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Big hairy men and acts of charity – hooray for holidays

Weekend!Nightlife: On the Rocks
by: KATIE HARTLEY, Mark Brown, Mr. Oregon Bear 2007, plays Santa, giving lap time to the naughty and nice at the Bears-sponsored Community Holiday Show.

'Here comes Suzy Snowflake … '

The plinking, prissy song blasts through the nightclub speakers. A man dressed in a frothy, sparkling white tutu, with a matching white beard and mustache, dances on stage, mouthing the words to the song: 'If you want to make a snowman, I'll help you make one, one-two-three. If you want to take a sleigh ride, whoop!' - here the man makes a suggestive bump and grind motion - 'the ride's on me!'

I'm at Darcelle XV Showplace for the Community Holiday Show. The show is sponsored by the Oregon Bears, a club for hairy gay men and their admirers, and it features cabaret acts from the bear, leather and drag communities.

It's one of the best-attended events of the year, says show Chairman Ben Brown Jr., as well as the Bears' biggest fundraiser of the year.

Proceeds go to Esther's Pantry, which provides support for those living with HIV/AIDS, and Central City Concern, which works with Portland's homeless.

In some ways, this holiday show is like any other. The mood is cheery, the acts range from hilarious to a bit slow and, for most of the audience, the fun comes from knowing the performers personally.

In other ways, this is not your hometown Christmas pageant. There's a sadomasochistic vignette, a salacious dance by a man in a cop uniform, and an awe-inspiring interpretation of 'MacArthur Park' by the ball gown-clad Poison Waters.

Yet somehow, all the raunch doesn't make a travesty of the season.

Ben Brown is a member of the Bears, and he's also Mr. Oregon State Leather 2007. I ask him, as an official representative of the nonmainstream, whether Christmas is different for him and his community.

'It's probably even more celebrated,' he replies. 'I know a lot of people in this community who absolutely love this holiday. It is their absolute favorite. It's actually no different from any other community. To be honest with you, I think we do it with a little more flash.'

For the hour leading up to the show, Mark Brown, who is Mr. Oregon Bear 2007, has been playing Santa.

His furry red tunic is sleeveless, revealing a tattoo on his upper arm, and it's fastened in front with looping chains that emphasize his hairy chest. Adult men sit on his lap to have their picture taken.

Right now Santa has a natural gray beard, but Brown says he wore a fluffy white fake beard last time he played Santa.

That was two years ago at a department store. The appearance was a lot more daunting, he says, because it was such a big deal to the children. 'Those little kids were told they were going to see Santa,' he explains. 'They had this look in their eyes.'

Also wearing Santa-inspired regalia is Tsunami Foxx, who has found a red gown with white fur trim to complement her blond, mile-high, cotton-candy hair. I ask her if, from her perspective as a member of a cultural underground, there's anything alienating about Christmas.

'No, not at all,' she says, 'We're all human. We're all people.'

She looks at me like I'm weird. Who walks around a Christmas show asking people if they're alienated by Christmas?

Anyway, it's time to stop asking questions and settle in for the charity auction. Up for bidding? Gourmet coffee, a homemade afghan, and toys from the neighborhood's sex shops.