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In my Introduction to Bears on Bears in 2001 I wrote, “I am not a bear. I am Homo sapiens, of course — a thickly hairy-chested, usually full-bearded, increasingly middle-age-paunched, and balding gay man.”
Six years greyer, furrier, paunchier, and balder, I’m still questioning my identity as a Bear, while bearing witness to the strange continuing emergence of Bear subculture just as it continues infiltrating the higher strata of mainstream pop culture.
The existential question “Am I a Bear?” has always reflected a questioning of masculine identity by men like myself, who in answering that affirmatively, construct a intensely creative male body image. As bears, we have define ourselves as distinct from gay. We invented a new vocubulary and an eroticized bear code, composed music and photography and artwork which celebrated the bear body, wrote articles and novels which reinforced our sense of community, and made film pilots and movie subplots that affirmed bear bodies.
We watched an ever-growing network of bear clubs and businesses and websites and communities and circuit events around the world until it reached the golden shore of mainstream identity — during filmmaker (Clerks, Dogma) and author Kevin Smith’s Sept. 27th appearance on David Letterman.
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Forming bear identity was to me organic to my presence in the first community of bears and bikers in which I lived and loved in late 1980s San Francisco. While working at the Lone Star Saloon, for six months I found myself in a turbulent romance with Chris Nelson, the first photographer for Bear magazine.
While we lived together in the apartment next to the former Bear magazine offices, Chris introduced me to bears, pornography, and drugs, and in turn I introduced him to yoga and Buddhist philosophy.
Chris’s copies of his 1991 book of erotic bear photography, The Bear Cult, arrived while I was living with Chris, and unlike me, he was shy as an author, content to have a shelf lined with 75 copies of his bright yellow books and loathe to do anything for publicity.
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Ron Suresha is the author of Bears on Bears: Interviews and Discussions, Bear Lust, and Bearotica.