Like many gay men, I’ve found myself both intrigued and slightly frightened by the concept of getting older. Despite the fact that my personal taste in men skews towards daddies, I’ve been meticulously trained to believe that getting old is not just undesirable; but that it’s something you have to run away from. Aging is like that distant relative you know you have to meet eventually, but you keep putting him off until you can no longer escape it.
So here I am, 32, contemplating the journey of our lifetime, asking myself questions that make me feel like I’m on an episode of my own introspective reality show. What’s aging like in a community where daddies are not just common but genuinely appreciated? How does ageism weave its way through the bear community in the era of swipes and likes?
In a world that glorifies youth like it’s the elixir of life, navigating the complexities of growing older is a bit like tiptoeing through a social minefield. The bear community, with its celebration of different body types and an open-minded approach to beauty, seems like a haven of acceptance. But does that acceptance extend to the inevitable march of time?
I was thinking about all this on the train back home from Madrid Bear week, where I enjoyed being surrounded by bears of all ages. What does the future look like in a community where burly chests and generous bellies are embraced? I pondered while drinking my coffee. Does being a daddy automatically come with a badge of honor or is it a ticking clock counting down to expiration?
I decided then and there to set myself on a quest for answers from some well-seasoned bears who might be willing to share their current experiences of navigating the bear community as elder bears.
My friend Michael, age 61 of Pasadena, California, kindly shared a few answers to ease my curiosity:
How do you see the role of elder bears in shaping the narrative and culture of the bear community today?
I believe us elder bears play a crucial role in shaping the narrative and culture of the bear community. Having witnessed the evolution of this community, I believe we can bring a wealth of experience. After all, it’s about understanding and unity, and it’s our responsibility to preserve those values while encouraging progress and inclusivity.
In this same line I asked my friend Craig Jackson (59) from Los Angeles area:
Reflecting on your bear journey, how has your perception of being a bear evolved over the years, and how has the acceptance and diversity in the bear community changed since you first joined?
It’s been fascinating to witness the shift from a somewhat fringe community to a more mainstream phenomenon. In the late nineties, events like Lazy Bear and TBRU were scarce, but now, the landscape has transformed with events coming and going, making the experience truly enjoyable. I would say it’s definitely more diverse now. There are more people claiming to be part of the bear community, which is probably a good thing. In terms of acceptance, it’s generally good. There are always some people with preferences, but overall, I haven’t seen many exclusions.
Mike went on about Growing older as a bear in a youth-focused gay culture: It sure has brought its challenges. The emphasis on physical beauty can create a sense of invisibility. However, it has also granted me the chance to value experience as it is not ephemeral.
So I asked Craig…With this evolution, how do you perceive the dynamics between older and younger bears in bear parties and gatherings? What’s the role of elder bears in shaping the culture of our community?
There’s a difference in how people act. Some younger guys are only into older guys, and vice versa. There’s a click element, especially in some of the bars and clubs in Los Angeles. I think there’s a handful of people who take building a sense of community on. Events like TBRU in Dallas take the maintenance of culture seriously. I don’t see a specific effort in that by older bears in LA, but I like talking to people today and sharing a glimpse of the past with them. Technology plays a part. Younger guys are often more technologically adept, creating a small differentiation there.
What advice would you give to your younger self when it comes to navigating the bear community and embracing your identity?
Mike: To my younger self, I would say, “Embrace every facet of who you are. Don’t be confined by what others expect from you. The bear community is a refuge, a place where you can grow, learn, and thrive. We should keep it like that. Celebrate everyone’s uniqueness, and remember, your value goes beyond appearances.”
Craig: Embrace the journey of finding your bear identity early on. You know, back in the day, I never thought I’d be confidently stripping off my shirt at a dance. It’s not about boosting the ego, but there’s something soul-soothing about being comfortable in your own skin. It’s been a journey, but for sure it’s worth taking. Because now I’m at a place where I’m willingly doing it, and the guys around seem to enjoy it too.
Ageism, that sneaky ghost that haunts the peripheries of our society, surely must cast its shadow over the bear community as well. It could be that a two-way road and generational debate can be mellowed down with some humor and getting the memo that It’s not just about appearances; it’s a shared camaraderie. We as a collective, find ourselves grappling with the notion that beauty, desirability, and relevance seem to be on an accelerating decline as we age. Does a wrinkle carry the weight of societal judgment, or do we lift each other up, celebrating the lived experiences etched into our skin? I personally prefer the latter. Especially if we remember when we were told our bodies didn’t fit the mold. Well, what about elder bodies?
So I asked Mike: How has the concept of beauty and attractiveness within the bear community shifted over time, and how does it impact your sense of self-worth?
The key is to find a balance, appreciating both the vitality of youth and the richness that comes with age. Back in the day, we were rebels, giving the boot to mainstream beauty norms that pushed us to the sidelines of some gay bars. If you weren’t skinny, delicate, or shorn, you were out. Nowadays we embrace more body types, ages, and looks. It warms my heart to see more guys being included in the “handsome dude” club. Personally, it’s been a game-changer for my self-worth.
In spaces that are all about physical appearance it can be hard to navigate the age difference. I try to embrace my authenticity. I believe that age is a part of my journey, and body positivity means also giving my own seasoned body validation, the stories etched into my skin.
Body positivity – it’s not just a phrase; it’s a societal shift pushing forward. Our bodies have been through a lot, and they deserve safe spaces, like the ones many try to curate when organizing bear gatherings. There’s no one-size-fits-all, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Passing the Torch: Empowering the Next Generation
On this subject Craig shared: As for leaving a little something for the cubs of the future, well, I’d love to pass on our story, whether it’s through a good old face-to-face chat or a virtual exchange. You see, when we started this adventure in the late ’90s, things were different. Today, it feels better, and I want them to know that. We’ve paved a good path to where we are now, and it’s been a fascinating journey. The future might have its own twists, but the way we’ve come together is a tale worth sharing. Let them know how it was, how it’s different now, and how it’s all for the better. Cheers to the journey!
Experiences and wisdom are gifts meant to be shared. Let’s promise ourselves to try and feel more comfortable in the roles of mentors or proteges, confidantes and debutants. We all can be cubs navigating their own journeys or elder bears sharing the path taken. These theoretical interactions have me very intrigued so I went on and asked my friend:
In bear bars, parties, and gatherings, how do you perceive the dynamics between older and younger bears? Are there noticeable generational shifts?
You know how the bear community kinda started with this whole praise for being masculine and strong? Well, that idea has been around since the beginning, but now, we’re trying to fit in with how society is changing.
People sometimes hit me with the “ok boomer” stuff when they think our views are a bit old-fashioned. In those moments, I just laugh it off and make a joke. The bear community is this mix of all sorts of people, and we’re all figuring things out as we go. The thing is we shouldn’t stand in the way of social progess
When faced with criticism, I always stress the importance of standing against any negativity. We’re a community for everyone, no matter how they express themselves. It’s not cool to judge someone’s worth based on your very own taste in men.
I like to tell everyone to keep an open mind. Understanding and appreciating different expressions is what it’s all about. There are non-binary bears, queer bears, even some queer women approaching our community. We’re moving away from old ideas, and that’s a good thing. It’s not just about being a bear; it’s about being part of something that respects and includes everyone.
As the years roll by, our bodies might change, but one thing remains constant – the wisdom we accumulate. Each wrinkle tells a story. Our community has overcome shame and isolation to stand proudly and fiercely. We shouldn’t stop our legacy of challenging the status quo and enriching the narrative of LGBTQ+.
Perhaps, in embracing the inevitable, we can redefine what it means to grow older in a world that often prefers us frozen in time. After all, if bears can teach us anything, it’s that beauty is not confined to youth, and the true essence of desirability transcends the boundaries of age. So here’s to the journey ahead, to the laughter lines and silver whiskers, and to the wisdom that comes with every passing year. Because maybe, just maybe, getting older in the bear community is more about embracing the journey than running away from the destination.