the Musings and Rants of a Gay Aucklander, about whatever I fancy
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Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Please Feed the Bears
Bears. Cubs. Otters. Admirers. Cuddly. Furry. Fun. Love 'em, hate 'em, we're here.
I guess I'm a bear. I'm hairy (not so much on top these days...) got a little gut going on. But it's a hard group to pin down and define. Often it seems like we're defined by what we're not. We're not all young, we're not trying to be pretty, we're not 'smooth' (hairless) we're not obsessed with flash clothes. But even that doesn't quite get it right, because I know young bears, I know smooth bears, I know gay guys who hang out in the bear world because they don't feel like they fit in elsewhere.
I think one of the things I like about the gay bear world is that it is inclusive. You don't have to be hairy, you don't have to be big, you don't have to be a certain age, you don't have to be anything really; just a man who is into men. And isn't the essence of being gay? Loving and desiring men?
In many ways it's a continuation of the clone culture of the 70s and early 80s. The clones were really the first group of modern gay men to make a new identity, to be proudly masculine and open about loving and fucking other guys, a reaction against the older queen stereotype that was common then. But the clone became a stereotype of its own, just like the bears have to some extent I guess. If you're too young to understand what a clone is, watch Al Pacino in "Cruising". New York gay life pre-AIDS. Clones got flack in their time, but I think they also deserve praise - they were sexual radicals, guerillas who didn't give a fuck about the mainstream. And of course, so many died, and so many others got burnt out looking after the sick.
It has really exploded as an identity in gaydom over the last decade or so, so it's popular - obviously there is something in it that a lot of guys really like. There are bear parties everywhere these days, from Iceland to Istanbul, from Auckland to Amsterdam. It's become a commodity in some ways, an identity turned into a product, but, and perhaps I'm biased, it still doesn't feel like it's sold out to me. There is now even Bearbook - like facebook but for bears.Updates and photos tend to be way more sexually graphic than fb though.
We have a Bear Week here in February now. The first one last year was huge fun. I hear that there are going to be quite a few guys coming from overseas just for this. that's pretty amazing, that having a week of fun dedicated to this group can pull in international gay tourists.And no, this doesn't count as advertising cause they've already sold out of some stuff - I'm just thinking about it what it means.
You do see a lot more facial and body hair in a bear crowd. I read that as an enjoyment of being physically masculine. You won't smell much cologne at a bear event, or see a lot in the way of designer clothes, so there's a feeling around it of earthiness, or that's what seems to be aimed for. I like that I'm not going to get sneered at for having a hairy back and shoulders in a bear crowd, I like that I can be myself. There is something I find relaxing about the bear world. I just find it an easy place to be, an easy group of guys to hang out with.
There is an acceptance of getting older, of our bodies changing, and not that urgent need to stay young and pretty that some other parts of the gay world go for. I think as a group we're more sexually sophisticated as well - yeah, that's code for "We're kinkier than most" or at least, even if not into kink yourself, we aren't shocked by whatever it is you like to get up to, and we're usually relaxed about seeing it in public too.
Bears are friendly, but we like to push the boundaries a bit - there's a streak of non-conformism there, and I hope that stays, because our own non-conformism breeds tolerance to others. As being a bear becomes more mainstream, and more of a group that advertisers and other commercial groups aim for, there is a chance it'll lose that, but let's hope not.