Ron Burrage, GNI's Mr. Bare Bear 2017, shares some thoughts via a Q&A with the GNI BuffBuzz team.
Where do you live currently and are you involved with any nudist or bear groups in your hometown?
I’ve recently relocated to New York City from Harrisburg, PA and am beyond excited to be in a place where there are more bears in the city than in the zoo! Both Miss Lace and Mr. GNI Leather are now my neighbors and looking forward to exploring the city together and getting more involved. We have our first “date night” on Monday! I’ll be sure to send pictures!
Was this past year your first time at camp?
Officially, yes. I had participated in the Body Electric workshop the year before and made it to the opening night of the GNI disco but did not stay for the week. The disco, and Pete from Cabin I-2 were actually what convinced me to spend the full week at camp.
Can you recall the drive up to camp and what was going through your head the first time you came to The Gathering?
My husband and I live in different states and we were meeting at The Gathering for our summer vacation. He had arrived earlier for Body Electric, so I was a little anxious to see him and wondered what our cabin mates would be like.
Were there any activities at camp that made the experience that much more enjoyable for you?
It goes without saying, the disco is pretty amazing. I couldn’t wait to get there every night. I also participated in body painting and spent lots of time at the pool. And of course, once I decided to enter the Mr. Bare Bear competition, there were lots of events and activities that kept me busy. Most of all, I really enjoyed getting to meet people from all around the world, share stories, beers and the dance floor!
Who did you live with for the week? Did you know them prior to your arrival at camp?
I met most of my cabin mates the day I arrived. We had chatted a bit on Facebook in advance to help with planning/coordinating, but with the exception of my husband, I met everyone the day I arrived.
What was it like competing for Mr. Bare Bear?
OMG. So much fun. Mr. Bare Bear 2016 told me I should enter the competition and I thought it was a good way to break the ice with people I didn’t know. While the challenges were really fun, my favorite part was collecting “point cards” as it gave me a chance to literally approach every man at camp. I was really surprised at how open everyone was to conversation – bear, otter, daddy, etc., - it really didn’t matter. Many of the people I’ve stayed in contact with are people I wouldn’t have felt comfortable approaching in a bar. The Bare Bear contest and The Gathering really broke down any insecurities I may have had about myself or assumptions I may have made about others.
Do you have any philanthropies, causes or movements that are close to your heart that you want to use your title to bring light to?
I am a member of the HRC Founder Club and have held board positions on Equality Pennsylvania as well as local community theatres. While it’s not easy to directly connect those to GNI, the value of inclusivity and helping those who don’t have the means to have a voice be heard.
If not, what do you think are the responsibilities of someone with a title such as yours during their “title year”?
I think the most important thing any title member can do is spread the word about GNI. But, I also think that is the responsibility of anyone who has attended The Gathering in the past. This community is so special and we’re only going to be able to keep it going and flourishing through our commitment to share the love. I’d also love to talk to anyone who might be considering The Gathering but needs an extra push or dose of confidence to make it happen. (**Editor's Note: If interested in connecting with Ron, please send email here.)
What advice would you give to someone who has never been to The Gathering before but wants to come?
Go. There’s nothing like it. There is such a diverse group of men and activities at The Gathering. Truly something for someone for everyone.
What is the reason that you have been to camp, you keep coming back, or encourage other people to attend?
My first trip was for Body Electric, which opened the door to the world of GNI and The Gathering. I had so much fun and met so many interesting people in just one night that I really wanted to come back to experience the full event and I don’t regret it. I’ll keep coming back for the people and camaraderie.
Any words of encouragement for any guys out there who may be hesitant to attend a nudist event because of confidence, body image or self esteem issues?
As a bear who has been on a diet since the third grade, I have always wanted to be thinner, fitter, taller, etc. None of that matters at The Gathering. Truly. I also loved meeting men without any of the status elements that come into play in the real world. Everyone enters on a level playing field. And by the time your bags are to your room or tent, you forget you’re not wearing any clothes.
I hope to meet you at the next Gathering.