Within the gay community there are numerous different subcultures, with one of the most popular and recognisable one belonging to the Bears. Even Bears can be subdivided into various categories, thus demonstrating the diversity that exists in the gay community and the difficulty associated with labelling people. The general definition of a Bear is a gay man who seems to represent a working-class, ‘manly’ type of masculinity, as opposed to the limp-wristed effeminate stereotype associated with some gay men. Bears tend to have a stocky build and often a muscular physique. Their bodies are hairy and they may choose to let their facial hair grow.

Bears have created their own clubs and events which are run as distinct from the gay community at large. The whole bear scene is a rapidly rising subculture in the gay and bisexual male communities. Its a relatively modern movement that has started within the last 20 years.

Richard Bulger is generally credited with coming up with the the term "Bear" in 1985. He described a bear as :

"a gay man whose disposition is rooted in a subculture that emphasizes male secondary sexual characteristics such as beards and body hair growth"

Bulger with his partner Chris Nelson (1960-2006) went on to create Bear Magazine in 1987 and became known as a pioneer in publishing erotic photography and stories for the bear community. There is some disagreement however whether or not the term bear was down to Bulger. Some believe it should be credited to George Mazzei who, in 1979 wrote an article for The Advocate entitled "Who's Who in the Zoo?". This characterised homosexuals as seven types of animals one of which was a bear.

The bear community is growing with many "bear clubs" around the world whose aim to create social and sexual opportunities. Some are simply loosly organised groups whereas others may be based around a theme eg leather biker type bears. There are numerous events held all around the world aimed specifically at bears. These include Brighton Bear Weekender (UK), Bearfest (Atlanta, USA), A Celebration Of Friends (Fort Lauderdale, USA), Bearfest (Blackpool, UK), BearQuake (San Diego, USA), San Francisco Bear Pride (USA) and many more. As the bear community has grown so has the number of specilised bear magazines, DVD's and websites.

Some of the subcategories associated with the Bear movement relate to race and nationality, including Black Bear – an individual of Afro-Caribbean descent, Brown Bear – an individual of Latino descent, Panda Bear – an individual of Asian descent, and Koala Bear – someone from Australia. Other types of Bear are defined by their physique, including the Muscle Bear – an individual who likes to work out at the gym, which is noticeable given his muscular body, and the Chubby Bear – an individual who carries extra weight that definitely isn’t muscle.

There are a number of other types of Bear, including the Polar Bear – an individual who has white or grey hair, the Grizzly Bear – an individual who is extremely hairy and also has a dominant nature, and the Ginger Bear – a man who has ginger hair. A Daddy Bear is generally older and often the top in a relationship whilst a muscle bear indicates a toned muscly man. There are a few other labels that are used to denote individuals who are closely associated with the Bear scene including cubs, otters, and wolves. These are only labels, after all, and so although an individual may identify himself as a Bear, there is certainly plenty of room for interpretation, depending on a person’s appearance, age and demeanour.

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