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Interview: Racoon Hut on Flying Bear, the first book on Hong Kong bear culture

"People must know that not everyone in the world is trying to keep fit. Some try their best to keep fat"

For better or for worse, labels often lead to stereotypes. But a label can only ever go so far – it tells us little, if anything, about a lived experience. For Hong Kong writer Racoon Hut, the story of Asian bear culture is one that needs to be told. He does just that in his newly released book, Flying Bear, the first to be published in Hong Kong about one of the largest gay subcultures. We talk to him about the stories behind the stereotype...

Hi Racoon! Tell us about Flying Bear...
There are three parts. The first is fiction, where a young bear falls in love with a GV [gay pornographic] actor in Japan. The second part is poetry. And the third part is a diary I kept between 2003 and 2012, when I studied in Japan and Australia for my master’s degree. So this book is from the perspective of a Hong Kong bear but it also touches on different bear societies in Asia.

Is the book just for bears, then?
I don’t want it to just be for bears. Some [non-bear] people also like fat people. I want people to know that not everyone in the world is trying to keep fit – some try their best to keep fat. Fit is not the only beauty in the world. Making Hong Kong people think about this is one of the missions of my book.

Is bear culture the same in the East as it is in the West?
It’s quite different. In the West, even if you’re not very heavy but you are very hairy, you’re still called a bear. Bears in the West are also linked with leather but in the East, we don’t have these conceptions. There aren’t many Asians who are hairy. We define a bear as someone who is heavier or chubbier – they can be muscular but keep some fat to be stocky, but some are pure chub and very soft.

What’s Hong Kong bear culture like today?
It’s better than before but it’s still not harmonic. Even 10 years ago, some people said that fat people shouldn’t be allowed to go to [now closed gay club] Propaganda. Gay people are already discriminated against in mainstream culture. So why, if we’re all gay men, do we still have to discriminate? It doesn’t make sense. Today in Hong Kong, it’s a lot better – we have our own bars, even our own saunas. But still, most developed countries nowadays are gay friendly, but not too fat friendly.

What needs to happen for this to change?
I think more people need to speak their mind – just me is not enough. Nowadays, no individual can really represent any group of people. People tend to think that coming out is for gay people in a straight world but many straight men also need to come out. A handsome guy won’t tell anyone that he likes a chubby lady. This is not showing your true colours. If everyone could express what they felt out loud, people wouldn’t need to care about what others think.

What does it mean to be a bear?
Being a bear is not just about body size. It’s a kind of spirit or belief or faith. For example, I am heavier and I like chubby people. I also know how to make myself look better in a ‘bear’ way. But fat people who like skinny people will dress in black to make themselves look skinnier. I don’t think these guys have the bear spirit. Even if you’re fat, you should love yourself – we think we are fat and that we are still perfect. 

Finally, we have to ask – how did you come up with your Racoon alias?
Too many people in Hong Kong had already made up names with bears. So I used a name that looks like a bear but isn’t exactly a bear. And raccoons are very cute. There are no raccoons in Hong Kong, so it was more exotic.

Flying Bear by Racoon Hut, published by Red Corporation, $88. To order, visit red-publish.com.

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