I can’t quite remember when I first identified anyone as being a bear but I remember being attracted to them. In my earliest days of adult life, the gay men around me preferred types like James Marsden, Zac Efron and Brent Corrigan. They would mention Bel Ami porn and the younger, more bronzed and hairless a man’s naked torso, the better.
I gravitated towards straight porn. The men in these movies were a little more realistic, had more body hair and generally felt more like men than boys. I also found stockier guys sexier, like almost every NRL player.
Growing up in Sydney, there is a lot of pressure on physical appearance. Everyone must look stylish, sexy and cool.
Across both Sydney and Melbourne, and on the odd romp overseas, I have come to a realisation. The bears I have encountered have given me the best and worst experiences of my life.
Almost 12 years ago I went to a housewarming party of one of my best friend’s exes. The party was in the Sydney suburb of Redfern. As we walked in, this drunk cub crash tackled my friend as a joke. Nobody was hurt and it seemed more of a ritual on entering the apartment. My mate’s ex greeted us and was clearly attracted to me. We got talking and he remains a friend to this day. The house was full of bears, a few more cubs and the odd otter (a term used for slimmer hairy men). Over the course of the night I had a lot of fun, made out with a few bears in one of the bedrooms, and met some of my closest friends to this day.
This party made me realise that this was the group of men that appealed to me. They were fun, carefree and friendly. What I love about bears is how relaxed they are, how geeky some can be, and how immensely sexy it is to have a well manicured beard and jawline.
But every community has a few bad eggs.
I once went to a Bears event at the Bank Hotel. The sign out the front said ‘This is a Bears event. Only people who identify as bears are permitted.’ I walked away as I had never considered myself to be a bear.
A few weeks later I had a chance encounter with one of the organisers of the bear event. I debated the politics of exclusion with him, and he said that the organisers had voted that it was fine to have the sign as it was a bears event. He also began to rant about how bears had historically formed a community because of body shaming that other gay men like twinks had once laid upon them. While I was pondering the irony of excluding others on the basis of once being excluded, I heard him call me something interesting.
“You would have been allowed in anyway if you’d just said you were a chaser.” He told me.
I discussed this with a mate a few days later and he explained that chasers were non-bears who dated, had sex with or wanted to be friends with bears. He explained that he was into chasers and that was why he and I had made out at that housewarming.
Several years later I was in a long term relationship with a bear (read ‘I love you more than I did when you were mine’). Over the course of that time, bears that I knew and considered to be friends would make moves on my ex behind my back. I began to form an opinion that there was a terribly incestuous nature to some of these guys.
I visited Melbourne a few years later for a long weekend. I went out to the Laird and the Melbourne bears welcomed me with open arms. They changed my view of bears for the better. Many are close friends still.
As several years went on, there was the emergence of a new bear sub-tribe. The muscle bear (or their younger counterpart, the muscle cub).
The muscle bear had been around since the Village People to be honest, but now they were developing a new popularity. They blurred the lines between the leather scene and bears, with their biceps and bubble butts, strutting around like the ARQ show pony of the early noughties.
After moving to Melbourne in 2017, I came to realise that bears everywhere had become the very thing they were trying to rebel against. Toxically masculine body fascists who fancied Tom of Finland cutouts instead of Justin Bieber wannabes. But it was the same bullshit of superficiality. I found out that I was too thicc for jocks and trunks, but too hairless and pretty boy for bears.
So now I find myself not really sure where I belong. A guy next door perhaps? Whatever that is…
I find stocky guys attractive so I hope they like me too. I’m not going to paint any community with a single brush though. I love the body positivity that comes with all denominations of the bear community. I just want to be spared toxic obsessions with masculinity, body fascism and sex being a gay man’s only hobby.
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