Bear (gay culture)
The term bear was popularized by Richard Bulger, who, along with his then partner Chris Nelson (1960–2006) founded Bear Magazine in 1987. There is some contention surrounding whether Bulger originated the term and the subculture's conventions. George Mazzei wrote an article for The Advocate in 1979 called "Who's Who in the Zoo?", that characterized homosexuals as seven types of animals, including bears.
Some bears place importance on presenting a hypermasculine image and may shun interaction with, and even disdain, men who exhibit effeminacy. The bear concept can function as an identity, an affiliation, and there is ongoing debate in bear communities about what constitutes a bear, however a consensus exists that inclusion is an important part of the bear community. In particular, many bear community organizations define inclusiveness as a central value of the movement, such that anyone who supports values such as "having a good attitude to life, friends and helping the local community", is welcome in the bear community regardless of appearance, although the view that physical characteristics are central to the bear identity is still seen in many other definitions.
Bears are almost always gay or bisexual men. Increasingly, transgender or transsexual men (trans men) and those who shun labels for gender and sexuality are also included within bear communities. However, heterosexual men who have bearish physical traits and are affirming of their gay friends and family (or their gay fans, in the case of a celebrity) may also be informally accorded "honorary" bear status. A smaller number of lesbians, particularly those portrayed as butch, also participate in bear culture, referring to themselves with the distinct label of ursula.
Events and activities
At the onset of the bear movement, some bears separated from the gay community at large, forming "bear clubs" to create social and sexual opportunities for their own. Many clubs are loosely organized social groups; others are modeled on leather biker-patch clubs, with a strict set of bylaws, membership requirements, and charities. Bear clubs often sponsor large yearly events—"bear runs" or "bear gatherings" like the annual events such as HiBearNation in St. Louis, Missouri, SF Bear Weekend, CBL's Bear Hunt, Bear Pride in Chicago, Texas Bear Round Up (TBRU) in Dallas, Orlando Bear Bash, and Summer Bear Week in Provincetown, drawing regional, national and international visitors. Many LGBT events attract a significant bear following, such as Southern Decadence in New Orleans. A feature at many bear events is a "bear contest," a sort of masculine beauty pageant awarding titles and sashes (often made of leather) to winners.
One example of a bear contest was International Mr. Bear, formerly held each February at the International Bear Rendezvous in San Francisco. It attracted contestants, often with local titles, from all over the world. The first International Mr. Bear was held in 1992 and the last in 2011. The contest included Bear, Daddy, Cub and Grizzly titles with the contestant who receives the highest score winning the bear title, regardless of what type he is. Example: "Mr. Washington, D.C. Bear, 2006."
Gay "leather-bears" have competed in leather contests, and "muscle-bears" are another subculture noted by their muscular body mass.
The bear community has spread all over the world, with bear clubs in many countries. Bear clubs often serve as social and sexual networks for their members, who can contribute to their local gay communities through fund-raising and other functions. Bear events have become very common, to include smaller sized cites and many rural areas. Most gay oriented campgrounds now include some type of bear-related event during their operating season.
The bear community constitutes a specialty niche in the commercial market. It offers T-shirts and other accessories as well as calendars and porn movies and magazines featuring bear icons, e.g., Jack Radcliffe. Catalina Video has a bear-themed line, the "Furry Features Series." Other adult studios who feature bear-type men are Bear Magazine, 100% BEEF Magazine, BearFilms, Bear, Butch Bear, Raging Stallion, and Titan Media. There are also social media websites and smartphone apps that market to men of the bear community.
As the bear community has matured, so has its music and literature, as well as other (non-pornographic) arts, media, and culture. Examples include Bearapalooza, a traveling bear music festival; Bear Bones Books, an imprint of GLBTQ publisher Lethe Press, which markets fiction, nonfiction, and poetry titles written by and for bears; BearRadio.net, which streams bear and LGBT music and bear-themed podcast shows. The larger organized bear runs often host a "bear market" area where artisans, musicians, and others offer items for sale.
As more gay men have identified themselves as bears, more bars, especially leather or western bars, have become bear-friendly. Some bars cater specifically to Bear patrons.
Jack Fritscher notes that bears celebrate "secondary sexual characteristics of the male: facial hair, body hair, proportional size, baldness". Over the years, bear culture has subdivided itself. Many claim discrimination has increased within the bear community, as some men who self-identify as "bears" or "musclebears" do not welcome higher-bodyfat men (see chub) at their events. A common criticism of the bear community is that some self-described bears tend to exclude men who do not fit their standards of a "real bear". Fat (or lack of it) is a political issue, some of whom see their overweight condition as a form of self-acceptance. Some also note a lack of racial diversity in the bear community, perceiving hirsuteness to be a standard of physical attractiveness that genetically favors white men aesthetically, socially and sexually among bears.
The AIDS devastation in San Francisco accelerated the generation gap between older and younger bear-identified men, peaking in the early 1990s. Some older survivors claim that the current bear culture has become "shallow and catty," which is also their common criticism of mainstream gay culture. The allegation is that the younger bear community no longer reflects the culture's original function as a social alternative for primarily rural and blue-collar, traditionally masculine gay men. Moreover, the proliferation of bear pageants and their title winners ("sash bears") runs contrary to the early bear community's identification with and admiration for unself-conscious masculinity.
References in popular culture
Though not generally widely known outside of the gay community, the awareness of the bear culture has grown after numerous references in mainstream pop culture. As an example, the December 2007 issue of Instinct magazine featured an article by Kevin Smith on its "The Last Word" page. Smith wrote about his gay brother Don, about him being on the cover of A Bear's Life magazine and the related cover story, and his feelings about being a "bear icon" in the gay community. Smith later made a cameo appearance in the 2012 film BearCity 2: The Proposal, playing himself in a brief conversation with a main character who works in the film industry.
References to bears are occasionally made on television and in printed media. In Glee, while at a gay bar, Dave Karofsky tells Kurt Hummel that he feels accepted and liked there and that he's "what they call a bear cub". In season 1, episode 11 of Snooki & JWoww, when the girls decide to go out with the three gay Joeys, Jenni says in describing the three "We have a twink, an otter, and a bear." In the second series of The Big C, the show's main character Cathy Jameson visits a bear bar with her gay friend Lee and her husband.
In 2013, gay singer-songwriter Tom Goss released his song "Bears", singing about the bear community's open-mindedness and size-inclusivity.
A variety of media has been established specifically to cater to bears. The Internet comic strip Bear with Me centers around the life of the bear Andy McCubbin, a rich entrepreneur and heir to the Howell/McCubbin fortune, and his friends and family. A vast majority of the other characters are also bears. The comics are created by Tim Vanderburg under the pen name Bruin. In Tim Barela's comic strip, Leonard & Larry, a majority of the male characters are bearded men, some self-identified as bears, most not. Another webcomic, Blur the Lines, frequently features bearish men and the two main characters, Rick and Drew, associate with the bear community; the former identifies as a chub, whereas the latter identifies as a chaser/cub. (See below for term definitions.) The events and characters depicted in the strip are inspired by the life of the author and artist, Bob Kusiak, who is also involved to some extent with the bear community.
Some slang terms relating to the Bear community include the following:
- Cub – a younger (or younger-looking) version of a bear, typically, but not always, with a smaller frame. The term is sometimes used to imply the passive partner in a relationship.
- Daddy – A mature bear who is often looking for a cub (or a younger man) for a relationship.
- Ewok – A bear of short stature, but not younger.
- Otter – A slimmer or less hairy bear regardless of age.
- Chaser – Somebody who is attracted to bears and/or chubs but is not part of the bear culture.
- Chub – A heavy-set man who might be described as overweight or obese. These men are also a distinct subculture within the gay community, and may or may not identify with the bear movement per se.
- Teddy – A fully hairy bear. Chest, back, beard, everything is hairy.
- Musclebear – A bear whose size derives from muscle rather than body fat.
- Ursula – A lesbian bear.
- Goldilocks – A straight woman friendly with bears.
- Black Bear – A bear of African descent.
- Panda (or Panda Bear) – A bear of Asian descent.
- Koala Bear – A bear of Australian descent.
- Polar Bear – An older bear whose facial and body hair is predominantly or entirely white or grey.
- Grizzly – A dominant bear of extreme stature in height, weight, and/or hairiness.
- Wolf – A slimmer bear, with the behavioral characteristic of sexual assertiveness or aggression.
- Manatee - A hairless, chubby male who is called a bear but does not identify as such.
- Bear flag (gay culture)
- Bearforce 1
- Castro clone
- Chub (gay culture)
- Leather subculture
- Twink (gay slang)
- Daddy (gay slang)
- XXL (club)
- George Mazzei, (1979). Who's Who in the Zoo?. "The Advocate", pages 42–43.
- Ron Jackson Suresha, (2002). Bears on Bears: Interviews and Discussions. "Bear Ages and Stages", pages 54–58, 149, 179, 236, 260–262, 294. Los Angeles: Alyson Publications. Retrieved on 2008-09-29 ISBN 1-55583-578-3.
- "bubu – Belfast's Bear Club – Whats this 'Bear' thing all about?". www.bububelfast.com. Archived from the original on 12 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
- "thecompletebear.com – What is a Bear?". www.thecompletebear.com. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
- "Inclusiveness, Mateship, Community". Gay News Network, April 30, 2012.[dead link]
- Bear Nation. 2010 film, dir. Malcolm Ingram.
- "Beary feminine: Lesbians are claiming an identity gay men monopolize". Xtra!, May 30, 2002.
- "Bear Hunt – Bears Back to the 80's". Carolinabears.com. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
- "Gay Bear event in Orlando, Florida. Gay Bear, Gay Leather, Gay Men in Uniform". Orlando Bear Bash. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
- "Southern Decadence Official Website". Southerndecadence.net. 2013-11-12. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
- Suresha, Ron (2009). Bears on Bears: Interviews and Discussions. Lethe Press. p. 83. ISBN 1590212444.
- "Instinct Magazine: Kevin Smith gets the last word. The film director and writer gives us his gay View Askew.". Archived from the original on 2009-06-25.
- "Bear With Me – Welcomes You!". Bearwithme.us. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
- Vandergurg, Tim (2002–2009). "Bear With me". Retrieved 2009-06-15.
- Suresha, Ron (2002–2009). "Portrait of the Cartoonist as a Middle-Aged Bear: An Interview with Tim Barela". Archived from the original on 24 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-12.
- Kusiak, Bob (2009–2011). "Blur the Lines".
- Kampf, Ray (2000). The Bear Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for Those who are Husky, Hairy, and Homosexual, and Those who Love'em. Haworth Press. pp. "The Bear Cub: Ursus younges". ISBN 978-1-56023-996-3. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
- Wright 2001, pp. 77, 91
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bear (gay culture).|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Bear (subculture)|
- Les K. Wright, (1997). The Bear Book: Readings in the History and Evolution of a Gay Male Subculture (1997) from Haworth Press. ISBN 1-56023-890-9
- Wright, Les K. (2001), The Bear Book II: Further Readings in the History and Evolution of a Gay Male Subculture, Routledge, ISBN 978-0-7890-0636-3
- Ray Kampf, (2000). The Bear Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for Those Who Are Husky, Hairy and Homosexual, and Those Who Love 'Em from Haworth Press. ISBN 1-56023-996-4
- Ron Suresha, (2002). Bears on Bears: Interviews and Discussions from Alyson Publications. ISBN 1-55583-578-3