On the night of Saturday, April 9th in Binghamton, New York, it was a bit brisk outside. Inside Merlin’s Bar, however, it was HOT-- and hairy! This was the venue for the first ever Mr. New York State Bear and Cub Contest, brought to us by The Bears of Binghamton. Out of many worthy-- and woofy-- Contestants, the Winners of the Title of Mr. New York State Bear 2011 and Mr. New York State Cub 2011 were Tony Winter and Chuck Anthony Torres, respectively.
Tony Winter is from a small town in Georgia called Milledgeville. He may have been born and raised in the South (and still has the accent to prove it!), but now calls Rochester in upstate New York his home. Whether he’s getting some “Northern Exposure” or hanging out south of the Mason Dixon Line, Tony Winter always commands attention. He tells me, “I just turned 48 this month, but I think you are only as old as your last trick!” He’s 6'0” feet tall and weighs in at about 285. Tony jokes, “Just picture a big Southern redneck and you kinda got me!” This year, the father of two has dedicated a great deal of time and energy to his chosen philanthropic organization, AIDS Care Rochester. He says of the charity: “They are a great group of people that help out when and where they can.” Chuck Anthony Torres is 22 and lives in Utica, New York-- 136 miles east of Rochester. He described to me his first entrance into the Bear World… and how it lead to becoming a role model for the ursine community: “My friend was the first one who brought me to a Bear event. I just turned 21. It was February, and the event was called ‘My Furry Valentine‘. When I went to that event, it opened up my eyes. I was excited to be there. I felt welcome in a way that I never felt before. Where I live, in Utica, it’s very closed-minded in some sense-- and in the gay aspect, it’s very oriented around skinny boys. If you’re not a skinny boy, you won’t fit into their ‘clan‘ or ‘group‘. Going to something like that Bear event was amazing. I got to know Chris and Chris from the Bears of Binghamton. The Sunday after the event, we had brunch with them. They were telling me about things that were going on, and they mentioned the Bear competition. It interested me, and I was like ‘Well, maybe I should try!’… and I’m really glad I did.” So are we!
Tony and Chuck spoke to me about what makes a Bear a Bear, their Bear-lebrity crushes, their goals for the year, and much more!
JR: Hi guys! Thanks for speaking with me! So, as experts on the subject, what makes a “Bear” a “Bear“ or makes a “Cub“ a “Cub“?
Tony: I think what makes a Bear a Bear depends on the person. Sometimes a big ol’ hairy guy is just a Bear. You can look at him, and he has the look and the attitude, and the name just fits… and sometimes a man is a Bear ALL from attitude. He FEELS like he is a big ol’ hairy guy. But he could be a smooth slim guy who carries himself like a big ol’ burly guy, who thinks he has the weight to carry his attitude. And, I feel a “Cub” is just a hot guy that fits under my arm. Yes, I'm shallow. (Laughs)
JR: I can fit under your arm-- hint, hint!
Chuck: I think it’s also the personality that goes along with it. Anyone can be what they think they are, but they also have to have the personality to be what they want to be. After being in the Bear community for a short period of time and seeing the differences between Bears, Cubs, Otters and so forth, it’s really their mindset more than anything else. Sometimes YOU may think they’re one thing, but THEY identify themselves as something completely different!
JR: How true! So, along those lines, are we too strict in our definition of what makes a man a Bear or Cub? Let’s say you have a guy whose genetics are not in his favor: He is kind of skinny and has a hard time growing some body hair… but he still relates to the Bear World: he loves to party, drink beer, and eat pizza with the big furry guys. Is he still a “Bear”?
Tony: I do think some guys are very strict in what they call a Bear or a Cub. I think everybody can be what they want to be… and who are we to say they can't?
Chuck: I don’t think we’re too strict. I think that the lines that are drawn for us are pretty open. For example, there are Bears out there who are hairy and Bears out there who are not hairy. I think it’s more so the fact that there’s not really a true defining line of which category you go into. In my definition, I wouldn’t consider that guy you describe as a “Bear”, but I think he would fit somewhere in the Bear community. I really think that the Bear community, all in all, is a very open community. We’re pretty open and pretty friendly with anyone who wants to join. I think everyone has a place in our community.
JR: How true! Now, a lot of people may say that the Bear world isn’t really a “community” in the same way that-- for example-- the Leather community is, with its decades of tradition and formality. What would you say to them?
Tony: The Bear World is really a community. They are some of the nicest guys I've ever met in my life. I've been from Montreal to Miami, from New York City to San Francisco, and everyone has always been very nice and always tried to make me feel at home. Yes, you will always have someone who kinda wants to act like an ass, but just turn your head and walk away.
Chuck: The Bear community hasn’t been around for a very long time, but we are making our own traditions every day. At one time the Leather community was in the same place that we are; They were just starting out. I think that any group that gets together, and tries to make something out of it, is at the start of creating their own history. Nowadays, when I ask people, “Do you know about the Leather community?”, they say “Yes”. When I ask about the Bear community, some people do and some people don’t. The more we get our name out there and the more we keep doing what we keep doing, the more people are gonna know us. By continuing in doing the work that we do and being who we are, we’re just showing people that it’s fine being bigger, and there’s nothing wrong with you, and there’s always some place you can fit in.
JR: Well said! Now, what has been the most memorable experiences from your Title year so far?
Tony: The most memorable thing that happened to me this year after winning was: I was standing in Chelsea this past summer during Pride. It was the night before the Parade, and they announced that gay marriage was passed in New York State. People poured into the streets. It was insane! There were people throwing parties everywhere. It’s something I'll never forget. I was there when history was made.
JR: Wow!!! Ironically, while you were in New York City that day, I was UPSTATE-- in Woodstock, specifically. But we celebrated up there too! The joy was contagious!
Chuck: I think the best experience I had was being able to do my fundraiser for The Trevor Project, especially when you hear all the news of kids my age committing suicide because of them not being accepted and so forth. It meant a lot to me to be able to help and sponsor an organization like that, to give kids the help if they need it-- to show them that they‘re not alone, and that there are so many other people out there like them. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done… but from everything that has happened so far, we’re going in the right direction and we’re gonna keep getting there. The Trevor Project has helped me at times, and I thought I’d give back to them.
JR: Cool! So, who is your Bear role model?
Tony: I've seen a lot of guys that would make great Bear role models, but what I look for in a role model is how a Bear is gonna treat his family, friends and community. I try to be a good role model, but I'm sure I have my flaws just like everyone else, and do stumble and fall on occasion!
JR: Don’t we all! And, Chuck?
Chuck: That’s a hard one. I really don’t know how to answer that! When I think of a role model-- someone I’m looking up to-- I don’t think that it’s just one particular person. I’d say that it’s the people who actually formed Bear groups and made it easier for people who are not the typical skinny boys. I definitely look up to them for starting something new and different… and, it’s working out in their favor! We keep growing every day.
JR: One of the duties of a Title Holder is to raise money and awareness for a charitable or philanthropic cause. Tony, what cause do you have a particular affinity for?
Tony: My fundraiser this year was for AIDS Care Rochester. I'm not gonna lie that I worked my ass off for this fundraiser, but only because I wanted to do the best I could and to raise as much money as I could. I had a chocolate buffet where I served chocolate off of a hot cubby… for a small price.
Tony: We also had dancers and shot boys-- and everyone had a blast. I can't wait to do it again.
JR: I can’t wait for you to do it again too!
Chuck: Being as young as I am, and being the first one to win this completion, I thought I would stick with my roots. I believe that every GLBT youth should have a chance to experience the things that I experience, and to know to take every day as it comes. There will always be a better horizon!
JR: Both of you live in upstate New York. A lot of people who live in a place like New York City may have their own preconceptions about what life in your neck of the woods may be like. Are there any misconceptions about your hometowns that you’d like to dispel?
Tony: Well, the funny thing about me living in Rochester is that when my friends from home call me, they always say they want to go to New York City. They always think I’m only a few miles from there. It takes me five hours to drive to New York City! I love the City, but don't get there as much as I would like to. Rochester is just like any other city, I'm just not close to where you are!…
JR: That’s tragic! But “Have car, will travel”!
Chuck: My region is not very open to a lot of things. It’s very “country-ish” in some areas… You might say “redneck”. But we do have a gay bar here. It’s the only gay bar in the area, and it’s pretty popular. It’s one of those things where, as some people say, If you walk in and the fire alarm goes off, you’re gonna get “piped down” a lot more. If you don’t really “show it” or if it’s not as-- how can it I put it… “known“, than you’re usually fine. In other words, if you’re really open, people will call you out on it and then it could lead into some trouble. But I think it’s like that everywhere: You’ll always find people who don’t agree with it, because they either don’t understand it or they are scared of it… and that’s how it keeps going. The Utica area itself is OK. There’s not really a big gay community, but it’s big enough. We have Pride Day in June. At City Hall the gay flag is raised. It’s becoming more of “We’re here!”… but some people still try and deny that.
JR: Yeah! Now, on a lighter note: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Tony: Who has spare time?! I thought I was gonna get some spare time coming up, but looks like things are going to be changing again soon… so hold on and see what’s next!
Chuck: I’m definitely an adventurous guy. I love to scuba dive. I’ve scuba dived everywhere-- even Australia. I think that’s a great release. I love to travel. I like going on roller coasters. I’m game for anything you can think of. I’ll at least try. Life’s too short to cut yourself short from anything, so I’ll try anything I can. Also, I love playing on my computers... and I also recently started to work out a lot more. I wanna get into the "Muscle Bear mode"! But besides that, I think I’m just like every other kid: trying everything I can, and making the most of what life has to offer while I’m, young… because I don’t want to regret anything as I get older.
JR: What do each of you personally find sexy in a guy?
Tony: Probably the thing I find most sexy in a man is a furry chest. A furry chest will make me stop and stare with my mouth open. I have actually run into a wall while walking one day, checking out a chest on a guy who runs in my neighborhood. I lost all my cool points.
JR: Oh no you didn’t!
Chuck: I love a hairy man! But I don’t discriminate against anyone. I love the skinny boy admirers… but I love the Muscle Bears. They’re my favorite. What I would do to a Muscle Bear!
JR: (Laughs) While we’re on the subject, do you have a Bear-lebrity or celebrity crush?
Tony: Probably my Bear-lebrity crush would be Dru Bruin. He is one fine piece of man.
Chuck: Celebrity crushes? I love Zac Efron. He’s one of my favorites. Also, Josh Turner. He drives me crazy with his deep voice. I’ve seen him with his shirt off, and I’m like, “I wanna marry that boy!” One of my favorite Bear movies is “Bear City”. I just watched that and fell in love with a lot of the characters. I was excited to see a movie that resembled what the Bear community is. A lot of characters in there were so fucking hot! There was a quote from the movie, something to the effect of: “You come out of the closet the first time because you’re gay. But when you say you like bears, it’s like coming out of the closet again!” And I find that to be very interesting. It’s not the norm… and when it’s not the norm, people turn against it.
JR: Where can we meet the two of you in the upcoming year?
Tony: We are about to start going around to different cities again trying to promote the next Contest. I will also be in New York City again for Pride this year. And you never know where I might just show up for fun. If you do, tell me “Hello!“.
Chuck: I’m still going to be out and about as much as I can. I hope, in the near future, to run for an international Title… but I will still be going to as many Bear events as I can. Even when the Title’s over, I still have a responsibility to continue on a mission that was set forth when I decide to go for it!
JR: Later this year, the two of you will be “passing the torch” to two new guys. But, I have a feeling that you’ll both be pretty active in the Bear community long after you hang up the Sash. Do you have any surprises in store for us in the next year or two?
Tony: The next Mr. New York State Bear and Cub Contest was going to be in June, but is going to be rescheduled due to a couple of issues up here in Rochester. I will keep you informed on the new date and time, but trust me… It will be well worth the wait! As far as what I'm doing next, I was asked this week to run in the Mr. North American Bear Contest in Lexington, Kentucky next month and I think I might do it. We will see.
Chuck: For me, it’s bittersweet. In a way I will be glad my Title year will be over because it is so demanding. There’s a lot of traveling that we have to do, and-- especially being the first Titleholders of our kind-- there wasn’t as much funding. A lot of the travel was out of our own pockets. It can become very expensive, especially when we went to New York City for Urban Bear Weekend. Luckily, Tony and I and our producer Chris usually traveled together to make things cheaper. I will miss the fact that I was able to meet so many people and do so much, but in a way I feel I can now do these things in a more relaxed setting, and do it at my leisure. When I was introduced to the Bear community, I can only say that it was like being reborn. It’s just an amazing feeling when you have all this pressure to fit in with the “norm” of being gay, and then all of a sudden you opened your eyes to this new experience. Everything on my shoulders just came off. It was really a great experience. As much as I have done for the Title, the Title has done back for me!
Now that’s what I call a “Double WOOF”! You can visit Tony Winter at his Facebook page: here.
... and Chuck Anthony Torres on his Facebook page: here!