leather bearSo as part of the work I do for a local lawyer, I happened to be filing something with the county clerk’s office. Whence I arrived to do so, I immediately noticed that the man behind the counter had a certain distinctive look about him. He was large with a shaved bald head and a large mustache. He was rocking a plaid shirt. He was either- a biker or and this is what got me all excited- a bear/leatherman. Now, both are plausible possibilities. Santa Fe is a popular stop on the open road, and motorcycles are a common sight plowing through town. It also has the second highest per capita gay population in the country, only to be outdone by my hometown, the other SF. So, I was all the more curious to know. Maybe this is none of my business- what is my perogative in trying to make assumptions about his identity or lifestyle? At the same time-identifying members of your own community and making yourself known to them is great fun… I kept trying to brainstorm something I could say or ask him to make obvious whether I was barking up the wrong tree. I imagined the outcome of the relatively “straight” forward tack- “Are you a bear sir?” or maybe I could just “woof”? Bears at the Folsom street fair “woof” at each other sometimes. I imagined everyone thinking I was crazy if he wasn’t in fact a burly gay man into other burly gay men. Would it be better of worse for him to have any clue what I was talking about in that case? And what exactly was I hoping he’d say back if in fact he was a leatherman? How was I planning to explain my own connection? Luckily, first I had to find the right question to ask… “Are you family?”, maybe? Friends of Dorothy? I ran through all the in-code I could think of. “Families like mine”- the Guide to Queerspawn talks about “in-code”, the language formed to talk amongst yourself and community. Yiddish is my favorite in-code, a language that existed as a response to the anti-semitic environment jews inhabited between the Crusades and the Holocaust. Everything in that language is an inside joke- “how you doin” literally translates to something like f-ck Jesus and his followers, it’s hilarious. Anyhow, none of that was help to me in calling out the bear behind the desk and so I was stuck just smiling excessively at him. And when he smiled lots back I was no more clear on whether it was flirtation or mind reading or basic politeness that was behind it. Ah well….