(GayWebSource.com – Gay News & Press Network) – Posted by SeasonsofPride.com
The Wired Network: Bears in the 1990s
(Part Two of a three-part essay)
Les Wright © 2007
As a collective gay identity, bears emerged in the 1980s in many places, but most evidently in San Francisco. If the 1980s were the halcyon pioneering days for bears, and San Francisco once again the gold rush capital of this ursine Wild West, then the 1990s were the era of settlers, homesteading the new community, pushing the cyber frontiers, consolidating loose social groups into more formal ones, bringing order and stability to the new community. In a repeat of familiar history, the subsequent decade of the 2000s would see the meteoric rise of the bear community catapult to center stage, closing the bear frontier forever.
The Wired Network Bears in the 1990s
The 1990s were the decade of Generation X, and Gen-X bears quickly tamed the frontier community, molding it in new ways. From the start an unusual number of computer-savvy bears were working in high-tech industries. Gen X bears, having grown up with computers and the Internet, profoundly shaped the bear community, which quickly emerged as the first gay community created by and existing to a significant degree on the Internet. Bear web sites, bear hook-up sites, bear pornography, bear chat rooms proliferated in the 1990s.
Parallel to the older leather community, first-wave, AIDS-era bears emerged as an alternative for “gay men over thirty-five.” It came as a surprise when the bear community suddenly found itself attracting twenty-something gay men to their ranks. Amazingly, some Gen X bears came out directly as (gay) bears, bypassing the two-step coming out process of the first-wave bears, first as gay, and then as a bear.
In the 1990s, networking became a primary social activity. The bear community grew by leaps and bounds, both at the local level and the global level simultaneously, and bear identity spread across the globe. Bear clubs soon blossomed by the hundreds in the US, and sprang up all over the world. Early bear clubs had often been informal, loose social organizations. In the 1990s they became increasingly formal in structure, holding business meetings, sometimes organizing as charitable organizations. Bear contests became increasingly serious affairs, and a club circuit, comparable to the leather community’s arose.
In San Francisco the International Bear Rendezvous replaced the incipient International Bear Expo. The Bears of San Francisco formed formally as a charitable organization. The first bear weekends, such as the annual Orlando Bear Bust, and early bear clubs such a those in Boston and Denver, would soon be networking, competing, or giving way to the new burgeoning international bear scene. A commercial “bear circuit” quickly ensued, offering a bears’ alternative, while also paralleling the international “circuit boy” scene.
During the 1990s the bear community embodied a new social frontier the educated-and-underachieving mixed with dot-com boomers, burly lumberjacks flocked to the gym while girth-and-mirth bears held their own. 1980s print publications (Bear) and listserves (BML) would give way to ever more web-based venues, like Bear 411. During the 1990s the idea of bears as inclusive, independent, or non-conformist spirits faded substantially, as a new bear conformity began to set in.
Les Wright founded the Bear History Project in 1994. From that came The Bear Book (1997), Bear Book II (2000), four Bear Icons art exhibitions in the Northeast (1999-2002), the Nashoba Institute (501©3 nonprofit), and the online cultural journal of “non-hegemonic masculinities” Verisimilitude. Cornell University provides permanent repository for the BHP archives.
A founding member of the SFBA GLBT Historical Society, he taught humanities for 12 years at Boston-area College. In the 1970s he was involved with gay left activism in Germany, lived through the AIDS epidemic in the Castro during the 1980s and 1990s. He left Boston to return to San Francisco in 2005.
Currently he is a freelance writer, photographer, and independent scholar. Current goals include: re-launching the BHP (http://www.bearhistory.com), Verisimilitude, re-instating the Homo Macho art series, and curating the “History of Homo-Masculinities.” He is training to become a grant writer.
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