From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Bear is LGBT slang for those in the bear communities, a subculture in the gay/bisexual male
communities and an emerging subset of LGBT communities with events, codes and culture-specific
identity. It can also be used more generically to describe a physical type.
Bears tend to have hairy bodies and facial hair; some are heavy-set or muscular; some project an
image of working-class masculinity in their grooming and appearance, though none of these are
requirements or unique indicators. 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 an ideal to live up to, 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, although increasingly transgender men (transmen)
and those who shun labels for gender and sexuality are also included within bear communities.
Some terminology relating to the Bear community includes:
- Bear- a hairy man with a stocky or heavy-set build and facial hair. Can be clean shaven and of any age.
- Bear run- a gathering or circuit party for Bear/Cub types and their Admirers.
- Black Bear- a Bear of African-American descent or of darker toned skin.
- Brown Bear- a Bear of Hispanic descent.
- Chaser- short for Chubby Chaser.
- Chub- a heavy set gay man. May or may not be a bear (Chubby bear is a common term)
- 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.
- Daddy bear- an older bear, sometimes looking for a daddy/son relationship with a younger man.
- Goldilocks- a female, often heterosexual, who is often in the company of bears (a bear's fag hag).
- Leather bear- a bear with a leather fetish.
- Muscle bear- a muscular version of a Bear. A muscle cub is a younger or smaller, yet muscular, version.
- Otter- a man who is hairy, but is not large or stocky-typically thinner, swimmer's build, or with lean muscle
- Panda bear- a bear of Asian descent.
- Pocket bear- a short Bear.
- Polar bear- a silver- or white-haired Bear.
- Red bear- a red-haired bear. Also known as a Ginger Bear.
- Wolf- a term for a Muscle Bear who is a rugged outdoorsy or biker type.
- Woof- a greeting sometimes used when a Bear sees another Bear in public a
and wants to express physical attraction.
Bear in LGBT communities is a metaphorical reference to the animal of the same name with similar
notable features. These features include the animal's hairiness, its solid proportions, and its
physical power. The bear is both fat and powerful, and the reconciliation of these two qualities
is at the heart of the Bear concept's appeal. Bears are typically very similar in appearance to
the ideal of the North American lumberjack. A romantic conflation of the bear and the lumberjack
image provides the Bear trope its metaphorical appeal.
Lumberjacks were romanticized and fetishised in gay culture long before the arrival of the Bear
concept, and the Bear concept retains strong traces of this older ideal. Lumberjacks appealed to
gay men at aesthetic levels but also for the fact that they were working class, and for the fact
that their isolation from urban society (and hence from mainstream gay culture) opened up a
fantasy of both secrecy and liberation, within an idyllic, rural, North American setting.
These metaphors also lend themselves to the idealization of natural physical appearance and
preferences over more glamorized ones despite the convenience many bears may find living in
The self-identification of gay men as Bears originated in San Francisco in the 1980s as an
outgrowth of gay biker clubs like the Rainbow Motorcycle Club, and then later the leather
and "girth and mirth" communities. It was created by men who felt that mainstream gay culture
was unwelcoming to men who did not fit a particular "twink" body norm (hairless and young).
 Also, many gay men in rural America never identified with the stereotypical
urban gay lifestyle, and went searching for an alternative that more closely resembled the
idealized blue collar American male image.
Richard Bulger, publisher, and his partner, Chris Nelson, started Bear Magazine-originally a
photocopied flyer-from their apartment in San Francisco in 1987. Over a 5-year period, the
magazine grew to an internationally distributed high-gloss format, but still intentionally
kept the stark look of Chris' black and white photography. Their company, Brush Creek Media Inc.,
obtained a trademark on the name "Bear" for a men's magazine in 1992. Bearded,
blue-collar, rural, and working-class men were idolized in the magazine.
Lone Star Saloon
Richard's friend Rick Redewill, who had founded San Francisco's "Lone Star Saloon"
in 1989, bought full-page ads in every issue of Bear; they soon found themselves with a
huge success nationally, especially among rural gay Americans, who would travel to San
Francisco just to find a unique "blue collar" gay bar, filled with a masculine-identified
crowd who were radically different from the stereotypical gay bar image. The Lone Star
became "ground zero" for the incubation of the Bear Community between 1990 and 1993.
Unlike other gay clubs where dance music was the norm, the Lone Star played rock music
for the appreciation of a more masculine-identifying customer base. Much of the Lone Star
staff, including its owner, Redewill, were overwhelmed by the AIDS pandemic that
enveloped San Francisco's LGBT communities. The bar was turned over to new owners in 1993.
And in September 2009 the Lone Star changed owners again.
The Bear subculture preceded mainstream usage of the Internet and online social networking.
Gay men who felt they were not welcome at their local gay meeting places or had no place found
easy access to and acceptance from similar people online. Gay men became early adopters of
the online Bear communities. Bear codes were developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s and
were used in email and on Usenet boards.
The Natural Bears Classification System or "Bear codes" are sometimes used in e-mail
(often as part of a signature block), web postings, and online profiles to identify Bear-related
attributes of the author or poster. See, e.g., "The Bear Codes" on the Resources for Bears Web
site. A sample Bear code is:
B4 s- m g++ w d+c t+ f+ k+ r e+(+?)
Bear Code may be the earliest example (1989) of Internet self-classification codes. Familiarity
with this classification system is concentrated in the sub-community of Bears who were early
adopters of Internet communications, and is not widespread within the general community.
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 International
Bear Rendezvous, Bear Pride, TBRU, Orlando Bear Bash, 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 is International Mr. Bear, held each February at the International
Bear Rendezvous in San Francisco. It attracts contestants, often with local titles, from all
over the world. The first International Mr. Bear was held in 1992. The contest includes
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, often very large muscle 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 older, hairier, sometimes
heavier gay and bisexual men, and members often contribute to their local gay communities
through fund-raising and other functions. Bear events are common in heavily-gay communities.
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 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.
As Bears have become more common in the larger gay culture, and as more gay and bisexual
men identify themselves as Bears, Bears have not segregated themselves as much as they
once did. Gay Bears are now a mainstream element of the gay community at large because of the community.
As the Bear Culture has matured, it has subdivided itself, and many claim that 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 what a "real Bear" is. Fat (or lack of it) is a political issue among Bears, 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. However what appears as racial discrimination to some may be a result of
the fact that in the Bear context in which hairiness is prized, Native Americans,
African peoples, East Asians, and Pacific Islanders, among others, tend to have less facial
and body hair than men of Caucasian descent.
The AIDS devastation in San Francisco accelerated the generation gap between older and
younger Bear-identified men, peaking in the early 1990s, with few connections that
survived between the two. 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 raw, unself-conscious masculinity.