This weekend, we are taking part in one the very first Beef Bear Bashes right here in Edmonton, Alberta. This event marks the opening of Edmonton Pride festivities, and celebrates a facet of queer culture often talked about but never truly understood.
To understand Bear culture we must look back to the eighties. Gay (male) culture was out, loud, and full of thin, wiry men who flamboyantly were reclaiming femme and feminine roles in their relationships with their bodies, society and the world (the common slang vernacular for these men were ‘twinks’). Completely subversive to the stereotypes of gay men being ‘girly’ or ‘sissies’, gay men were loudly proclaiming their right to shave their chests and fuck each other in the ass.
Like in many subcultures, there were gay men who did not fit this stereotype – big, muscly, hairy ‘manly-men’ who were also gay and who - for one reason or another – did not want to embrace the feminine, flamboyant stereotype. They instead embraced their broader frames, hairy chests, and raw masculinity; calling themselves ‘bears’ was fitting to the perceived nature of bears in the wild. While not turning their backs entirely on the subversion of societies’ views of gay men, they did veer to a new direction of renewed man-on-man love and all the testosterone that entailed.
At this time, there were many men interested in the idea of bears and bear culture, but did not specifically ‘fit’ the ideal model of a ‘Bear’ – burly (muscular or chubby), hairy, masculine man with testosterone oozing from every pore and action, often in their (at least) mid thirties with plenty of sexual experience and skill. This developed itself into many titles that fell under the umbrella of bear. ‘Cub’ for those that were younger or less hairy/burly, ‘Otter’ for the skinny or slender bear, ‘Polar’ bear for the older bear (dubbed due to the graying of hair), and some ethno-centric nicknames that are currently under debate due to their pejorative implications.
Bear culture also defined itself like many other sexual minority groups of the time, with an oft-cited flag with a bear paw insignia, bear-centric groups that held pageants such as ‘Mr. Big Gay Bear (Place Name)’ or ‘Cub of the Year (Place Name). Unfortunately, due to the AIDS epidemic in the late eighties and early nineties, many of these organizations fell apart as founders and senior members succumbed to the disease. They were also subject to infighting, as the old(er) members of the club had little transition (due to AIDS deaths) to the young(er) members of the club, causing a generation gap in the way membership and events were to be organized. Further discussion about the problems facing bear culture at this time up to the present can be seen in many gay and sexual minority communities to this day.
Moving forward from the negativity that was rampant in Bear Culture is something many organizations are trying to accomplish in the present. All-inclusive Bear Bashes like the one we are attending this weekend is just one such example. Bear focused groups across North America are reorganizing with inclusion in mind, attempting to move from muscle-focused to fat-inclusive; eliminating some of the rampant racism and setting up TNG communities for cubs and otters like you would see in other sexual minority groups. This is a wonderful step in the right direction and we look forward to seeing the further growth of this community. Vive La Bear!
For more information on the Beef Bear Bash this weekend, please visit www.albearta.org