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Saturday 08 April 2017

Ak Pride: Bears 101

Posted in: Our Communities
By Cody Ward - 13th February 2017

What is the Bear community? In gay culture, a bear is often a larger, hairier man who projects an image of rugged masculinity. Bears are one of many LGBT communities with events, codes, and a culture-specific identity.

The term 'bear' was popularized by Richard Bulger, who, along with his then partner Chris Nelson founded San Francisco-based BEAR Magazine in 1987. Though there is some contention surrounding whether Bulger originated the term and the subculture's conventions. George Mazzei wrote an article for The Advocate in 1979 called Who's Who in the Zoo? that characterized homosexuals as seven types of animals, including bears and that helped popularise the term.

NZ’s Bear community, says ‘Papa Bear’ Paul Heard, is all about inclusivity. The community back in the days saw that for many gay men’s culture as “a space they were left out of” and then helped to emphasise this approach that “anyone is really welcome”. Among the sub-terminology of what a Bear is are Cubs, a younger version of a bear, Otters, a slimmer or less hairy bear regardless of age, Pandas, a bear of Asian descent, Polar bears, older bears whose facial and body hair is predominantly or entirely white or grey and even Ursulas or lady bears.

Heard (second from right above), a co-organiser of Bear Week during Auckland Pride which kicks off tonight, feels it's not necessary to stick to the 'ideals' of rugged masculinity. "We can camp it up, we do the drag race down at Coco's Cantina and its just a great time, these blokes dressing up and just really having a good laugh”.

Self-proclaimed Cub, 20-year old Peter*, sees the Bear community as a way of being himself, where “It has really helped me to feel like I’ve belonged in this space, ya know, to be able to see people who look like you”. Being a bigger guy, he says, had always made him nervous of coming out, where he “didn’t really see what I was in the stuff I saw about gay people, I didn’t see myself as a part of those people”. The exploration of Bear communities helped him to recover his sense of place and identity where “it gives a comfortable space for us, like with all the twinks and hunks, to fit in”.

Bear New Zealand Week runs alongside the first week of the Auckland Pride Festival 2017. There was a Bear New Zealand tent inside the Urge Events Beer Garden at yesterday's Big Gay Out and a meet and mingle at the Dogs Bollix in Newton tonight. The drag bear race tomorrow is a must-see, and there's Underbear party on Wednesday night. Thursday they’ll be having a Bear Comedy Night with the Mr New Zealand Bear 2017 competition at Dogs Bollix on the Friday. Saturday will have the Tri Nations 2017 party at the Dogs bollix and a closing BBQ on the Sunday.

* ('Peter' is not his real name, due to workplace concerns)

Cody Ward - 13th February 2017

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