BENJAMIN RILEY

A couple of years ago I worked on the Star Observer’s guide to Southern Hibearnation, a week of events in June that attracts bears and their admirers from around the world to Melbourne. Despite my attempts to remain professionally distant I fell in love with the bear community. I might be a very lanky two-metres tall with minimal body hair and a sad inability to grow a beard, but I knew I had found my home. I needed to get out of the house, pull on some Blundstones and replace that longing deep inside me with a bear.

My quest for ursine acceptance earned me the nickname “Goldilocks” from my editor and daily emails containing images of shirtless, hairy-chested men from everyone else. I started going to bars frequented by hirsute homos, hoping my flannelette shirt might distract from the fact that I was in no way a paragon of bearishness.

It didn’t. Standing about a foot above a sea of beards, shaved heads and barrel-chests, I knew I could never be a bear.

shutterstock_99343448 webTwo weeks ago I wrote a column about damaging ideals of male beauty in the gay community. A recurring theme in comments from bears was the fact that the bear community doesn’t hold up that same ideal—tanned, muscled perfection is not what bears are about.

I want to believe this represents a shift towards accepting physical diversity, but I can’t help thinking the bear community has just replaced one physical ideal with another. I don’t fit either of them. Of course the bear community should be praised for appreciating bigger bodies, but I’m not muscled or skinny, I’m not hairy or bulky or burly, and while I’m not very camp, few would describe me as masculine.

As a bear aesthetic continues to influence particularly young, alternative gay male culture through events like Melbourne’s Trough parties, I find myself once again on the outside looking in. But maybe I’ll get lucky. Maybe in 10 years the tide will turn again, and the ideal guy will be goofy-looking, two-metres tall, lanky and man-boobed.

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