Bear Culture 101

Reference Guide to Gay Bear Culture

Wikipedia: Gay Bear Culture

Jock, Otter, Bear, or Wolf?

Monty Python: Lumberjack Song

Video: Rise of the Bears

Brotherhood of the Bears

Bear Community


Bear is LGBTQ slang for those in the Bear Communities, a subculture in the gay/bisexual male communities and an emerging subset of LGBTQ 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.  They are burly, hefty, stocky, husky, rustic, and natural. Some are heavy-set or muscular. Some are chubby. 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 hypermasculine 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 (also called ursines) 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.


Hyper Masculine Gay Men


Bear in LGBTQ 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.


The Bear Community can trace its emblematic origins to bikers and lumberjacks. Bears are typically very similar in appearance to the ideal of the North American lumberjack (or a motorcycle gang member). A romantic conflation of the bear and the lumberjack image (or biker 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 urban settings.


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.

Bear Necessities: Insider Look at Atypical Gay Culture

Monty Python: Lumberjack Song

Video: Rise of the Bears

Brotherhood of the Bears

Research: Physical, Behavioral sand Psychological Traits of Bears



Bear Terminology


Bear - Hairy gay man
Grizzly - Heavy set and hairy gay man (big outdoors type)
Otter - Lean and hairy gay man
Panda Bear - Hairy or heavy set Asian gay man
Black Bear - Hairy African American gay man
Brown Bear - Hairy Hispanic gay man
Polar Bear - Silver, white or gray haired gay man
Ginger Bear - Hairy red haired gay man
Berenstein Bear - Hairy Jewish gay man

Honey Badger - Hairy blonde gay man, typically not muscular or heavy

Koala Bear - Hairy Australian gay man
Bruin - Hairy athletic gay man
Cub - Young hairy gay man
Chaser - Non hairy man who likes hairy men
Goldilocks - Heterosexual female in the company of bears (fag hag)
Woof - Greeting used by bears


Traits of the Bear Community

The Bear community exists as a subculture in reaction to the larger gay community. It rejects the normative idealized male beauty revered by mainstream gay men. Studies indicate that Bears are more likely to be hairier, heavier, and shorter than mainstream gay men. They report wanting partners who were hairier and heavier.

The gay community is ultimately a heterogeneous one with many subgroups and subcultures. One such subculture is comprised of gay and bisexual men who identify as Bears. Bears self-present as having the “correct attitude” towards their “naturally developing/aging” male bodies. They consider “real” masculinity to include having comfort with other men’s bodies and eschew the more normative gay male body-model, one in which thinness, youth, hairlessness, and muscularity are revered. They favor instead a body-model that may be predetermined by genetics, age, or heteronormative masculine beliefs, preferring that men should weigh more and be hairier.


There are many different subdivisions within the Bear community. Men are categorized primarily by their hairiness, but also by their weight, age, and ethnicity. Divisions within the community may consist of: Grizzly Bears (White, hairy, heavier men), Cubs (younger hairy men), Polar Bears (older men with greying or white hair), Big Teddy Bears (men who are hairy, yet heavier than Grizzly Bears), Otters (men who are hairy but thin), and other classifications encompassing ethnic variations such as Black Bears (hairy men of color) or Panda Bears (hairy Asian or Pacific Islander men).

[Source: NCBI Research, US National Library of Medicine, May 2017]



Bear Culture 101

Reference Guide to Gay Bear Culture

Being a Bear Has Never Been More Mainstream

Wikipedia: Gay Bear Culture

Jock, Otter, Bear, or Wolf?

Pandas: Wet Gay Chinese Bears


History of Gay Male Sub Culture

The Bear Book: Readings in the History and Evolution of a Gay Male Subculture by Les K. Wright (Editor)

From Michelangelo's David to Calvin Klein's hunks in briefs, the cult of the beautiful male body has been at the heart of much of gay culture. But there is more to gay life than buffed pecs and rippled abs. Les Wright's The Bear Book is a surprising collection of sociological and literary essays about gay Bears: hefty, bearded men who look for the same attributes in their partners. The gay Bear phenomenon started more than a decade ago (in response to AIDS, some commentators note) and has become a defining identity for many gay men. The Bear Book examines the range of Bear Culture (Bear magazines, Bear clubs, Bear web sites) and in doing so explores how gay male culture evolves in response to the needs of its members and to the broader culture.

Also Available: The Bear Book II : Further Readings in the History and Evolution of a Gay Male Subculture by Les K. Wright (Editor)


Other Books and Publications About Bears:


--Bear on Bears by Ron Suresha

--Guide for the Modern Bear: Field Study of Bears in the Wild by Travis Smith and Chris Bale

--Bear Handbook: Comprehensive Guide to Those Who Are Husky, Hairy, and Homosexual by Ray Kampf

--Bear Magazine (San Francisco, 1987) by Richard Bulger and Chris Nelson



Bear Culture and Community


The Bear subculture in many ways started as a melding of masculine ideals from the leather and biker communities and the physical descriptors of the Girth & Mirth or chub communities. Bears weren’t necessarily leather men. They weren’t young. They didn’t aspire to be mainstream. And they certainly weren’t smooth.

“It was really in such contrast to the stereotype of gay men,” said Ron Suresha, author of Bear on Bears. “We’d known that leather men or BDSM guys were really butch and such, but this group of guys was a different breed. To be able to improvise and adopt an alternative identity that seemed valid is part of what drove the coalescing of bear identity.”

According to Les Wright, author The Bear Book, there has always been tension between schools of thought of what it takes to be a bear. Some suggest it’s first about “beards, bellies and body hair,” and is the most common first response. Others maintain it’s more about an “inclusive, easy-going attitude,” and of course, some say it requires both.

But there are other factors beyond the physical ideal and inclusive attitude.

According to Les Wright’s research, bears tend to be middle class ― in contrast to their tendency to fetishize and emulate the working class archetype of, say, the construction worker, farm hand or mechanic. Additionally, bears tend to be urban or gay urban-identified. “There are plenty of bears who are actual blue-collar gay men as well as rural gay men, who see bears as a way of identifying that is not middle class,” Wright said.

But important questions lie in the division of these men, some of whom are actually working class and others who are essentially pretending to be. As Bear scholar Eric Rofes asserts, “Some insist that bear sites are populated entirely by middle-class men playing dress-up as working-class men… others argue bear culture is one of the few queer spaces (along with the leather and motorcycle clubs) constituted in large part by working-class men.”

Lee Floyd, a self-identified bear and member of Atlanta’s Southern Bears group, says most of his friends in the bear community are middle class and he’s dressed in this kind of bear drag. “The work boots, the tight Levi’s, the flannel shirts: It’s accentuating or exaggerating the masculinity… You’re going to wear something that is presenting how you want to be perceived,” Floyd said.

[Source: Georgia Voice]


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