Mister Australasia Bear is from Bildstein, Vorarlberg, Austria!
Patrick from Bildstein
Patrick Greber from Bildstein is passionately dedicated towards the Australian LGBTIQ-Community. That’s why, in 2016, he won the Mr. Australasia Bear competition. His commitment stems from the experiences he’s made in Vorarlberg. He aims for a future in which no young person needs to feel the loneliness he experienced in his youth.
“I met my first boyfriend at the pull-in in Rankweil.” Patrick didn’t know any other places in which he could connect with LGBTIQ-people. Not only has he met gay and bisexual men, but also trans people. “I won’t ever forget that Transwoman, who told me, she could only be herself at night. That triggered something in me.” Patrick remembers.
His first relationships in Vorarlberg were all shaped by shame and the fear of exclusion – especially for his partners at that time. “My first boyfriend could only hold my hand in the car when we passed the border to Switzerland. When we left Vorarlberg he felt safe enough to give me a hug.” Sometimes Patrick would encounter gay men from the region too, although most of them were in the closet. The only way to meet them was secretly at night in their homes. A breakfast was not included, because one needed to leave the house before 5:30am, otherwise the neighbour could notice.
“I believe Vorarlberg is so narrow minded, because we are not visible enough. Even us, members of the LGBTIQ-community, keep hiding our identities.” Patrick talks about many people who lead a double life – and may feel pressure to stay in the closet. “This mentality has an impact on you. The more you meet other gays in secret, the more you believe you should be a secret too.”
To feel safe
It’s a completely different picture Patrick draws about Melbourne, the city he has been living for the past seven years. The community there is colourful, diverse and visible. It doesn’t matter if you are a Lipstick Lesbian, a Gay Bear or one of the Fetish folk: They all come together, support each other and feel like they are a part of a greater whole. “It was like a dream to me. Events with not only five but hundreds of people. Dancing, flirting and being myself without shame. But the most important part was that I felt safe.”
Feeling safe was not something Patrick experienced in Vorarlberg. In school he was bullied and when he came out of the closet he lost some of his friends. Patrick misses his home, but what he will never miss are the stupid questions he has been asked all the time: “Who is the man and who is the woman?”, “How do you have sex actually?”, “Why are all gays so pretty?” … On the one hand it’s a good thing, when people ask questions – it shows their interest. But, on the other hand, there’s a limit to genuine interest. Finally, those questions reinforce how LGBTIQ-individuals are perceived as ‘different’ and therefore are also treated ‘differently’ – mostly in a negative sense.
„I can change something“
Patrick feels most attached to Melbourne’s bear community. In the gay community bears are men who are hairy, stocky and have beards – just like Patrick himself. Historically, the bear scene has emerged as a counter reaction to the mainstream-gay-culture, in which most men have been slim, athletic and clean shaven. “Bear community is actually about body positivity, which means, it’s also open to slim folks: Because finally it’s about feeling good in your own skin.”
But how does one become a Mr. Bear, ergo an ambassador for the community? To Patrick it was the experiences he had in Vorarlberg. At the competition event he talked about his youth in Austria, and about feeling lonely. It seems that this has touched the audience and judges – and made him win. The first thing Patrick organised was a fundraising campaign for a LGBTIQ-mental health counselling, in which he raised $20,000.
So what could motivate a committed person like Patrick to move back to Vorarlberg? “I love Europe with its many cultures, and I love Vorarlberg for its wonderful landscapes. But, should I ever come back, it wouldn’t be to Vorarlberg because too much has to change there for the LGTBIQ community. If I did somehow find myself living in Vorarlberg then it would be up to me to make those changes. Waiting for others to do so is lost time.”