Can I just say it?

I refuse to accept the “Bear” label.

There. What a weight off my broad shoulders.

Girth. Mirth. Cargo Shorts. Cigars. Plaid Shirts. Beards. Bearbies. Str8 Acting. No fats. No femmes.

No, I’m not kidding!

These are real words in a subculture that is no longer an offshoot of all that is “Gay.” It is a powerful brand, one that may also have a role in the homogenization of homosexuality.

Let’s begin with the obvious. Bears, in theory, are not cuddly creatures. They have bad attitudes, sleep a lot and could give a shit about anything except taking a shit in the woods and move on.

And that just applies to the ones out in the wild.

As I wade deeper and deeper into the shallowest dating pool you can ever imagine, how is it that being gay in LA post-40 still requires your being part of a clique.  Do we ever escape the high school model? Plastics. Stoners. Twinks. Daddies. Truckers. Tops. Bottoms. Versatile. Poz. Chubs. Cubs. Otters. Triads. Leather. Open. The global cafeteria is jam-packed with variations of a singular theme. And know there are hierarchies that exist within those categories, too.

I used to think it was a sign of empowerment and progress when you started reading about “gay’ neighborhoods, restaurants, bars, banks and everything in between. The older I get, I am starting to bristle against that distinction. At what point does this polite segregation lose its power? Can’t we all just “be?” Well, that’s a topic for another day. I’m still revving up my rant from the cave thanks to my being assigned to the “Bear” community due to my size and hirsute quality.

As many of my 40-something brethren can attest, it is a bit of a challenge to meet people when you are career obsessed. Which is why so many of us are inclined to engage in the Scruff/Growlr/Mister dating apps. (Grindr is really like Trix, just for kids.) However, when it comes to app or online dating, the level of judgment surpasses that of the Supreme Court or a church bingo club. If you don’t have a profile picture, you don’t exist. Then, you have the “Check Mates,” that group of men who have a laundry list of requirements that often defy reality. I mean, many of us have a “type,” but what is up with the hunt to find prefab versions of an airbrushed stereotype?

For instance:

“I won’t put down the fork or work out, but I will only date muscle-bound gents — or you don’t exist to me.”

“I only want a guy who has tats and/or a beard – or you don’t exist to me.”

“I am “masc for masc” or “neg for neg,” even though you can technically fake both — or you don’t exist to me.”

40-something men only want to date 20-something boys or you don’t exist.

40-something men — we just don’t exist. Period.

We deserve better.

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I am my own man, not a clone, man. Or so my motto goes. I literally just made that up. Does my penchant for wearing foulards, sporting cardigans in 80 degree weather and enjoying shortened pants make me an overgrown hipster? That’s your issue, to be honest. I just like classic things and looking groomed. I see it as taking pride in myself and not being some affected, fey Oscar Wilde trapped in the wrong era.

Our ability to judge as a culture is legendary. I am guilty of eyebrow arching so epic, it possesses a ballet-like poetry.  I am sure that some folks will think I judge the Bear community too harshly. That isn’t my intent. I am very much aware of the group dynamic that is part of being of a community that accepts you. In fact, that desire to create a village is tantamount to being human.

What I am articulating is my frustration in how we all keep each other in easy to digest – and cast off — boxes.  Granted, if we are just talking about hook ups, then yes, desire is mostly a visual thing. As I was once told, “If you don’t want to fuck yourself, why expect anyone else to be interested in you?”

In the cold light of an iPhone screen, that is pretty darn honest. We need to be realistic as to who we are pursuing, too. Yet, is acceptance and tolerance only saved for those soundbite moments when we feel our civil liberties are compromised? Why are we our own worst enemies in the fight for love, life, romance and/or the pursuit of great sex?

I wonder if bears do this to each other out in the wild? I’d like to think they see life as one big, glorious picnic basket of choice. Meanwhile, some of us only care to see each other only for their “baskets.”

What I am starting to understand is that owning your individuality is a pure way to live. In the end, we are destined to find “our people,” a reality built on experience and patience, right? Once we drop the labels and conditions, then we can start appreciating our strengths and stop punishing ourselves — and others — for perceived weaknesses.

Rant over. You see? I’m really just a teddy bear after all.

And I do exist.

Wednesday, October 29. Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor, South Pasadena, CA. 

**For a broad tutorial on what it is to be a “Bear,” click on the embedded premiere episode of the web series (not “gay web series”) appropriately titled “Where the Bears Are.” Viewer discretion is advised.

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