But (and this may come as a surprise) being a bear isn’t really about appearance at all.
It’s actually about personality and attitude, borne out of not fitting neatly within the confines of mainstream gay labels and stereotypes. This week, I interviewed the President of VicBears, Peter Undy. VicBears has been around since 1996, and actively encourages men of all shapes and sizes to get involved and socialise with other gay guys. It’s based on a culture of inclusiveness and respect. My interview with Peter definitely reinforces these ideals.
In my mind, I’ve always had an image of a gay guy who identifies as a bear as looking a certain way (hairy, large, masculine). Yet, VicBears defines being a bear as more about attitude than appearance. I was (pleasantly) surprised by this and am wondering whether the bear community really does embrace men of all shapes and sizes?
The history of bears comes out of not fitting in. Not sure where exactly, but from somewhere in the US. I certainly felt this way and was tired of not fitting the stereotype within the larger community. It was a case of being marginalised within a marginalised community. There was a huge hole for the larger, hairy and not so hairy guys, and those that just did not feel comfortable. And so the Bear movement was created.
Bears, especially VicBears, will and do mix with anyone, especially those who immerse themselves into our community. Anyone who shows respect to our ideals is very welcome.
Being gay means already being part of one subculture. How does a guy move from being gay to being part of the bear subculture?
Yeah I’m gay but what does that actually mean? I also mix and move within the straight community as a proud gay person. I am often asked how I fit in all my personas! I bet if you asked all your readers, they would have been asked this question too.
That is what makes the gay community so interesting. I believe that the whole of the gay community is made up of sub-groups and that’s why we have created labels such as ‘GLBTI’. To join us, all you need to do is come on over, be yourself and participate.
Is being a bear something that men gravitate towards as they get older? Are there many young bears out there, and is it something that appeals to younger gay guys?
We have a large number of younger cubs. They are certainly facing a different world than I did when I first came out. They have a focus. They know what they want and they are very willing to communicate those ideals. In my opinion, they are drawn to the ideal of the ‘Bear’ firstly. It’s more the idea of an attitude, rather than a body type. But some certainly do appreciate the Bear physical stereotype too.
What would you to say to someone who is ‘bear curious’ and may never have been to a bear social event or party?
Come down to a Den Night. It’s held on the fourth Saturday of the month at the Laird. Introduce yourself to the committee and we will introduce you around. Don’t stand and look from a distance, you wont meet anyone like that. As I said earlier, if you mix – we will play.
VicBears was founded in 1996. Can you tell me a little more about the organisation, what it does and how people can get involved with it?
VicBears holds regular social gatherings on the 4th Saturday of every month at the Laird Hotel in Abbotsford (Melbourne). We also have lazy Sunday lunches every second Sunday of the month. There are also a number of non-bar events throughout the year including bowling, laser-tag, karaoke, pool parties and weekend getaways. The highlight of the VicBears calendar is Southern hibernation. It’s a week long party in June that draws bears from all over Australia, New Zealand and beyond.
To find out more about VicBears, you can check out their website.