August Is Bear Season in Sonoma County

Nonfiction by Alex Clark

I’ve always worn my shorts below the knee, mostly because I have a twenty-six-inch inseam and I don’t like to show how chubby my thighs are—how untoned. But, as I eat sushi at a burger joint in a dirty river town just outside of San Francisco, I want to be the kind of chubby man who wears short shorts—because this is the first time in my life that I’m surrounded by so many chubby guys wearing short shorts. My wife and I are here on vacation, and so are many bears—the gay kind.

My wife and I are a happy couple—the gay kind . . . well, sort of.

What is the word for a couple like us, a couple that looks heteronormative but isn’t? Queer works, but queer lacks specificity. I am a transgender man who is in love with a woman who is attracted to all kinds of beauty, no matter where someone identifies on the gender spectrum.

I am also a man who once thought of himself as a lesbian, a man who now finds himself staring at all the beautiful varieties of boy thighs, hairy, tan, muscular, and, yes, chubby too. Bears in leather vests and chaps, in trendy tailored button-ups and flip flops, bare-chested bears with biceps and impressive tattoos. Old grizzly bears and their tanned-brown cubs walking dachshunds, shih tzus, German shepherds, and pit bulls. Bears with glitter eye shadow and pastel toenail polish, bears who have a falsetto lilt to their tone, and bears whose low voices boom and echo in alleyways. My wife says that she feels more comfortable here, surrounded by men who are far more interested in checking out each other than letting their eyes linger too long on her. For me, being the object of desire is a thrill; there is no fear attached, not here.

There’s a couple sitting in the corner of the restaurant, a man whose hair fades to silver at his temples and at the ends of his sideburns, and a man whose expertly groomed beard does not hide the deep dimples in his cheeks. Both are wearing short shorts. I find myself gazing too long at them, hope they don’t misread my stares as something other than admiration, as an attraction I never anticipated before I started to physically transition.

The younger man, the one whose hair is curly and brown, stares back at me, flashes a smile and then a wink. I swoon. Soon, they leave the restaurant. More bears roll in to take their places.

I wonder if these boys would want my body if they knew I had breasts beneath this binder? If they knew that, between my legs, there is just a tiny imitation of what they have? Does it even matter as much as I think it does?

After dinner, in a dimly-lit tequila bar, we get invited to a clothing-optional pool party, an invitation we decline because we’re tired, and because we don’t want to be read as a straight couple who thought it was okay to crash a very non-straight party.

Later that night, I dream of bearded boys in short-shorts, the golden leg hair on their calves, their butt-cheeks barely hidden by their brightly colored bottoms. I dream of dancing with them, our chests covered in a mixture of sweat and glitter, too busy moving to question complexities: just a man who loves his wife dancing with men who are attracted to men—who are attracted to me.

Alex Clark is an MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University, where he is the non-fiction editor of Passages North. His work received an honorable mentioned in Storm Cellar‘s 2017 Force Majeure Flash Contest, and can be found or is forthcoming in Barking Sycamores, Foliate Oak, and Crab Fat Magazine.