I have been asked on numerous occasions by some of my straight friends why I am called a bear or refer to myself as a bear. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I am a typical bear, but I pass as one for various reasons…
I see myself as a bear, and that is also what I find myself attracted to most of the time. I am not saying I don’t find other men attractive, on the contrary, as a gay man I will never overlook other men, but when it comes to more mature “bear” men I will have a second and even third look. I am drawn to masculinity, hairy chest, arms and legs, more mature than your run of the mill man, a real man. Now before you press send on the email and threaten me or criticize me hear me out. If you think of the word “bear” what does that mean? To me it does not mean supper skinny, or clean shaven with no body hair at all, the boy next door is exactly that…a boy and as for twinks and fems, well I am not one to judge so I wont.
A bear to me is mature, slightly older, not skinny and not prissy, a man with some meat on the bones, hair on his chest and body, facial hair is sexy but not a requirement. Most bears are not “fat” as a few people have put it, they are rugged, and in my opinion real men. They are masculine, everyday men. There are many sub cultures in the bear movement and if I can I would like to explain some of them today.
"Bear" is an LGBT slang term that refers to members of a subculture in the homosexual and bisexual male communities and to an emerging subset of LGBT communities with events, codes, and a culture-specific identity.
Some say the term "bear" originated with Richard Bulger, who, along with his then partner Chris Nelson (1960–2006) founded Bear Magazine in 1987. However, there is some contention that the term "bear", along with many of the conventions of the subculture predate Bulger's creation of "Bear Magazine." They argue that "bear" was the product of many individuals working together as well as independently over time. Indeed, George Mazzei wrote an article for The Advocate magazine in 1979 called "Who's Who in the Zoo?", that characterized homosexuals as seven types of animals, including bears.
Bears are heavy-set men and are often characterized as having hairy bodies and facial hair; some are also muscular; some project an image of rugged masculinity in their grooming and appearance. Some bears place importance on presenting a hyper masculine 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
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.
Younger or smaller men who identify with bear culture may also be labeled as cubs.
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 "muscle bears" do not welcome higher-body fat 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
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. Can be hairy or hairless.
- Otter – A slimmer or less hairy bear regardless of age.
- Lion – A bear regardless of age with typically long, red or blond hair.
The gay bear culture celebrates secondary sex characteristics such as growth of body hair and facial hair, which is typically considered a "bear trait".
- Chubby or chub – a large, overweight, or obese man
- Superchub – a chub who is extremely large
- Bear – a man with a stocky or heavyset build; typically hairy body and facial hair; sometimes older (or older looking) and displaying a masculine appearance and mannerisms
- Black Bear (gay slang) – a Black man with a stocky or heavyset build and typically hairy body and face.
- Brown Bear (gay slang) – a man of Hispanic, South Asian or Middle Eastern origin with a stocky or heavyset build and typically hairy body and face.
- Panda Bear (gay slang) – a man of East Asian origin with a stocky or heavyset build and typically hairy body and face.
- Polar Bear (gay slang) – an older man with a stocky or heavyset build; typically hairy body and grey, silver or white facial and body hair
- Daddy – an older man, sometimes a bear
- Cub – a younger version of a bear
- Chaser – a man who is of smaller body size and/or stature who is sexually or romantically attracted to chubs or bears. The term chaser is sometimes used in various communities to describe an outsider who is sexually attracted to people within the community
- Chub for chub (also referenced as chub4chub, internet shorthand) – a chub who is sexually or emotionally attracted to other chubby men
- Girth & Mirth – a widespread name for clubs of big men and their admirers
- Grizzly Adams – a man with a typically hairy body and face who does not self identify as a bear but is attracted to bears.
- Trapper – a man of smaller stature who is attracted to bears.
- Big Men's Club – another term used to define clubs and organizations for gay and bisexual men and their male admirers
- Otter – A gay man who is very hairy all over his body, but is smaller in frame and weighs considerably less than a bear.
- Naired Bear – A gay man whose body is hairless by shaving, depilation, or other method.
The gay 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.
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 and nonfiction titles written by and for bears; BearRadio.net, which streams bear and GLBTQA 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.