Credit: Wikipedia

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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  1. Who cares anymore, really. I’ve encounter some of the nastiest human beings imaginable who called themselves bears. I’ve over it.

  2. It’s stupid. They started out basically as an alcohol friendly support group for people that nobody loved. Then fat and muscle started competing for territory. Then the skinny otters wanted in on the action. Hair vs no hair. Now they are a giant all inclusive group of “we accept anybody and anything goes” men who revel in self pity and martyrdom while judging everybody else. Now don’t get your panties in a wad. . I don’t mean EVERY single person is like that, but in general the bear community has lost its way (if it ever had one). I love a good hairy, burly man though. Pic below is just meant in jest. . . calm down. . . take a deep breath. . . relax. . . . .you’ll be OK

  3. Craig A. Jungwirth

    I think you hit the nail on the head with “who the fuck cares?” 🙂 London is post-apocalyptic in terms of the XXL demographic and the bears hold forth at Tonker and it’s meet ups with all of the gays living south of the river. MadBear this year skewed to the folks you refer to above with a healthy representation of hairless, Middle Eastern pocket cubs and the scorchingly hot German, Belgian and Italian, etc. making it a United Nations or Bennetton ad (some days, it seemed like both with a smattering of the Azerbaijani and Kurd thrown in for good measure). Getting a seat a Mama’s was hell was all I know. Swinging back across the Atlantic, FLL is a joke and the earnest promoters joust Quixote-style in vain trying to jump-start at least *one* bear night in Miami. Wipe all of South Florida – well, ok, leave the new Score and Twist in place – especially the new Score as those boys are *SER* *I* *OUS* and stunningly handsome – and leave the el fuego Cuban dancers at Swinging Richards in Pompano to mop up – damn, can Angel mop up 🙂 ATL is always a blast and really doesn’t have a bear bar, so they mix everywhere is typical southern comfort style. Make a cameo appearance at Mixx as one of three white bears on a Saturday night and you have to love all of the Atlanta boys for the novelty factor alone. I think you covered it all the way up the east coast pretty well and, let’s call a spade a spade, no one in LA can ever really be considered a bear – so, we’re left with the flyover states – yawn – and that pretty much sums it up and brings us back to “who the fuck cares?” 🙂

  4. I welcome your article regarding the state of the bear community, having been more recently getting involved and enmeshed within the Bears Las Vegas group. Yes I am plugging them. Deal with that too lol. I find myself questioning guys who constantly shave their hair to be hairless as to whether they want to be a man or a pre-pubescent man. Other than that I notice on Growlr anyway how while the majority are still the traditional idea of a bear or cub, it is becoming a mixed bag of guys as with other sites versus a niche. I am here and there regarding the situation where it is merging with the rest of the community given we are supposed to be the aspect of the community which is inclusive to those gay men who dont fit the stereotypical greek statue look society feels we should be as marketing dictates. I do not want to see the bear community become petty, vain, and cliquish as unfortunately others in the gay community seem to naturally perpetuate, but what else can be done at the present other than bringing it to the attention of everyone. At that point we can initiate conversation and hopefully reverse this self destructive trend.

  5. This is well written and unbiased. ” don’t be a dick!” Is the best advice I’ve heard. Great job!

  6. Thomas Furgalack

    Nail on the head: The Lonestar saloon in SF 7 years ago was filled with overweight, hairy, biker looking men. I have always been a Chaser type and loved this. They had peanuts and you could throw the shells on the floor. There was usually some form of rock playing. It looked like a dark dive bar. A few years ago it was purchased by some queens. Slowly but surely more disco/pop was heard fron the speakers. More and more black lights and disco balls were popping up, more dayglow decure. Then an event called Cub Cake started and a skinny dude with a beard won the competition. Thats when I stopped going. I am actually masculine, not pretend masculine. I liked the sceen because you could be who you are. Now its a bunch of skinny disco buiscuts with boots on talking shit.

    • Excuse me, but I know the current (3) owners of The Lone Star and all three are bears. Always have been. And Cub cake is throw by young bears. And being a bear doesn’t mean you’re fat and out of shape. There are muscle bears and thin bears too. It sounds like to me, you are a classist who only feels fat guys can be bears.

      For you information, there was not enough support of The Lone Star for it to stay in business, just like The Eagle and that is why it sold. So 4 bears who worked at 440 got together and bought it. Now just three remain. And they realized that if they didn’t modernize it and start appealing you a younger bear audience they would not stay in business. Like any group, as we get older we start to nest. So if they didn’t start advertising to a younger community there would be no one to pay their bills. Your rant just sound like an old pissy man. I’m surprised you didn’t end it with “Get off My Lawn.”

  7. I’m going to generally disagree. The Bear Community has always been an particularly Masculine expression of Gay Maleness. Beer Bellies *and* muscles have always been seen as masculine – whereas Obesity is simply Trashy. Body hair in various amounts has always been seen as a masculine feature – waxed bodies never have. Many call themselves ‘bears’ simply because they want to be like bears, or with bears, and that has never bothered me. I am actually more bothered by your barely concealed disdain for masculinity in general, as evidenced by your implying that its all ‘fake’ or a ‘show.’ Perhaps it is really your knee-jerk reaction against the validity of Gay Masculinity that colors the rest of your article and your analysis of the Bear Community.

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