This guy and I are chatting on Scruff, and we’re hitting it off. He woofed me first and said I was “one hot daddybear.” Never one to turn down some positive male attention, I thanked him kindly and returned the compliment. We banter. There’s innuendo. There are pics. Fire emoji. Sploosh emoji. We’re vibing. It’s fun.
Then, from him: Wait. ur profile says you’re asexual. You are?
Yeah, I reply. I’m ace. Happy to answer any questions about that.
Nah, he replies. No questions. I know what it means.
That was the last thing I got from him. I nudged a few times to pick up where we left off, but I got nothing. I even sent a dick pic, which was met with stony silence.
This wasn’t a one-off outlier interaction. This is the kind of interaction I have with bears all the time. But the apps suck for everyone! you say. Sure, they do. But this interaction has also happened to me multiple times in person, embarrassingly derailing coffee dates or fun party flirtations without the ability to put down my phone and forget it.
My experience being asexual in the bear community has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the community is where the particulars of my body — my belly, my body hair, my beard, my curves, my scents, my tits — make me desirable. Elsewhere in the world, my body is a frustration. The sigh when I claim my seat on a plane. The refusal to pick the train seat next to me and choose to stand. The side eye when I’m eating somewhere alone. But in the bear community, I’m sexy. I’m wanted. I’m “hot.” And bodies like mine are the bodies I desire in return. I want bellies and beards and scents and fur. I want their proximity. The bear community provides not just a space to feel wanted but a space that celebrates the wants I have, as well.
On the other hand, the community has excluded me for another particular of my body — my asexuality. Being ace is seen by other bears as a weird little curiosity (”So, like you’ve never had sex?”), something to pity (”That’s got to be awful. I feel sorry for you and your husband.”), or a spicy challenge that’ll assert their virility (”I bet if we fuck, I’ll change your mind.”). And that’s only assuming there’s any kind of continued exchange. I can’t count the number of times my asexuality has stopped an otherwise cool conversation dead in its tracks. It’s not my actual boundaries that rob me of my desirability. (I’m a sex-favorable ace person, so for me, sex is on the table, or wherever else you might want to have, within negotiation.) It’s my perceived boundaries that make me suddenly undesirable, the possibly limited access to my dick or my hole, the potential inability I’ll have to deliver sexually. In the bear community, my asexuality strips me of the body that makes me otherwise desirable.
I don’t wholly blame the bear community for being an unwelcoming place for me as an asexual person. The asexual community is a small community. Recent studies estimate we make up only 2 percent of the population. And we’re still a deeply underrepresented community in both media representation and accessible community information. Sure, there’s the occasional bit of mainstream rep like Bojack Horseman’s Todd or Isaac on Heartstopper, but these depictions by no means saturate the public consciousness nor do they reflect the full breadth of the community’s experience. So you can be asexual but never know it, never encountering depictions, narratives, resources or actual ace people that can explain what being ace is and what it has to do with you. The matter is complicated when you’re a man. Surveys of the ace community have found that men make up only 14 percent of folks who self-identify as asexual. So if you’re a man, you can discover asexuality, but you can still have trouble seeing asexualityas something that could describe you. It’s much easier for men to see their lack of sexual attraction as a deficiency or a brokenness, something that must be fixed by either medical intervention or just overcompensation.
To be ace in the bear community is to push against things the community holds most dear. Gay male identity centers sex. It’s the place where one’s queer liberation is expressed. The world tells you you’re an aberration if you want to fuck men? Then fucking men is the rebellion. Fucking men asserts yourself into the world as yourself. Asexuality confronts that. Whether you’re ace without sex or ace with sex, asexual experience complicates sex’s centrality to queerness. Can you be a bear if you don’t want to fuck or be seen through the lens of your fuckability? The bear community also centers and celebrates the masculine, being a man. To not have sex, not want sex, or not center sex is culturally seen as betraying masculinity. Men fuck. To have a bear body is to have a body that fucks. Our bear attributes are the signals of maleness. The bear community prizes secondary sex characteristics of men – Hair! Beards! Broadness! Size! – and the more pronounced your visual manliness, the more pronounced your bear-ness. To be ace, then, can be seen as not being a man. If you’re not a man, can you truly be a bear?
The bear community, at its heart, is an expression of queer imagination. Gay men imagined a space where otherwise scorned bodies could be the objects of desire. It’s a queer as hell way of being in the world – “You don’t see my body as desirable? Then I’ll create a world where it is.” I love that way the bear community loves my body. But I want the community to imagine a world that loves my asexual body with the same fierceness.
I don’t want my aceness to erase me in the eyes of a bear I find attractive. We shouldn’t see each other’s worth solely in the sex we can provide each other. My asexuality has opened me to a way of thinking about and performing intimacy in ways that aren’t limited to a bullet-point list of sexual acts. It might not be the fucking you’re used to, but it could be something your body would dig anyway.
My ace body, Black bodies, trans bodies, nonbinary bodies, disabled bodies, all bodies with curves or beards or fur or bellies or scents or tits can be desired. And our diverse bodies can desire beards and bellies and fur in return.
And we can all share a space where our bodies are bear.