Bear Culture, its flag, and its beginnings

If you are gay, or just curious about bear culture and the community and would like to know more about it, then this blog post is for you. In this article, we’ll be talking all about this culture and its history in the LGBTQ leather scene.

Let’s start with some gay slang words, which often need explaining to the non-gays that you will encounter and speak to. We use these terms in a gay setting across all gay subcultures to some extent. So knowing them will help you better understand this article and encounters you may have with gay people. These are very relevant to the bear movement as they play a huge role in learning how we communicate with each other and how we partake in activities.

Gay Slang Dictionary 

  • Trade – casual partner of a gay man, or a hot man that you want to have sex with
  • Bear – a person who identifies as a member of the scene
  • Otter – thin and hairy men who identify with the community
  • Chaser – a person who seeks explicitly romantic relations with hairy trade. Chaser is used loosely amongst many subcultures of the gay community. We use it to describe someone who looks expressly for a certain type of person
  • Cub – a younger, often slimmer, and less hairy person who identifies with this subculture within the gay community
  • Wolf – a lean, muscular, and hairy man 
  • Bearspeak – jargon used amongst members of the community
  • Smooth – a person who is not hairy. We use this within all gay subcultures, and anyone gay should know this word and its connotations
  • Chub – overweight or obese gay man who identifies with the community or as part of chub culture. Chubs have some similarities in that they are heavyset, but they are not the same as bears

How did this LGBT subculture start?

A subculture, by definition, is a culture within a culture. That is simple enough to understand. However, gay subcultures have developed throughout our history, and many of them overlap each other. The most prominent overlap within a bear subculture setting is with the leather community, although they are distinct. It leaves us wondering how this culture developed and how it all began.

In 1987, Richard Bulger and Chris Nelson created and published the first BEAR magazine in San Francisco. At the time, no other magazines dedicated themselves solely to Bears. Men who are hairy, husky, or chasers of this male form.

They didn’t know they would create a whole subculture within the factions of the gay community. According to Dr. Les K. Wright, this culture was not a fad that would disappear anytime soon. His experience in the community is evident. He is a previous editor of “The Bear Book” and “The Bear Book II

A new kind of masculinity emerged in other places of the USA, too. It was present in Chicago, for example. John Burkle came out in the late 1970s in Chicago. He frequented leather bars where he would often be harassed about his weight. Finally, he found a home in Chicago’s leather bar scene. He slowly started to build a community of like-minded hairy gay men to create one of the largest events annually for this community.

Both communities developed simultaneously in opposing sides of the USA, and both were host to similar struggles that rampaged the gay community as a result of HIV and AIDS.

What is a gay bear?

This isn’t easy to define. Since the rise of the internet, you can find an amalgamation of ideas that explain what it means to be a part of bear culture.

Some people think it’s the physical attributes of this subculture. Things like being hairy, or having a belly and beard. However, other people seem to think it is more inclusive of adopting the attitude of gay bears around the globe.

Laid-back, approachable, and easy to talk to – a stark change to some other gay subcultures, specifically drag culture and circuit gays, both of which can come across as pretentious and arrogant.

Since its inception, the community has become more accepting of various body types, which means there is more inclusivity, yet at the same time more discrimination.

Sometimes gay wolves and otters can decide that they do not want to include husky, hairy, older men at events or bars. As a result, this is not the best way to define them. 

We can better define this area of gay culture by the community’s rugged and masculine expression. This is irrefutable gender expression amongst members of the community. Although members of this community tend to be middle class and affluent, they often choose to emulate blue-collar workers.

You should always ask self-identifying bears about their bear identity. Who knows, they may say because they love muscle bears or the bear lifestyle. 

Age Is Common Ground for bear culture

Ron Suresha, the author of “Bear on Bear”, has defined maturity as a common factor for identifying as a member of this community. This can be seen in his poems and literature anthologies about his culture.

This is very different from the fetishization of fatness that could easily have been argued to be the fundamental element of this culture when it was still developing from within leather culture. However, with the rise of other gay slang terms to describe other members within this community, it’s far-reaching to assume that this is the sole reason for the development of this subculture.

Like all subcultures, this developed out of the need to feel welcome and included. 

Access to society is the reason this culture exists. This is such a vital part of any gay subculture that bear culture now has a pride flag, and its creation is vastly different from the rainbow pride flag that we all know of.

What is the Bear flag, and who invented it?

The flag was created in response to the emerging subset of the LGBT bear culture specifically for bisexual and gay men to show that they belong to this culture-specific identity.

Craig Byrnes created the Brotherhood flag in 1995. The bear flag was designed with inclusion in mind, so it has a bear paw on the left side of the gay pride rainbow to show that they are a part of this community, and not an exclusion from gay culture. This culture takes pride in celebrating secondary characteristics of their look and place importance on body hair and facial hair.

bear pride flag with bear claw

That’s all for this edition of your dose of LBGTQ culture and gay slang terms. We hope you enjoyed learning about this subculture. If you enjoyed this, come back soon because we will discuss and explain all LGBTQ subcultures in-depth and provide a gay slang dictionary of terms used within them in our lifestyles area.

Until next time, have a gay day!

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