“Who’s a bear and who’s not? This question easily makes the top five list of gay man #FirstWorldProblems, and nothing is guaranteed to inflame an internet discussion quicker than someone posting a picture like the above, particularly if your Facebook page is modestly titled “Top Bear Man” and is littered with images of muscly mesomorphs.
Whenever this topic comes up, the responses generally fall into three categories:
People who use this as another launchpad to remind the world why the “community” (read: every man who has ever rejected them sexually or pissed them off) stinks to high heaven and is nothing but a bunch of snivelling, bitchy, exclusionary high school queens (read: internalised homophobia tinged with a whiff of moral superiority).
As a subset of cynics, you have the men who wail, gnash teeth, and fear for the future of humankind, as if someone being such a hideous and honest arsehole in public about their opinions is indicative that we’re on a slippery slope to giving wedgies to fat blokes in the street and pushing them into puddles while giggling.
The label people
People who opine that we should just drop the labels and all get along with each other, as if the evolutionary notion of tribalism and the male desire to compete will all magically drop away like some sort of 23rd century Star Trek utopia (where, ironically, everyone wears the same clothes and gay people don’t exist).
Men who seethe with rage that the man on the right is deemed to be “not bear” for a variety of justifiable reasons:
- Such body fascism is precisely why the bear movement started in the first place.
- They look like the man on the right and are personally offended.
- Who is anyone to judge what is bear/not bear?
If you’re in one of the above three groups, and are readying yourself to type abuse, just give me a moment to put on the tin hat. Hang on. . . . . . .
Sorry, it was outside in the recycling bin. Lovely day outside, by the way.
Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes.There are valid nuggets of wisdom in all three of the above categories, once you strip away the emotion. And as much as freedom of speech gives us all the right to express a controversial opinion, and to be whacked back over the head in kind, is the defensive response to the eternal bear/not bear debate stopping us from facing an uncomfortable truth?
Steve Frishcosy on the Top Bear Man page pretty much sums the whole thing up with such concise anthropology I think he deserves a nice bear flag keyring (unless he’s a Cynic, in which case he’d rant about how much the community sucks before throwing my thoughtful gift in the bin and telling me to go fuck myself).
Here’s what he said:
Personally, I think it started [the bear movement] as a very permissive/inclusive thing that generally meant if a gay guy had at least some padding and a good amount of hair on his body and/or his face [you were included]. Things like attitude and level of outward masculinity/femininity helped someone decide to identify or not with the word. It was easy and self-governing because being a bear wasn’t a well-known or popular thing. [my emphasis] A picture like this shows what happens over years of it becoming well-known and more popular. It fractionalizes. And therefore, unfortunately, marginalizes.
I was talking with a friend the other night about gay men, bears and body image and he expressed doubt about the existence of a fourth category of opinion I didn’t include above:
We’re all winners
People who think “bear” is a state of mind, and anyone can be a bear if they want to.
“So, you think that when people say that, they don’t really mean it, and it’s just put out there to keep the peace and not offend people?” I asked.
“Basically yes,” he answered.
One can’t deny that, within a reasonably broad spectrum, there is a type of man who will be used in images to advertise a bear event. While the body-beautiful debate has become louder, there is still plenty of evidence that our idea of what “bear” means is self-governing. Take a look at this selection of posters promoting events at Southern Hibearnation 2013 in Melbourne:
The parameters appear to be, at the very least, you have to be a not-skinny man, with a beard and some body hair (that last one is contentious – I’ve been told that I don’t count as a bear because of my bald chest).
The reason this debate gets so heated is because it’s personal. Being told you’re “not bear” is akin to being told “get out, we don’t want you”. No-one likes to feel excluded, especially when you’re a gay man – you’ve spent your whole life being told you don’t fit in, either overtly or covertly.
Generally speaking, I think bear clubs in Australia work their furry arses off to make guys feel included, and the ones that don’t have furry arses clearly aren’t bears.
There’s no easy conclusion to this, because it is so personal: it cuts right to the heart of how we feel about ourselves, our bodies, our place amongst our peers and in society generally.
Going forward from here, the best I’ve been able to come up with is yet another borrowed quote, from the great comedian Jim Jeffries, who said the world would be a better place if we got rid of the Bible and just replaced it with six words:
Try not to be a cunt.
Cue howls of outrage from group five: all gay men are misogynist bastards.
This article previously appeared in Christopher’s own blog bipolarbear here.