Bear in LGBT communities is a metaphorical use to the animal of the same name with similar notable features. These features include the animal's hairiness, its solid proportions, and also its perceived masculine power. The bear is both fat and powerful, and the reconciliation of these two qualities is at the heart of the Bear concept's appeal.
It is also no coincidence that Bears are typically very similar in appearance to the ideal of the North American lumberjack. Lumberjacks often encounter bears and the two have always been associated with each other. A romantic conflation of the bear and the lumberjack image provides the Bear trope its metaphorical appeal. Lumberjacks were romanticised and fetishised in gay culture long before the arrival of the Bear concept, and the Bear concept retains strong traces of this older ideal. Lumberjacks appealed to gay men at aesthetic levels but also for reason of their homosociality, the fact that they were working class, and for the fact that their isolation from urban society (and hence from mainstream gay culture) opened up a fantasy of both secrecy and liberation, within an idyllic, rural, North American setting.
The self-identification of gay men as Bears originated in San Francisco in the 1980s as an outgrowth of the gay biker and then later the leather and "girth and mirth" communities. It was created by men who felt that mainstream gay culture was unwelcoming to men who did not fit a particular "twink" body norm (hairless and young). Also, many gay men in rural America never identified with the stereotypical urban gay lifestyle, and went searching for an alternative which more closely resembled the idealised blue collar American male image.
Richard Bulger, publisher, and his partner, Chris Nelson (photographer), started Bear Magazine—originally a photocopied flyer—from their apartment in San Francisco in 1984. Over a 5-year period, the magazine grew to an internationally distributed high-gloss format, but still intentionally kept the stark look of Chris's black and white photography. Their company, Brush Creek Media Inc., obtained a trademark on the name "Bear" for a men's magazine in 1991. Bearded, blue-collar, rural, and working-class men were idolized in the magazine.
Richard's friend Rick Redewill, who had founded San Francisco's "Lone Star Saloon" bought full-page ads in every issue of Bear; they soon found themselves with a huge success nationally, especially among rural gay Americans, who would travel to San Francisco just to find a unique "blue collar" gay bar, filled with a masculine-identified crowd who were radically different than the stereotypical gay bar image.
1990s and 2000sEdit
The Lone Star became "ground zero" for the incubation of the Bear Community between 1990 and 1993. Unlike other gay clubs where dance music was the norm, the Lone Star played rock music for the appreciation of a more masculine-identifying customer base.
Much of the Lone Star staff, including its owner Redewill, became victims of the AIDS devastation which swept San Francisco. The bar was taken over by new owners in 1993. Richard Bulger sold Brush Creek Media Inc. to Bear-Dog Hoffman in 1996 and retired to a home in the Sierra. Brush Creek Media Inc. continued to move ahead, expanding into several special-interest gay magazines and video series. Brush Creek Media Inc. ceased operation in 2002. Several years later, Bear Omnimedia LLC became the new publisher of Bear Magazine in 2008.
- In 1992, Bear Magazine, under pressure from its worldwide distributor, threatened trademark infringement lawsuits against several smaller publications which included the word "Bear" in their title. This caused a good deal of animosity between the smaller, often locally-oriented and local-bear-group operated-publications, and the internationally distributed "Bear." As a side note, the current BEAR trademark only applies to print, electronic media and video.
- In 2002 Brush Creek Media Inc. abruptly closed its doors when the IRS seized its inventory. Bear Magazine was one of the casualties and went into hibernation after issue #64. 100% BEEF Magazine was launched soon thereafter by former employees of Brush Creek Media Inc., including two former editors and many of the writers, photographers and artists. 100% BEEF Magazine continues in publication and Bear Magazine now lives again due to its new publisher, Bear Omnimedia LLC.