A Reference Guide to the Gay Bear Culture

Post Updated: 4/18/2015, Original Post, 9/18/2011

It’s been almost four years since I originally wrote this post, and as I was going through it, I decided it was time to update the reference guide to reflect the various comments and e-mails I received over the past few years.

Contrary to what some people believe, all gay men aren’t the same. We don’t all enjoy Broadway musicals, dress up in the latest fashions, or walk with too much honey on our hips. Not every single gay man turns his nose up in disgust at sporting events, outdoor activities, or manual labor. The gay male culture is actually a cornucopia of men with different tastes, interests, and body types. We are a microcosm of the American culture just like every other subculture in the world. Not every African American listens to rap nor do all Latinos speak Spanish and watch telanovelas (Spanish soap operas). To believe that every single person within any particular culture is representative of the culture as a whole is not only ridiculous but illogical.

Therefore in an effort to increase understanding of the various subcultures within the larger nomenclature that is the gay community, I have decided to write a series of posts aimed at explaining the different types of men who comprise the gay community at large.

Now, just to clarify, gay men sometimes uses terms and classifications to identify other groups within our own that often confuses our straight friends. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked just what is a bear? Once I begin the explanation and delve into the various categories within the bear subculture, their eyes either glass over due to the sheer excess of information provided, or they (and by they, I mean my straight, male friends) will ask what kind of bear am I?

For some reason, my straight male friends feel the need to be classified by the terms we use to describe other gay men. And from what I hear from my gay brothers, their straight guy friends pose the same questions to them. Perhaps it’s their need to feel included (no man wants to be left out of any team even if they really play for the opposition!) or perhaps they just want to see exactly how desirable they are to other men. Let’s face it, our straight male friends might not want to slip between the sheets with another man, but they want to at least know what their options were if they did.

Therefore as a nod to all my straight male friends, the first group I shall tackle are the lovable, affable Bears.


A group of Bears

Definition of Bear: Men in the gay community who have hairy bodies and facial hair. Many are stocky and/or muscular (generally larger in mass than any other classification of gay men in the community). They often portray themselves as the epitome of masculinity through their rugged appearance and demeanor.

Characteristics of a Bear: Typically, Bears are friendly, polite, and easy-going, a far cry from their animal namesake. Their larger body types contain some of the kindest hearts. If a bear were to accidentally step on you at a bar, he would be the first one to apologize and feel awful for potentially hurting you. However, just like their namesakes, a bear is a dangerous gay when provoked and prodded with a stick (no pun intended). Their size alone would be enough to take down an entire gaggle of gays. But unlike real bears, these Bears travel in packs. When you take on one Bear, the entire cave is threatened.

What Does a Bear Do in the Woods?: While Bears have a wide range of interests, they are some natural proclivities of the subculture that seem pretty standard. Most Bears enjoy food and drink. Beer is the alcohol of choice. Rarely, do you see a Bear sipping a Cosmo or calling himself a Vegan. They indulge in the simpler pleasure of life such as camping, laying in the sun, or communing with other Bears.

Bear Wear: Bears can often be spotted in the wild wearing open flannel shirts exposing their guts and hirsute bodies, combat boots, and baseball caps. They are not slaves to fashion. This is not to say that Bears don’t play dress up. (They are gay after all!) But they are more at home wearing lose fit, extremely casual clothing.

Bear Subcategories: The term Bear doesn’t apply to every single hairy gay man. In fact, within the Bear subculture  you will find an entire slew of different classifications.

  • Berenstien Bear is a bear of Jewish descent
  • Black Bear is a bear of African-American descent.
  • Brown Bear is a bear of Latin descent.
  • Care Bear is a bear who “cares” about his appearance and cares about fashion
  • Chubby Bear is a bear who is heavy set and hairy.
  • Cub is a term used to describe a bear relatively younger in age. The term is also affectionally used to describe a bear’s husband/partner who fulfills the passive role in the sexual relationship.
  • Daddy Bear describes a mature bear, who is often looking for a Cub (or younger man) for a relationship.
  • Grizzly Bear means that the individual is extremely dominant and typically extremely tall, heavy, or hairy.
  • Honey Badger describes a bear, who is blond and is usually muscular and not heavy.
  • Koala Bear is a bear of Australian descent.
  • Otter describes a man who is hairy but not heavy. An otter’s build is leaner and muscular.
  • Otter Cub describes a younger man who is heavy but not hairy. His build is also leaner and muscular
  • Panda Bear denotes a bear of Asian descent.
  • Papa Bear describes a bear who has children and devotes most of the time he used to spend drinking and clubbing to his children.
  • Pocket Bear describes a bear of short stature.
  • Polar Bear is a bear with white or grey hair.
  • Seal Bear is a mostly hairless, heavier man. He’s a seal because his body is slick like a seal.
  • Shape Shifting Bear is a bear that moves, at various times of his life, through different subcategories. He can go from a Chub Bear to an Otter to a Wolf.
  • Silver Fox describes a distinguished gentleman with salt and pepper hair.
  • Silver Otter describes a man who is hairy (not heavy), but whose hair is overall white
  • Wolf is a term for a bear who is rugged and outdoorsy but typically also a biker. A wolf can also be sexually aggressive.
  • Yogi Bear describes a bear who likes camping and hiking but also enjoys laying around the cave playing video games.

Bear Admirers: Those who are attracted to bears or hang out with them also have their own set of descriptions.

  • Chaser describes a man who is sexually attracted to heavy set gay men.
  • Goldilocks is usually a woman who hangs out with a group of bears. This is the Bear culture’s term for their “fag hag.”

Goldilocks, the original Bear fag hag

As you can see, Bears and those that love them, come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and interests. If you want to learn more, find a Bear and befriend him. You’ll be glad you did.





48 thoughts on “A Reference Guide to the Gay Bear Culture

  1. You know, I think that beyond the physical bear characteristics, everything else is pretty loose. I know quite a few bears (>30% of my bear friends) that wouldn’t go near a campsite, or even a hiking trail, they aren’t masculine or rugged, and are sometimes b**chier than other “sub-cultures”. Bears can also be incredibly bearist, and because of the various schisms between the “gay community” are often just as quick to exclude “twinks” as “twinks” are to exclude “bears”. That being said, I love my bears, though not as much as I love my chaser.

    • That’s true, Taylor. No one will completely fit into one specific definition. There’s always wiggle room, but those bears are just so darn cute! I love ’em because overall they are pretty decent guys. At least from my experience. 😉

  2. There is possibly a term that you may have overlooked. It is “silver otter.” Its used to describe an otter who is getting older, still is hairy & built like an otter (no major weight gain) but whose hair all over is getting gray to white.

    • Thanks for that new term, BJ. I have no doubt that I’ve missed a few terms, but then again bears are a diverse group. I was bound to miss a couple!

  3. Good info. Thankyou. Being a married bi man in Southern Oklahoma, I am not well connected in any gay community (they hide like scared rabbits down here) so I was not aware of all of the different terms and deffinitions.

  4. I have a question I’ve been dying to ask for so many years. What do you call a guy like me that is big but NOT hairy (don’t have the ability to grow body hair other than some facial hair)??

  5. Great article. You could also add ‘silver fox’ – a distinguished-looking gentleman with salt & pepper hair; and ‘walrus’ – obese or morbidly obese older men with long biker-like moustaches that look like walrus whiskers

  6. There is other kinds of bears there are bears who like fashion but still like to be hairy and rugged mainly those bears are a form of cub like me though. Maybe the more few and fashionable bears can be care bears lol

  7. This article was interesting but has left me more confused. I get told I’m a bear but not a bear. I have been told too much muscle but not enough and enough hair for some and not others. I’ve been told I need to lose weight and shred more by some and others have said I could gain 15 more pounds. I’ve been to bear events. Went to a few to give it a fair chance. I like guys like myself, unshaven and not worried about having a 32 inch waistline anymore. I’m sure there are guys out there that are cool but the ones I met for the most part weren’t kind and went on and on with gossip and musicals. It’s great to look masculine, but when you want to talk about is how so and so gave a group of Swedish male tourist a Himalayan steaming cheeseburger but don’t know where yer carburetor is or how to fix a toilet or at the minimum of being about to grill a steak (you pick the manly thing that all men should know how to do) the masculine goes away and the rehashing of sex and the city begins and the discussion turns to their gym routines and I lose interest. I like going to the gym but I go to keep me center and to feel better. I don’t go to be some gym rat and don’t want to talk about it 24/7. Masculinity is the entire package, not the shell that the world sees and ya don’t wear clothes to emphasize this image. I wear flannel shirts and jeans because this is what I work in and I LIKE’EM and when I dress up it’s some cheezy Hawaiian or bowling shirt. I don’t care if people like the shirt I’m wearing. I like being a man that is gay but I get tired of all the groups and stereotypes and all the stupid rules. And the irony, the other day I was told I was too straight to be gay. How does that work?

    Just a note, bears don’t live in packs. Only the young stay with the mother until their ready to be on their own. Gay men do seem to travel in packs. To this day I don’t get it.

    If I offend, I’ll apologize. Been told I’m too blunt. Being gay is tough enough to worry about all the rules and games to keep up with. All I look for is an honest man of integrity and self-respect which I was lucky to find. The rest of the pack don’t matter to me.

    • Buck,

      You didn’t offend me at all. The guide could never pigeon-hole every gay man. It’s just a collection of terms to help those unsure what a bear was. If it offended you, I apologize. That was never the intent. And I completely understand your point. I have many friends who don’t fit into a particular group either. In fact, I’m sure there are many gay men who don’t. Where we fit doesn’t really matter in the end. It’s who we are and how we treat others that ultimately matters. <3

  8. First time visitor to your site. Wanted to thank you for the information. Being new to the scene I need all the help I can get.
    From all the descriptions above, I guess I’m just a chaser.
    It’s really difficult to talk about you know? I love bears! Just didn’t know what to call you guys and when I tried to find out from my “friends” I was told I definitely had issues. Too bad for them I say….
    Just wanted to let you guys know that no matter what the nickname is, as far as this guy is concerned you got it all going for you. Will keep checking back to get more info.
    At least I know what to ask for now. Thank you!

    • You’re welcome. I’m so glad you stopped by, and I’m sorry for just now replying to your comment. I must have overlooked it. Mea culpa.

  9. This was an interesting read – as are all the replies.

    I believe that some bears are indeed ‘shape shifters’ and weave through categories according to whim, season and necessity. That is certainly my excuse for losing or gaining weight over the winter and summer progressions – and time itself has nudged my major category in the direction of ‘silver’ or ‘polar’.

    I was nicknamed ‘Wolfy’ not because of any aggressive tendencies but because of a tendency to disappear quietly and quickly at parties and emerge near the bar unexpectedly – and with stealth.

    Thank heaven (or what one wills) for diversity – and the capacity for wriggle-room.

    Shape Shifter/Arctic Fox/Wolf-Otter (currently at a conservative 180 Pounds).

    Wolfy 🙂

  10. Great site! Good information. My guy is a probably bald otter and I just started shaving my head but still fall into the larger bear group. Both of us have professional jobs which require us to dress the part, and we have two kids which keep us entrenched in little boy activities. We don’t drink much and haven’t been to a bar since our kids were born. So we are atypical bears. So I’m not sure there is a subcategory for us in this list. Your thoughts?

  11. Great site and very informative.
    I have a question you may be able to answer. A friend of mine falls into the otter category but he’s also kind of a cub (in age and favorite position).

    Is there a term for someone who falls into both categories or is there a special young otter term?


  12. Hey all!

    Loved the article, thank you for posting it! I’m an early twenty-something guy with little hair and at 5’11 and 146lbs, I often feel like I don’t belong in the bear community even though it seems like it’s at the end of the yellow brick road for me! Sigh. Thanks for the info though!

  13. If you want more animal-based terms for the gay community check out the following: lunaphyte.wordpress.com/tag/wolves Their cute pictures and descriptions are rather interesting to say the least!

  14. Pingback: Queer Male Body Image: A Feminist Crash Course — Everyday Feminism

  15. I honestly don’t know where I fit in I’m bigger about 220lbs hair belly and chest long beard 28 I like camping hiking cooking off roading drinking beer (Budweiser preferred) but also I’m nerdy I like video games and such and reading a good book. What would I be?

    • Jason, I think you would fit wherever you would like. These descriptions are not meant to pigeon hole any of us into a particular group, but just to give those who are unfamiliar with the culture to get a general idea of the bear subculture.

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