It’s hard not to notice a bearded guy with a shaved head, hairy back, tattoos and a penchant for dropping trou onstage. His name is Damian Abraham, lead singer of Toronto-based hardcore band Fucked Up (FU). The Polaris Prize–winning band is revered by many, not only for its music but also for its bombastic performances. Abraham, who performs under the monikers Father Damian and Pink Eyes, is a 300-pound behemoth who storms the stage amidst a wall of aggressive sound. Although FU and Abraham have legions of fans, there is one subset of fans that Abraham is particularly fond of. And they look just like him.
“I am so unbelievably flattered to be looked at in a way that I never was,” he enthuses. “It gives you a little more self-confidence to know that someone likes me.” The people who are looking at him “in that way” are his gay fans, specifically his gay bear fans. Images and stories of Abraham have a habit of popping up on bear websites. But that’s not surprising, considering he often appears shirtless and pantsless. Abraham credits his exhibitionist streak to one gay friend. FU was playing a bar in Texas alongside queercore punk band Limp Wrist. According to Abraham, “It was nine million degrees, so hot. I said, ‘Man, I wish I could take my shirt off,’ ’cause I never took my shirt off. I was ashamed of my body.” Abraham confesses that he had never even been “intimate” with his shirt off, let alone performed bare-chested. “[LW member] Scott says, ‘You look amazing with your shirt off,’ and no one had ever said that to me at all. It was incredibly liberating, in a physical and spiritual kind of way.”
Abraham soon started losing more than just his shirt. It’s not uncommon to find him at the end of the show in just a pair of boxers, the crack of his ass peeking out. People took notice, and in a way he never expected. “I’ve always been kind of chubby, so to have people look at me and say, ‘That’s attractive’ or ‘That’s sexy,’ is unbelievably empowering and awesome,” Abraham says. That sense of empowerment is contagious, according to Shawn Syms, a gay writer and cultural critic. “I think Damian provides an antidote to a culture that disparages larger people,” he says. “Aesthetically, both mainstream and queer culture puts the youngest, the skinniest and most hairless on a pedestal of validation. The way Damian presents himself onstage says interesting things about the male body and about gender. If he encourages all of us to get in touch with our own bodies, I think that’s a great thing.”
Another fan is Don Pyle. Pyle is a musician and producer, as well as the author of Trouble in the Camera Club, a photographic record of the early punk scene in Toronto. He breaks down Abraham’s gay fans into groups: “One is the rock homos and bears who are already predisposed to love the music the band makes and have the added bonus of a super-sexy singer who loves to take his shirt off,” he says. Pyle counts himself amidst that first group. “Another is the converts not usually interested in music as heavy as Fucked Up but are drawn to Damian and the band for all the reasons described above. As far as the bear community at large goes, anyone who is handsome, fat and hairy will always catch the gaze of the big gays.”
Abraham isn’t the first bear-ish straight guy to catch the gaze of big gays. Just look at John Goodman and Seth Rogen. But there is a quality of personality in there as well.
When asked to describe his situation around being considered a sex symbol for an entire subculture, Abraham is humble. “I’m incredibly lucky because I am the last person in the world who should be able to do that, but I am.” Lucky? Maybe. But some of us will just keep looking, if that’s okay.