consider developing more of a political bite that will give them a more radical edge if they want to grow. Don’t give up the social stuff. Just add to it. I truly believe that Bears could benefit by making diversity more of a core issue along with celebrating the “Bear” look that is central to their identification.
JR: One of the oft-discussed issues in the Bear community is the division between so-called “muscle bears” and “chubby bears”, as well as size discrimination in the GLBT media.
JM: I like muscles. I like beefy guys. I like otters, wolves, and smooth guys too. I am not crazy about “A-List” anything. So, I see absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating muscles, beefy big sized people, smooth, or hairy as long as there is not a class system bunch of bullshit going on with each category. But, come on, we all know that size discrimination exists and even “Bears” have their “A-List” Bears, etc. I am more known for the lists and parties that I am not included in than the A-List people or events others get invited to regularly. That’s my badge of honor, and I wear it proudly. In the words of E.E.Cummings, "to be nobody but yourself--in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else--means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight; and never stop fighting." To address the issue of the GLBT media, well I think that it’s the same issue that you have with Non-GLBT media. It’s governed mostly by a bunch of self-serving snobs who don’t give a shit about REAL community or true public tastes. So, it becomes a game of a select few in power trying to dictate fashions, trends, and norms to the masses. It’s a power thing. Now, as far as “division” goes WITHIN the various Bear groups out there, I think that we have to explore how cohesive the Bears were about ever actually building a “community” from the start. Leather is a TRIBE that is loyal and supportive to the MAX of all of its members. Bears have individuals who are some of the most loving, generous, and dedicated people when it comes to supporting community issues. But I don’t know that what the Bears have developed is the same as what the Leather community has over the years. Of course, it’s different. That “difference” might be worth exploring just as much as why IBR is closing and IML still continues.

JR: There are so many worthy causes that benefit the queer community. Which of those causes do you feel most passionate about. Why?
JM: Right now, my focus is on improving support services for people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, Transgender people, individuals seeking recovery from crystal meth addiction and other substance abuse issues, senior housing for our aging LGBTQ friends, and ANYTHING connected to supporting LGBTQ youth! We have a horrible homeless problem impacting our younger and older generations. They deserve shelter where they can feel connected and safe. As far as this whole “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” business goes, of course I respect and support the efforts of LGBT people who bravely choose to serve in the military. Of course, it is their right. No argument. But, truth be told, I would much rather see more effort and protesting directed towards ending wars altogether than fighting for the right to send our people out to die in them. I am also not enthused about seeing young Latino, Black, and financially disadvantaged people being sacrificed as the first to die since so many of them are so aggressively recruited into the military. I question the ethics of the entire military system, and I am not really gung-ho about inclusion into it if you want to know the truth. But then I am a “Dinosaur” from a different era when Flower Children were protesting “Make Love, Not War!” during the Vietnam years. Ironically, a vast majority of American people reportedly feel that the current wars like the one in Afghanistan are just as much a tragic loss of lives – most of which are civilian lives. So, it is a mystery to me why so many LGBT people are expending so much time and money fighting for the “right” to serve in the military right now. I understand the equal rights deal. I question the priorities in terms of the focus being placed on this issue as opposed to others.
JR: Who is an example of a guy who identifies as a Bear who is a great role model?
JM: I cannot think of one off the top of my head since, personally, I think that a REAL bear doesn’t strive to kiss anyone’s ass by being a role model!
JM: There are LOTS of great leaders that I have met, with and without titles, who make a positive difference everyday in the community. So, let’s see, if I had to pick ONE above the others I’d say Dr. Les K. Wright, who founded The Bear History Project and wrote “The Bear Book” and “The Bear Book II“, because he is a Bear who recognizes the importance of sharing Bear history. His writing, community outreach, and public speaking have all enhanced connecting the Bear community to their roots.

JR: And, Joe, who is YOUR biggest role model, in the Bear World or otherwise?
JM: Tarzan. Seriously, I always fantasized about being Tarzan. From the first time I witnessed Gordon Scott in those 1950s Tarzan flicks, I knew that I was Gay. I also knew that I wanted to live like that and be around men who acted like Tarzan. You walk around naked in the jungle, eat a banana, screw out in public under the sun, grunt, wash your ass in the river, and start all over again. How could I not want to be like Tarzan and hang with him being sweaty and bare-assed in the jungle? That was my dream growing up. It still is my wet dream now that I am grown up.

JR: I’m gonna have to put some of those 1950’s Tarzan flicks on my Netflix queue! So, in the past you have been very open about your work in the adult film business, as well as the after-effects it had on some of your philanthropic work. Looking back, do you see that experience as generally positive, generally negative, or mixed?
JM: As a rule, I don’t believe that is healthy to beat yourself up over the past. What’s done is done. Why “should” all over yourself? Did I have some fun while I was doing it? Hell yeah! Was I treated well? Sometimes I was, and sometimes I wasn’t. But, I put my foot down about no drugs on the set, no anal sex without condoms, and I insisted that the producers help me promote outreach at fundraisers that I hosted for HIV/AIDS support services and other community needs. They did by supplying me with DVDs for raffles, etc. Did I make a profit off of it? Are you kidding? We are talking about Bear porn here! The ONLY folks who profit generously from it are the producers! The performers get nothing but a notorious reputation and a lot of recognition balanced with intolerant judgment from the public! But, I did it because I was a rebellious exhibitionist with a super high sex drive. So, I fit the criteria for being a porn performer in Bear flicks. It turned out that more than a few folks out there apparently liked watching me in them. So, I wound up doing it for about four years on the side. It was never a full-time gig, and I never intended or expected to be known for my work in Bear porn. It was a mixed bag in terms of what I experienced. The only truly AWFUL experience I had was when I posed for AMERICAN BEAR magazine (Issue 56) back around April of 2002. The photographer, Peppa Bear, was BRILLIANT! He was just such a phenomenal photographer! The shots he took are still some of the best ever taken of me, I think. He and his partner were wonderful, truly wonderful, to me. They picked me up at the airport, put me up at their beautiful ranch home, and they even threw me a surprise birthday party at the end of the shoot. But the guy who was in charge of the magazine at the time was a BASTARD! He insulted me. He insulted the photographer. He was incredibly rude and arrogant – a total shit. Later, I found out that my experience with him was typical from other models and photographers who had also worked with him. You can imagine how this could make you feel being abused like that when you are taking off your clothes for the first time to pose for pictures that would be published in a widely read magazine! Eventually, it seems that it got to the point where nobody cared to work with him anymore, and his version of AMERICAN BEAR folded. When I heard, I wasn’t at all surprised. But, in a way, that experience typifies what a lot of baring it for adult stuff in the Bear media can be like some of the time. I had my share of putting with crap from a lot of rude amateurs who weren’t very skilled or kind with anyone. But I also actually did meet some very talented photographers and very decent performers who I am happy to have as friends to this day. In fact, many of them helped me at a lot of my fundraisers with very generous donations and volunteer work. So, it’s all good. Everything is an opportunity. You can make just about any experience work in a positive way, I believe. Do I advocate working in porn? I advocate the freedom to choose and make your own decisions. Does it exploit and prostitute people. It can. But working in corporate America can make you feel just as much like an exploited prostitute. So, why throw stones? What do I think of the people who judge me for having done porn? Fuck ‘em. I actually have in a few cases. So, there you go. It takes all kinds.

JR: Wow! That said, what would you say to anyone who wanted to get involved in the jizz biz?
JM: Think about it carefully. If you are doing it because you think that it will make you rich and famous, think again. In most cases, doing Bear porn will leave you broke and infamous. It can follow you around all your life. Once you have done it, you cannot erase it. So, you better not be the type who worries about your reputation or what others think of you. Be true to yourself. Ask yourself if you can really swing with all the trappings that go with this deal. Be honest and realistic. I like thumbing my nose at convention. I thrive on being a non-conformist. So, I did it. I also had my boundaries, and I also knew when to stop. I always made pursuing an education in an outside field my goal, and never made porn my main focus at all. It was a side thing. I am not a role model. My life is not a blueprint to copy. Create your own original life. Don’t copy mine. Fer Chrissake, why would you want to duplicate anything about my life? I have been struggling with it for almost fifty years now, and I still cannot figure it out! If you find the secret on how to be Joe Mannetti successfully, then PLEASE let me in on it!

JR: (Laughs) I will, I will! Similarly, if you find the secret on how to be Jed Ryan successfully, then you let ME in on it too, please! So… having appeared in many magazines and movies, you are viewed by many guys as a sex symbol. But what do you personally find sexy in a guy?
JM: I guess I do have a “type.” Anyone who has seen my Bear porn probably assumes that I am a voracious power-Bottom who LOVES super-hung MuscleBears. Actually, I do go for strong ‘n silent mature types. A guy with a bit of a swagger who is strong but attentive with a quiet confidence is hot. But I can also be a pushover for a tousle haired goofy t-shirt and jean kinda sport who has a quick smile and a playful energy about him. I am embracing my “Daddy” role more these days, and young Cuties who like playing “Boy” are catching my eye more and more. Yes, I have a high sex drive. It’s still there after all these years. But a cute butt or a big basket needs to be balanced out by a genuine connection and an ability to show affection warmly and genuinely. All the guys I am attracted to tend to be on the “earthy” side. Is intelligence important? It’s the most important thing of all! I like a good conversation as much as a good roll in the hay. Consideration and communication are very important too. Since I have been a social worker as well as an actor a good portion of my life, I don’t want to play caretaker to a drug addict or an alcoholic. After working with them, I don’t have any desire to live with any of them. So, I guess I like brawny, geeky, intelligent guys with a quiet side who have a high sex drive to match their brains. Is he out there? Well, if he is, I hope that I do not have to resort to taking part in one of those bad-as-Hell reality shows to find him.

JR: (Laughs) Yeah, I hope not also! Lastly, what would be the most surprising thing that people don’t know about Joe Mannetti?
JM: I guess that as public as I am, I also go through lengthy periods of needing to be alone. As outgoing as I can be, I can also be very moody and quiet at times. I go through periods where I withdraw from everything – people, places, communication. It’s hard to pull myself out of those moods sometimes. I suppose that it’s nature’s way of balancing things out – and making sure that I stay away long enough so that people won’t tire of me. I guess that is my biggest fear. There’s this old song called “Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?” It’s a feeling that I carry with me almost constantly. I am always afraid that people are sick of me while I am craving their attention at the same time. Silly, huh? Most people also assume that I am just a “Bear Pin-Up” who is best used as part of the scenery in bit parts and cameos. I actually studied acting very seriously in New York at H.B. Studios and in Los Angeles. The only way to prove that I can do more than walk on shirtless is to give me a chance in a real role that requires more than making me a brief Bear ornament. Most people don’t realize that I studied and pursue acting. I suppose that’s my fault as much as anyone’s out there. My “image” is seen as mostly a joke. We’ll see if that changes.

JR: Thanks for talking to me, Joe! See you at the next big thing!
JM: If it’s big, I guarantee that you’ll see me there. That’s a promise!

You can say “Hi!” to Joe Mannetti, read his writings, and see where he’ll be appearing on his Facebook page:!/profile.php?id=581755828

Saturday, January 1, 2011

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SEE IN 2011? Eleven Community Movers & Shakers Tell Us!

Welcome to 2011!  The New Year always brings promises of new ideas, new resolutions, and new goals-- personal and creative.  What do you want to see happen in 2011?  At Jed Central we 've  asked 11 exemplary members of our community that very question… and here’s what they said!

Freddy Freeman: “I want 2011 to bring more inclusion and brotherhood back to our community. These days I hear even some Bear media outlets telling us who is ’too fat’ or ‘too thin’ or not the ‘right’ look or ‘right’ color or whatever, to be a Bear. It is the antithesis of what the movement is all about-- and I want to see a return to the original ideal of creating space for all types of men of all shapes and sizes to celebrate themselves! In 2011, I will be helping to make that happen, as Bearapalooza begins its ninth year of showcasing the talents of a wide variety of Bear musicians and performers of many colors, shapes, sizes, and genres! I want Bearapalooza to be an example of the change I want to see in the community! Of course, I also want to see more live music at Bear events!”
(Freddy is a self-identified Chubby Bear, a Musician, a Music Producer, Director of Events at Roy's Hideaway Campground in Georgia, and Founder/Organizer of Bearapalooza, the original Bear music festival.)

George Hains: “I want to see more progress in equal rights for the LGBT community. Learn to slow down and take time to enjoy life from time to time.”
(George is a prolific activist and philanthropist, Mr. International Grizzly Bear 2010, and Mr. Metrobear NY 2009.)

Doug Langway: “My hopes for 2011 for the Bear Community is health and happiness, a strong sense of self-worth and a push towards unity and acceptance. I know that 2010 has been a large awareness year for us and I hope that we can remember our roots and not forget the purpose of the community as a place for an alternative idea of beauty to bloom and flourish.“
(Doug Langway is the Director of “Bear City”, new on DVD. Visit for more info.)

JD Leggett: “I’d like to tell the heterosexual community that I am a Bear without having to explain what a Bear is. More Bear Pride!”
(JD is an Actor, Member of the Metrobears NY, Mr. International Bear 2010, and the Founder/Director/Choreographer of The Boys of BEARlesque.)

Lovari: “In 2011, I want to work at keeping optimal health bodywise with daily small workouts, and will begin working on my new album-- with it being the core of my dedication for the year.”
(Lovari is an Award-winning SAG Actor, Journalist, Director, and multi-faceted Performer. His latest album is "The Statement". Visit for more info.) 
Sunshine Richard McLean: "What I would like to see in 2011 is everyone being tolerant and open minded to everyone else-- gay, straight, and everything in between.  My Title is Metrobear 2011 and I identify with the Bear community by giving voice to the shy!"
(Sunshine is Mr. Metrobear NY 2011 and a Member of The Boys of BEAR-lesque.)

Sandy “Mama” Reinhardt: “I would like to see a lot of things, but what comes to mind is to see more people involved in their Community. After all, we are Family. One does not need a Title to get involved!”
(Sandy Reinhardt has been known as “Mama” for about 20 years. She is a leader in the LGBT, Leather, and BDSM communities and the Founder Of Mama's Family (w Mama's Family has over 1000 members in 42 U.S.states and internationally in four countries.  Together they raise over $2,000,000 a year for a wide variety of Leather/LGBT and charitable organizations.

Jonny Mack: “I'd like to see more events that don't particularly label themselves as Bear events, but that Bears and every other kind of guy feel comfortable attending. Not that I'm opposed to a "Bear Week" in Manhattan. Anything that invites us in is welcome! But I want everyone to be able to come together and have a great time. On a political front, I'd like to see Gay Marriage on a federal level. There are so many benefits of marriage that selfish straight people keep to themselves. For instance, I can't marry the man I love and give him the benefits of U.S. citizenship. Now, that's just wrong. Nobody talks about this aspect, but I know so many guys in this situation. Gay marriage in Massachusetts is all well and good, but until it's recognized across the land and honored by the government at large, it's not worth very much. I also want new music from Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Britney and most of all Madonna. If any of you are reading this right now, please, get crackin'!”
(A Mack of all trades, Jonny is the “HX“- and “Next” Magazine-dubbed "go-go bear," and was a regular fixture at WOOF!, The Fur Ball, and Robert Valin's Truckstop parties. He is now an up-and-coming DJ with regular gigs in and around New York City, most notably at G Lounge's DiLF: Daddy I'd Like to Fuck parties. He can also be seen in the recent TLA Release "BearCity", in which he plays the role of Ted.)

Justin B Terry-Smith: “For 2011 I want to see a loving & thriving LGBTQ/Leather community and less stigma for people living with HIV/AIDS.”

(Justin is Mr. Maryland Leather 2010, Producer of Mr. PW's Leather Contest, Co-Producer of Mr. Old Dominion Leather, and Author of Justin's HIV Journal, Photo of Justin by Don Harris.)

Robert Valin: “I'd love to see more Bear parties & events in NYC, and my personal mission is to put New York on the map as a premiere travel destination for the international Bear & Leather Communities. Oh! And peace on earth J . In January I'm starting a new monthly party called 'Stache Bash at Julius's Bar & Grill, the oldest gay bar in NYC in the West Village, on the last Thursday of the month.“
(Leather Bear, Daddy, Actor, Voice Over Artist & EntréBEARneur, Robert is the Founder of Urban Bear Weekend in NYC on May 12-15 [Visit] and Creative Director of Great Blue Ox [, launching in late January], Graphic Design & Creative

Consultants for the Leather & Bear Communities. He begins filming “BULK”, the Bear webisode series, being shot on location in NYC later this month, by writer J. Julian Christopher [“Man Boobs“].)

LeNair Xavier: “I would like to see the American LGBT community in all forms of media and entertainment (movies, magazines, porn, nightlife, television, websites, etc…) show the beauty that's to be seen in the diversity of all ethnicities AND colors....light AND dark complexions alike. That way, the American LGBT community as a whole won't be perpetrating a fraud claiming pride in the RAINBOW flag that represents the LGBT community, and we will be more justified in our demands for equality.”
(LeNair Xavier, formerly known as Tre Xavier, is a Blogger, Model, and Actor. He will be appearing live in the five-part poetry series “The Industry” at NYC’s LGBT Center on January 7th. See for more. Photo of LeNair by PhotoFreedom.)