I’ve gotten to the point whenever I start working on one of my open forum pieces that I start off by saying that I don’t like massive generalizations . . . and then I apologize for making one. I’m not even going to go through that pretense this time. I’ll just come out and say what’s on my mind. I like the bears. The bears, however, don’t seem to like me.
We all know what I’m talking about when I talk about bears, right? In the gay world, it refers to men of a certain size (large) and hirsuteness (furry, especially on the face). I’m not ashamed to say that as a broad type, I like me some bear. I like big guys. I like the feeling of all that weight on top of me. I like them round and cuddly. I like them furry and bearded. I know there are a lot of prissy queens out there who see a bear with a size forty waist who will roll their eyes and shudder dramatically. Screw them. I look at men like that and my mind very well may wander in the direction of what I’d have to do to get their pants down around their ankles.
(As a point of clarification, my mind’s usually heading off in that direction sooner or later, anyway.)
Now, before some of my readers pout in pique, I’d like to point out that bears aren’t the only men I like. Far from it. I like the skinny twinks, too, and the little Latin boys who call me ‘pa,’ and the sexy older gentlemen who call me ‘son.’ I like the average guys, and the preppies, and every other type you can think of, chances are. But I’ve always had a special fondness for bears—and it’s long been unrequited.
My understanding, from every bear site and every bear I’ve ever known, is that the bears like to think of themselves as open-minded individuals who have rejected the typical standards of gay beauty. That is, they see the most typical object of gay desire as a smooth, shaved, gym-sculpted twenty-three-year-old with perfect hair, like some figure of fantasy from an early nineteen-nineties Falcon video. Therefore the bears tend to shun shaving and the gym (unless they’re striving to be classified in the sub-category of muscle bears), or diets, or clothes fancier than the regular old shirts and 501s hanging from a nail in their closets.
They’re just being who they are, they say. They’re bucking the conformist gay stereotype. Except—and this is admittedly where I get into trouble with most of the bears I know—that they’re all so determined to have the same close-cropped haircuts or shaved heads, the same beards, the same bellies, the same wardrobe of flannel, and the same externally gruff appearance, that they look even more clone-like than the gay archetype they’ve rejected. And in my experience, woe betide the interested guy who doesn’t look exactly like them.
I’m not a bear. I’m too long and way too lean. I’ve had a beard for years now, but it’s cropped short and my hair’s long. If there were a gay subgroup called 'Homeless Chic' or ‘Vagrants Nouveau’ or ‘Scooby’s buddy Shaggy Lookalikes,’ I’d totally be on the A-list of those, but when it comes to the bears, I’m practically invisible. At the bars, where groups of chubby guys with beards congregate in groups and talk to each other while they stab at their smartphones with their thumbs with machine-gun rapidity, I’ll introduce myself and try to engage in some light conversation with the bears and find myself gradually shut out of their circle quite literally as they close ranks and flannel-shirted shoulders and leave me standing on the outside. I’ve been to bear events where despite my best efforts to be friendly, I’ll find myself sitting alone and ignored, because I don’t fit the standard body and hair specification.
It’s not as if I walk into a group of bears with the attitude of Here I am, furry men! The skinniest among you, your manna from heaven! Fight for the scraps, boys! Not in the least. Nor am I the kind of guy who sits and waits on the sidelines, not approaching anyone, then getting miffy about how stuck-up everyone is after an evening of being unapproachable. I get in there and meet people. But you know, you’d think that if I can make friends in a public situation with everyone from muscle-boy porn stars, young students, and funny old men who just want someone to listen to them, that it wouldn’t be that difficult to have a conversation with the bears. Despite all their talk about their heightened tolerance for men outside the gay stereotype, though, my experience is often that if you aren’t of a certain rotundity and don’t have a minimum amount of fur on your face, you might as well be invisible.
Even online I run into difficulties. The biggest bear social website rejected my profile a few years back because I wasn't 'bear enough.' I was on another, but more or less dropped it because people kept asking me, Why are you here?
Here’s the part where I apologize: not all bears are exclusionist, of course. I’ve had sex and relationships with many bear-type men who have been happy to bounce around on top of me, and who appreciate the attention I pay them. I’ve had bear friends who’ve included me in their circles and never mentioned a word about how different I looked physically from the rest of them.
On the other hand, I’ve also had bear friends who have rubbed me on the stomach and told me I’d be a lot cuter if I gained fifty pounds (which is oddly reminiscent, and just as condescending, as the men who used to tell me when I was heavier that I’d be almost cute if I lost some weight). And I’ve been in group situations in which guys made plans to go to bear events with each other to which the only person not invited was me.
I’ve always suspected—and a couple of guys have told me—that sometimes some bears will stick together in packs and not look outside them because they’re so used to rejection from the non-bears. I can understand that. Makes total sense. Except when, that is, the chasers (I dislike the word, but it’s a means to an end) are being ignored and even a little bit ostracized from the bear groups.
When that happens, I also suspect that the same kind of peer pressure comes into play that a lot of men experience when they start to date or fuck outside their own demographic. Young guys who are into older men frequently tell me that upon confessing their attractions, or showing them in public, their peers will make icky-poo-poo faces, or chastise them for not having so-called standards. I can believe that in bear packs, the same kind of pressure keeps some of the men from showing any preference for, or attraction to, the non-bears.
I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it.
I’m opening up the comments today to get some feedback from other readers with their experiences not only with bears, but with all kinds of sub-groups of gay men. I’d kind of prefer that we keep our comments away from simplistic I like bears too! or Bears, yuck!, since I don’t want to have to moderate a bunch of comments bashing a group with which I personally enjoy hanging.
However, I would like you guys to discuss this issue: do other subgroups of gay men—whether bears, or young hipsters, or leather men, or whatever packs in which you roam or have observed in the wild—close ranks against outsiders? What do you think causes the divisions? And where, if anyplace, have you seen those artificial distinctions between physical types break down and become irrelevant?
Will we ever move to a ‘post-bear’ kind of world, where the big and the skinny mingle? Or are the groups originally formed to expand stereotypes and expectations now as hidebound as the groups they rejected?
Have at it, friends. I’m interested in your responses. And bears, remember: I love you guys! (Call me!)