In gay culture, a bear is a large, hairy man who projects an image of rugged masculinity. As a rising subculture in the gay and bisexual male communities, bears are one of many LGBT communities with events, codes, and a culture-specific identity.
The term bear was popularized by Richard Bulger, who, along with his then partner Chris Nelson (1960–2006) founded Bear Magazine in 1987.
BEAR Magazine is the longest-established periodical specifically geared toward gay men who are — or who admire — masculine men with body or facial hair, i.e., bears. First published in
in 1987 by
Richard Bulger and his partner Chris Nelson, the magazine gave birth to this
new movement within the gay community. BEAR was, and continues to be, integral
in the emergence and mainstreaming of the bear community into the larger LGBT
communities. San Francisco, CA
In 1985 Bulger coined the name "Bear" as a term for bearded and hairy men. He and Nelson eventually started BEAR Magazine in 1987 as a photo-copied flyer published from their apartment, establishing Creative Options Associates (COA). In 1991, COA became Brush Creek Media Inc., named for
, the town where their vacation cabin was located. Brush Creek Media
obtained a trademark on the name "Bear" for a men's magazine in 1992,
which applies to print, digital media and video. Brush
Originally created as an alternate to the abundance of shaven men represented in gay mainstream media, BEAR grew over the course of years into an internationally distributed glossy magazine, which featured erotic photographs of masculine, mature men and erotic stories. There was also a classified personals section which, before the emergence of the internet, was one of the few ways for men to find compatible romantic and sexual partners, and to network with like-minded men.
Hirsuteness and a masculine demeanour are important parts of the "bear" aesthetic
Jack Fritscher notes that bears celebrate "secondary sexual characteristics of the male: facial hair, body hair, proportional size, baldness". Over the years, bear culture has subdivided itself. Many claim discrimination has increased within the bear community, as some men who self-identify as "bears" or "musclebears" do not welcome higher-bodyfat men (A chub is an overweight or obese gay man who identifies as being part of the related chubby culture. Although there is some overlap between chubs and bears, chubs have their own distinct subculture and community. There are bars, organizations and social events specifically catering to this subculture, which allows members of the community to socialize with each other and develop social networks.) at their events. A common criticism of the bear community is that some self-described bears tend to exclude men who do not fit their standards of a "real bear". Fat (or lack of it) is a political issue, some of whom see their overweight condition as a form of self-acceptance. Some also note a lack of racial diversity in the bear community, perceiving hirsuteness to be a standard of physical attractiveness that genetically favors white men aesthetically, socially and sexually among bears.
The AIDS devastation in
accelerated the generation gap between older and younger bear-identified men,
peaking in the early 1990s. Some older survivors claim that the current bear
culture has become "shallow and catty," which is also their common
criticism of mainstream gay culture. The allegation is that the younger bear
community no longer reflects the culture's original function as a social
alternative for primarily rural and blue-collar, traditionally masculine gay
men. Moreover, the proliferation of bear pageants and their title winners
("sash bears") runs contrary to the early bear community's
identification with and admiration for unself-conscious masculinity. San Francisco
Some slang terms relating to the bear community include the following:
- 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.
- Otter – A slimmer or less hairy bear regardless of age.
- Chaser - Somebody who is attracted to bears and/or chubs but is not part of the bear culture.
- Chub - A heavy-set man who might be described as overweight or obese. These men are also a distinct subculture within the gay community, and may or may not identify with the bear movement per se.
- Musclebear - A bear whose size derives from muscle rather than body fat.
- Ursula - A lesbian who participates in bear culture.
- Panda (or panda bear) - A bear of Asian heritage.
- Polar bear - An older bear whose facial and body hair is predominantly or entirely white or grey.