My friend and I were recently sitting at the bar hanging out. The topic of bears vs. cubs came up and I had to explain that I am not nearly as big as a bear, nor am I old enough to be a bear, so I suppose I fit more into the cub category because I do have a furry chest.

“What am I?” he asked. So we began to narrow down the list of possible options. My friend is too old to be considered a twink or cub, not large enough to be a bear, not muscular enough to be a muscle-bear, and not hairy enough to be an otter or a wolf.

“What is he?” we pondered. “He’s just a regular old fag!” a guy sitting at the bar next us blurted out laughing.

The expression on my friend’s face said it all. He was angry and hurt that there is nothing better in the gay list of stereotypes to call him, other than a “fag.” That got us thinking: “is this a form of discrimination?”

It’s always nice to wrap people up into one little package, so we can quickly tell who we are dealing. It makes sense to categorize people, however few of us fit just one category.

For many of us, the term “bear” evokes thoughts of cute and cuddly toys, or of our favorite characters from our childhood; Winnie, Yogi (and Boo Boo). However, for others it invokes a different mental image.

According to UrbanDictionary.com, the term “bear” is defined as “a husky, large man, with a lot of body hair.” Throw in a flannel shirt and you might think of the “Brawny” man.

How much more superficial can we be?

So what happens if you don’t fit into just one clique? Well, the muscle bears won’t talk to you if you don’t work out at their gym. If you aren’t fat enough to be a bear, you’re not invited to any of their chili cook-offs or pool parties. And if you are over 30, even if you look younger, you ain’t a twink no more!

As in every group, there are subgroups in case you are not up to the physical standards of one particular group. If you aren’t heavy enough, big enough, old enough, then you’re in luck; you might be a cub, an otter, or a wolf.

There is prejudice and age discrimination going on in our community and it’s covered up by what we like to think as just “sexual preferences.” Personally, I prefer to hook up with guys with hairy bodies and facial hair.

You can look through many online profiles and you see a lot of negativity out there. Many of them state their requirements. You must be this tall, under this weight, above this age, this big below the belt, and if you aren’t, don’t even consider contacting me; a response won’t be forthcoming!

Here is where the entire spectrum of cuteness becomes a little more clouded and the lines of racism begin to blur. A Koala bear is a gay man of Australian descent. A polar bear is an older bear with white hate. Sure, these are still physical characteristics to define someone. It makes it easy for us to classify people. However, an Asian man, who may be portly, but doesn’t necessarily have to be hairy, is called a Panda bear and a large African-American man is known as…you guessed it… a Black bear.

So where is the line between sexual preferences and racism or discrimination? Is it alright for me to say “I am not into pocket bears,” because I am not into short guys. But if I were to say, “I don’t want to date a Black Bear or a Panda,” is that still OK?

It used to be that gay men could tell each other apart from our straight counterparts by their eyes. Cruising used to be more about eye contact than the body aesthetic. In today’s world, we have become picky and complacent. With all of the options out there, gay bars where you can meet people, apps in the palm of your hands, which can find someone within fifty feet, eye contact isn’t necessary any longer. So yes, we have our preferences. We discriminate against those who aren’t our “type.”

Contrary to what many people believe, all gay men are not the same. We don’t all enjoy Broadway shows, the latest fashions, or walk with a sashay and talk with a lisp. Some gay men actually enjoy getting dirty in the yard, watch sporting events, and don’t run away from manual labor. Our gay male culture is actually a cornucopia of men with different tastes, interests, and body types. To believe that every single person within any particular culture is representative of the culture as a whole is not only ridiculous, but also illogical.

So I propose that instead of using these physical characteristics to determine categories for us to fit into, let’s change the way we look at each other and propose new terminology. Forget about using the terms twink, bear, circuit queens, or even an “Ursula” which is a female version of a bear (Named after the evil witch in “The Little Mermaid”)

Let’s stop describing each other visually and start describing each other by what is truly important. “He is a caring, loving, professional, hard-working, talented, and dedicated person,” will tell you more about a person than what he is wearing, how hairy, or how much he weighs.

So my friend and I were propping up the bar again in our usual spot when he said, “Gosh, look at those two miserable old queers across the bar.” I replied, “That’s a mirror.”

“MAN ON THE STREET”

I asked several of my friends, “Do we really need all of these names to classify each other? Why can’t we all just BE?” These are their responses:

“Well I like being a bear. I am not sure I am a cub anymore, and I can’t wait to be a daddy! So I suppose it helps me work out what I am at what age?”

David Goodman – Publisher, Bear World Magazine

“Yes, everything needs a label!”

Dominique Robbins – Marketing Manager, KWER.fm

“Do we really need them? I don’t know if they are needed, but they are a quick way to dial-in and describe a bear or/preference. My only concern with the labels for bears is if they become derogatory in the least bit. Does that answer your question you hot little ginger otter?”

Doug Strahm – Musician & Singer/Songwriter

“I couldn’t agree more! Labels never define anyone.”

Rick Copp – Author/Actor, “Where the Bears Are” Web Series

“Stereotypes. We all seem to need to feel like we are part of something, like we really belong. Although it may seem ridiculous to be classified by animals like bear, cub, or otter, I think they are actually easy images to grab onto. The fact that there are so many subcultures popping up within the community shows the need to feel special. Like we really matter; the individual within the collective. It may seem like a contradiction, but it does make sense to me. It’s funny yet at the same time, a very human need. I am considered a bear. I smile and say thank you. I guess it’s better than being referred to as an aardvark.”

Daniel Bergmann – Publisher, Pocket Rocket Guide

“When the community first started it was a cute way to describe the different types of men in the bear community. Based on size, shape or age. You had Mr. Bear this contest and Mr. Cub that contest. People found comfort in finding the group they belong in. Gen X Cubs was one that comes to mind. A bunch of younger bears that socialized amongst other cubs, etc. But then magazines started to show you what a bear was and it wasn't always what you thought a bear to be. Then they created chubs. So it was another group within the bear community. And I think that was when the divide started. People who didn't feel big guys didn't fit the "Bear" mold based on what you saw in magazines. Now its a battle of what is a bear, cub, etc that has people going crazy. Once you try to give something obscure meaning then it all goes to hell. Soon bears had to be this and cubs had to be that. And this type of thinking is destroying the community. It's not something that the Hetero world did but we did to ourselves and only we can fix it. I've used emails like ‘blkcub’ for a long time. And I'm proud to call myself music bear. We just have to bring back the community in the bear community and stop trying to make everyone feel separated by looks and accept people for who they are and who they want to be. And it starts with the image of the bear community that will make everyone feel welcomed because it was the image that led to the destruction.And that is what United Bears of Color is trying to do. Bring back the inclusive image of the community so that everyone feels welcomed. No matter the label you associate yourself you are still a part of one community full of love and acceptance. Not segregation, hatred and stereotypes.”

Tony Banks - Musician, singer/songwriter, musicbeartonybanks.com

Bear Definitions

Bear – Typically a hairy man with a heavy stature

Cub – A younger gay bear

Daddy Bear – A dominant, older bear that typically is looking for a younger cub for a relationship

Grizzly – Typically a tall, dominant, heavyset gay man with a furry body all over

Otter – A hairy gay man that is not heavy, typically leaner or muscular

Wolf – A rugged and outdoorsy bear; a.k.a. the biker type

PocketBear – A short bear

Trapper – A man of smaller stature who is attracted to bears

GingerBear – A red-headed bear

Muscle Bear – A muscular version of a hairy gay man

Chub – A heavyset gay man who may or may not be hairy

Chaser – A “Chubby Chaser” is a skinny gay guy who likes heavy guys

Teddy Bear – A version of a bear that is furry all over; chest and back

Sun Bear – A bear with a tan typically from Florida or Arizona

Sloth Bear – A lazy bear

Leather Bear – A bear with a leather fetish

Fuzzy Lumpkin – A red-haired bear with a Southern Accent

Brown Bear – A bear of Latin descent

Black Bear – A bear of African-American descent

Panda Bear – A bear of Asian descent, does not necessarily have to be hairy

Polar Bear – An older bear whose hair is predominantly white

Goldilocks – A female, often heterosexual, who hangs out with bears (a bear “fag hag”)

Ursula – The term for a heavyset lesbian who hangs out with bears