Do you have trouble telling a bear from an otter? Let John Waters help.

“The bear community is a community that all gay people know what they are, but no straight people do,” he says. “Bears are middle-aged, overweight gay men, and they like it. They are hairy and they like cubs, which are younger versions. And then there are otters, people who aren’t fat or hairy yet but will be.”

The 69-year-old filmmaker and author, known for Hairspray, Polyester, Pink Flamingos, and other movies, demonstrated his mastery of gay lingo during a talk in his hometown of Baltimore.

“There’s a lot of vocabulary,” he says. “I’ve heard people say ‘This is my hus-bear,’ and ‘This is my significant otter.’ But I heard two new ones recently. Somebody said, ‘Oh, he’s such a blouse,’ and I said, ‘A blouse?’ and they said. ‘Oh, a feminine top.’ And then somebody said, ‘Oh he’s not a bear anymore. He’s a dolphin,’ and I said, ’What’s a dolphin?’ That’s where you shave and you’re really nelly.” (He does a twitching dolphin impression.)

Waters, who is gay, says he’s intrigued by one category.

“I had never even heard of this one: autosexuals,” he says. “A psychiatrist at a fancy girl’s college told me, ‘We have to ask them now, if they come in for counseling: Are you gay? Straight?… All those initials. Then we have to say, ‘Are you autosexual?’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ And they said, ‘That’s a person who prefers masturbation to sex with other people.’ And I said, ‘Well, isn’t that everybody?’ And they said, ‘No, an autosexual, if they ever have sex with another person, they feel they have been unfaithful to themself.’ This is the next battle with the Catholic church: I want to marry myself.”

Standing onstage in the restored Senator Theatre, dressed in a tailored jacket with a spotlight on him, Waters comes across as a mix of Jerry Seinfeld, with his observational humor, and Michael Kors, with his Project Runway tartness. He has a quick, stream-of-consciousness delivery that allows him to flow easily from one subject to the next, as if he’s at a cocktail party.

As far as kink is concerned, Waters says, he tries to be accepting, but he has to draw the line sometimes.

“Adult babies? Uh oh. Lock them up. I’m not much into them,” he says. “Have you seen them? Three hundred pound men in a baby bonnet and a bassinet? I’m like, oh no no no. Lock them up.”

He doesn’t mind sploshers.

“I like them all right. That’s people who have sex with food. I’m liberal. I mean, I think we should encourage piggish men to be sploshers… You can’t date rape a cookie… Let them do it. Who cares?”

But he has a problem with feeders and gainers.

“Feeders are chubby chasers” who are into S&M, he says. “The feeder has his partner, and they’re called a gainer. And they keep feeding the gainer until he or she gets so fat that they can’t get out of bed. Then they put a funnel in their mouth and then shove more food down into it … until Richard Simmons has to come and take them out through the window with a crane or something. I‘m kind of against them, too. I … try to be liberal but sometimes that is really going too far.”

Speaking of definitions, Waters says juvenile delinquents aren’t the same as when he filmed Johnny Depp in Cry-Baby.

“What is a juvenile delinquent today? When I was young, you were a 50s Elvis type. Then it was hippies. And then punk. And then grunge. Then gangsters. But if you’re a juvenile delinquent today, what are you doing? You live with your parents. They haven’t seen you for six months. They leave food outside your door. And you’re shutting down the government on your computer.”

He thinks there should be a Heterosexual Pride Day for straight people.
“There are a lot of minorities that need our help,” he says. “Like straight people in Provincetown. I want to have a Heterosexual Pride Parade, in January, for parents who say, ‘I’m so proud of my straight children.’…We’d have heterosexual folk dances like the electric slide. And … straight guys who get dressed up like Burt Reynolds.”

For his latest book, Carsick, Waters hitchhiked from Baltimore to San Francisco and wrote about his adventures along the way. He encourages people to follow his example.

“Hitchhike home tonight. I mean, really. It’s green. You might meet a date. Go to the store or something. Just take a little journey while you’re hitchhiking,”

Waters has concerns about the number of gay people in general.

“I think we have too many gay people,” he says.” I’m for coming in. We have enough! It’s not a numbers game. Let’s concentrate on quality, not quantity.”

Ed Gunts is a Baltimore-based writer.

Author Profile

Gregg Shapiro
Gregg Shapiro
Gregg Shapiro is the author of Fifty Degrees (Seven Kitchens, 2016), selected by Ching-In Chen as co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections How to Whistle (Lethe Press, 2016) and Lincoln Avenue (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook GREGG SHAPIRO: 77 (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection Protection (Gival Press, 2008).

He has work forthcoming in the anthology Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos (Anhinga Press, 2018). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.