It’s Sunday morning, I’m in bed and I find myself sifting through a dozen message requests on instagram - each of them a variation of the last. They read ‘woof’ ‘grrr’- it seems the fat liberation content I’ve been posting (me topless, living life and derailing the idea that I am fat and dying, fat and failure, fat and sad is untrue) has gained the attention of people who have the bear emoji in their profile, next to the rainbow flag emoji, often followed by a proclamation of their masc-ness, that they are into gaming or at worst with a list of bear festivals they’ll be visiting that year.
I’ve only recently started posting my body in a more brave manner since deciding to make Fat Blokes. Unlike a lot of the so-called ‘body positive’ cult on instagram I don’t believe that positivity is or can be a constant state, that the key to body utopia can be achieved with a scented candle and a bubble bath. Why? Well for less privileged or for non-typical bodies there is far too much shit going on, too many systems at play that a dose of capitalism cannot sort you out.
As a result of finding, retaining, losing and regaining this courage to talk about fatness in a public space like instagram I’ve gained the attention of some of the bear community - of course this is nice, I’m not complaining, most people would like to be told in a non-aggressive-here's-an-unsolicited-dick-pic way that they are fit or attractive. However, with this attention has come some sort of co-opting and I want to say loudly that I am not a fucking bear nor cub (although over 30 now so practically dead in gay years).
I guess I feel I need to say this aloud because I’m perplexed why anyone would think I would want to be apart of or contribute to a culture that often solely exists in gender exclusive spaces. When I say gender exclusive I’m talking about the ‘men only’ policies these space hold dear. For the record I’m not talking about a broad idea of masculinity or self identification of maleness. They only want cis men taking up space in their sweaty inaccessible dungeons. Should I get past the door staff as passing as male enough for these spaces why would I want to leave my fat sisters, femmes and trans* and NB siblings outside?
Recently a news story in the community about a prolific bear space allegedly denied entry to a person in heels because it wasn’t their policy to let anyone in womens clothes in. Now, if this had happened in mainstream gay club I’m pretty sure it would have broken the gay press and probably ended up on page 18 of the Metro. However, a few Facebook rants later everything is back to normal. The club in question a major advertiser with the gay rags and so nothing is said and everyone goes back to sipping pints from plastic cups and awkward handshakes in the dark room.
Perhaps what we need to ‘out’ about fat gay male culture in the UK is that it is as phobic, if not more than the cultures it is apparently countering. Not only does it bring the male gaze centre stage and treat bodies as currency it also create super problematic power dynamics and hierarchies meaning younger cubs must shag their way into social circles to be accepted. To be initiated or enrolled with the upper echelons you must create public pornographic content to sit on tumblr and make a name for yourself.
It doesn't stop there - there’s a uniform to the culture and that's one that is often about working class appropriation. The elders love nothing more than a plaid shirt, baseball cap, light washed denim - essentially donning the drag of an american blue collar worker when really they were brought up in the home counties with vases.
There is also a replication of cis masculinities in these space - both het and gay. Bear space is fuelled by performed masculinity - everyone seemingly talks in a baritone gruffness, everyone drinks pints and no one dares show an iota of camp or femme - although this rule is relaxed for 3m 13 seconds of Carly Rae Jepsen's ‘Call Me Maybe’. This behavior sits comfortably alongside what we’ve become accustomed to be identified as gay masculine cultures - bitchy, scrutinising, nasty, bullying or ‘pack play’ - when the gang bully the runt or those with a perceived less sexual or social capital.
My black and brown friends talk about the constant invisibility they experience when they step into bear space, how they are often deemed to have no sexual capital in these spaces and so, like women over 40 in mainstream cultures become invisible, not there, ignored - even trying to get served at the bar is difficult.
With all this internalised fat phobia, prolific racism, class appropriation and pseudo masculinity the bear scene is essentially the Morrissey of fat cultures.
So, with all this bullshit floating around, with all of its obvious problems, for all of the blog like this that have been written, the discourse, the conversations, the explanations about how fucked it is why does nothing ever change? Well because they don’t want it to change - why rock the boat when you are getting everything you need from it. The white, cis, gayers who are hairy in the right places with their bear paw tattoos don’t need it to change because the culture is for them - they are the hegemony.
Perhaps sexual capital is also a big reason why people put up with the bullshit because where else will a fat body be adored?
There’s there's a correlation here between bear culture and Drag Race which I think aids its survival - those of you who take part in the culture know the culture is fucked, exclusionary and led by folk that have pretty shitty attitudes towards non-cis-men but still you contribute to it. Still you fund it, aid its visibility and longevity with pithy comebacks like “...but it's really important it still exists” - but for who? Who is this culture important for?
I also think fat gay cis white culture trades on its oppression - because its fat, because it's gay it uses these to barter its way out of being called out on being body fascist, gender exclusionary and racist - the list goes on!
Time is up fatties - it’s time we sat down and had a little chat about intersectionality, inclusion and how we might start again.