Can ‘Bear’ Be a Gender?

Last week, Facebook did something which helped to seriously dilute the gender binary: now, up to 56 options for one’s publicly-identified gender are available on all Facebook profiles. Personally, I’ve never seen so many gender options in one space, and reading WaPo’s rundown of a few samples helped in some ways and frustrated in others (i.e., so many overlapping definitions!). Slate has the full list.

The title of this post is something that I’ve been thinking about since I read the full list. The “bear subculture” tends to include the following:

[…]

a large, hairy man who projects an image of rugged masculinity. Bears are one of many LGBT communities with events, codes, and a culture-specific identity.[…]

Some Bears place importance on presenting a hypermasculine image and may shun interaction with, and even disdain, men who exhibit effeminacy.The Bear concept can function as an identity, an affiliation, and there is ongoing debate in Bear communities about what constitutes a Bear, however a consensus exists that inclusion is an important part of the Bear community.

Reading this is of interest to me because of how it shows a partition in the “masculinities” among those who manifest “masculinity” in the “bear” body type vs. a more heteronormative, differently-manifested masculinity.

To me, a bear in the above sense is different in its manifestation of masculinity, setting oneself apart from a more pervasive masculinity by narrowing its focus upon the “bearish” body type, aesthetic bearish “taste” and bearish thresholds of gender performance (a lot of which derives from “lower-class” cultural practices of “masculine” performance). Bearish gender performance is particularly distinctive because, unlike the majority of the trans/intergender options listed on Facebook, “bear” identity manifests almost squarely from within the masculine span of the gender spectrum.

So different do I think of the bear “subculture” from the more heteronormative ideals of masculinity that I think “bear” should be its own gender identity option.

Yes, one should be able to identify as a “bear” gender on Facebook.

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