Commentary: 1995

One thing that happened in 1995... Photo by Randy Stern
One thing that happened in 1995… Photo by Randy Stern

The automotive mind is one to behold for a lifetime. However, it was never in the cards twenty years ago that it would become front and center of this life.

Back in 1995, I was in a completely different space. As much as I loved the automobile, I threw away a lot of dreams and ideas about it. perhaps because nothing inspired me to do anything on the subject matter, except drive rental cars that would be seen as mundane and boring to today's standards. Yet, I never thought that the life choices I would make twenty years ago would end up framing what I do today.

Twenty years ago, I fell in love and tried to consummate a long distance relationship. I was in Concord, California; he was in the Puget Sound area in Washington state. He thought it was a great idea that I move there instead of languish in California. He was right…so I thought. I did not know that the consummation process would be short. Very short. It ended that quickly. Had I known that we would not be a couple, I would not have moved northward.

While I was in the Puget Sound area, I got a job selling cars at a Toyota dealer outside of Seattle. For the record, I never sold one car. It did introduce me to one side of the automotive retailing business that is now familiar to me through this current work.

After a month or so in the Pacific Northwest, I had enough. I found my way back to the Bay Area – specifically, back to Concord. Lessons learned, I needed to reboot myself.

I rather not delve into details on how I arrived at this thing I started in 1995 in the aftermath of an unconsummated relationship and a failed relocation in the Seattle-Tacoma area. I did have some tools at my disposal. First, my landlord/roommate had a bulletin board service in his garage. It linked up to a lane on the information highway. He introduced me to the idea of connectivity to the greater world without having to resort to expensive phone bills, letters and waiting…as in waiting for the mail to come. E-mail was instant. Messaging was as instant, but immediate.

Let us not forget that America Online offered a shell of the Internet that provided even greater opportunities to chat, meet new people of common interests and see how social behavior has changed for good.

Though my then-roommate/landlord, I witnessed the behavior of a subphylum of human beings. Even if you are not in the LGBT world, you probably heard of Bears. In 1995, the community had a tough time defining what a Bear was. For the most part, they would be considered above average in body mass, weight, facial hair, body hair…in all, the opposite of what a gay/bisexual male archetype was at the time.

Back in 1995, Bears were a relatively new thing. They were a response to two things: Body fascism and the AIDS epidemic. They were also part of a divide between generations. The Baby Boomers that sparked the Stonewall Riots and lead the charge towards political and social change, saw the coming of Generation X. Since Bear culture had roots in the Leather/BDSM community, there was a sense of subservience when it came to age. Gen-Xers rejected this notion for the most part. I saw this in some of the writings of an e-mail list that was distributed to interested Bears across the globe.

Then, I came up with an idea. I should explain that when I get an idea, people should tell me not to put it into action. However, some of those ideas became successes. For example…this website you are reading right now.

Another example was the response I had to the subservient attitudes I witnessed in Bear culture. I proposed the idea of creating a space for younger Bear-identified gay/bisexual men online. In 1995, I was not privy to all of the tools executing such a movement. In time, the idea was born – called Gen-X Bears – and a few people stepped up to help build it in various places around the globe.

What happened afterward was extraordinary. People did come together online and off. Friendships were struck. We even broke a few rules along the way. It was an organic form of community building that was needed at the time. The whole thing lasted longer than most people predicted.

There was an interesting twist to my second time in Concord. My then-roommate/landlord was in a long term relationship with a car guy. He had various classic Chryslers and left said person with an AMC Eagle. When the partner died, the landlord/roommate had to sell the classics. This air of automotive enthusiasm certainly help fuel my enthusiasm for the automobile knowing that, yes, there are gay/bisexual men who love cars as equally as I do…sort of.

That year was amazing that what transpired as an online discussion thread turned out to be the basis of the work you see today. Even in the periphery of Gen-X Bears, I still maintained the enthusiasm for the automobile even though I no longer had a vehicle to own. I did not need to, as my automotive ADD began to permeate my soul.

Through Gen-X Bears, I did observe one automotive anomaly. Bear culture was supposed to embody masculinity. That was fueled in part by images of men driving pickup trucks and Jeep Wranglers. I pointed out early on that it was absolutely not true. The Bears I knew drove compact cars – Saturns, Nissan Sentras, Geo Metros and the like.

In the throes of doing this work, there are reminders of the events of twenty years ago that keep popping upon occasion. For example, the friendships I made over this time circle right back to this professional endeavor. They read this work, which I am grateful for. Sometimes, they would occasionally message me on Facebook to find out what I think about certain vehicles. Others was a part of the overall arc of this work from providing me my first job in journalism to the creation of this website.

What is amazing is how much we GXB'ers have emerged from Bear culture onto new endeavors in both work and life. Some have moved onto the creative realm through work that is outstanding in every way. For those of us who have moved beyond the trappings of the culture, we found peace in our lives through the things we do, the people we love and the lives we now live. The world has changed around us – marriage equality and other advances never thought to become reality twenty years ago.

Plus, the relationship between the LGBT community and the automotive industry has changed. In some places, there are companies that welcome us at work and are doing more than just exhibiting equality within the walls of the company's facilities. We are becoming more prominent in every aspect of the business – from marketing, design and engineering to the retail and servicing of our vehicles. This was another change I always dreamed of, even at the beginning of Gen-X Bears.

I have since forgotten about those moments twenty years ago. Some of obvious reasons…mainly to never repeat the same mistake(s) again. However, to look back is to see and know where you are at today. Gen-X Bears was a moment that I do look back. It has yielded so much for me professionally and personally.

One could question whether a movement to bring a generation of subculturally-identified men onto a larger stage has to with a career in automotive journalism. You are not the only one. It is something that I have to admit that is a part of my psyche: "I'm a doer." When the moment comes and the research plays in favor of that idea…it is done. Sure, there are some things to learn prior and "on the job," but it will be done.

Perhaps that is why I am thankful for the moments I lived through twenty years ago that frame what I do today.

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