I'm not normally a big fan of Andrew Sullivan's political views (but boy, is he a cutie--anybody see a pattern developing here? Maybe it's not just cops I lust after but conservatives in general. Yikes!). So imagine my surprise when I visited his blog and found an essay of his from Salon on bear culture that I found myself mostly agreeing with. I really like what he has to say about bearness in relation to masculinity, to more "mainsteam" gay culture, and to class, for starters. (I could do without the quote from the insufferable Camille Paglia, but nobody's perfect.)
My generally hairless chest and scrawny frame mean I'm not a bear myself, and while there's much overlap between bears and my particular taste in men, I'm not strictly speaking a bear-lover. (For the record, I tend to go for men who are at least 30 and have very little hair on their heads, which often means they have a good deal on their chests and sometimes their faces. A little heft can generally be a plus, but it's not a prerequisite by any means. I'm basically talking Andrew himself, in other words--but you can slap a uniform or some spandex on just about anybody, including a few women, and get my attention--which does indeed make me a true fetishist, according to the Wikipedia. But I digress.)
What I truly cherish about the whole bear phenomenon is the way it opens up new dimensions of sexual attractiveness within, or rather outside, the old-school gay male ideal--which was always far more restrictive and oppressive than the straight-guy definition of beauty, if you ask me. Watching a couple of twig-like twinks with smooth chests going at it in a porn tape does about as much for me as watching hetero porn. For years I felt like a total exile from Gayville because the men who turned me on were ignored or even laughed at by "real" gay guys. It was only when I started visiting leather bars that I grasped the appeal of going out, because most of the gay bars I'd been to up to then were full of the aforementioned pretty boys, and it was exciting to see men who weren't afraid of their masculinity or their age or the natural dimensions of their bodies. (Saddest moment on Queer Eye so far? The scene where the adorable crew member gets his back hair waxed away and his chest hair "manscaped." Refuse and resist the tyrannical cult of artificially prolonged youth, Fab Five!)
Admittedly, this whole bear business has already mutated into a body fascism of its own, and I'm really not into the marketing of teddy bears and related knick-knacks, but that's a subject for another day. What matters to me here is the larger issue: if gay culture, and perhaps eventually the larger culture of which it is a subset, can make a space for bears, then it can make room for all kinds of things. And embracing genuine diversity can only be good for all of us.
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