Bears are more than fat furry fellas. Come to a Harbour City Bears Den Night, and you’d be hard-pressed finding any one trait that everyone holds in common. So it’s a tough job being dogmatic about what makes a bear.

Around twenty-five years ago, the prevailing gay stereotype was what today we’d call a twink — a white male, sun-tanned, with perfectly coiffed hair, with the most stylish clothing he could afford. These twinks were in great demand in gay circles, and like the American cake of the same name, without much substance and filled with cream.

If you had more hair in your ears than on your scalp or wore jeans with a three-digit size, you were an outcast from that gay world. Those guys banded together in packs for protection and solace, and found much in common, including the desire for sex. They gathered to share their common interests, and whether labelled in derision or self-applied, took on the term ‘Bear’. The earliest Bears communicated online and organised hook-ups even before the development of the internet.

Encouaged by no-nonsense pictures of hairy naked men in Bear Magazine, Bears celebrated all things perceived as masculine. Hairy bodies, bald heads, facial hair, pot bellies, leather, sweat, beer and recipes for the barbie — all were comfortably at home with the Bear counterculture.

This unpretentious unselfconscious group started to attract other oucasts too, and Bears welcomed them with open arms and strong hugs. The bikers and fetishists brought leather, tattoos and piercings. Hairless fat guys came over from the Chubby community, and we absorbed a Daddy presence with older guys who had the hair but no fat.

Also lacking body fat were the guys who worked out heavily, but who refused to wax like the bodybuilding world, and so we took on the Muscle Bears ’R’ Us, hairy or bearded and able to carry a keg to our parties. The more youthful among us we called Cubs, some of them barely even able to grow facial hair.

All these glorious men together in one place were a supermarket for guys shopping for that kind of man. And so into the Bear crowd were welcomed Chubby Chasers, Bear Admirers, Daddy’s Boiz and even the occasional LesBear and TransMan. You know, you’ll even see the occasional twink at a Den Night, though usually they’re cowering in the corner.

The Bear community is like The Borg from Star Trek, assimilating the distinctiveness from all these groups and making it our own.
Survey your local Den Night, and you’ll find it so. Just like ACON’s This Is Oz campaign which celebrates diversity in society, the Bears promote diversity among the gay community. Help celebrate it: buy a Bear a beer.

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