By: Chris Gonzalez, Mr. Bare Bear 2018
A young 25-year-old is running around the streets of Manhattan with bleach blonde hair and a gay pride scarf tied around his neck, scrambling to find a charter bus near Port Authority in a sea of charter buses, and 14 men he has never met before to check-in, board, and transport them to an undisclosed campground in the middle of the Poconos for a week of naked camaraderie. Little did he know that some of the men on that bus ride would become his distant second family in a matter of a week, after being awarded the title of GNI Bare Bear 2018.
It’s been surreal. It’s been unbelievable. And it’s been difficult.
Being a title holder for an event that you TRULY believe in has been the most rewarding experience for me; because of the exposure, I’ve gotten to really challenge people’s standards of what naked camp is and my views on body inclusivity.
In the midst of my title year, I moved from one state to another starting my life over completely at 26. I moved for the wrong reasons, and had to live with my decision for the time being. At my lowest, my mental health and self-worth plummeted. A title holder is supposed to be confident and upstanding. A title holder in my eyes was Brian Becnel, Ralph Bruneau or Jonathan Kharfen, all of whom I looked up to for inspiration to keep pushing forward.
All of this to say: I love GNI. It was the freest I have felt in my entire life. It saved me. It has saved me, numerous times. The messages from that second family I gained at camp during my times of crisis came at the most necessary points in my time of transition to Atlanta, and that’s why I am pushing forward. If one more person can experience the love that flows through the mountains of the Poconos every August even just once in their life, it could very well save them, as it did me.
Smile a bit longer.
Send that message to that friend you haven’t talked to in a while…
You never know what good you might be doing for someone else.
-Mr. Bare Bear 2018, Chris Gonzalez
**Please consider donating to The Trevor Project at www.trevorproject.org