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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

More on Bear culture

Joe and I about to watch the bear tug o'war.

Recently my mate Richard Morris asked me some questions about Bear culture for a feature he is writing on the scene and how it has changed.

Richard writes for the website Soundblab and also has an excellent blog (and fanzine) called Bacon Zine. Both are really worth checking out.

To read my answers in full, click this ugly link/jump/cut thing.

What attracted you to the bear scene (apart from the hot men, obviously)?

A huge part of the bear culture IS based around this particular desire, so I have to say that first and foremost my attraction to the "scene" IS based on the hot guys. A lot of the interactions within the scene itself are based purely on physical attraction, but that's not to say that bears aren't a diverse lot or that you can make great friends that are bears too. But to be honest with you, I see my partaking in the bear "scene" to be pretty minimal. In fact I would question the existence of a "scene" itself outside of particular bear-based club nights and meat markets.

To me personally, being a "bear" is not something I have "chosen" to be. It's the way I was born. Cheesy perhaps, but I have always been a heavy-set, hirsuite individual (no matter how many diets or grooming regimes I go on) and as such will always be a "bear". Because of my physical appearance and being comfortable with that I feel I can play around with it a lot and still be seen as a "bear".

I remember when and where I first heard about such a thing as "bears" - it was in 1994 and L7 had released an album called Hungry For Stink. In an interview with Select magazine (I believe - or it could have been Melody Maker) Donita Sparks mentioned that the album's title came from a headline in a porn mag called "Bear" which was dedicated to fat, hairy guys. This was the first time that I had ever been made aware that other people shared the same sexual desires as me, and it felt great to know that.

Do you think bear culture in general has become more accepting of trans guys, drag and camp over the last few years? If so, to what extent?

Hmm, I'm not sure if I am qualified to asnwer that as a non-trans or drag person and as a completely red-blooded NON-SISSY 100% HARD-BUTCH MASCULINE MAN.
But that's the problem isn't it? This perceived notion of hyper-masculinity in the "bear scene" itself. It's always funny to first see a group of bear guys together, and then as you get closer to actually hear them talking. Identity is more fluid to me than these straight lines, but then I do realise that I have it easy in society as I have the outward appearance of being a regular, non-campy "bloke". But anyway as the old saying goes "butch on the streets, queen in the sheets".

I do see an emergence of some bear drag queens more recently though (including the fabulous Joyce D'Vision, with whom I work, and SF's Lady Bear), and I have found the drag scene itself to be pretty accepting of bears (with some of the biggest names in drag being boa-fide bear chasers!). We run a gay night in Glasgow called Menergy, and our two main drag queens are always going on about how great it is to have bears there.

Do you think bear culture is becoming more part of the mainstream? Do you think this will change it?

I kind of do and kind of don't. Certainly more and more people are becoming aware of this gay subculture, but as I was discussing with a friend recently, it's not like there's ever going to be a Glee "bears" special. It couldn't go mainstream unless the mainstream itself suddenly changed its own beauty ideals. I think on a surface level it's just seen as a kooky, funny thing, and I don't see how going more mainstream would change the bear scene any more than it has changed the gay scene in general.

Would do you think the pros and cons are of bear culture becoming more mainstream? What does it stand to gain and lose?

In mainstream media fat people are never shown as having healthy, normal sex lives, and as for being portrayed as sexually attractive in any way? Forget it! Any plus-sized sex symbols have become that way despite the media. I hated myself and my body for many years as I was growing up, and to be able to break free from the mainstream beauty myth and accept myself as I am was a huge relief. It is also very gratifying to know that other people find you attractive the way you are too.

So the pros would be many more people's self-acceptance of their body image. Being both fat and hairy are the worst things you could be by modern day beauty standards (particularly for women), even though many folks are coming out of the closet, both gay and straight, of finding bears attractive. Lily Allen is one I believe. Although I don't know how exactly this would happen, I would like to see the anti-mainstream beauty modes of bear culture to be adopted by women as reflecting their own bodies. They are under enough pressure to conform to beauty modes as it is, they could do with getting a break from that!

The cons would be that as more people find out about it the less interesting the scene becomes, or the more people realise that bears can be just as bitchy, shallow, shady, snarky, looks-obsessed and vain as any other social groups.

Have you noticed the bear beauty aesthetic becoming more prevalent in mainstream gay media? As a beary guy, how does that make you feel?

Yeah, I have. It's something I get asked about a lot, about being a bear. A lot of the gay press mention it about me, as if it's the easiest way to pigeon hole me, or my USP. As I mentioned before though, I see my bear status not as a choice but an accident of birth, so I am very comfortable playing around with what people think of being "beary" because I will always be a large hairy man. I am not going to go pulling a Seth Rogen anytime soon, even if I could. So I can deal with being labelled a "bear" quite comfortably.

What I don't like is that I feel there is a lot of jumping onto this particular bandwagon, in the most lazy, conformist way. By its very nature the bear scene is about a visual image, and this can lead itself to "clone-dom". For instance to a lot of people, being a "bear" just means having a beard. And I think there are a lot of older guys who were clones back in the day and now have hit middle-age spread so just redefinied themselves as being "bears" and hung on to the clone mentality. I am against conformity in any of its guises, so that kind of thing really pisses me off. Especially when the post-clone bears start giving out about all the fatties being ugly and ruining "their" scene. It is really quite stupid.

How do you think bear culture might evolve in the near future? How do you think the bear identity might change?

That's an interesting question, and one that I don't know the answer to straight away. I guess what might happen is that the bear scene becomes even more conformist and this will drive more and more actual bears (ie large or fat, hairy men and the skinny men that love them) away from it. But then that might lead to a more alternative-type bear scene, a post-bear scene if you will.

But like I said before, I am very comfortable with my image as a heavy-set, hairy, generally bearded man and comfortable playing around with that too. A bear is WHAT I am not WHO I am. There will always be people whose idea of the perfect sexual partner is Santa Claus, and the "bear scene" going tits up is not going to affect that. So any place or any time that two fat hairy blokes pull each other could by definition be called a "bear-scene".

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