I’ve never really thought of myself as a bear. Or any of the so-called ‘gay labels.’ I get it — I have a beard, I’m hairy and in my community those things relegate me to beary status.
And being called “Daddy” is always kinda cool. It always feels like it’s part of a fantasy, and it’s purely sexual. But terms like “bear” and “twink” and “otter” and “fem” and “masc” and all the other ways we use to divide ourselves — those have always felt like something different.
To be honest, sexual classifications have always felt like ways to control and limit ourselves and those around us.
“I don’t fuck fat guys.”
“He was so sexy, then he opened his mouth and a purse fell out.”
“I don’t let lady bears fuck me. I need a real man.”
“I would never date anyone under the age of 40.”
“I’d never date anyone over the age of 32.”
“I need a man to be hairy. I could never fall in love with a hairless man.”
“He was so cute, and we got along so well, but he drives a Honda Civic. I’m not shallow, but if I’m gonna marry you I need you to be making six figures or more. My husband will be a BMW kind of man. Sucks, though, he was pretty perfect besides that.”
These are all things I’ve heard friends say. Taken out of context, they sound impossibly shallow, but these are good men — men who want to fall in love, and men who believe the perfect man (body and soul) is out there waiting for them.
“I won’t compromise on my wants or my needs. Mr. Right is out there, and he’s over six-feet tall, rich, muscular, dark, bearded and he’s a big-dicked top who falls madly in love with me. I just have to be patient.”
On top of the ways we limit ourselves in the real world, most gay dating apps allow us to limit the types of guys we see, classifying us into neat little compartments.
“I feel like there’s no reason to stay in a relationship,” my friend Jonathon once said to me. “The minute you get bored, or you stop fucking, you can just go on Hornet and find someone new. I think the days of long-term relationships are over.”
I recently spent some time with another friend, Big Dipper, a DJ and performer who is gaining a lot of recognition through his music videos, his most recent being Chunkita, which features him running around Los Angeles dressed like a giant banana. The song celebrates guys with big bellies.
“I grew up a chubby kid,” he tells me. “I never had a lot of confidence in my body or my sexuality. I felt like no one would ever want to be with me because I was chubby. I think this had a lot to do with mainstream media’s representation of gay people and how that image was mostly just super-fit, super-clean-shaven, basically Ken doll types. It was so easy to have a negative view of myself because I didn’t see myself reflected anywhere.”
“When did you begin to feel comfortable with your body?” I ask him.
“When I was about 24 and started performing,” he says. “I never set out to be a rapper or a performer, but I kind of fell head-first into the queer performance art / nightlife scene in Chicago and started dancing in clubs and performing. I discovered my physical body is attractive to others when I became comfortable with who I was as an artist. I think we all need to realize that our personalities are attractive to people, too. There are so many people who become more attractive when they start really being true to themselves.”
Big Dipper continues, “So much of the gay community and culture surrounds sex and sexuality. People link their identity to who they fuck because that was the big hurdle in coming out. We’re basically trained to think, ‘Where I put my dick reflects who I am as a person.’ So then we find ourselves creating these spaces where people are sorted out by sexual types. We become isolated from each other, and the more this happens the more it’s hard to have anything in common with someone who doesn’t attend the same events or spaces as you do.”
I have friends who spend all their vacation time and money traveling to different cities and countries for gay events: Bear Week in Barcelona, week-long trips to Provincetown, San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair. They travel with friends. They hang out with other guys who are basically just like them, spending outrageous amounts of money to hang out with the same people they’d hang out with at their local gay bar.
There’s nothing wrong with doing this. Do what makes you happy. But I can’t help but think that there’s a whole world out there that doesn’t fit into our neat little categories — a world of adventure and excitement, a world of strangers, a world full of unknown things. A world we don’t experience when we limit ourselves to only bear Events or only circuit parties.
You turn on the news today and you hear our president and members of Congress talking about the evils of illegal immigration: rapists from Mexico, drug lords, murderers, Muslim terrorists, dangerous pedophile ‘trannies’ preying on your children in bathrooms. It’s human nature to break ourselves down into categories. And it’s also human nature to demonize those who don’t fit into our specific world view or the category we fall into.
“One of the reasons I feel way more comfortable in queer spaces is because everyone has lifted the burden of masking who they are,” Big Dipper said to me. “In those spaces we don’t have to be bears or chubs or twinks. We get to be who we really are.”
Human sexuality is complicated. We should never feel bad because of who we want to fuck. If you want to sleep with a big chubby bear, you should go fuck that bear. If you want to get railed by a sexy twink, get railed on! Enjoy yourself. Sex is fun. It’s meant to be enjoyed.
But the world is really big, and outside of our communities, people want to classify us, call us deviants and predators, label us as sick and as unnatural. Surely we shouldn’t do that to each other.
Maybe we should all try breaking out of our comfort zones a little. Add a new, unconsidered preference on your Hornet account. Go to a city all by yourself and see what the world is like outside of your constructs. Try bottoming for that sexy fem boy, or give it up to the fat kid, or turn that muscle bear into a sub. Make out with someone of a race you’ve never made out with before.
There’s a whole world out there. Why limit ourselves to basic gay labels?
Have you ever been forced into gay labels? Let us know.
Jeff Leavell is a writer living between Los Angeles and Berlin. He specializes in queer social commentary, relationships, sexuality, art and Nightlife. His novel Accidental Warlocks will be released by Lethe Press in May 2018. You can find him on his website or on Instagram.
This article was originally published on Sept. 21, 2019
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