The bear concept can function as an identity or an affiliation, and there is ongoing debate in bear communities about what constitutes a bear. Some bears place importance on presenting a clear masculine image and may disdain or shun men who exhibit effeminacy while others consider acceptance and inclusiveness of all behavioral types to be an important value of the community.
In the mid-1980s gay men in the San Francisco Bay Area who called themselves ‘bears’ met informally at Bear Hug (sex) parties and via the newly-emerging Internet. The term ‘bear’ was popularized by Richard Bulger, who, along with his then partner Chris Nelson (1960–2006), founded Bear Magazine in 1987.
“Sociology of the Urban Gay Bear,” written by Les K. Wright, was the first article to appear in print, in Drummer magazine, edited by Jack Fritscher. Jack Fritscher was the founding editor of San Francisco’s California Action Guide (1982). With California Action Guide, Fritscher became the first editor to publish the word “Bear” (with the gay culture meaning) on a magazine cover (November 1982)
The Bear History Project, founded by Les K. Wright in 1995, documented the emergence and early evolution of bear identity and bear community. It became the source material for much of The Bear Book (1999) and The Bear Book II (2001). Publication of The Bear Book led to the Library of Congress adding “bear” as a category. The Bear History Project is archived in the Human Sexuality Collection at Cornell University. It continues to be added to since 2005.
The bear community has spread all over the world, with bear clubs in many countries. Bear clubs often serve as social and sexual networks for their members, who can contribute to their local gay communities through fund-raising and other functions. Bear events have become very common, to include smaller sized cities and many rural areas. Most gay oriented campgrounds now include some type of bear-related event during their operating season.
Wright suspended active collecting and archiving in 2005 for three reason: (1) The bear phenomenon had expanded so rapidly and become too large for a single person to oversee;(2) The expense of continuing this work became too costly for a single individual to cover; and (3) The sudden shift from print to electronic media was, at that early time, very problematic to document.
The Bear History Project has been reactivated and re-invigorated in 2022 with a commitment to document “Beardom” in all its global presence and diversity.
[Source: “Bear Culture,” Wikipedia]
- Cohen, Jonathan (2006). Bear Like Me. Southern Tier Editions.
- Hørmann, Rainer and Baker, Jim). 2004). Der Bärenkult. Das Tier im Mann!
- Hennen, Peter (2008). Fairies, Bears, and Leathermen: Men in Community Queering the Masculine.
- Kampf, Ray (2000). The Bear Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for Those Who Are Husky, Hairy and Homosexual, and Those Who Love ‘Em. Haworth Press.
- Suresha, Ron (2002). Bears on Bears: Interviews and Discussions. Alyson Publications.
- Wright, Les K. (1997). The Bear Book: Readings in the History and Evolution of a Gay Male Subculture. Haworth Press.
- Wright, Les K. (2000), The Bear Book II: Further Readings in the History and Evolution of a Gay Male Subculture, Haworth Press.