When the “Bear” Coach Gets Coached: Using Your Story to Build Resiliency and Inclusion

by Guest Author

20 years ago, I came to the realization that I made choices about my career, the people that I surround myself with, the places I choose to live and how I express my own sense of uniqueness, based on an informal sense of direction. While I was always focused and had some form in inner compass, I did not see this as a part of my process at the time that would end up being a major foundation to my work as a mentor and coach.

In college, I had a sense that I would not be happy in the traditional 9-5 corporate IT world. Life offered me options and privilege. I was able to take advantage of and manage the course load that was expected of me, while also taking courses in subjects that inspired me.

After graduating, I settled into my first professional role as a young LGBT. I was hungry for adventure and wanting to be part of the social justice movement that at the time was missing in the work place for LGBT people. Because I am a white, Italian American, hairy and full framed male, or as people used to like to say a “big guy”, I often passed as straight and I was rarely ever harassed for being gay. Occasionally, I experienced the “mean girl” syndrome where men and women alike made snarky remarks about my hairy shoulders or my size. It was especially telling to hear words like “you have such good core muscle, if you only lost some weight, you would be quite the catch”.

It was within the gay men’s world that I was often left with a sense of invisibility. Being hairy and big wasn’t valued as attractive or acceptable for the new “gay archetype”. So while having to fight acceptance in society, many of us had the added fight of also feeling a part of what we were so driven to find acceptance in.

As luck would have it, after time spent in Boston working for now defunct Gay Community News, a LGBT collective, newsweekly with a strong political slant, I moved to Provincetown. I had spent many summers in P-town and eventually called it home for several years before moving to San Francisco in the early 90’s to begin work at Brush Creek Media.

As I settled into life in San Francisco, I took with me a sense of confidence and identity that came from not being afraid to stand out. I understood that my look and the space I hold could be an asset, instead of something to be pushed aside. As time went on, I participated in a new, growing sense of body politic that was taking the country by storm; the Bear and Big Men’s movement. Periodicals geared to gay and bisexual men of size (and for those who liked them) began to grow. As publishing and mailing rules changed with respect to LGBT content, new titles like Bear Magazine, Bulk Male, Big Ad, along with a series of events started to crop up. Events like Bay Area’s Lazy Bear Weekend and Provincetown’s Bear Week were just two examples. But they were happening all over the world.

Seeing ourselves in print and knowing that social events existed that celebrated the larger framed man helped to give us visibility and an economic strength. The Power of the “Bear Dollar” became a compelling new fiscal element to LGBT advertising and tourism dollars, as well as the portfolio of fundraising for HIV/AIDs and other services. Even more important, we had given ourselves the “permission” to not fit the mold of Matel’s Ken Doll.

As time went on, as a national trainer, speaker and coach, I saw my client base change as large and full frame people of all genders began to actively engage in reclaiming professional equality and visibility in work, love, erotica and life. What was most fascinating to me was that it wasn’t that people were asking for tools to “accept” who they were. Rather, it was the urgency to develop new policies and introduce tools to deal with other people’s sense of entitlement and ignorance on body size. To address equity in the workplace based on the quality of work, not a person’s trouser or dress size.

In August 2018, I was asked to share some of the steps that “Bears” learned to reclaim space socially and professionally in a world built for the regular sized person, during TEDxProvincetown called “What The Bears Can Teach Goldilocks”.

Sharing who I was has never been an issue. I learned early on that to be the best I can be today means owning who I was in the past. In this case, it was going to play out on the TEDx platform.

So, on June 30, 2018 I found myself talking about these very same issues to a wider audience of more than just LGBT folks – there were 300 people made up of different races, ethnicities, sizes, genders and yes, orientations!

Of course, this partnered perfect with my efforts with to support all people in making the “best fit” choices for themselves and creating what they need when they don’t see it offered. In fact, I reinforced how to create your own “best fit” as I closed the talk with 4 take-a-ways;

Self-acceptance: When we look in the mirror, we all see things we may want to change. But that doesn’t negate who we are, or the assets we bring to the table by being our authentic self.

Compassion: You don’t have to accept being marginalized, judged or threatened by the norms that others set. Understand that love, compassion and beauty take many shapes and don’t need permission to blossom.

Confidence: People who are relaxed in their skin are sexy, and hold an inner sparkle that breaks free of society’s trappings and expectations.

Joy: Enjoy the life that you have. You don’t have to appeal to everyone’s ideal. Just your own.

So, it was an honor to share my experience as a gay man on body shaming, invisibility, resilience, and lessons learned from a “bigger” perspective with an incredible group of people. The greatest gift for me has been some of the responses from men who shared similar experiences and feelings. Each week I get email and tweets from people asking for resources local or how my willingness to come to speak to them. So much so, that I recently starting the planning for a “Claim Your Body & Thrive” tour that I hope to launch in the spring. (Additional details on the Claim Your Body & Thrive” can be found on my website or by contacting me direct at

Doing the “What The Bears Can Teach Goldilocks” TEDx truly is the reminder that when we share a part of who we are, the true learning and change occurs. While not everyone will like or agree, those who need to hear the message will.

Guest Post by Frank Strona.

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