Physical, Behavioral, and Psychological Traits of Gay Men Identifying as Bears
The Bear community exists as a subculture in reaction to the larger gay community. It rejects the normative idealized male beauty revered by mainstream gay men. While qualitative data document such self-identifiers as masculine-acting gay men who weigh more and have more body hair, there has to date been no quantitative analysis of this group’s characteristics. In response, we conducted two large-scale studies of gay men identifying as Bears (n = 469) to survey their self-reported physical, behavioral, and psychological traits. Our studies indicated that Bears were more likely to be hairier, heavier, and shorter than mainstream gay men. They reported wanting partners who were hairier and heavier. They were less likely to reject sexual partners and the partners they did reject were more likely to be young or weigh too little (i.e., were not bearish). Bears were more likely than mainstream gay men to enact diverse sexual behaviors (e.g., fisting, voyeurism) and were comparatively more masculine. Bears had lower self-esteem but were no less (or more) hypermasculine than non-Bears. We concluded that Bears are intensely sexual. We speculate that Bears are viewed as less attractive than what is traditionally considered to be attractive. The partners they can attract may be limited and, in response to this limitation, they may be particularly attuned to seek out partners who will not reject them. This condition may produce the low self-esteem exhibited and may explain how the Bear culture developed to ensure that even the heaviest, hairiest, and/or shortest individual can partner. Future analyses of the community’s health are warranted.