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Wednesday 14 April 2010

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The Gay Blade

23rd February 2010

If You Go Down to the Woods Today…

Posted by: Michael Stevens

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If you go to many of our main gay venues this week - Caluzzi, Centurian, Dots, Urge, and Kamo, you’ll find Bears. It’s the first Bear Week we’ve ever had here in Auckland.

Which raises the question: “What is a Bear?”

And it’s a hard one to answer in some ways. Initially being a Bear seemed to be a rejection of the over-muscled, shaved and waxed body look that grew so popular in the 90s. It was a stance of saying “I’m a man, here’s my body, warts and all, I’m still sexy, I don’t need to shave my chest, I don’t need to try and look like I’m 25 for the rest of my life.” And that is still part of it. Even earlier there was a reaction noted in Europe and the US where  some gay men were stressing health and well-being in the dark days of AIDS by emphasising body size as a code for being HIV negative. Bits of health, bits of saying “no” to the gym-bunny look, and yes, bits of fetishising being “masculine” too.

Another key aspect I think is the rejection of ageist practices that are common in the gay world. Just because a man is over 30, or 40, or 50, doesn’t mean he isn’t interesting, fun, sexy and desirable, but much of the gay scene ignores men as they age. The Bears don’t. Just because a man doesn’t spend a fortune on clothes, he doesn’t get ignored. Just because his body isn’t perfect, he doesn’t get ignored. The gay scene can be very unfriendly, very superficial, and very judgemental,  the Bear world tries to move away from that and just accepts people as they are.

So I guess it’s part of a rejection of the body fascism that gay men can so easily succumb to. The Bear community (I don’t think it’s a movement) now is not just for older hairy men and their friends. It is generally about tolerance and acceptance. You don’t have to have a certain look or be a certain age to come along to any Bear event. Some of the regulars I can think of are in their 20s, some in their 60s. Some are hairy, some are smooth. Some have perfect gym bodies, some don’t. Some have facial hair that looks like a pioneer grandfather, and some have none. Some are into kink, some are pure vanilla. I have a friend who wears beautiful designer clothes, gels his hair, and is not, as he says, what people think of as a Bear, he doesn’t think of himself that way, but he likes hanging out with the Bears in Auckland because we’re more fun and accepting. I would put money down and say that guys in the Bear community are genrally more sexually adventurous and experienced. Not everyone maybe, but there is a certain raw male sexual buzz in the air at times at Bear events, and hey that’s a good thing.

You might notice that Caluzzi, one of our drag restaurants, is in the list of venues for Bear week above. They are holding a Bear Drag race and dinner. Bears aren’t anti-drag, or anti-queens either. It’s not anti-women either, but Bears do tend to like to have male-only venues available. I think it’s good for gay men to have a social space where we can just hang out with other men. There are heaps of places I can go to with my female friends, but I like the option of having a men-only space.

What you do find in the Bear world globally is a group of men who are relaxed about being men, and who celebrate it. The Bear world is, I always find, very friendly and welcoming. People talk to you if you are new to a bar or new in town.

Do you have to be a Bear or usually hang out with them to go along this week? No, everyone is welcome. And given we’ve had a real lack of dance parties this year, I think the Tri-Nations (with DJs from three different countries) will really go off on Saturday. It’ll be a room full of hot sweaty men, and a few women too I’m sure. It won’t be scary, it will be fun. Hot, friendly, sweaty, sexy, Bearish fun.

Tags: General

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pollyfilla // Feb 25, 2010 at 1:07 am

    Hope the first NZ Bear week has gone well…. my hope is that it will be able to build and grow and become a brother festival to Melbournes Southern HiBearnation.
    Much Love and Bear Hugs
    XXX

  • 2 Garth Browning // Feb 25, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Great summation Michael and great to see the queer scene opening up to offer acceptance for all. I really hope that this Bear Festival is a raging success and hi-5 to all those involved in the organisation. Fly your Freak Flag and alway remember we are all a minority of one.

  • 3 Paul R // Feb 25, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Hey Polly, totally agree. It’s been a great week so far and will keep being so. Like you it’ll be great to see it grow and stay as an annual event :)
    Love back from across the ditch x

  • 4 Felicity Frockaccino // Feb 25, 2010 at 11:25 am

    I heard the Caluzzi BearDrags were hilarious. Hope the week went well. Look forward to seeing more fantastic event weeks like this! xx

  • 5 AJ // Feb 25, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Whereas I like the article, I find one point to be questionable. That part concerns the “ageist practices” against men in their 30s, 40s and 50s, the implication being turned down for sex due to one’s age. If someone doesn’t wish to sleep with you, for whatever reason, they don’t wish to sleep with you. If someone has no desire to sleep with you because you’re older or considerably older than them, so be it. This is not ageism. I would actually question the person who is older, especially when considerably older, than the person they’re propositioning as to why they are lusting after someone considerably younger. I’ve heard before bemoan “sexual racism”, where people can’t find sexual partners from the ethnicity of their choice because people from that ethnicity choose to, racistly, give it away only to those they want to. Sexual preference is not an -ism to be judged by others. Nobody has the right to install guilt upon others because they have chosen not to sleep with us. It’s their body, their choice. If someone doesn’t find you desirable because of your age or the way you look or smell or wear your hair or vote, it might hurt, but deal with it. If someone says to you “you’re old, so I’m not going to associate with you”, THAT’s an -ism, not “no, you may not blow me”.

  • 6 Eric // Feb 25, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    For AJ: Your particular viewpoint does have some merit in that ageism is an easy scapegoat for less secure older men, as is common with the excuses of so many other ‘isms’ for those rejected in sexual situations; Quite frankly there is no shame in being shallow or picky in your sexual preferences, no-one should expect you to have sex with someone you’re not attracted to or aroused by.

    However the truth of the matter is that “ageist practices” go much further than your narrow interpretation of mere sexual preference. Like the obvious media portrayal and target advertising which idealize the young gym-fit gay male or the active vilification of older men particularly by those under 30.

    As to questioning an older person why they might be lusting after someone considerably younger, why would the reason matter? Perhaps they enjoy the excitement in recapturing lost youth or still maintain the ideal of a young gym-fit male which is continuously presented to them. Perhaps they enjoy teaching the youthful and inexperienced or marvel in the refreshing innocence of someone who hasn’t been jaded by years of bad experiences.

    The ageist practices aren’t so much a matter of “no, you may not blow me” it is more a matter of “You look over 35 and therefore fit into my predefined social category of creepy horny old men whom I don’t like and will not associate with.”

  • 7 Richard // Feb 25, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    It took me many years of pondering and not a small bit of overseas travel to cement the following in my little brain:
    “There will always be people who are desperately attracted to me, and there will always be people who are equally desperately not attracted to me, (and many many more in between) and vice versa. If I change something about my appearance, behaviour etc, I may change WHO those people are (based on their own preferences) but I’m not likely to change the NUMBER of them” or something like that. The difference for me about the Bears is, I can happily hang out with them, be myself, and be treated (most of the time) as a worthwhile person, even by those who don’t want me on their dance card … (ooops, dance card probably gives my age away a bit … ummm … errrr …. shag list). Yip, good old social cohesion. Magic! We’re not perfect. Sometimes we forget what it was like being a completely new face in a group and we forget to stretch out a welcoming paw, but we’re more likely to than in some other gay social settings where the focus is elsewhere. Bears rock! Especially the Kiwi and Ozzie ones :-) Oh yeah, and our hottie visitors from the USA right now. Woof!

  • 8 AJ // Feb 26, 2010 at 2:44 am

    Eric, my point is entirely about declining someone for sex based on age not being justfully deemed ‘ageist’. It’s not a question of being narrow on interpretation - that was my point. I don’t see how I could have been more obvious in that without being tedious.
    Why someone turns you down for sex is of nobody’s concern but theirs. If they judge you as per your final quote, choosing with whom to associate, so be it - that was neither my concern nor part of my argument. Who you choose to sleep with was.

  • 9 ant // Mar 3, 2010 at 10:57 am

    labels are for things, not people.

  • 10 Craig Young // Mar 3, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Indeed, some older gay men are somewhat pushy in terms of their preference for younger sexual partners. However, is that because ageist stereotypes (apart from bear culture) stigmatise older sexually active gay men and de-eroticise them to some extent?

  • 11 Craig Young // Mar 3, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Might I also point out the relative absence of HIV prevention materials targeted specifically at older men? And what about older men just coming out?
    It’s a complex question. As for me, I now find that I don’t find anyone under thirty-five all that attractive… although I am monotonous these days…

  • 12 355 // Mar 4, 2010 at 12:41 am

    @Craig Young
    “although I am monotonous these days…”
    you said it babe

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