Bear Aware

In 1979, George Mazzei wrote an article in The Advocate called “Who’s Who in the Zoo?” and identified seven types of gay men in the form of animals1. Since then, some further definitions have evolved, and we now have titles like bears, otters, wolves, cubs, chubs, pups, bulls, twinks, twunks, gym bunnies, jocks, and gym rats. Each is characterized by look, build, attitude, hairiness, and habits.

One group in particular, bears, has established a distinctive culture with a special allure for both those who self-identify and those who chase bears in search of friendship and pleasure. I wanted to get the inside scoop on bears and what it’s like to be on the hunt, so I went out and asked around the bear community about experiences and advice for fellow chasers.

Before we get to the interview questions, let’s see what the internet-at-large says about bears. According to several descriptions, bears are big, usually heavy and/or muscular, very hairy, and are often in possession of quite a big belly. These guys are going to be uber-masculine and like their beer cold, flannels flannel-y, and power tools at the ready. That’s not to say they’re scary and intimidating; to the contrary, some describe bears as more of a teddy bear whose grisly exterior covers a heart of gold. Bears aren’t pretty boys but rather embrace their manliness and celebrate their decidedly male identity.

Where did the bear movement come from? One source suggests that it began in San Francisco soon after the first HIV/AIDS epidemic. Having waded too long in a sea of gay hierarchy, expectations, and eventual deaths of many friends, many men began to push back on the more effeminate, “deviant” lifestyle and instead chose to be their truly burly selves with less concern for the rules of being gay. The movement took hold, and now the attraction to masculine gay men is at an all-time high. Safe to say that beards and bellies are in.

Now if you’re someone who is interested in bears or think you might be one, you’re going to want to read what this self-proclaimed bear chaser had to say about his experience on the hunt.

As someone who is attracted to bears, what would your specific definition of a bear be, and what is appealing about that type of man?

A bear is just a guy who resembles a teddy bear in terms of shape, furriness and/or overall presentation. A lot of bears are quite hairy, and for some of them the body hair is a fetish (but technically the hair isn’t absolutely required). Beards are essential though.

Got it. Beards are a must. What is the bear community like compared to other gay culture? Inclusive, exclusive, supportive, elitist?

Bear culture developed as a refuge from harsh gay social norms about body type. The culture is sweet and welcoming of all types. A lot of bears feel compelled to look hyper-masculine but they are just regular queens who like music, dancing, etc.

So bears aren’t so different, maybe just a little bigger and hairier, but happy to mingle with everyone. What’s it like chasing a bear, and what’s it like dating a bear? Is the dating as fun as the chase?

As a non-bear type (I’m lean and strong, not big and hairy), my role in bear subculture is called “chaser.” Bears are often surprised that a guy like me is attracted to guys like them. Also, I find that some bears are definitely only looking for other bears. So it can take a while to match us up. But once I am finally dating a bear, things usually go well for both of us!

That’s good news for non-bears who are into the big guys – there’s a chance to make things happen! Are there any struggles in the bear community or struggles with dating a bear that you wish you had more skills with?

There are a lot of subcultures within bear subculture. There are guys who really care about body hair more than any other feature. Some bears are into a kind of hyper-masculine role play. And some are into acting like actual bears—the animal, I mean. Still other bears are just normal gays into opera or Italian food. So “bear” can mean a lot different things.

Sounds like it helps to learn a little a bit about bears and not assume there’s a one-size-fits-all approach. If you knew some one else was interested in dating a bear and/or becoming part of the bear community, what advice would you give them?

Best advice for dating bears is to let them know right away that you are attracted to them. Some of these guys can be very insecure at first. Also, making a few bear-type friends can go a long way.

Find some bear friends. Check. Respect bears’ insecurities. Check. Be honest and open about how you feel. Check. Do these things, and maybe you’ll find the bear for you. Thanks so much for your feedback, and good luck on the hunt!


1George Mazzei. (1979). Who’s Who in the Zoo?. “The Advocate”. pages 42-43.

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