BEAR COMMUNITY ~ Some History and Terminology
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*Bear (gay culture)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Bear is LGBT slang for those in the bear communities, a subculture in the gay/bisexual male communities and an emerging subset of LGBT communities with events, codes and culture-specific identity. It also describes a physical type.
Bears tend to have hairy bodies and facial hair; some are heavy-set; 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 hyper-masculine 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. There is also, anecdotally, more acceptance of tattoos and body piercing in the bear community.
"Bears" 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.
*Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001 Douglas Harper
Modern English "bear" derives from Old English "bera", which itself derives from Proto-Germanic "*beron" meaning "the brown one". (Compare Old Norse "björn", Dutch "beer" and German "Bär" all meaning "bear").
Both Greek ("arktos") and Latin ("ursus") have retained the Proto-Indo-European root word for "bear" ("*rtko") but it was ritually replaced in the northern branches of the Indo-European languages (The Germanic, Baltic, Celtic and Slavic branches) because of the hunters' taboo on the names of wild animals. For example the Irish word for "bear" translated means "the good calf", in Welsh it translates as "honey-pig", in Lithuanian it means "the licker" and in Russian it literally means "one who leads to honey".
BEAR History ~ 2 sources
Contact: [email protected].
In the beginning there were no bear clubs, there were few formally organized groups in the earliest days. The bear community originated in the 80's by men who felt that mainstream gay culture was unwelcoming to men who did not fit a particular bodily norm (thin, hairless, gym toned and young).
The opening of the Lone Star Saloon in San Francisco in 1989 is viewed by many as the most significant event in establishing the bear community. Known as "Bear Bar U.S.A." – and for some people as mecca -- gay men tell stories of visiting the bar and for the first time seeing men who looked as they did. Lone star was located in the South of Market district of San Francisco along with other bars in the area, which were primarily Leather/Levi bars.
In the begining, Lone Star was frequented by the Rainbow Motorcycle Club and other bikers. The Rainbow Motorcycle Club was another key element in the formation of SF's Bear community. They weren't into fashion leather - only biker leathers. The original Lone Star was closed due to the October 'quake of '89 and opened shortly after in its present location. When the original owner Richard died, it was sold by his survivors to the bar's present owner.
Today's bear runs are an outgrowth of the motorcycle runs of the 50's and 60's.
Originally, Bear had nothing to do with size - they weren't a group of guys that went to the gym but neither were most of them big Girth & Mirth sized. That is evidenced by the early couple years of Bear Magazine where there were many thinner guys featured as "models" in the magazine. Many of the "centerfold models" were just guys that hung out at the Lone Star back then. Common denominator was facial hair and a masculine, friendly attitude. But the simplest definition of Bear comes from that magazine's tag line -”Masculinity Without the Trappings" - a line that was coined by the original owner of Bear Magazine, Richard Bolger (who has been seen on Bear411 recently).
Girth and Mirth members (an organization for large guys) started to merge in with the bear community in the early-90s. Bears eventually began to be associated with size. In recent years, websites like Musclebear.com & Lazy Bear Weekend have had a huge impact on the so-called definition of a “Bear,” further dividing much of the community into 2 camps (gym and no gym - or muscle and chub). Bear Magazine was sold in the 90s. It became more of a showcase for porn stars. American Bear was the next magazine on the scene aimed at our community.
The early Bear gatherings in San Francisco were called Bear Expo. Many of the men involved in putting those on created International Bear Rendezvous (Rainbow MC members Lurch, David Dysart, Steve Stafford - all now gone)so the funds could go to charity. By the mid-90s the triple crown of Bear events was considered to be IBR in SF, Bear Pride in Chicago and Bear Bust in Orlando. Many men traveled the circuit making new friendships and renewing old ones. By that time Bear Clubs were all over the US and beyond.
We're Everywhere Now = webb site
by Les Wright 2006
In a mere twenty years, bears have evolved from small clusters of buddies, playmates, and guys recognizing a tacit bond of kindred spirit to the largest, and fastest-spreading, new expression of gay (queer, bi, lesbian, trans, and even straight) identity. Bears today come in all shapes and sizes, across the socioeconomic spectrum, and across the range of sexual self-expression.
We’ve Come a Long Way, Cubsters = webb site
by Les Wright 2006
Back in the 1980s when the idea of gay “bears” emerged, it was a rather vague, undifferentiated, and not quite defined notion. “Bear” was more a loose umbrella under which many different kinds of gay men began to forge a new way of connecting. “Gay,” which had become a radical identity in the late 1960s was out, and “queer” was the new radical “in.”
The Wired Network: Bears in the 1990s = webb site
by Les Wright 2007
As a collective gay identity, bears emerged in the 1980s in many places, but most evidently in San Francisco. If the 1980s were the halcyon pioneering days for bears, and San Francisco once again the gold rush capital of this ursine Wild West, then the 1990s were the era of settlers, homesteading the new community, pushing the cyber frontiers, consolidating loose social groups into more formal ones, bringing order and stability to the new community. In a repeat of familiar history, the subsequent decade of the 2000s would see the meteoric rise of the bear community catapult to center stage, closing the bear frontier forever.
Les Wright founded the Bear History Project in 1994. From that came The Bear Book (1997), Bear Book II (2000), four Bear Icons art exhibitions in the Northeast (1999-2002), the Nashoba Institute (5013 nonprofit), and the online cultural journal of “non-hegemonic masculinities” Verisimilitude. Cornell University provides permanent repository for the BHP archives.
A founding member of the SFBA GLBT Historical Society, he taught humanities for 12 years at Boston-area College. In the 1970s he was involved with gay left activism in Germany, lived through the AIDS epidemic in the Castro during the 1980s and 1990s. He left Boston to return to San Francisco in 2005.
Currently he is a freelance writer, photographer, and independent scholar. Current goals include: re-launching the BHP (hXXp://www.bearhistory.com), Verisimilitude, re-instating the Homo Macho art series, and curating the “History of Homo-Masculinities.” He is training to become a grant writer.
Contact: [email protected].
A bear group marching in San Francisco Pride in 2004
Bear in LGBT 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 also its perceived masculine 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. It is also no coincidence that Bears are typically very similar in appearance to the ideal of the North American lumberjack. Lumberjacks often encounter bears and the two have always been associated with each other. A romantic conflation of the bear and the lumberjack image provides the Bear trope its metaphorical appeal. Lumberjacks were romanticised 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 reason of their homosociality, 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.
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 which more closely resembled the idealised blue collar American male image.
Richard Bulger, publisher, and his partner, Chris Nelson, started Bear Magazine–originally a photocopied flyer--from their apartment in San Francisco in 1987. Over a 5-year period, the magazine grew to an internationally distributed high-gloss format, but still intentionally kept the stark look of Chris' black and white photography. Their company, Brush Creek Media Inc., obtained a trademark on the name "Bear" for a men's magazine in 1991. Bearded, blue-collar, rural, and working-class men were idolized in the magazine.
The International Bear Brotherhood flag designed in 1995 by Craig Byrnes (VA Copyright 760-763), digital graphic by Paul Witzkoske for Bear Manufacturing
Richard's friend Rick Redewill, who had founded San Francisco's "Lone Star Saloon" bought full-page ads in every issue of Bear; they soon found themselves with a huge success nationally, especially among rural gay Americans, who would travel to San Francisco just to find a unique "blue collar" gay bar, filled with a masculine-identified crowd who were radically different than the stereotypical gay bar image.
The Lone Star became "ground zero" for the incubation of the Bear Community between 1990 and 1993. Unlike other gay clubs where dance music was the norm, the Lone Star played rock music for the appreciation of a more masculine-identifying customer base.
Much of the Lone Star staff, including its owner Redewill, were overwhelmed by the AIDS pandemic which enveloped San Francisco's LGBT communities. The bar was turned over to new owners in 1993. Richard Bulger sold Brush Creek Media Inc. to Bear-Dog Hoffman in 1996 and retired to a home in the Sierra. Brush Creek Media Inc. continued to publish, expanding into several special-interest gay magazine and video series genres. Brush Creek Media Inc. ceased operation in 2002. Bear Omnimedia LLC became the new publisher of Bear Magazine in 2008.
Though the Bear subculture preceded the mainstream usage of the Internet, it can be closely tied to the growth of online social networking. Gay men who felt they were not welcome at their local gay meeting places (or who just wanted a quick hookup) found easy access to and acceptance from similar people online. Gay men became early adopters of the online Bear communities.
At the onset of the Bear movement, some Bears separated from the gay community at large, forming "bear clubs" to create social and sexual opportunities for their own. Many clubs are loosely organized social groups; others are modeled on leather biker-patch clubs, with a strict set of bylaws, membership requirements, and charities. Bear clubs often sponsor large yearly events–"Bear runs" or "Bear gatherings" like the annual events such as International Bear Rendezvous, Bear Pride, TBRU, BearBust, drawing regional, national and international visitors. Many LGBT events attract a significant bear following, such as Southern Decadence in New Orleans. A feature at many Bear events is a "Bear contest," a sort of masculine beauty pageant awarding titles and sashes (often made of leather) to winners. One of the largest and most notable contests, International Mr. Bear, is held each February at the International Bear Rendezvous in San Francisco. It attracts contestants, often with local titles, from all over the world. The first International Mr. Bear was held in 1992. The contest includes Bear, Daddy, Cub, and Grizzly titles with the contestant who receives the highest score winning the bear title, regardless of what type he is. Example: "Mr. Washington, D.C. Bear, 2006.")
Mr. DC Bear Cub 2006 and Mr. DC Bear 2006
Gay "leather-bears" have competed in leather contests, and "muscle-bears" are another subculture noted by their muscular, often very large muscle body mass.
The Bear community has spread all over the world, with Bear clubs in many countries. Bear clubs often serve as social and sexual networks for older, hairier, sometimes heavier gay and bisexual men, and members often contribute to their local gay communities through fundraising and other functions. Bear events are common in heavily-gay communities.
The gay Bear community constitutes a specialty niche in the commercial market. It offers T-shirts and other accessories as well as calendars and porn movies and magazines featuring Bear icons, e.g., Jack Radcliffe. Catalina Video has a bear-themed line: the "Furry Features Series." Other adult studios who feature Bear-type men are Bear Magazine, 100% BEEF Magazine, BearFilms, Bear, Butch Bear, Raging Stallion, and Titan Media.
As more gay men have identified themselves as Bears, more bars, especially leather or western bars, have become Bear-friendly. Some bars cater specifically to Bear patrons. As Bears have become more common in the larger gay culture, and as more gay and bisexual men identify themselves as Bears, Bears have not segregated themselves as much as they once did. Gay Bears are now a mainstream element of the gay community at large because of the community
Some terminology relating to the Bear community includes:
* Admirer - a term that refers to someone who is sexually or romantically attracted to Bears (this term is often used in various communities to describe an outsider who has sexual attraction to people within that community). Also often referred to as a Chaser. Admirers/Chasers can be of any weight, hairy or hairless and any age.
* Bear - a hairy man with a stocky or heavyset build and facial hair. Can be clean shaven and of any age.
* Bear run - a gathering or circuit party for Bear/Cub types and their Admirers.
* Cub - a younger (or younger looking) version of a Bear, typically but not always with a smaller frame. The term is sometimes used to imply the passive partner in a relationship. Can be hairy or hairless.
* Chub - a heavier bear
* Daddy bear - is an older guy sometimes looking for a daddy/son relationship with either a younger Bear, Cub, Otter, Wolf or Chaser.
* Ginger bear - a red-haired bear.
* Goldilocks - a female, often heterosexual, who is often in the company of bears (a bear's fag hag).
* Leatherbear - a bear with a leather fetish.
* Muscle bear - a muscular version of a Bear. A muscle cub is a younger or smaller, yet muscular, version. Can be hairy or hairless and of any age.
* Otter - a man who is hairy, but is not large or stocky - typically thinner, or with lean muscle.
* Panda bear - a bear with mixed white and black body hair - this definition is usually mistaken with Asian descent.
* Pocket bear - a short Bear.
* Polar bear - a silver- or white-haired Bear.
* Woof - a greeting often used when a Bear spots another Bear in public and wants to express physical attraction. He might make a growling noise ("Grrr!") or say "Woof!"
Main article: The Natural Bears Classification System
"Bear codes" are sometimes used in e-mail (often as part of a signature block), web postings, and online profiles to identify Bear-related attributes of the author or poster. See, e.g., "The Bear Codes" on the Resources for Bears Web site. A sample Bear code is:
B4 s- m g++ w d+c t+ f+ k+ r e+(+?)
Bear Code may be the earliest example (1989) of Internet self-classification codes. Familiarity with this classification system is concentrated in the subcommunity of Bears who were early adopters of Internet communications, and is not widespread within the general community.
The Classification Scheme
The most obvious characteristic of a bear is understandably his facial fur. So, that is the most logical place to begin. Using a capital "B" to denote "BEAR", we have added a sub-class characterizing "beard type" which combines a bear's beard's length, thickness, and overall "keptness", numbered from 0 to 9 and defined in the following way:
0 - (Little/no beard, or incredibly sparse) Such a beard is the absolute minimum that could ever be classified as a beard. We're talking 5-o'clock shadow, here! And yes, we are of the opinon that the beardless can still find company among the ursines!
1 - (VERY slight beard) This is the kind of beard that people have who want to have a beard, but can't grow one. Or someone who is contantly at the 1-week phase.
2 - (Slight beard) A beard kept VERY short at all times, or thinned out.
3 - (Thin beard) A beard in all respects but kept thin and short.
4 - (Mostly full) A beard that is full except for a few noticable bald spots, or kept trimmed.
5 - (Full beard) A full beard not generally trimmed, though not generally bushy. May have a few bald spots on inspection. Usually full and roundish beards fall into this category.
6 - (Very full) A full beard, not trimmed. May be slightly bushy but very full. Thick, full beards (moreso than B5's) are B6's. B6's beards also generally are higher up on the cheeks than B5's.
7 - (Longish/bushy beards) A full beard or slightly thin beard with longish fur. This beard is not trimmed and does come away from the chin.
8 - (Very Long Beards) These beards are usually very bushy and haven't seen clippers for a very long time.
9 - (Belt-buckle-grazing long beards) The prototype is ZZ Top. Need we say more?
Ok… Using this scheme, it shouldn't be hard to narrow a person down to within 1 sub-class, although occasionally people may fall between two classes, and then the end result is left up to the person classifying, or one may use a hybrid designation (for example: B7/4) for those who vary across time (in the given range they spend more time near the first number).
Other Classifiers for Bears
While beards can be an observable trait of bears, there are other things that different people take into consideration as to "what makes up a bear", and things that people like in their bears. So, bearing that in mind (pun intended) there are other criteria that can/should optionally follow the "B" designation.
N.B. It is not necessary to have a "grade" for each of these traits! For each there is a "neutral" value, which basically describes someone who is "average" or "unknown" within that trait. These "neutral" values are given below, but would not be reported --- treat them as either "default" or "assumed".
f - "The FUR factor". Some bears are particularly hairy about the rest of their bodies, others INCREDIBLY furry, yet others though rightfully bears, have little or no fur on their chests, arms, legs, back, butt, etc. So, one of the following may be added to better describe a bear's fur:
f++ WAY above average fur
f+ above average fur
f furry in a bearish sense
(none) "neutral", avg. fur from a sample population of
both bears and non-bears f- below average fur
f-- WAY below average fur--"Nair-smooth to the max!"
t - "the TALLNESS factor". To describe bears that are tall or short for their frame.
t++ a virtual giant bear
t+ taller than average
t tall but not very tall
(none) average height
t- shorter than average
t-- a bear of very small stature
w - "the WEIGHT factor". For those who prefer their bears more or less fluffy.
w++ a round bear/BIG TEDDY bear
w+ a big boned bear
w bear with a tummy
(none) average weight for frame
w- a thin bear (otters!)
w-- a bony bear
c - "the CUB factor". For the junior up and coming bears.
c++ complete daddy's boy
c+ definite cub
c cub tendencies
(none) not "cubbish"
c- looks like a cub but isn't
d - "the DADDY factor". For the cubs, etc.
d++ DADDY with a vengeance (even his parents call him SIR!)
d+ definite DADDY
d daddyish tendencies
(none) not a daddy
d- looks like a daddy but isn't
Note there are now also HYBRID classes "cd" and "dc":
cd A cub with "daddy tendencies"... Sort of like a "grown up cub".
dc A daddy with cub-like tendencies/features.
dc- More daddy than cub
d+c REAL daddyish and also VERY cubbish
g - "the GROPE factor": This is the amount one likes to be touched or pawed etc.
g++ Love to grope/paw/touch etc. Will attack without
warning. Gives hugs to hot otherwise unknown bears on the street in open daylight.
g+ likes to be touched most of the time
g Generally outgoing with ursine affection, a little more reserved about place/person...
(none) Average amount of receptivity to being touched
g- Generally doesn't like people to invade his personal aura/lair.
g-- You touch my bod, I break your face!
k - "the KINKY factor"... for those who dare.
k++ likes just about EVERYTHING... we mean EVERYTHING!!!
k+ picks and choose according to likes; willing to consider new ideas
k open minded. Might choose SOME things on the "menu"
(none) kinky neutral
k- has definite ABSOLUTE dislikes
k-- totally vanilla
s - "SEX (ok, SLUT) factor.
In SOME people's bear codes, "s" might really mean "k"
(since "k" WAS originally "s" in the earlier versions...).
s-- strictly monogamously/relationship oriented. No outside affairs, or in some cases, sex ONLY in relationships
s- relationship oriented. Prefers a formal sort of relationship over playing around, however the scope of the word relationship is not defined here.
(none) relationship neutral
s neutral wrt to relationships/monogamy.
s+ will form relationships which are generally open-ended
s++ strictly polygamous, prefers very open relationships ONLY.
m - "the MUSCLE factor"... for those who like meat on them bones.
(N.B. "semi-"official --- may be dropped w/ V2.0)
m++ Arnold Schwartzineger is that you?
m+ definitely works out or is a ranch hand
m some definition/blue collar
(none) muscle neutral
e - "the ENDOWMENT factor"... sometimes a size queen's gotta do
what a size queen's gotta do.
(N.B. "semi-"official --- may be dropped w/ V2.0)
e++ gets complete respect even from straight men
e+ gets attention
(none) endowment neutral
h - "the BEHR factor"... for behrs (men without beards but bears).
You might also put a parenthesized number for the "B" designation to give an idea of WHAT the person would look like with a beard.
h behr (mustache no beard)
h+ Definite BEHR (mustache no beard)
h- no beard OR mustache! (very rare but still cave dwelling)
r - "the RUGGED/OUTDOOR factor".
r++ "Grizzly Adams"
r+ Flannel/jeans/C&W really are second skin
r Spends some time outdoors/camping
(none) rugged neutral
r- prefers indoor-type activities (techie or 3-piece)
r-- never seen in the outdoors at all.
p - "the PECULIAR factor"
p Some idiosyncrasies --- no judgment made to whether these are "good" or "not so good"
q - "the Q factor (ahem)"
q for bears who are out - WAY out - and love every minute of it. Stereotypes be damned, break out the chiffon and everything else, because girlfriend, as Auntie Mame says "Life is a banquet and most poor bastards are starving to death!" (For the stunned reading this - yes, Virginia, "q" is a GOOD thing just like "t-- and t++ are GOOD things", "w-- and w++ are GOOD things"; nothing negative should be associated with the labels pertaining to classification!)
The following aren't graded, they are just flags attached to the overall classification:
v for variable, said trait is not very rigid, may change with time or with individual interaction (e.g. some guys who are generally REAL daddies, may turn into REAL cubs occasionally, etc.)
? for traits where there is no HARD information available and the value is completely guessed at: eg. a picture of a hot bear that LOOKS like a rugged outdoors man, r+? but in reality could be a 3-piece suit bear.
: for traits which are observed but uncertain, eg. a guy who is wearing a lot of clothes, so you can't be SURE he's an f+, but his forearms REALLY suggest that he is, hence f+:
! for cases where the trait is as close to a prototype as possible, or an exemplary case of a specific trait... eg. the ultimate f++!
() for indicating "cross-overs" or ranges. A guy who goes from k to k++ depending on the situation (ie mostly "k") could use k(++)
You can make the punctuation as detailed as desired, although the best ones to read are the ones which are the most clear and simple to understand.
NOTE: None of the classification materials in any way suggests a ranking or value judgement, in terms of what constitutes a "better" bear. Every person has their own favorite type!