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In male gay culture, a bear is often a larger, hairier man who projects an image of rugged masculinity. Bears are one of many LGBT communities with events, codes, and a culture-specific identity.
The term bear was popularized by Richard Bulger, who, along with his then partner Chris Nelson (1960–2006) founded Bear Magazine in 1987. There is some contention surrounding whether Bulger originated the term and the subculture's conventions. George Mazzei wrote an article for The Advocate in 1979 called "Who's Who in the Zoo?", that characterized homosexuals as seven types of animals, including bears.
Bears celebrating the 2007 International Bear Rendezvous, an annual gathering of bears and bear-lovers held in San Francisco Some bears place importance on presenting a clear masculine image and may show disliking towards men who exhibit effeminacy. The bear concept can function as an identity, an affiliation, and there is ongoing debate in bear communities about what constitutes a bear.
Bears are almost always gay or bisexual men. However, as LGBT culture and modern slang has taken on a wider appeal in modern society, it is possible to call a hairy and burly straight man a bear (although they would not be strictly part of the gay bear community). Increasingly, transgender men (trans men) and those who shun labels for gender and sexuality are also included within bear communities. However, heterosexual men who have bearish physical traits and are affirming of their gay friends and family (or their gay fans, in the case of a celebrity) may also be informally accorded "honorary" bear status. A smaller number of lesbians, particularly those portrayed as butch, also participate in bear culture, referring to themselves with the distinct label of ursula.
Some slang terms relating to the Bear community include the following:
Cub – a younger (or younger-looking) version of a bear, typically, but not always, with a smaller frame.
Daddy – A mature bear who is often looking for a cub (or a younger man) for a relationship.
Pocket Bear – A bear of short stature.
Otter – A slimmer or less hairy bear regardless of age.
Chaser – Somebody who is attracted to bears and/or chubs but is not part of the bear culture.
Chub – A heavy-set man who might be described as overweight or obese. These men are also a distinct subculture within the gay community, and may or may not identify with the bear movement per se.
Teddy – A fully hairy bear. Chest, back, beard, everything is hairy.
Musclebear – A bear whose size derives from muscle rather than body fat.
Ursula – A lesbian bear.
Goldilocks – A straight woman friendly with bears.
Black Bear – A bear of African descent.
Panda (or Panda Bear) – A bear of Asian descent.
Koala Bear – A bear of Australian descent.
Brown Bear – A bear of latino descent.
Polar Bear – An older bear whose facial and body hair is predominantly or entirely white or grey.
Grizzly – A dominant bear of extreme stature in height, weight, and/or hairiness.
Wolf – A bear with a smaller, lean muscular frame, with the behavioral characteristic of sexual assertiveness or aggression.
Naired Bear – A heavy-set man who prefers to be hairless or shaved.
Mink - A hairy twink