As queer men of a certain age, we know that bear culture doesn’t necessarily have to do with wildlife. Bear culture is a convenient shorthand to describe a certain kind of queer man and, if we’re lucky, it’s also a community we’re proud to be a part of.
But what exactly is a bear? What is this bear culture of which we speak? Just because a man growls doesn’t make him a bear! So how can you know if it’s accurate to describe yourself as a bear on Grindr, or if you can go to that cool local bear pride event happening in your town?
A 1979 article from The Advocate – possibly the first time bear culture was ever mentioned in print – described bears as hairy men of size who are “reminiscent of railroad engineers and former football greats.” (Uh, we don’t know about that part. Railroad engineers? Sports heroes? Maybe plumbers.) The hair is a key part of bear culture - the flowing, rough beards, and hirsute chests and legs that get us all riled up. Bear culture, according to the publication Archives of Sexual Behavior, is about “reject[ing] the normative idealized male beauty revered by mainstream gay men.” Bear culture and community provide refuge in a world where thinness is idealized. As Pink News puts it, bears are the opposite of twinks. (No shade to twinks; we love them too!)
Bears like to laugh. They are “intensely sexual” (insert your own definition of that) and may be short, so fans of pocket gays rejoice! Bears may be into motorcycle culture, but a motorcyclist may not be into bear culture. (So approach a chubby, hairy man on a Harley at your own risk, ok?)
A 2017 review on bear culture in The American Journal of Men’s Health noted that bears can actually be any size, and may enjoy clothing of blue collar industries. (We love a man who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty!) Bears can embrace their feminine side too, though. So yes! Get you a man who can do both!
Cool! Now you know what bear culture is. But honey, class is still in session so don’t go anywhere. The single greatest thing about the bear community is its inclusivity. But you’ve got to know the lingo. Cubs are younger bears. Skinnier bears are otters. Polar bears are men with white or gray hair. Behrs are chubby but not hairy. Leather bears are… well, ok, you probably don’t need a definition for that one.
So, do you think you’re a bear? Time to let the world know! And we can help. Check out our Dreamy Bear tank, I’m Like No Otter tank, or Just a Bear in the Woods shirt, and embrace your animal instincts. Wear one to the local bar. Wear one to Pride. Wear one on your next date. Wear one to Bear Week in Provincetown. Wear one to the forest. Wear one everywhere. Because as they say, it pays to advertise.