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September 13, 2010 | by  | in Features |
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Bears

The bear scene is one of the most fascinating and complex of the many subsets (or categories, labels, factions, scenes—whatever you want to call them) of the gay community. Priding themselves on being “non-scene”, in the sense that they do not conform to the codes of gayness that have become popularised within mainstream gay culture, bears make a statement along the lines of identifying as a ‘punk’. There is ongoing debate within and surrounding the bear community as to what exactly a ‘bear’ is, as a current definition of ‘bear’ negates what some claim to be the original idea, which was to create an all-welcoming, accepting scene regardless of good looks or body type.

The ‘bear’ look, as it is known today, became popularised in the 1980s. Before the term was associated with the growing scene, it began as a creation of a social space for men who did not fit the ideal body type, and who personally identified with, and emulated what was seen as the ‘authentic’ masculinity of the typical working class male. Issue alert: the desire for ‘normalcy’ is often associated with the bear movement (‘straight-acting’, a puke-inducing term, is often used by bears to describe themselves), but is this a heteronormative and potentially harmful notion, or is it one of the more subversive ways of defining the image of gay men in wider society? They are highly visible in a typical gay bar, but virtually invisible in a typical straight bar; a gay man amongst a bunch of manly, sweaty, hairy straight guys.

You could argue that it is as recognisable now as the ‘twink’ look (think Maxxie from the first two seasons of Skins)—everyone knows what a bear looks like. And if you don’t, can you imagine it? A bear is usually of a mature age (and in gay years that is 25-plus), has a fuller belly than most, body hair, a beard, and sometimes a little tattoo of a bear paw—which is the international symbol for bears—somewhere on the body. Actually, only the really hard-core representin’ bears have that. Hair is the most prevalent and important physical attribute of the bear. Zach Galifinakis is a bear. James Gandolfini is a bear. Seth Rogen is a cub, although in ten years he will be a bear.

The rest of the fellows who identify with the bear movement relate more to the less superficial attributes a bear should have. That is: tolerance, a non-judgmental perspective on body issues and a rejection of the perceived narcissism that is stereotypically associated with the mainstream gay scene. While bears are easy to spot in a gay bar, it is a great comfort to those within the bear community that they are not so easily identifiable in a non-gay social context. For many, the most appealing aspect about bears is that they can blend easily into a typical sports bar full of straighties.

There are many groups that fall under the bear heading, and most of the labels are utter genius: a ‘daddy bear’ is an older bear who exhibits characteristics of the more dominant side of a coupling; an ‘otter’ is a hairy man with a swimmers bod; ‘Polar bears’ are white haired bears; ‘Panda bears’ are Asian; a ‘Fuzzy Lumpkin’ is a ginger bear; a ‘Pocket bear’ is a short bear; ‘Goldilocks’ is a female who hangs out with bears (a much better term than “fag-hag”). See, doesn’t it all sound just wonderful?

You will be lucky to spot a bear at Ivy, although there are sometimes one or two. You will be even luckier if they approach you. Bears can be snobs, too. Sometimes it seems as though those within the bear community actively shun the rest of us—perhaps a result of internal homophobia—but bears are, for the most part, friendly and as gay as any other gym bunny; it is considered bad form for a self-identified bear to be anything less than cheerfully welcoming when approached by the curious.

Urge Bar, located on K Road in Auckland, is the sole exclusively bear bar in New Zealand; I implore the curious to check it out. In Wellington, you are most likely to find bears at S&M’s bar, or on NZDating. You may be a bear and not know it. The internationally recognised ‘bear code’ is an easy and fun way to discover if you are a bear or not. (Just Google “bear code”—some site results will be NSFW—and it’s like a fun game.) If you do not happen to have the figure of a ‘twink’ or any other category of gay that requires multiple gym-trips a week, fear not! Simply forget about those categories, embrace the bear lifestyle, and if, after some experimentation, you are still not into bears, there are plenty of chasers (non-bear gays who like bears) out there on NZDating.

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