As my crush on Men in Trees‘ Abraham Benrubi suggests, I like bears. And I’m not talking about grizzlies and polar bears (though they’re cool, too). For the homosexuality-impaired among you (hi, Mom!), a bear is a gay or bisexual man who’s hairy and who’s probably, though not inevitably, linebacker-sized. An entire subculture is based around bears and men who appreciate them.
I always feel a little sheepish about my interest in bears. For one thing, beyond a moderate amount of chest hair and a more-than-moderate share of hair on my legs, I’m not especially grizzly-like. Notably, I almost never have any facial hair, which can be a key element in the bear, um, “look.” (I just look better clean-shaven, I’m afraid. Disconcertingly, too, I’ve got a splotchily gray beard these days.) And I’m not a big guy: I’m 5’7″, and my bathroom scales rarely reach 140. So be it. Although I’m happy with my look, I know many bears tend to be interested in bear-on-bear action, and, well, I hate to feel like I’m intruding where I might not be welcome.
All that said, bears have traditionally been exceedingly welcoming of others—bears and non-bears alike. After all, bears originally joined together because they felt unwelcome in some exclusivist parts of the gay world; the all-are-welcome ethos became a key element in their subculture. As one bear said in a 2002 piece in The Advocate, “In the end, we accept all people into our community. It’s not just about a particular look, age, size, or appearance. No one is ever left out.” Happily, that’s usually been my experience.
But not always. About a year after I became single in 2004, I decided it was time to start dating and meeting men again. Given my interest in bears, I thought I’d set up a profile at Bear411 (for reasons, that will become clear, I’m not going to link to the site), one of the most prominent sites in the bear world. I dutifully started an account, uploaded a picture, and created a profile that indicated I was a bear “chaser”—one of the categories listed by Bear411. The next day, however, I received rejection email from Bear411. “We received your profile,” it said, “but it can not be approved.” No further explanation was given. Instead, I was invited to join a non-bear-y sister site, Gay411.
I always suspected that I’d been rejected because I wasn’t bear-y enough—although I shouldn’t have had to be too bear-y just to be a “chaser.” (Indeed, of course, some bears aren’t looking for other bears.) I just never had any proof. Well, today I learned that I wasn’t the only Bear411 reject. Ernie of Little. Yellow. Different., the venerable gay blog (can any blog really be “venerable”?), has a similar story to tell:
So when people told me that I should get a profile on the local classified website bear411.com, saying I would be able to find someone relatively quickly to at least hang out with, I thought, ‘eh, whatever.’ When my application wasn’t accepted the first time, I really thought nothing of it – maybe they’re just behind with their e-mail response times. Then it happened a second time. When it happened a third time, I got pretty irate, but it’s not really my thing to make a big deal about shit like that and maybe he’s just busy or something, and what can I do anyway, since it’s a private site?
Ernie linked to someone else with a rejection story, and he pointed to a Bear411 Sucks website. Joe. My. God. has picked up the story, too; the many, many, many comments to Joe’s post are instructive and interesting. Somehow or other, I guess, it feels good to know that I’m not nearly all alone in the rejection heap.
Still, it’s awfully ironic and pathetic that Bear411 seems to have distorted the subculture’s welcoming ethos. Beardom should never come off as just another clique.