bear community

The Bear community is a subculture in the gay community. "Bears" are usually gay or bisexual men with hairy bodies and facial hair; some are heavy-set, but that is not a requirement. Bears often exhibit an outwardly masculine appearance. Some Bears place great importance on presenting a hyper-masculine image; some may shun interaction with men who display effeminate style and mannerisms.

Note: The terms Bear, Cub, Otter, Wolf, et cetera are usually capitalized to differentiate between the "animals" referenced and their human counterparts.

There is much debate in the gay community as to the definition of a Bear; some say anyone who identifies himself as a Bear is one, while others argue that Bears must have certain physical characteristics--such as a hairy chest and face or having a large body--and a certain mode of dress and behavior.

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The International Bear Brotherhood Flag was designed by graphic artist Paul Witzkoske for Bear Manufacturing


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Bears marching in San Francisco Pride 2004.
The Bear community originated in San Francisco in the 1980s as an outgrowth of the gay biker and then later the leather and "girth and mirth" communities. It was created by men who felt that mainstream gay culture was unwelcoming to men who did not fit a particular body norm (hairless and young). Also, many gay men in rural America never identified with the stereotypical urban gay lifestyle, and went searching for an alternative which more closely resembled the typical blue collar American male image.

Richard Bulger, publisher, and his partner, Chris Nelson (photographer), started Bear Magazine--originally a photocopied flyer--from their home in San Francisco's North Beach in 1987. Over a 5-year period, the magazine grew to an internationally distributed high-gloss format, but still intentionally kept the stark look of Chris's black and white photography. Their company, Brush Creek Media[1], obtained a trademark on the name "Bear" for a men's magazine in 1991 [2]. Bearded, blue-collar, rural, and working-class men were idolized in the magazine.

Richard's friend Rick Redewill, who had founded San Francisco's "Lone Star Saloon" bought full-page ads in every issue of Bear; they soon found themselves with a huge success nationally, especially among rural gay Americans, who would travel to San Francisco just to find a unique "blue collar" gay bar, filled with a masculine-identified crowd who were radically different than the stereotypical gay bar image.

The Lone Star became "ground zero" for the incubation of the Bear Community between 1990 and 1993. Unlike other gay clubs where dance music was the norm, the Lone Star played rock music for the appreciation of a more masculine-identifying customer base.

Much of the Lone Star staff, including its owner Redewill, became victims of the AIDS devastation which swept San Francisco. The bar was taken over by new owners in 1993. Bear Magazine was sold to Bear-Dog Hoffman, who expanded the Brush Creek Media empire into several special-interest gay magazines and video series.

"Bear Magazine" ceased publication in 2000. Some of its former staff members went on to work on a new publication called "100% Beef." [1] Though the Bear subculture germinated long before advent of the Internet, it can be closely tied to the growth of online social networking. Gay men who felt they were not welcome at their local gay meeting places (or who just wanted a quick hookup) found easy access to and acceptance from similar people online. Gay men were quick to pick up on the online Bear community, but Bears of all ages are part of it.

At the onset of the Bear movement, some Bears separated from the gay community at large, forming "bear clubs" to create social and sexual opportunities for their own. Many clubs are loosely organized social groups; others are modeled on leather back-patch clubs, with a strict set of bylaws, membership requirements, and charities. Bear clubs often sponsor large yearly events--"Bear runs" or "Bear gatherings" like the annual Lazybear[2] event--drawing regional, national and international visitors. And many events attract a significant bear following, such as Southern Decadence in New Orleans. A feature at many Bear events is a "Bear contest," a sort of masculine beauty pageant awarding titles and sashes (often made of leather) to winners. One of the largest and most notable contests, International Mr. Bear, is held each February at the International Bear Rendezvous in San Francisco. It attracts contestants, often with local titles, from all over the world. The first International Mr. Bear was John Caldera in 1992. The contest includes Bear, Daddy, Cub, and Grizzly titles with the contestant who receives the highest score winning the bear title, regardless of what type he is. Example: "Mr. Washington, D.C. Bear, 2006.")
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Mr. DC Bear Cub 2006 and Mr. DC Bear 2006.

Gay Leatherbears have competed in leather contests, and Musclebears have a subculture driven by websites like Big Musclebears [3].

The Bear community has spread all over the world, with Bear clubs in many countries. Bear clubs often serve as social and sexual networks for older, hairier, sometimes heavier gay and bisexual men, and members often contribute to their local gay communities through fundraising and other functions. Bear events are common in heavily-gay communities, and lots of flux and interaction occur between members of the different subcommunities.

The gay Bear community constitutes a specialty niche in the commercial market. It offers T-shirts and other accessories as well as calendars and porn movies featuring Bear icons, e.g., Jack Radcliffe. Catalina Video has a bear-themed line: the "Furry Features Series." Other adult studios who feature Bear-type men are BearFilms [4], Butch Bear, Raging Stallion, and Titan Media.

As more gay men have identified themselves as Bears, more bars, especially leather or western bars, have become Bear-friendly. Some bars cater specifically to Bear patrons. As Bears have become more common in the larger gay culture, and as more gay and bisexual men identify themselves as Bears, Bears have not segregated themselves as much as they once did. Gay Bears are now a mainstream element of the gay community at large because of the community.


  • In 1992, Bear Magazine, under pressure from its worldwide distributor, threatened trademark infringement lawsuits against several smaller publications which included the word "Bear" in their title. This caused a good deal of animosity between the smaller, often locally-oriented and local-bear-group operated-publications, and the internationally distributed "Bear".
  • As the Bear Culture has matured, it has subdivided itself, and many claim that discrimination has increased within the Bear community as some men who self-identify as "Bears" or Musclebears do not welcome higher-bodyfat men (see Chubby culture) 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 what a "real Bear" is. Fat (or lack of it) is a political issue among Bears, 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, believing this to be an exclusively "white" beauty standard.
  • The AIDS devastation in San Francisco caused a divide between older and younger Bear-identified men, peaking in the early 1990s, with few connections that survived between the two. Some older survivors claim that the current Bear culture has become "shallow and catty", a common criticism of mainstream gay culture, claiming that the younger Bear Community cannot identify with the culture's original roots as a masculine alternative for rural, masculine-identified gay men, and further that that the idea of Bear "pageants" and "title winners" runs completely contrary to the original Bear concept of idolizing the straight-appearing masculine blue-collar American male.

References in pop culture

Though not generally widely known outside of the gay community, the "Bear" concept has surfaced in pop culture.

Live Events

  • On September 1, 2007, in a live interview called "The TrekTrak Show" with actors Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data) and Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) at Dragon*Con, host Eric L. Watts (who self-identifies as a Bear) asked Frakes if he was aware that he was "something of an icon in the Bear community."


  • On the Sept 25, 2007 episode of The Late Show with David Letterman, Kevin Smith reveals he's on the cover of the next issue of A Bear's Life Magazine, and gives the audience a quick introduction to bears in general.
  • On the July 25, 2007 episode of "Top Chef", the host reads a question from a viewer directed towards Tom Colicchio asking, "Do you realize that you are an icon of the bear community?"
  • On the American television show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a stocky and hairy man receiving a makeover was informed by one of the hosts that, "In our community, you would be called a Cub!"
  • In the British television show Absolutely Fabulous, during the episode entitled "Gay", the character of Bo (Mo Gaffney) attempts to put her husband Marshall's potential homosexual tendencies to the test by setting him up on a date with a "Daddy Bear".
  • The Kids in the Hall Season 5 episode 2 1994, a skit called Grizzly showed Kevin McDonald being "attacked by a bear" in a gay bar and surviving by flashing back to his Boy Scout training, eventually "playing dead". transcript
  • In The L Word, season three's episode 2 (Lost Weekend), characters Jenny and Moira enter a club's "Bear Night" and dance among large, bearded men.
  • On the reality show Can't Get a Date, singer/actor James Bradford identifies as a Bear (but is shown actively trying to lose weight)
  • On the June 19 2006 episode of The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert listed Bears as the top threat to his continued heterosexuality, a play on his previously stated fear of the animal of the same name.
  • On the 11 August 2006 episode of Big Brother's Big Mouth, Russell Brand spoke to a member of the studio audience and asked them "You're what is known in the gay community as a Bear, aren't you?"
  • Bears make an appearance on an episode of Wildboyz.
  • On the January 28 2007 episode of American Dad, Stan Smith says "Did you know that in the gay community a hairy man is called a Bear?"
  • In the Canadian comedy series Chris & John to the Rescue!, during the episode titled "Write My Article!" the two title characters travel to Vermont to participate in a gay Bear film festival. Their film entry, titled "Gay Bears Eat Babies", is met with great hostility. Chris and John humorously dispel fictitious gay Bear myths.
  • On an episode of The Simpsons, Homer leaves Marge temporarily to live with a gay man. Standing on the street corner together, a group of gay men drive by and yell out "Who's the Bear? Woof!" (referring to the portly Homer.)
  • Additionally in the episode of "The Simpsons" where a Brown Bear wanders into Springfield, Homer stirs up the government to provide a "bear patrol" to rid the town of bears. On their protest march to the town hall Homer sings "We're here, we're queer, we don't want anymore bears" when Lenny asks if Homer came up with it Homer claims "Oh, I heard it at the mustache parade they have every year".



  • Chris Nelson's original San Francisco Bear Magazine photograph collection, which first depicted bearish men from Bear Magazine are collected in The Bear Cult: Photographs by Chris Nelson (1992, ISBN 0-85449-161-9) from Gay Men's Press, London.
  • Les K. Wright edited two nonfiction anthologies, The Bear Book: Readings in the History and Evolution of a Gay Male Subculture (1997, ISBN 1-56023-890-9), and The Bear Book 2 (2001, ISBN 1-56023-165-3), both from Haworth Press.
  • Ray Kampf authored The Bear Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for Those Who Are Husky, Hairy and Homosexual, and Those Who Love 'Em (2000, ISBN 1-56023-997-2). The Bear Handbook website
  • Ron Suresha authored a 2002 nonfiction anthology, Bears on Bears: Interviews & Discussions (ISBN 1-55583-578-3), 25 dialogues with 57 bear-identified men and bear-lovers from around the world, including interviews with comedian Bruce Vilanch, porn model Jack Radcliffe, and Survivor star Richard Hatch. Suresha edited two fiction anthologies, Bearotica: Hot, Hairy, Heavy Fiction (2002, ISBN 1-55583-577-5), and Bear Lust: Hot, Hairy, Heavy Fiction (2004, ISBN 1-55583-818-9), also published by Alyson Publications
  • Jonathan Cohen authored a 2003 novel Bear Like Me (ISBN 1-56023-418-0), Southern Tier Editions
  • In the book I'm a Believer by Jessica Adams (ISBN 0-312-32107-4), one of the central characters is a bear.
  • PJ Gray authored a 2005 cookbook, More Bear Cookin': Bigger and Better (ISBN 1-56023-326-5), illustrated by Terry J; a revision of the 2003 book, Bear Cookin': The Original Guide to Bear Comfort Foods by PJ Gray and Stanley Hunter: both published by Harrington Park Press
  • In Wayne Hoffman's 2006 novel, Hard, the central character is a Bear.


  • 100% BEEF, the hair/heir apparent the publishing legacy abandoned by Bear Magazine was launched in May 2002, by former Brush Creek Media Employees, including former Bear Magazine editor Scott McGillivray. Many of the contributing photographers, writers, artists, and columnists who previously contributed regularly to BEAR Magazine began regularly contributing to 100% BEEF Magazine. 100% BEEF Magazine, which continues to celebrate gay masculine identities while simultaneously challenging gay standards of beauty and sexual attractiveness, is now it its 6th year of publishing, and is the preeminent Adult Masculine Men's Magazine for gay men worldwide, including bears, beasts and all varieties of masculine beauties. (
  • In her April 2002 Village Voice column, sexuality advocate and author Tristan Taormino unpacked some aspects of the subculture.
  • In August 2003, weblogger Andrew Sullivan acknowledged himself a Bear in an article on the bear community for
  • A Bear's Life 2005, magazine, Bear Brother's Enterprises Ltd.
  • BearParty Magazine 2007, a free, full-color, glossy community magazine distributed quarterly to hundreds of bear bars and bear clubs worldwide, CyberBears, LLC.


  • Cachorro (Bear Cub), dir. Miguel Albaladejo, Spain, 2004 - IMDb page--a drama about an urban Bear who parents his nephew when the boy's mother goes to jail.
  • A Dirty Shame, dir. John Waters, U.S., 2004--a satirical film that includes a bear family: "Papa Bear," "Mama Bear," and "Baby Bear."
  • In the film Another Gay Movie, reality show star Richard Hatch was referred to as a Million-Dollar Bear.
  • In I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, a woman asks the character played by Adam Sandler if he is a chubby chaser, thus implying that the character played by Kevin James is a chubby gay guy.
Many short films about Bears can be seen in film festivals (gay/queer film festivals as well as local/international film festivals), including:
  • Men on Fur on Men, dirs. Martin Borden and Clark Niklolai, Canada, 2003, miniDV, 8 mins.
  • A Bear’s Story, dir. Vincent Mtzlpick, US, 2003, video, 21 mins.
  • Porn Proof, dir. Chris Street, Canada, 2003, miniDV, 3 mins.
  • More Than Hair Care Products, dir. Pendra Wilson, Canada, 2003, miniDV, 5 mins.
  • Hard Fat, dir. Frederic Moffet, Canada, 2001, video, 23 mins.
  • Lazy Bear 2002, dir. Greg Garcia, US, 2002, DVD, 18 mins.
  • Making of “A Bear’s Story”, dir. Village TV, US, 2003, video, 7 mins.
  • My Heart the Cook, dirs. Jerry McCadden and Clark Nikolai, Canada, 2001, miniDV, 2 mins.
  • 30 Bears in a Bathtub, filmed by Jonathan Robinson, and features the Manbears group in Manchester. 12 minutes.
Bear adult movie actors of note include Hank Hightower, Buster, Mickey Squires, Jack Radcliffe, Dean Peters, and Steve Hurley. Musclebear actors appear in films issued by COLT Studio Group and Raging Stallion. Catalina Video has issued films in its "Furry Features Series" such as "Bear Country" (with Steve Hurley), "Bear Chested" (with Barry Barrett), and "Bear Bust" (with Paul Gator); a tie-in with its "Generation Gap Series" includes "Junior Meets the Bear Patrol" (with Damien).

Other media

  • Steve C from the Opie & Anthony show is said to look like a Bear that 'enjoys a deep man kiss' from time to time. A popular sound clip on the show is Steve saying "grrr." Jim Norton (comedian) is credited with originating this persona.
  • Perhaps the earliest reference to Beardom in pop culture may be in a fake commercial on The Firesign Theatre's Everything You Know Is Wrong album: "See that bear, lapping up that good ol' country water? Kinda makes a big, hairy guy like me thirsty. That's why I like to wrap my lips around the tall, sweaty, head of a bottle of good ol' country Bear Whiz Beer! Like my daddy said, 'Son, it's in the water! That's why it's yellow!' "
  • On , Kevin Smith asked a fan who resembled a bear if he was gay. The fan said that he was not, and Kevin replied, "You would have more opportunities if you were gay," then gave a brief overview of the Bear community, and said that his close friend Malcolm Ingram was a bear himself. Malcolm told Smith he would be the Marilyn Monroe of the Bear community if he was gay.


Some terminology relating to the Bear community includes:
  • Admirer - a term that refers to someone who is sexually or romantically attracted to Bears (this term is often used in various communities to describe an outsider who has sexual attraction to people within that community). Also often referred to as a Chaser. Admirers/Chasers can be of any weight, hairy or hairless and any age.
  • Bear - a man with a stocky or heavyset build. Can be hairy or hairless and can be of any age.
  • 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. Can be hairy or hairless.
  • Daddy bear - is an older guy sometimes looking for a daddy/son relationship with either a younger Bear, Cub, Otter, Wolf or Chaser.
  • Muscle bear - a muscular version of a bear. A muscle cub is a younger or smaller, yet muscular, version. Can be hairy or hairless and of any age.
  • Otter - a man who is hairy, but is not large or stocky - typically thinner, or with lean muscle. Slimmer version of a Bear with little pockets of fat like love handles or a tiny gut, but not as lean as a Wolf.
  • Woof - A greeting sometimes used when a Bear spots another Bear in public and wants to express physical attraction. He might make a growling noise ("Grrr!") or say "Woof!"
  • Bear run - a gathering or circuit party for Bear/Cub types and their Admirers.

Bear codes

"Bear codes" are sometimes used in e-mail (often as part of a signature block), web postings, and online profiles to identify Bear-related attributes of the author or poster. See, e.g., "The Bear Codes" on the Resources for Bears Web site. A sample Bear code is:
B4 s- m g++ w d+c t+ f+ k+ r e+(+?)

Bear Code may be the earliest example (1989) of . Familiarity with this classification system is concentrated in the subcommunity of Bears who were early adopters of Internet communications, and is not widespread within the general community.

See also


1. ^ Named for their vacation home site in Butte County, CA
2. ^ US Trademark number 74222548

External links

The sociological construct of a gay community is complex among those that classify themselves as homosexual, ranging from full-embracement to complete and utter rejection of the concept.
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The chubby community is a subculture in the gay community. Chubbies (or "chubs") are gay men who are overweight or obese. Although there is some overlap between the chubby community and the bear community, the chubby culture is its own distinct subculture and community.
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Richard Bulger creator of Bear Magazine was a pioneer in the publishing of erotic photography and stories for what grew into today's gay men's bear community.

Bulger, who was born in Rumford, Maine, now works as a program director of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center
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Chris Nelson (1960-2006), photographer and co-founder of Bear Magazine in the 1980s, was the photographic pioneer in the gay-oriented erotic photography of mature men with hairy bodies and facial hair.
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Bear Magazine (in publication San Francisco 1984-2000) was the original erotic periodical specifically geared toward gay men who are admirers of blue-collar, working-class men, often with body or facial hair.
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Rick Redewill born Richard Byron Redewill in California on August 9, 1952 was the founder of the " Lone Star Saloon ", the gay bar which is credited as helping give birth to the Bear Community in San Francisco. He died on April 14, 1993 at the age of 40.
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The chubby community is a subculture in the gay community. Chubbies (or "chubs") are gay men who are overweight or obese. Although there is some overlap between the chubby community and the bear community, the chubby culture is its own distinct subculture and community.
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