Jonathan Cohen was born to non-bear parents 40-some years ago in Toronto, Canada. Growing up as a child in the suburban 1970s, he noticed the social acceptance of body hair and beards. The swinging ’70s even encouraged men to open their wide-necked shirts to the waist to better show off their hairy chests.
Unfortunately, social trends and Jonathan managed to miss each other by about ten years. As he entered puberty in the 1980s, he started to sprout hair where none had been before—a hairy chest, a beard, and—God forbid—eventually hair on his back. Meanwhile, the gay icons of the 80s had all become slim, hairless wonders. Where had all the body hair gone?
Jonathan wasn’t about to take the time to find out. Entering the Commerce program at the University of Toronto, he soon underwent a regular regimen of shaving (ouch), waxing (double ouch), and even plucking (don’t ask) in order to stay with the times. But his genetics were against him, and eventually his dalliances at the twin altars of Nair and Gillette had to come to an end.
By the early 1990s, when Jonathan was attending law school at the University of British Columbia, he decided to let his hair, beard, body hair and weight grow, until he resembled a fuzzy plush doll. One memorable comment at the legal publisher where he worked in the mid-’90s was that he looked like a “hairy mountain man—here to edit legal decisions.”
The rise of the Internet in 1995 connected Jonathan to a community he’d never heard of before. “Bears” were hairy, bearded, large men, Jonathan found to his surprise—and they liked men just like him! After coming out to himself and others as a bear, he decided to study their community, their rituals, and of course their sexual practices. The novel Bear Like Me was the result and was published in 2003.
Jonathan now lives back in Toronto, accompanied by his elderly parents, boyfriend Chris, and cat Leela. Brown hair is turning to gray, but Jonathan still remembers those halcyon bear days and gropes of yore.
Where to buy in print
Bear Like Me: A Novel
by Jonathan Cohen
Fired from his job at Phag Magazine, Peter Mallory has to find a way to make a living…and get revenge! When his best friend suggests writing a book about the bear community—and using his new ursine look to go undercover at Phag—Peter is soon letting his body hair grow and practicing the fine art of flannel couture. A humorous and insightful book about gay bear culture.
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