Dorien Rozing foto
Dorien Rozing Hoofdredacteur
Bart Peters foto
Bart Peters Fotograaf

In the closet with

Bear Henk

In the series “In the Closet with….” L’HBTQ Magazine dives into the closets of a number of interesting people from a certain scene or community. We’re kicking off the series with Henk Heijenga, a ‘bear’ in heart and soul, and elected Mr. Bear 2016 at the Amsterdam Bear Pride last Friday.

Name: Henk Heijenga

Age: 50 years

Community: Bears (I’m a Bear-Bear)

Work: Tax inspector

What does Wiki say?: “In male gay culture, a bear is often a larger, hairier man who projects an image of rugged masculinity. Bears are one of many LGBT communities with events, codes, and a culture-specific identity.”

Henk: When I was eighteen, I fell for older men; they looked impressively bear-like: cool and manly. But we’re talking about thirty years ago here. I came from Groningen and there was no scene like that. Yeah, alright maybe a men-with-beards meeting or the like, which I went to; super exciting. Now bears are becoming a bit trendy. Well insofar as they can become trendy of course, haha!

The bear community gained recognition in the US because of Richard Bulger. Together with his partner he started Bear Magazine in 1987, which aimed to challenge the image of cleanly shaven, slim men who appeared on the cover of mainstream gay magazines. Bear Magazine was all about manliness in the broadest sense of the term, just as long as there was a lot of body hair involved. There are many kinds of bears in this scene: musclebears (very muscular), polarbears (the grey bears), cubs (younger bears) or chubbybears (bears with a few extra pounds). Traditionally, this scene catered primarily to ultra-manly men, but also welcomes trans-men. Lesbian butch women who take part in this scene are called ursulas.

Henk: This community is a niche within the gay community where I feel very much at home. In the gay scene it’s thought that when you turn thirty, you should probably shut yourself up in a monastery or something; that’s not the same with bears. It’s very open, loving, and huggable. We also don’t feel like conforming to aesthetic norms. People don’t judge: young, old, large, small: everyone’s welcome.  

Henk: Bears just don’t really care how you look, what you wear, how your hair is. You’ll also rarely if ever see a bear sporting large, eye-catching brands. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bear wearing Gucci, for example. It’s usually just lumberjack shirts with jeans.

Henk: When I go to work [Henk is a tax inspector], I almost always wear a plaid shirt. I feel comfortable in it. Actually, now that I look in my closet, it might be a bit much…

Henk: Sometimes I need to wear a suit for work, but whenever possible, I don’t. There are a few co-workers who keep asking me if I’ve gotten the title Mr. Bear 2016 yet. They’re pretty interested in that part of my life, yeah. Super funny. I’m also friends with a few of them on Facebook, and they ask me, ‘what’s that then?’ I say it’s sort of like Miss Universe but different…

Henk: The harness is pretty important to me. It comes from Canada and isn’t made here anymore. It breathes nicely when coupled with some shorts. Less is more, as they say.

Henk: When I go to a bear party, I usually dress pretty simply. Sport socks, sneakers, shorts, and a harness. That’s when I feel most comfortable. But, also typical of that scene: you don’t have to dress that way. There are enough men who spend the evening in a T-shirt; which is fine.

Henk: Aside from being a bear, I also partake in a little drag. Someone called me a drag-bear once. That’s a little less common within the bear community, but it’s just ‘part of Henk’, so I don’t pay much attention to negativity. I just like doing it.

Henk: Now that I’m Mr. Bear 2016 I might need to have less boobs and be more bear, haha.

Dorien Rozing foto
Dorien Rozing Hoofdredacteur
Bart Peters foto
Bart Peters Fotograaf