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What Qualifies A Bear in the Bear Community?  If you haven’t heard the terms “bear” and “cub,” then you probably haven’t been involved much with the gay community, and certainly haven’t been reading this website.

Delving into the legendary history of the bear community, by which I mean my own personal experiences from the 90’s and browsing Wikipedia, we find a community that splintered off from the more mainstream community, intent on creating a space for people who didn’t or didn’t want to fit the Chelsea mold. Again, for those of you not in the know, we’re talking about the lean, cut, gym queens who had abs you can grate cheese off of and body hair that had been thoroughly attacked in every way possible. So, the origins of the bear community was, supposedly, to create a space for gays who did not fall into the more “mainstream” gay culture that was so ubiquitous in big cities. Which, was another reason for the whole “bear” community, as many of them, then and now, fit a much more Larry the Cable Guy kind of guy, as opposed to Will and Grace (I was going to come up with a less dated reference, but I’m rather out of the loop).

From there, things started chugging along. The circuit boys shaved their chests and the bears had BBQs, all while listening to the same disco throwback music, though the bears will often try and convince you that they are more masculine then the gym queens. Of course, the gym queens act like their designer t-shirts somehow make them more masculine, and both act as if watching sports gives them an edge over everyone else. Sometime after 2006 (I’m totally picking an arbitrary date here), the standard image of beauty changed. Guys who shaved every inch of their bodies were allowed to do less upkeep. Scruffy faces and moderate chest hair suddenly became the norm. Suddenly, one of the many things that separated the bears from others was no longer a separating factor. Sure, it’s not like we’re living in a Tom of Finland world, but the football watching, jeans wearing, scruffy guy went from being ONLY the domain of the bears (and closet cases), but also the circuit boys.

So, this brings us to present day. The hook-up apps allow us to pick our Grindr “tribes” and what type of gay we want Scruff to define us as. As the bear community slowly become less diverse (though, an argument can be made that it wasn’t very diverse to begin with), the language it used is slowly starting to seep into more mainstream gay culture. I’ve seen completely hairless guys calling themselves bears and woofing at people. I’ve gone to traditionally bear bars and watched some twinks with beards look aghast as the older, fat, and/or hairy approach them without the common decency of understanding the strata that exists in other gay bars. A friend of mine tells a story about being at a leather party, and being approached by some Chelsea gay, wearing his harness all wrong, seeking someone to vent about the lack of available “hot” guys at said party. The friend of mine resisted tossing this young fellow out on his ear, and instead fixed his harness and explained the nature of the beast.

What does this mean, you ask? Well, what it shows, to me, since this is an opinion column, is that we gays continue to have a fascination with being part of the in crowd. I won’t lie and act like the gays of yesteryear acted any differently towards the idea of masculinity, but there was certainly a different aesthetic. A look that set many “straight acting” gays visibly apart from the straight men they were trying to imitate. The bear community, however, has reveled in those sorts of things, though. Outdoor cooking, body hair, sports, grunting. All those stereotypical things that men are supposed to do. I say supposed to, because while I’ve done the whole sports thing, I also know some pretty complicated crochet patterns and make beautiful buttercream rosettes, so, really, who the fuck cares? Well, obviously, I do, as one of the current results is the gym queen body fascism is slowly starting to seep into the bear community.

No really. I’m seeing more bears in their 40s and 50s who have six pacs, and make a stink about people “Taking care of their bodies.” 15 years ago, these would have been the 40 year old man with the bathroom full of beauty products, depilatory crèmes, and a Miata parked outside his minimalist townhome. Now, his too tight t-shirt is black and he woofs at guys he likes, but he still doesn’t like it when the fat guy approaches him.

So, why is he calling himself a bear? Hell if I know.

Yes, I do wish this type of co-opting would end. I get it. Many guys like buying into the whole hyper-masculinity thing that the bears are just as shitty about as the gym bunnies, but drag a whole bunch of body issues where many of us thought we no longer had to deal with that crap. It’s exhausting and somewhat demoralizing to go out to a bar, and suddenly find that it’s becoming less and less of the safe place (well, relatively) that it used to be.

Of course, now we have a “What are we supposed to do about this?” problem, if that’s even a problem. After saying, “I have no clue,” I’d say “Don’t be a dick.” Sure, this solves a lot of life’s problems, but it’s pretty simple. Don’t be a dick. I could go into all the ways that you’re not supposed to be a dick, but I think most of you already know them, and will, hopefully, yell at each other and me about them in the comments section below. We could go into a long screed about keeping safe places safe, but this website isn’t Shakesville, for many reasons. Not that I’m bashing Shakesville. We’re just different, that’s all.

So, what do you think? Have any examples of how I hit the nail on the head? Want to tell me how messed up I am? Sound off below!

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