The bear flag.

Bear is a sub-cultural term used by gay men, referring to a subset of men who embrace and subvert traditional masculinity and defy the stereotypes typically applied to gay men, who are usually seen as feminine due to their attraction to men. Bears may be defined by physical appearance, tastes, expression of traditionally gendered traits, or personal affilation.

The generic image of a bear is a larger man with a hairy body, usually having facial hair and dressing in a typically masculine way. Bears often tend to project the concept of the working-class man in their expression, particularly through their personal grooming and appearance. Bear culture often is tied strongly to rural gay community, in which the idea of rugged traditional masculinity is considered both an ideal and a defiance of gay stereotyping that tends to portray gay men as overwhelmingly thin, white, exceptionally well-groomed, lacking in facial and body hair, and averse to physical exertion.

The bear subculture was created to celebrate such masculine traits, and unite each other, similar to how femme lesbians defy the heterocentric stereotype of lesbians being masculine by necessity.

The bear subculture is not to be confused with furries.

Culture[edit | edit source]

As is common for early western queer subcultures, bear culture originated in San Francisco in the 1980s. Developing from earlier romanticisation of the concept of lumberjacks (seen as homoerotic due to their solitary masculine nature), it was solidified following the growth of gay biker communities. The main reasons behind the development of the bear identity were firmly rooted in isolation from mainstream gay culture, which at the time celebrated urban, middle-class gays who fit the physical description of twinks (young, thin, hairless and effeminate). It was also seen as sorely needed to provide a community for lower-class men and those from rural areas, who did not identify with nor have access to the idealised city gay community and lifestyle.

Bear physicality originally assumed larger, more heavyset men, but since the origin of the term blurring between other gay subcultures resulted in the introduction of muscle bears (generally extremely fit and hairy) and leather bears (trading working-class aesthetic for that of leathermen). Younger bears are often referred to as cubs, and there is lesser expectation of a general body type. Some communities use more specific terminology to encompass men who may not be able to fit the general physical stereotype of a 'bear' and to make clear their inclusion in the community, such as 'polar bear' for older men.

Flag[edit | edit source]

The bear flag consists of seven stripes in various shades of brown and gold, with a black bear's paw-print at the canton. The colours are designed to reflect different real-world species of bears and thus celebrate the diversity of men encompassed in the bear community, emphasising its origins as the other side of the highly-exclusive urban gay culture.

It was designed in 1995 by Craig Byrnes, who had spent extensive time producing a project about the bear community of which he had first-hand experience.

See also[edit | edit source]

Resources[edit | edit source]

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