OPINION: Bears of Color, we must allow ourselves to take up space

Previously, I wrote an article directed toward white bears in the community. In this article, I urged white bears to step away from the spotlight sometimes and give more opportunities and space to Bears of Color, who are severely underrepresented in the community. The article was very popular on social media, particularly Facebook, where people shared it and praised the message, agreeing that Bears of Color are underrepresented and undervalued in the bear community and a change was much needed. 

The problem with diversity in the bear community is clear. Oftentimes, we see flyers for bear events, or even photography projects and photo spreads that attempt to promote body positivity and diversity, but fall into the trap of highlighting what seems to be the same four or five White muscle bear types that we’ve seen time and time again. It’s true that these White muscle bears do not fully represent the myriad of types we see often in the community — bears are chubby, muscular, short, tall, Black, White, Asian, Latinx, Trans, Nonbinary, etc. But, when looking at some of these event flyers and photo spreads, it’s hard to see this.

I, like many others, have asked myself why. Why does it seem like the call for diversity is disregarded? Are they doing it deliberately just to make others feel underrepresented and devalued in a community that’s supposed to value inclusion and diversity? Are these calls for diversity and inclusion falling on deaf ears? What I’ve come to realize is that the truth is far more complicated than that. 

The truth of the matter is that, many times, diversity is actually being encouraged, particularly in instances where model calls are put out for event flyers. When speaking to certain event organizers, artists, organizations and companies that often put out these calls, I’ve been told that White muscle bears are oftentimes the only ones that show up. 

But why is this? Probably because White muscle bears have obviously been put on a pedestal so often in our community that we’ve come to accept them as the standard for beauty and attractiveness, and that anything outside of that is undesirable. And that’s how the cycle begins; White muscle bears have been historically elevated as the prototype, and are therefore more confident and willing to put themselves and their bodies out front and center to represent the community. Bears of color and bears of more diverse body types notice this and it makes them feel uncomfortable putting themselves and their bodies front and center to represent a community that doesn’t appreciate them. And the cycle continues. 

Before I move on, I would like to state that this is in no way meant to drag White muscle bears through the mud. Everyone has their own journey with body acceptance, and I’m sure there are many White muscle bears who, despite what others may think, look at themselves in the mirror and are still able to find many flaws and imperfections. Everyone has issues with body image and acceptance. However, not everyone has their body validated in a way that allows them to feel accepted and wanted in particular spaces, and therein lies the problem. 

White muscle bears appear to be dripping in confidence in the bear community because the bear community is where they have been made to feel valued, while chubbier bears and Bears of Color have not been given the same message, and are therefore more reluctant to put themselves out front and center to represent a community that has made them feel othered. But therein lies the other problem; in order not to feel othered in a space, you have to allow yourself the freedom to take up space. 

Yes, my fellow chubby Black bears and Bears of Color. In order to be properly represented in the community, we have to be willing to actually put ourselves out there and represent. We have to claim space, even when it isn’t readily offered to us. And, when it is offered to us, we shouldn’t be modest about taking it. We deserve that space. We’ve earned that space. That space is ours.

Kyle Jackson

Kyle Jackson (He/Him) is Senior Staff Writer at Gray Jones Media, and additionally works as a writer, editor and theatre artist/actor. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, he studied at Dillard University, received a BA in Theatre from Morgan State University, an MS in Arts Administration from Drexel University, and completed the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer in Oxford Programme in 2017. Having lived in Baltimore, the Washington, DC area, Philadelphia and New York City, he now resides and works in London, United Kingdom.

4 thoughts on “OPINION: Bears of Color, we must allow ourselves to take up space

  • Bears of Color being undervalued has become quite evident on apps that cater to bears like Scruff and Growlr. Not in the apps themselves, but in profiles. While they both include Race fields in their profiles, most White bears also mention that they are white in their description fields, as if being white is a “selling point” for them. I have not seen this trend among Bears of Color. I started using both apps when I lived in Europe, where I did not see the white bears mentioning their race multiple times in their profiles. Apps have the potential to provide daily exposure to the bear community as opposed to the occasional bear event, so Bears of Color are subject to feeling undervalued in the bear community on a daily basis. Naturally, this leads to a reluctance to represent a community that seems, at the best of times, to simply tolerate you.

  • This piece was well thought out. But here is how I see it.

    1- POC? BOC? Are we talking about people/gays/bears of color (BOC) or, are we talking about Black gays/bears? The POC term can be convoluted due to the simple fact that sometimes other racial/ethnic groups whether we are talking about Latino, Hispanic, Asia, Middle Eastern or other (within or outside of the gay community) will practice racism and excluding Blacks out the frame work as well. Because SOME, not all (Not trying to overgeneralize) of these POC groups kinda consider themselves white as well and others have more of a desire or immensity to be accepted with whites. Whether it’s because some of them come from a culture that practice colorism or anti-Blackness in general or maybe they just see whites as more attractive, which is common in Gay Culture, lets be honest. Or, just finding inclusion in whiteness (Especially in America) is equated to social acceptance and more access to resources.
    Don’t take what I’m saying out to context, this isn’t about separation. If POC want to bridge the gap between Blacks and other race/ethic groups then that’s perfectly fine. But don’t expect POC to automatically side with Black people merely because they are not white.

    2- Intersectionality: Black people should really start to focus on how Intersectionality can water down the culture. When a person or group are trying to find avenues to be accepted in other groups sometimes that group will have to present themselves in the light that the other group sees as more “comfortable or palatable” Ask yourself, Why would this be necessary if you want people to except you for who you are?

    3-Sovereignty: There is nothing wrong with Blacks or even “POC” wanting to be apart of white spaces, Shiiiid I’ve had my fair share, but Blacks should be putting more of a priority on having OUR OWN Spaces and not always trying to be accepted in other spaces. No matter how many times someone invites you to their house, it’s imperative you have your own house to go back to…..Right? I fell to understand why SOME ….not all…. Gay Black Bears do not understand this concept. So why not have more Black Bear spaces. It does not have to be Exclusive, in can be Inclusive to everyone else as well. But why not have our own kingdom where Black Bears can set the standard for, IDK, Black Bears and Black Bear Admirers instead of always forcing white bear counterparts to see/recognize/admire Black Beauty? All the energy and think pieces it takes just to have whites give a single thought on the Black perspective….that same energy can be used to building Black Spaces, literally.

    4-White Gay Male Sub-cultural Body Acceptance: Many forget or may not have been educated on why the Bear Community was established in the first place, or gain the notability it has today….not when, why. If you ever had the opportunity to speak with an older gay/bear white male they will tell you contrary to belief, their body type and mannerism weren’t always accepted by other gay white males…..yes, this is true. Not only that, but even without speaking to older gay/bear white males, if you were around in the 90’s at least, you may have probably seen a couple of gay pornography magazine titles catering to bears. If you notice, a lot of them weren’t even that “Chubby” Most of them had what modern American Pop-culture like to refer to as “Dad Bods” You know, guys who look like they may have been active in sports when they were teenagers, stayed fit well through their early 20’s, met a girl, got married, made that girl his wife, popped out a few kids and gained some man-weight in the process due to not being as active as they were in high school and college while staying at home eating hot wings drinking bear with their buds while watching Sunday football. Not to mention, unless you are an ectomorph, a man’s metabolism will slow down when they get older and the beer gut and home cooking will start to take shape.
    Anyway, were am I going with this?
    Well, that was the body type you would see in most gay bear magazines back in the days. Gay guys that weighed 250 plus lbs didn’t come around until later. My point?
    Even among gay white males, the big chubby body type wasn’t a thing of beauty until later on. So when they FINALLY got that recognition, best believe they made sure to hold on to that shit as tight as possible. So without coming off as pessimistic, they are not going to share that space so easy. Because outside of that space, what other space is there for them?
    Maaaaybe the leather community? Maybe??? IDK.

    5- Eurocentric Beauty Standards: **”Oftentimes, we see flyers for bear events, or even photography projects and photo spreads that attempt to promote body positivity and diversity, but fall into the trap of highlighting what seems to be the same four or five White muscle bear types that we’ve seen time and time again.”**
    Yes true, but there is a reason for that… because whites see themselves as the beauty standard over everyone else. Please don’t take this out of context. I am not saying this out of any Anti-white sentiments. But, the Eurocentric Beauty Standard always saturated American Culture unarguably. Whether it’s strait, gay, male, female, pretty boy, jock, bad boy, guy/girl next door, rebel, corporate ladder business man, video vixen, action movie macho guy, it doesn’t matter.
    So the “Diversity” talking points in the bear community that’s used is merely for Political Correctness/Public Relations (PR) purposes.
    I remember when Tumblr was pornographic and for the most part that’s why I watched Tumblr (C’mon lets stop the bullshit, I know I’m not the only one here   and I would look at all the Tumblr pages dedicated to bears. Lot’s of eye candy, but most of them catered to white bear beauty standards. When I started noticing more Black Bear Admiration on Tumblr sites, it kinda filled a void that was needed to be filled. Now, I see the same thing happening on Twitter. I’ve noticed a good number of Black Gay Twitter accounts that cater to Black Bear or Black Plus Sized men, and it’s wonderful! And they have admirers not just within other Black gays, but other race groups, POC and whites as well. But to see that admiration, those spaces for Black Gay Men needed to be created. Basically what I am saying is that Black Beauty standards aren’t going to be accepted as equal to White or any other racial group standards as much as their own in THEIR spaces. So instead of fighting for a seat at the dinner table, lets make our own restaurants.

  • Black bears anytime,any day

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