Bear (gay culture)

Last updated
The International Bear Brotherhood Flag, the pride flag of the bear community. Craig Byrnes created this flag in 1995. Bear Brotherhood flag.svg
The International Bear Brotherhood Flag, the pride flag of the bear community. Craig Byrnes created this flag in 1995.

In male gay culture, a bear is often a larger or obese hairier man who projects an image of rugged masculinity. Bears are one of many LGBT communities with events, codes, and a culture-specific identity. However, in San Francisco in the 1970s, any hairy man of whatever shape was referred to as a 'bear' until the term was appropriated by larger men, and other words had to be used to describe hairy other-shaped men such as otter (slim), cub (young bear on the way), or wolf (hairy, medium build). [2] [ failed verification ] The word manatee describes a big, hairless man, i.e., a bear without hair.

Contents

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?", [3] that characterized gay men as seven types of animals, including bears. [4]

Bears celebrating the 2007 International Bear Rendezvous, an annual gathering of bears and bear-lovers held in San Francisco. International Bear Rendezvous (2007) Winners.jpg
Bears celebrating the 2007 International Bear Rendezvous, an annual gathering of bears and bear-lovers held in San Francisco.

The bear concept can function as an identity or an affiliation, and there is ongoing debate in bear communities about what constitutes a bear. Some bears place importance on presenting a clear masculine image and may disdain or shun men who exhibit effeminacy, [5] while others consider acceptance and inclusiveness of all behavioural types to be an important value of the community. [6]

The bear community consists primarily of gay or bisexual men. However, as LGBT culture and modern slang has taken on a wider appeal in modern society, it is possible to call a hairy and burly straight man a bear, although they would not be strictly part of the gay bear community. [7] Increasingly, those who shun labels for gender and sexuality are also included within bear communities. [8] 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. [9] A smaller number of lesbians, particularly those who are butch, also participate in bear culture, referring to themselves with the distinct label of ursula. [10]

History

Bears at the 2009 Marcha Gay in Mexico City BearsMarchaGayDF.JPG
Bears at the 2009 Marcha Gay in Mexico City

In San Francisco in the 1970s, any hairy man of whatever shape was referred to as a 'bear' until the term was appropriated by larger men, and other words had to be used to describe hairy other-shaped men such as otter (slim), cub (young bear on the way), or wolf (hairy, medium build). [2] [ failed verification ] The word manatee describes a big, hairless man, i.e. a bear without hair.

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?", [3] that characterized gay men as seven types of animals, including bears. [4]

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 of 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 Southern HiBearNation in Melbourne, Bear Pride and Bear Essentials in Sydney, Bearstock in Adelaide, HiBearNation in St. Louis, Missouri, SF Bear Weekend, CBL's Bear Hunt, [11] Bear Pride in Chicago, Texas Bear Round Up (TBRU) in Dallas, Orlando Bear Bash, [12] and Bear Week in Provincetown (since 2001), drawing regional, national and international visitors. Many LGBT events attract a significant bear following, such as Southern Decadence [13] in New Orleans.

Jack Fritscher was the founding editor of San Francisco's California Action Guide (1982). With California Action Guide, Fritscher became the first editor to publish the word "Bear" (with the gay culture meaning) on a magazine cover (November 1982). [14] As well, with producer Mark Hemry in 1984, Fritscher co-founded the pioneering Palm Drive Video featuring homomasculine entertainment. Palm Drive Video expanded in 1996 to Palm Drive Publishing, San Francisco. For Palm Drive Fritscher wrote, cast, and directed more than 150 video features. His work includes documentary footage of the first bear contest (Pilsner Inn, February 1987). A bear contest is a feature at many bear events, a sort of masculine beauty pageant awarding titles and sashes (often made of leather) to winners. This footage is no longer for sale, as Fritscher declined to shift to DVD format and shut down the video company.

Mr. DC Bear Cub 2006 and Mr. DC Bear 2006 DCBearFix.jpg
Mr. DC Bear Cub 2006 and Mr. DC Bear 2006

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 was held in 2011. The contest included Bear, Daddy, Cub, and Grizzly titles with the contestant who received the highest score winning the bear title, regardless of what type he was. 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 International Bear Brotherhood Flag is the pride flag of the bear community. Craig Byrnes created this flag in 1995. [1]

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 cities 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 LGBTQ 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. [15]

Characteristics

Bears marching in Melbourne's Pride March 2011 Bears matching in Melbourne Pride.JPG
Bears marching in Melbourne's Pride March 2011

Jack Fritscher notes that bears celebrate "secondary sexual characteristics of the male: facial hair, body hair, proportional size, baldness". [16] 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 seen by some as 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. [5]

The International Bear Brotherhood Flag is the pride flag of the bear community. Craig Byrnes created this flag in 1995. [1]

In the season 14 episode of The Simpsons called "Three Gays of the Condo," originally aired in 2003, Homer Simpson is standing on the street in Springfield's gay district talking with Waylon Smithers. A group of Smithers' gay friends pass by on a street car and one of them shouts, "Hey Waylon! Who's the bear? Is that the Mr. Burns you're always talking about?" In the season 22 episode of The Simpsons called "Flaming Moe", originally aired in 2011, the name of Grizzly Shawn, a gay male character, is a reference to the bear community.

The December 2007 issue of Instinct magazine featured an article by writer and director Kevin Smith on its "The Last Word" page. Smith wrote about his gay brother Don and about his (Kevin's) 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. [17] 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.

In the season 2 episode of The Cleveland Show called "Terry Unmarried", originally aired in 2011, Cleveland Brown, Holt Richter, Tim the Bear, and Lester Krinklesac went to a gay bar called Into the Wild. Cleveland discovers his best friend Terry Kimple and his boyfriend are gay. Referring to a gay man in the community, Paul said "Ever since then, it's been Terr and the Bear."

In the 2015 Pixar movie Inside Out , the character Disgust says there are no bears in San Francisco. The character Anger disagrees, saying, "I saw a really hairy guy. He looked like a bear." [18]

The San Francisco South of Market Leather History Alley consists of four works of art along Ringold Alley honoring leather culture; it opened in 2017. [19] [20] One of the works of art is metal bootprints along the curb which honor 28 people (including T. Michael "Lurch" Sutton, biker and co-founder of the Bears of San Francisco) who were an important part of the leather communities of San Francisco. [20] [19]

Bear media

A variety of media has been established specifically to cater to bears. The Internet comic strip Bear with Me [21] 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. [22] In Tim Barela's comic strip, Leonard & Larry, a majority of the male characters are bearded men, some self-identified as bears, most not. [23] 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. [24]

Films depicting the bear community include BearCity , BearCity 2: The Proposal and Cachorro , and the comedy web series Where the Bears Are , BULK: The Series, and Skeleton Crew.

In 2012, Bear World Magazine was first published online in monthly PDF format. The magazine was the first lifestyle magazine for the bear community, offering an alternative from the beefcake and pornographic magazines in print. Over the years, Bear World Magazine has grown into the world's leading bear lifestyle magazine having transformed into a popular news and magazine website. [25]

In 2013, gay singer-songwriter Tom Goss released his song "Bears", singing about the bear community's open-mindedness and size-inclusivity. [26]

International bear events

Bear eventLocationMonthStart
Bear Carnival Gran Canaria March2018
Brighton Bear WeekendBrightonJune2010
Lisbon Bear Pride Lisbon May/June
MadBear Madrid December2000
Fierté Ours Paris Paris May/June
Prague Bear Summer Prague August2017
Stockholm Bear Weekend Stockholm May

Terminology

Some slang terms relating to the bear community include the following:

See also

Related Research Articles

Leather subculture

The leather subculture denotes practices and styles of dress organized around sexual activities that involve leather garments, such as leather jackets, vests, boots, chaps, harnesses, or other items. Wearing leather garments is one way that participants in this culture self-consciously distinguish themselves from mainstream sexual cultures. Many participants associate leather culture with BDSM practices and its many subcultures. For some, black leather clothing is an erotic fashion that expresses heightened masculinity or the appropriation of sexual power; love of motorcycles, motorcycle clubs and independence; and/or engagement in sexual kink or leather fetishism.

Chub (gay slang)

A chub is an overweight or obese gay man who identifies as being part of the chubby culture. Although there is some overlap between chubs and bears, chubs have their own distinct subculture and community. There are bars, organizations and social events specifically catering to this subculture, which allows members of the community to socialize with each other and develop social networks.

Gay bar

A gay bar is a drinking establishment that caters to an exclusively or predominantly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) clientele; the term gay is used as a broadly inclusive concept for LGBT and queer communities.

Leather Pride flag

The leather pride flag is a symbol used by the leather subculture since the 1990s. It was designed by Tony DeBlase, and was quickly embraced by the gay leather community. It has since become associated with leather in general and also with related groups such as the BDSM community.

LGBT culture Common culture shared by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people

LGBT culture is a culture shared by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals. It is sometimes referred to as queer culture, while the term gay culture may be used to mean "LGBT culture" or to refer specifically to homosexual culture.

The LGBT community has adopted certain symbols for self-identification to demonstrate unity, pride, shared values, and allegiance to one another. LGBT symbols communicate ideas, concepts, and identity both within their communities and to mainstream culture. The two most-recognized international LGBT symbols are the pink triangle and the rainbow flag.

Castro clone is LGBT slang for a homosexual man who appeared in dress and style as an idealized working-class man. The term and image grew out of the heavily gay-populated Castro neighborhood in San Francisco during the late 1970s, when the modern LGBT rights movement, sparked by the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City and the Summer of Love, gave rise to an urban community. The first recorded usage of the term is from Arthur Evans's "Red Queen Broadsides", a series of posters he wheatpasted around the Castro at the time. The look was most common from roughly the mid-1970s to around the mid-1980s. The Castro style regained popularity in the first decade of the 21st century, particularly among LGBT hipsters.

Ron Jackson Suresha is an American author and anthologist of books centering on gay and bisexual men's subcultures, particularly the Bear community.

Chris Nelson (photographer)

Edmund Chris Nelson was an American photographer and co-founder of Bear Magazine in the 1980s, was the photographic pioneer in the gay-oriented erotic photography of mature men with hairy bodies and facial hair. His work directly led to the legitimizing of the bear community as a social group.

<i>Bear Magazine</i>

BEAR Magazine is a periodical specifically geared toward gay and bisexual men who are — or who admire — "bears", i.e., men with facial and/or body hair. It was initially published in San Francisco, California in 1987 by Richard Bulger and his partner Chris Nelson and marketed to the bear community within the larger LGBT community.

Bear flag (gay culture)

The International Bear Brotherhood Flag was designed to represent the bear subculture within the LGBT community. The colours of the flag are meant to include the colours of the furs of animal bears throughout the world, not necessarily referring to human skin and hair colour tones: Dark brown, orange/rust, golden yellow, tan, white, gray, and black. The flag was designed with inclusion in mind. The gay bear culture celebrates secondary sex characteristics such as growth of body hair and facial hair, which is typically considered a "bear" trait.

Rainbow Motorcycle Club

The Rainbow Motorcycle Club is a gay men's motorcycle club based in San Francisco, California. The club was founded in San Francisco in 1971 by Ron Johnson, Mario Pirami and Paul Denino. Some commentators have credited the RMC as being instrumental in the creation of the bear subculture among gay men during the 1980s and 1990s.

National Socialist League (United States) Neo-Nazi party in the U.S. composed of gay men

The National Socialist League (NSL) was a neo-Nazi organization of gay men in the United States that existed from 1974 until 1984. It was originally founded by Jim Cherry, but was quickly taken over by Russell Veh, a neo-Nazi and transplant to Los Angeles, California from Ohio. Veh financed the party using the profits from his printing business. He also financed the league with a film distribution unit that specialized in Nazi propaganda films, including Triumph of the Will. The National Socialist League had chapters in various parts of California, and implied in their mass mailing on July 4, 1978 that they had established an offshoot organization in Manhattan.

Jack Fritscher American writer

John Joseph "Jack" Fritscher is an American author, university professor, historian, and social activist known internationally for his fiction, erotica and non-fiction analyses of popular culture and gay male culture. A pre-Stonewall riots activist, he was an out and founding member of the Journal of Popular Culture. Fritscher was the founding San Francisco editor-in-chief of Drummer magazine.

Drummer is an American magazine which focuses on "leathersex, leatherwear, leather and rubber gear, S&M, bondage and discipline, erotic styles and techniques." The magazine was launched in 1975 and ceased publication in April 1999 with issue 214, but was relaunched 20 years later by new publisher Jack MacCullum with editor Mike Miksche.

LGBT culture in San Francisco

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in San Francisco is one of the largest and most prominent LGBT communities in the world, and is one of the most important in the history of LGBT rights and activism alongside New York City. The city itself has, among its many nicknames, the nicknames "gay capital of the world" and "the gay Mecca", and has been described as "the original 'gay-friendly city'". LGBT culture is also active within companies that are based in Silicon Valley, which is located within the southern San Francisco Bay Area.

Gender roles in non-heterosexual communities are a topic of much debate; some people believe traditional, heterosexual gender roles are often erroneously enforced on non-heterosexual relationships by means of heteronormative culture and attitudes towards these non-conformative relationships.

Jack Radcliffe

Jack Radcliffe is an American pornographic film actor. Radcliffe is considered a pornographic icon, and in particular, an icon of gay bear subculture and its physical aesthetics.

San Francisco Eagle is a gay bar in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood, in the U.S. state of California. The bar caters to the bear community and the leather subculture. The San Francisco South of Market Leather History Alley consists of four works of art along Ringold Alley honoring the leather subculture; it opened in 2017. One of the works of art is metal bootprints along the curb which honor 28 people who were an important part of the leather communities of San Francisco.

Tony DeBlase also known as Anthony DeBlase, was part of the BDSM and leather subcultures. He was the designer of the leather pride flag.

References

  1. 1 2 3 Muzzy, Frank (2005). Gay and Lesbian Washington. Arcadia Publishing. p. 112. ISBN   9780738517537.
  2. 1 2 Gay Pop Buzz. "Gay Wolf: A Body Type Guide for Gay Men with Examples!". Gay Pop Buzz. Archived from the original on 2017-10-21. Retrieved 2018-06-24.
  3. 1 2 "When The Advocate Invented Bears". The Advocate. Here Media Inc. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
  4. 1 2 George Mazzei, (1979). Who's Who in the Zoo?. "The Advocate", pages 42–43.
  5. 1 2 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.
  6. John Dececco and Les Wright, The Bear Book II: Further Readings in the History and Evolution of a Gay Male Subculture. Routledge, 2016. ISBN   9781136383274.
  7. Erbentraut, Joe. "Move Over, Metrosexuals: Meet the Straight Bears" . Retrieved 2015-06-29.
  8. Ron Suresha, Bears on Bears: Interviews and Discussions. Lethe Press, 2009. ISBN   9781590212448.
  9. Bear Nation. 2010 film, dir. Malcolm Ingram.
  10. 1 2 Gulliver, Tanya (2002-05-30). "Beary feminine: Lesbians are claiming an identity gay men monopolize". Xtra! . Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  11. "Bear Hunt – Bears Back to the 80's". Carolinabears.com. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  12. "Gay Bear event in Orlando, Florida. Gay Bear, Gay Leather, Gay Men in Uniform". Orlando Bear Bash. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  13. "Southern Decadence Official Website". Southerndecadence.net. 12 November 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  14. Bernadicou, August. "Jack Fritscher". August Nation. The LGBTQ History Project. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  15. "12 Best Bear Bars In The World". Bear World Magazine. 2018-04-02. Retrieved 2018-12-18.
  16. Suresha, Ron (2009). Bears on Bears: Interviews and Discussions. Lethe Press. p. 83. ISBN   978-1590212448.
  17. "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.
  18. Lafuente, Cat. "Things in Inside Out you only notice as an adult". TheList.com. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  19. 1 2 http://www.artandarchitecture-sf.com/ringold-alleys-leather-memoir.html
  20. 1 2 Paull, Laura. "Honoring gay leather culture with art installation in SoMa alleyway – J". Jweekly.com. Retrieved 2018-06-23.
  21. "Bear With Me – Welcomes You!". Bearwithme.us. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  22. Vandergurg, Tim (2002–2009). "Bear With me" . Retrieved 2009-06-15.
  23. 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.
  24. Kusiak, Bob (2009–2011). "Blur the Lines". Archived from the original on 2013-11-07. Retrieved 2011-08-18.
  25. "Bear World Magazine -". Bear World Magazine. Retrieved 2018-12-18.
  26. "On the Spot: Tom Goss". The Washington Post , August 29, 2013.
  27. 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.
  28. Phd, John Dececco; Wright, Les (2016-04-08). The Bear Book II: Further Readings in the History and Evolution of a Gay Male Subculture. Routledge. ISBN   9781136383274.
  29. 1 2 "Bear-y gay". Los Angeles Times , February 4, 2007.

Further reading