A dark tuft of back-hair protruding from his shirt collar, his beer belly jutting over the taut waistband of his jeans, bushy unkempt facial hair, and a deep gravelly voice . . . this is the epitome of sexually desirable men in the bear community—a sub-culture within the greater gay male world They are, essentially, a group of men that reject the mainstream gay stereotype. Eschewing the queer-eyed, perfectly coiffed hair and impeccably manicured nails, members of the bear community prize a more primal view of maleness, lusting after an almost over-compensating image of masculinity.
With gay liberation in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a freedom to be effeminate ensued. Drag queens enjoyed a certain exoticized level of social acceptance, while hairdressers and interior designers were able to reveal their flamboyant personalities without fear of retribution—or at least, less fear of it. But a different sort of gay male was forced more deeply into the closet—the man who found his object of sexual desire in other men, such men as who happened to look like they’d sooner beat you up than hold your hand. In short, a man’s closet love for big grizzly men. Suffering a form of social invisibility, the community of kindred-minded gay men enjoyed their own sexual revolution in the 1980s, and began an underground movement in what came to be known as the “bear community.”
Since its inception, this analogy of men and their animal counterparts has burgeoned. Older and more aggressive men are known as bears, while their younger or more passive partners are referred to as cubs. A skinny bear is an otter; a leaner, muscular but still masculine bear is a wolf. Older bears, due to their hair of the same color, are referred to as polar bears, and even racial minorities enjoy their own sub-sub category—such as the Asian men who identify with the community, who are known as panda bears. As with all categories and stereotypes, no one truly fits into the mold, and such labels are being railed against by members within the community. Some argue that only the self-identification as a member of the community is required to enjoy the label of bear.
But there is no denying the sub-culture’s appeal, clearly exemplified by an all-male resort dedicated to supporting this segment of the gay population. The Desert Bear Resort in Palm Springs caters exclusively to the hirsute and their admirers, featuring a clothing-optional pool where men who are oftentimes shunned by a large segment of the population can enjoy being physically admired and lusted after in all their naked, hairy glory. The greater bear community in the Palm Springs region finds support with the Palm Springs Bears, a social organization featuring a weekly coffee night for bears, a monthly beer bust, monthly pool parties, a monthly brunch, and their big annual signature event, Bears in the Desert. This multi-day social gathering serves to enable interactions with bears from both the local region and afar, as well as to raise money for the many charitable organizations the Palm Springs Bears benefits (such as Desert AIDS Project, AIDS Assistance League, etc.)
Most of the interaction between bears in the Inland Empire happens online. Social networking sites such as www.bear411.com, www.bearwww.com and www.bearciti.com are all specifically tailored to this sub-culture, sort of like a targeted MySpace (only with less Fox and more bear). These sites allow people to specify their dating preferences with ever-increasing detail, from age range of desirability to geographical closeness to sexual position preference to, of course, desired level of hairiness. Additionally, many men post their own physical traits and characteristics in a broken down format known as the bear code, a combination of letters with pluses or minuses indicating level of applicability (for instance, B3 would indicate a “level 3” beard on a 6 level scale).
Those within the community itself are the only ones who can experience the full appreciation of bears. It’s difficult to articulate the frustration that years spent growing up in the closet in a very conservative Inland Empire bring on, yet realizing once out that most of the gay men are physically unappealing and find you equally unattractive is worse still. That’s why to stumble upon a group of like-minded men who not only tolerate bigness and un-waxed-ness but celebrate these elements is one of the happiest days of any young cub’s life.
Ultimately, the desirability of bear men boils down to personal preference. As I was leaving for a bear bar one evening, a decidedly non-bear Asian friend of mine asked to tag along. When I asked what it was about bear men that he found so attractive, he answered without hesitation that he likes aggressive sex, and for him, it was simply a matter of physics: force is equal to mass times acceleration. Thus stated, he succinctly described one of the most profound physical advantages bear men have over their smoother, less robust gay brothers.