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I’m Black…Can I Call Myself a Bear?

I was on Twitter/X a couple of months ago and saw one of those “discourse” tweets. You know the one where it’s a meme of like 30 or so swords pointed at Tangled‘s Flynn Rider with an accompanying tweet that normally says something along the lines of “what’s something that’ll have you looking like this in the ___ community?” This time, it was about the bear community. The first quote tweet that stood out to me read something like,  “The term bears is not made for non-white gay men.” At first, I was like, “No way, I’ve used the term to describe myself before. This term is made for everyone.” But the more I thought about it, and the more I reminisced on my own experiences in this community, the more I realized most men never viewed me as a bear. They see my size, sure, and the bigger belly, but “bear” never crossed their minds. But they always reminded me that I was black. That they never let me forget.

It took me a while to be comfortable in my own skin. I grew up in the Midwest in predominantly white areas. My mom would say we were the only chocolate chips in the pancake batter. Since the majority of my friends growing up were white, being black was like my defining characteristic. Of course, there was more to me than being just black and I knew that. I was in the band program, I wrote for the school newspaper, I loved watching America’s Next Top Model, etc. I knew I was more than my skin color. But to everyone else, I was just “everyone’s favorite black person.” It took years and years of learning to accept myself in more ways than one and moving a couple of states over to the middle of Missouri to shake that weird stigma I had about myself. I decided, moving forward, to surround myself with people who don’t make my race my central talking point or the only cool thing about me. I applied this same mindset when it came to dating.

Dating as a black, chubby gay man in the Midwest is quite entertaining, to say the least, yet utterly exhausting to be completely honest. Before I found the absolute love of my life, I was on every dating app you could think of. Tinder to Hinge to Scruff to Growlr to Grindr, I’ve seen and experienced the dating pool in every city I’ve lived in. I’ve only lived in different parts of the Midwest in semi-similar urban environments. From Louisville to Columbia, MO, and that brief stint in Atlanta, I’ve swiped, tapped, and woof’d on any and all of the available guys. And if I’m being honest, no matter the area I was staying in, no matter how many filters and parameters I put on, everyone started looking the same: predominantly white, 21-65-year-olds in all different shapes and sizes. Of course, there were a handful of men who looked like me or weren’t white, but most of the men swiping right on me fit the first category. Getting a lay of the land helped me figure out which of the subgroups I belonged to. I saw other guys with similar builds as me with “Bear” and “Cub” stamped in their bio, so I followed suit.

To be honest, my time on the apps wasn’t all too bad. Not every person was a complete nightmare. The standard interaction went as follows: I’d start a conversation (sometimes they’d hit me up first), discussed my interests, and saw if there was enough of a spark for an IRL date. Usually, the conversation ended because we both lost interest or weren’t ready to commit. Other interactions were… less than desirable. Too many men, mostly white, would slide into my DMs with the most sexually and racially charged messages ever typed on a keyboard. It’s always ranged from “Show me that BBC” to “I want two big black guys to take advantage of me.” Instant block. It’s like the conversation couldn’t be normal. Rarely was I hit on for being a bear. Some of the attributes that would make someone a bear were admired like my belly and my weight, but those men never called me a bear. They just loved my size and wanted to see me get bigger. And on the opposite side of the dating experience, there were times when I got blocked because I was black or considered too fat. I would shoot my shot at some guy, nothing too salacious. Without missing a beat, they’d send the “sorry, no blacks” or “too big, no fats’ ‘ messages right before their profile disappeared forever. It always stung when it happened. You move on, but it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. It made me think that this is what I should expect in the community. I couldn’t win for being black and no one considered me a bear.

Gay men of color rarely get the choice to be categorized in anything other than their race in the gay community. Think of some of the common terms we use: Daddy, Twinks, Bears, Chubs, Jocks, Otters. Every example you see in the media features mainly white models. But what about the black bears? Surely there are black otters or twinks, right? Kinda… Being black or a person of color in the gay community doesn’t afford you the luxury of choice when it comes to being a part of certain subcategories. We all get lumped into specified race categories.

This brings me back to dating and to the tweet from earlier. How do we broaden our scope of what a bear looks like? Can gay men of color call themselves bears? I think there’s some good work being done to include more gay bears in predominantly white bear spaces, whether that’s highlighting more bears on bear appreciation pages or showcasing more than just white bears at bear-related events, but there’s still work to be done. Black gay bears and other bears of color are just as valid as their white counterparts. So, I’ll continue to call myself a bear, even if others don’t.

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One thought on “I’m Black…Can I Call Myself a Bear?

  • Beautiful, you are a Black Bear and I am proud to have you in our community, unfortunatly I been fighting this battle for a long time and please know that when the Bear Friendship Flag was voted into existence all the colors of every Bear species was there to represent all skin tone,( next year it will be 30 year ), No one puts us in a corner, we belong here with every race and color!
    Together we are Stronger!


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