The world of title holders in the gay community is one you feel like would be documented on MTV’s True Life back in the early 2000’s. Sure, we have films and shows like Paris is Burning, The Queen and now POSE on F/X when it comes to getting a peek into what goes on in this sort of environment … but what about the other kinds that run the muck within our community?
The lunch room and tables within what a title holder can be continues to get bigger and bigger. “Category is,” can run aplenty for the amount of titles someone can have in a certain portion of this community. A variety of contests for people with fetishes like pup play and leather all the way to more traditional “societal pageant” norms do exist in this interesting cafeteria.
Is this something that will find a mainstream audience eventually, similar to what drag has, or will it remain a mystery that only the people who show up, attend and compete in them will ever know about.
In an Instinct exclusive, I spoke with New York City’s very own Ted Bishop Nieves, who currently holds not one, but two titles: Mr. Urban Bear 2018 and Mr. Fire Island Bear 2018. He spoke about the world of title holding, his journey into it, how friendly or shady everyone can truly be and his best advice to someone who wants to get involved.
How did you find yourself in this "title holding" world? Was it something that interested you for many years in the community?
It wasn’t something that I had sought out really. My fiancé, Kory Harmon, is very close friends with a title holder, Mr. Eagle 2017, John-John. I had never known or been around any previous title holders really, but through their relationship and their relationships with other title holders, I was able to see that these titles were a great deal more than just fetish pageants for leather and gear lovers. There is awesome work involved and a certain responsibility to help our communities that these titles serve as a platform.
As Mr. Eagle 2017, John-John brought a great deal of awareness and support for issues affecting some of the more marginalized members of our communities, such as trans people of color, and he also helped to shed light on those issues, spreading awareness and letting people know ways in which they could help. I also witnessed how another friend, Dan Jimenez, used his title Mr. Fire Island Bear 2017, to do a lot more with it than any other person with that title had done before him. That had a lot to do with why I decided to compete. I had just won the first Mr. Urban Bear 2018 title on a whim and had already wanted to do more with it. When the opportunity presented itself and I was urged to compete for Mr. Fire Island Bear 2018, I couldn’t pass it up. So, I ran with it and here I am. A title whore with two titles for the year. LOL. Now the things that I will be able to do with these titles are ones that I’ve always wanted to do, but had a hard time figuring out how to go about starting. Raising funds and working to shed light on charities and issues that mean a lot to me is probably the most important part of being a titleholder. Same thing with being a role model. These are very important things to me, so I hope that I am most successful on that part.
Does a lot of what goes on behind the scenes ring true to what drag pageants are?
I’d have to say that it’s different in that appearance isn’t as big a focus, per se. You still have to deal with the selection of outfits and making sure that you meet all the criteria expected of you, but I haven’t quite reached that title level. The most important thing, I feel, is to be yourself. Be absolutely true to who you are at your core and I think that you can succeed as a title holder. That is probably the biggest thing that drag pageants and the title holder world share in common.
You currently have two titles. What are they and when did you win them?
I am currently the first ever Mr. Urban Bear 2018 sponsored by Robert Valin and the Urban Bear team. I won that title back on May 20th of this year at the Urban Bear Street Festival. It was such a hoot. Robert really put together an awesome party and it was just a purely fun event for me.
Then I won Mr. Fire Island Bear 2018 on June 9th during Shane Tate’s AMAZING Fire Island Bear Weekend event. That was also an incredibly fun weekend made all the more special by having won this title.
Were you shocked that you took the title for either... or both?
I was actually shocked that I took both titles. Mr. Urban Bear I decided to do on a whim fueled by a few drinks lol. I truly wasn’t expecting to win and the guys I competed with were so much fun as well.
Mr. Fire Island Bear I had not really had much intention of running for, but a friend urged me on and, again, after a few drinks, I decided to go for it. This was a much different experience as there was an interview involved and I knew that it was a different level than what I was expecting.
I know a lot of hateration goes on (hello, this is the gay community) when it comes to the winners and the ones who don't. How do you deal with it and not get sucked into all the bulls**t?
”Hateration”. There’s a word I haven’t heard in a while. lol. I have to tell you that I have not had that experience AT ALL. I’m not going to lie and say that it doesn’t exist because we all know that it does. I can share with you the experience of one of my fellow title holders. My predecessor, Dan Jimenez, did an incredible photo shoot for Fire Island Bear Weekend with some really fun and campy photos. Some of the responses on social media, however, seemed to take offense to the fact that Dan was not reflecting what they thought was the masculine ideal for a title holder and sent some pretty nasty messages.
Dan decided to turn that negative into a positive and came up with a project called Title Holders and Tiaras, a calendar with a different title holder for each month breaking down the barriers between what we consider unhealthy masculine ideals and the reality of our every day. I have the pleasure of being part of this project as Mr. November with my fiancé. The calendar will be available for sale at A Man For Every Season event at the Eagle on August 17th and the proceeds will go to the Tyler Clementi Foundation which battles bullying and suicide. At the end of the day, I am very fortunate to say that my experience has been nothing but positive and supportive from the people in my circle and other title holders as well.
Do you plan on competing for any other titles this year?
Right now, I’m focused on working on a few fundraisers, beginning with one that I’m doing with the current reigning Mr. Eagle 2018, Joseph Macchia, called Colors, a Dance Party. That will be taking place on September 20th at the Eagle NYC. We’re raising funds for the True Colors Fund, who work to help homeless LGBTQ youth around the country. Plus, I have my DJing which is keeping me busy with events in Sept with Antonio Cedeno (The Male Room 1 Year Anniversary at ReBar Chelsea), John-John (Purgatory Thursdays on Sept 27th at RockBar NYC) and Matty Bryan and Julio Rios (Soaked on Friday Sept. 21st also at RockBar NYC). After I’ve done at least one more fundraiser, I will consider what my options might be.
What would you say to someone who wants to get involved in this arena but is too shy to do so?
I would tell them to just do it. You never know what you might be capable of if you keep yourself out of the spotlight. Shine, be yourself and most of all, have FUN!