Tag Archives: gay bears

What is a Gay Bear?

My informant is a 20 year old gay film student who self-identifies as a bear. Gay bears are loosely defined as masculine, bigger, hairier guys who are into other masculine, bigger, hairier guys. Here he tries to define what a gay bear is:

“So the bear community if you don’t already know is a community of gay men who tend to be on the heavier side of life. And uh, weight, like, there’s no specified weight that makes you a bear, there’s a lot of schools of thought on it and the jury’s kinda out on it, but um, people tend to think that it’s just bigger guys. Muscular, heavy, just big. But really the biggest, uh, the biggest component is hair. Hairy men, hairy gay men, are bears. ….That’s not a good quote. But the bear flag is a nice little piece of folklore, it consists of uh, orange, black, brown, and uhm… orange black brown colors, more, and those are supposed to be the colors of, all the different colors of body hair, all the different possible colors of body hair on men.”

The informant knows about the bear identity and the bear flag through friends who are bears, but initially (especially in high school) gained most of his information about bears through the internet, because “nobody really talks about gay culture in high school, let alone bears.” As he said, the jury is out on what really defines a bear, and the definitions of the identity is in itself so diverse and numerous that anyone you ask will have a slightly different concept of it. However, here my informant references a semi-official (though born out of folklore) bear “flag” to identify gay bears more with hairiness.

Bear Week and Dick Dock

My informant is a 20 year old gay film student who self-identifies as a bear. Gay bears are loosely defined as masculine, bigger, hairier guys who are into other masculine, bigger, hairier guys. In this interview he describes a holiday particular to bears called Bear Week, which takes place in Provincetown. He says it has always been a dream of his since he heard of it in 7th grade to go to Bear Week, and he might make his dream a reality this summer. It means a lot to him because this community is one he is very involved in, and very into personally as well. This interview took place in a university dining hall.

“Uh, ok so, the biggest bear event is at Provincetown, Massachusetts, which is already a pretty gay hotspot year-round, but uh, second week of July the bears come to town and wreak havoc on the pools and, (laughs) and hotels, and main streets of Provincetown. And there’s a place called Dick Dock, which is (chuckles) a certain section of the boardwalk in Provincetown, and you go underneath the boardwalk, just as the old song says, (laughter) you can find men engaging in… all sorts of pleasures.”
“Where’d you hear this?”

“That I know about… I know about this from friends of mine who have gone to Provincetown for Bear Week.”

When I asked him about the more common ways that this kind of knowledge is proliferated, he had this to say:

“Well in gay cultures, the folklore tends to spread more in private, um, because bears is not something that’s discussed widely in high schools across America so I didn’t know about it, my friends weren’t telling me about it so I had to look this kinda stuff up on the internet, and I would just read articles, and like, the Wikipedia article, like a lot, and you know, different theories on like, what bears were about, and there’s this one great guy named Andrew Sullivan, who’s actually a super famous writer, and he wrote this great article about what it means to be a bear…”

Bear Week and Dick Dock were two of the only pieces of information he could give me about bears that he hadn’t just learned from the internet or from bear movies and webseries (of which there are many!) because of this phenomenon he describes of the rarity of discussion of bear culture among youth. However this community means a lot to him, and since now he’s in college he can participate in it less virtually and more in reality, which gives him access to bear folklore of a different sort. That said, this community has evolved and proliferated (like many other queer subcultures) through the internet so much that it’s difficult if not impossible to disentangle the “real” folklore from the internet folklore, especially when you’re young and tech-savvy. I think the internet has opened up so many avenues and subcultures for youth, especially queer youth, to explore, as it’s easier to access in private, even before coming out.