Saturday, April 30, 2011

Being a "Bear"

Originally Posted on September 27, 2006

Sometime back in the early 1970’s, when you found someone else who was gay, regardless of what they looked like, you welcomed him into the fold and showed him the universe. It just seemed right that the only way other gay folks reached out to each other was indeed through a common experience: same-gender sexuality.

As we grew as a movement establishing a community along the way, we became vain. All of the sudden, our attractions became part of the politics and social pecking order of gay liberation. One can speculate that because someone was not attracted to some other guy who was overweight, the rejected party decided to start his own movement. The result came when Girth & Mirth groups began springing up from San Francisco to New York and anywhere else chubby gay men can meet without ridicule.

Somewhere in the midst of this, some other overweight gay man came to a realization of his own sexual attractions. This particular guy was covered from head to toe with hair, including his face, and exhibited masculine attributes that make him even sexier. He started hanging out at leather bars instead of Girth & Mirth parties, and, soon, found himself hanging out with other hirsute gentlemen for private parties and other good times.

Fast forward to 1996, when beardom exploded from the underground onto the internet. Bear clubs start popping up all over the world, especially in places where it is illegal for a man to have sex with other men. Even younger guys were getting into the act. Attendance skyrocketed at Bear events and guys start traveling miles to meet other guys like themselves. Yet, when they came home there was either no one they can hang out with or trick. The internet was indeed this savior of the bear culture.

Today, bears are a part of the mainstream of gay male society. Look at how much we have accomplished in terms of carving out our own semi-sufficient community. Though bear clubs still exist, more individuals are finding like-minded men to hang out with without the trappings of a bar or club events. Magazines, online blogs, podcasts, MySpace websites, YouTube videos, and radio programs broadcast to our own people every day.

In all, everything that has transpired in the past ten years is a sign of the acceptance of big men’s subcultures within the gay community. Yet, by the way our culture has settled into a nice existence within this society, one will find that some bears are no different than anyone else in gay male society.

This is something I’ve been concerned about. As much as I embrace my identity as a bear, I also see the limitations of this label. Years ago, an acquaintance of mine suggested that bears are just a bunch of “fat hairy guys.” Granted, some of us are not fat, hairy or both, but we certainly enjoy the benefits this community has given those who partake in it. Yet, a label can only give you limited sense of pride within a larger world around you.

At the end of the day, I am just a “fat hairy guy” who enjoys the company of other “fat hairy guys” and others who are hot and mutually agree in our attractions for each other. Does that make me a bear? Well...hang on...there’s more!

It has always been my understanding that we are a nation of individuals. Sadly, I have not seen much individuality ever since I immersed myself into the GLBT community 15 years ago. The biggest peeve I have with my bear brethren is how much they exploit some common traits amongst their fellow ursines and make it a “requirement” to be initiated into the bear or chub/chaser fraternity. I always argue that a person must own their own personality and the uniqueness of their own lives. A person’s individuality is just as sexy as their looks and charm.

My view of how I see my place in today’s bear community can be summed up with an analogy. Think of being in rush hour traffic in any city you can think of. It is crowded, slow and everyone is trying to get to the same place. I see the bear community as a crowded freeway where rush hour is around the clock, every day. Instead, I take the alternate route. Though I am heading towards the same place as everyone else, I am taking the time to enjoy the drive, the scenery and exploring new territory.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not rejecting my own identity and my place in society. I just want to live a life that is authentic, individual and fulfilling. I believe that Lee Iacocca said it best: “you either lead, follow or get out of my way!” The way things have been going these days, some people need to simply move off to the side of the road and let me pass by.

For the past 11 years, I embraced my identity as a bear. Being a bear in the gay literary world is a radical mark, but I know that I am not the only one among us. Being a bear as an activist is also an individual achievement, but again I know that I am not alone in this realm.

Yet, being different has its burdens. You climb harder along your path, but you still climb and eventually reach the summit.

This is how I see my life inside my own subculture. This is why I write. This is my struggle. Despite all of this, I am still a bear!

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