Listen, if you're under the impression that the gay bear is a furry woodland creature with a fondness for honey, salmon, and same-sex members of its own species, you are totally mistaken. Go buy tickets to the new documentary Bear Nation, which will screen tonight as part of the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. Produced by Kevin Smith and directed by Malcolm Ingram, this doc will teach you tons of stuff on the subject, such as (1) bears are actually human; (2) bears don't always live in the woods, they often live in the city; and (3) bears aren't necessarily gay.
Or if you're too lazy to go see a movie, just browse the following brief interview with Bear Nation director Ingram. Let him be your guide.
New Times: What exactly is a bear?
Malcolm Ingram: It's kind of a combination of masculinity, hair, and girth.
When you say masculinity, does that mean hyper-masculinity?
The overt, heightened masculinity is more of a leather thing where basically it's masculinity as drag. I think the bear movement is about a more organic masculinity. It's more about... Uh, I don't wanna sound too hippie-ish. But it's more about getting in touch with your inner male.
The whole scene is pretty complex. Could you describe some of the subcategories of bear?
There's cubs, otter, wolfs... It gets kind of ridiculous. It turns into a real farmyard. Just like I don't like the qualifiers of gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, da-da-la... I mean, why do we have to subcategorize things? I think the more time we spend labeling things, the more time we spend putting up fences.
I saw that you appeared with your producer, Kevin Smith, on the cover of A Bear's Life magazine. I guess you identify as a bear.
Oh God, yeah. If it gets me laid... Really, the wonderful thing about the whole bear thing is that it creates a place for people without a place. You know, when I came out of the closet, I had no idea where I fit in. It was all very Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, very metrosexual, and I'm a big, fat, dorky dude who dresses poorly. So I didn't fit into the whole gay world whatsoever until I found the bear community. It helped me come out because it gave me a club that I wanted to belong to.
Does a guy have to be gay to be a bear?
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No. You know, people try to attach rules to everything. Essentially, this is a subculture of a subculture. And this thing means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. My attitude is, like, "You are what you are." If you identify as a bear, then you're a bear. It's not for me to tell you that you're not a bear. If that's the label you feel comfortable with, then wear it and wear it proud. Like, I'm really good friends with Kevin Smith. He's a heterosexual bear. Although, I think he's about a six-pack away from sucking a dick.
So Kevin Smith loves being a bear?
I think everybody likes being overtly sexualized. It's very flattering. And he's mature enough and emotionally developed enough to realize that there's nothing bad about someone being attracted to you. The first time Kevin ever went to a bear event was San Francisco's International Bear Rendezvous. We did a podcast there, a Q&A thing. And he was in a room of, like, 700 bears and I don't think he's ever felt that kind of energy in his life. I mean he was objectified by a whole group of people. It was kind of his biggest point of acceptance. Ironically, two hours later, he got kicked off a plane for being too fat to fly.