Where the Bears Are

Via Facebook

(Mirror) Given the strong presence of bears, especially in South Florida, it’s hard to believe there was a time when the label didn’t exist. Although there is some debate about who coined the term, it came into use about the time the post-Stonewall clone look was at its peak. 

By that time many of the older members of the community began to age out of the clone look and those, especially in the leather community, began to accept a new type of masculinity. In San Francisco in the late 1970s any hairy man of whatever shape was referred to as a “bear.” 

Some credit a humorous 1979 article in The Advocate "Who's Who in the Zoo?,” as the first time “bear” was used in print to describe a hairy, beefy or muscular man. The term began to gain momentum, rising to national prominence in 1987 when , a publication devoted to celebrating muscular hairy men, was founded by Richard Bulger and Chris Nelson. The publication developed in response to the increasing presence of buff, yet hairless, men in gay male erotica.

Bear is used as an umbrella term for masculine, hairy men, with subsets attributed to different animals based upon body type and other physical characteristics. Polar bears are white-haired men (or sometimes used to refer to Caucasians), Pandas are Asian bears, and a cub is young bear. 

The members of the den have expanded to include otters (slim, hairy men), wolves (medium build and hairy) and manatees (big, hairless men). As with many other sub-groups within our community, Bears have adopted their own flag, which consists of brown, black, white, yellow, and grey stripes (reflecting the various colors of bears) with a bear paw print in the upper, left-hand corner.

For many men, a gathering of bears is the first, and for some, the only place where they feel comfortable removing their shirts. The gay men’s community often tends to get caught up in the perfect body syndrome and many gay men battle body dysmorphia. 

The bear community strives to have all men accept their bodies. Part of this is the celebration of all types of body types by holding “Mister” contests. A circuit of events are held throughout the world with some of the biggest being “Bear” weeks in Provincetown, MA and Sitges, Spain and Bear Prides in Chicago, Illinois and Sydney, Australia.

With a large community of older gay men, South Florida seems to be the unofficial world headquarters of the bear community. One of the largest bear organizations, The Bears of South Florida (BOSFL), is consistently chosen as best charitable organization and there’s no question the group does good in our community. Since its inception in 2002, BOSFL has donated more than $70,000 to local LGBT organizations, including The Pride Center, Gay Men's Chorus, The Pantry, The Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus, The Pet Project, Tuesday's Angles, Broward House, Stonewall Museum, SunServe and Island City Stage. BOSFL raises these funds by offering opportunities for social and fraternal interaction between its more than 1,600 members.

The club strives for diversity and acceptance of any person who wishes to join. Membership within the club consists of bears, cubs and those who wish to socialize with such persons. There is no political agenda for the group. Its main focus is to encourage friendships, a positive attitude and camaraderie both within the group and in the community as a whole. Its goal is equal acceptance within the group regardless of any physical characteristic.

Polar, grizzly, black, brown and even teddy bears gathered on Sunday, Dec. 7, at the Pride Center for the BOSFL annual holiday party and fundraiser. Members paid $10 to attend and were encouraged to bring new, unwrapped teddy bears, which were given to children entering the Broward Health System during the holidays. 

As with most events sponsored by the group, it was a sold-out event. Other events sponsored by BOSFL include bowling and pool parties, theater outings and smaller gatherings such as pot-luck dinners. Events are posted on the BOSFL website and most events fill all slots within hours of being posted. For more information on the group and its events, go to bosfl.org.