New columnist explores the bear community

By David Castillo
Bear Columnist

I’m David and a new contributor. I’m a resident of Portland, OR currently and loving life as a Blogger, Graphic Designer, Freelance knitwear designer and occasional mediocre DJ. I was born in Southern California, but spent most of my formative years in a conservative, fundamentalist cult in rural Illinois. Later I returned to California, and then made my trek to the pacific northwest.

One of my favorite things about Portland is the huge queer community there. They’re everywhere! It’s been a fantastic chance to connect with other queer folk, and especially develop deep and healthy relationships with other gay men in a way I had ever been able to do before. Community has become a big part of my personal identity. I like to function within a community, to be surrounded by people working towards common goals, to share camaraderie. If it’s something you haven’t experienced before, let me be frank: you are missing out.

I view myself as a bit of an amateur queer theorist, and I spend a lot of time thinking about identity and perception of self. I believe in a holistic approach when it comes to identity. I don’t ascribe to any one label to explain who I am and what I’m all about. Really, when attempting to describe myself, I use a very long list. There’s so many things that make up who I am. Within a lot of queer subcultures, I see a very limited view of self. So many people will find a label of some sort and cling to it like there’s nothing else about them (sometimes there isn’t). A community i see this in the most predominantly is the bear community. Granted, I may be a fat, hairy guy with a beard, but I’m also an artist, Mexican, European, a knitter, a north American, etc. I feel where a subculture begins to lose it’s legitimacy is when it’s members don’t continue to recognize the diversity that makes up the human race. ‘Bears’ are not exempt from this problem. Labels often only serve to divide and separate.

I feel i can’t adequately address my identity as “bear” alone. I don’t feel that any one label or subculture adequately describes who I am as a person. The funny thing about labels is that you rarely apply them to yourself. most of the labels that have been slapped on me throughout my life came from outside sources. I was past the age of 18 before even encountering the label of “bear”. I was much older than that before I even began to understand it. If you poll any of my gay male friends as to what a “bear” is, you’ll get a variety of answers depending on the general level of cynicism in the room, but the generally consensus is as follows: A bear is anyone possessing 2 of the 3 B’s – Beard, Belly or Body-hair. Well, I guess 3 out of 3 makes me a bear.

The problem with this was that I didn’t necessarily want to be a bear! nobody asked me! All I knew is that I wasn’t skinny, I had hair where other men I saw on TV or in magazines didn’t, and without a beard, my chin disappears. But here I am, barely even comprehending the situation, having a label applied to me. It feels very odd to be introduced to a term that so fittingly describes you and at the same time repels you. What I could figure of the bear community is that it was mostly “old hairy guys”, which at the age of 18-19 didn’t particularly interest me. Further more, there was this intense focus on “straight acting” or “masculine” that I didn’t fully understand. I was just coming to terms with the fact that I wasn’t like all the other boys. But then I find myself not being like all the other gay boys either. Then I realize that there’s a group of guys who aren’t like the other gay guys, but I’m not like them either! It was an incredibly disorienting experience to say the least.

I suppose identity is best used when it is fluid and multi-faceted. I feel there are lots of cornerstones that exist to make you who you are, or at least determine how you will be in a given situation. But other parts of identity remain fluid. People change, and their desires change. I’m excited by the diversity of the queer community and hope to daily revel in it. That doesn’t always happen, but I’m always ready just in case.

I hope you find my contributions mostly falling in that delicate range of entertaining and informative. I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you!

  • http://www.futureshipwreck.com/ Graham

    Awesome! This is exactly the type of refreshingly self-conscious introduction I'd hope for from a blogger who's been given the dubious distinction of “bear columnist.” As someone who falls in between labels like “twink” and “cub,” I appreciate writing that approaches gay sub-cultures from a critical thinking perspective. Amateur queer theory FTW! :) Looking forward to reading more from you.

  • http://www.queervoice.net/zcbyrnes ZCByrnes

    We're glad to have David on board. thanks for reading!

  • Mark

    This is perfect. I've seen so many men enjoy the “bear” communities and am happy for them. Though by appearance, one might think this would be my “tribe,” it is not ever felt natural or sensible for me to gather with people based on appearance (or gender, or race, or a host of other identifiers). That longing for community that many find in the “bear ” communities is valuable and many of these groups do volunteer work, connect people as trust and support systems, and offer romance and I assume more. I think some of us find it in other places. I do think calling you the “Bear Columnist” is pretty silly though.

  • MarcFrey

    This is a great entry!
    I agree with you on so many points, and I find the LGBT too divided as well.
    What I couldn't believe was when I entered a chat room on dlist and noticed how the 'twinks' were attacking anyone that didn't fit in. There's already so much hate towards the LGBT community… you'd think we'd at least stand together within it =/

    Either way, great entry!
    Looking forward to reading more from you :)