30 votes

I find myself intimidated by the Bear community

Disclaimer: This post is probably overly-long and a little all over the place. It’s just as much me writing things out to get a sense of where I am and how I feel about everything as it is asking a question to a real audience. For anyone who genuinely wants to take the time to read it, hopefully not read too into it, and provide any insights – thank you. I'm not sure how large the LGBT community on Tildes might actually be, I will probably end up x-posting this to Reddit despite the fact that I’ll most likely end up regretting that decision

I'm a late-thirties, gay, cis gendered, masculine presenting (for lack of a better term), otter (beard, harry, smaller frame so not considered a bear). For almost all of my life I've lived in smaller locals that lacked any real gay scene and so I have almost entirely lived apart from the larger gay world and community. To a large extent I'm grateful for this, I think in my younger years the focus on partying and sex would have been disastrous for me and now my friend groups are diverse with straight males and females and a few gay friends. However, a large part of me feels like I've missed out on something and continue to miss out on something.

In the past year or so I've developed a gay Instagram profile that is now very connected to the gay bear community in my country and a few neighboring ones. I’ve also been in a larger city for a few years now and have a real gay community that I could connect with if I wanted to. Obviously, I'm primarily attracted to more bear type men and I've found that through Instagram I'm seeing that a lot of guys in the community remind me of myself in manner of interests and style. I also see this as a chance to make some friends who would actually see me and understand me, something that I think gets a little lost with my non-gay friends and my gay friends who are not like me in other ways

Huge disclaimer: I'm viewing all of this through the lens of Instagram which makes my interpretations of what I'm seeing already dubious - the app is largely triggering FOMO and a touch of envy in me, I fully understand that.

There was a bear dance night in my city a few weeks ago and many guys from different regions came through to celebrate and find community. I watched it all distantly through Instagram posts and stories and through all my voyeurism I found myself extremely tempted to go to the party but remained frozen in intimidation by a community that I really don't understand.

My worries summed up:

  • We’re not one of the bigger bear events around so it’s clear from their posts that these guys all know each other and probably hang out multiple times a year. Approaching that as a complete outsider is already anxiety inducing to me

  • Even though I logically know that the only way to make friends is to put yourself out there, I’ve at times faced rejection and exclusion via the apps and just fear that this would be the same thing but in real life. Despite my attempts to date my way into the community, I haven’t had a lot of success breaking through. (Please don’t take this to mean that I’ve fully fetishized bears, I don’t limit my relationships to something so narrow at all)

  • One of my hangups is the fact that I myself am not a bear. My understanding is that Otters and “masc” guys are often very welcome in the bear community, which I am, but not actually being one of them makes me question my place there. I am aware how terrible this is as it perpetuates the gay culture of largely basing worth on physical characteristics and the fact that bear does not equal masculine. I hate to bring up that last part but I just want to be descriptive

  • I would be loath to enter into a community whose identity hangs on partying. I see on Instagram that a lot of groups of bear friends do other activities than drinking but they also do a fair share of bar-going and partying. If these bear events would end up turning out like the circuit party culture, then I have no real interest. I do like to occasionally go out drinking with friends but have no intention of maintaining a party lifestyle. In a similar vein, I wouldn’t want to enter into a community that is primarily sex-based either and I do get those vibes from these groups and parties sometimes as well

  • My intentions for wanting to participate are unclear. I see these guys building what seem like genuine friendships with each other and I do genuinely want that but at the same time it would be dishonest for me not to admit that there is a sexual component to this and a desire for validation from a group of men who I find attractive

  • Is my understanding of this community completely invalid? Maybe the impressions I’m gaining of the community are completely unrealistic and I should completely rethink the underlying question of this entire post – would I find value in being a member of the bear world?

It’s clear to me that in the end my Instagram habit, particularly my “bear” profile, is triggering some anxieties and insecurities in me that I’ve largely managed to concur in real life. I already have caring friends and have had a rich dating and relationship life without being part of any real gay community and so my final question to myself is whether I should just delete the IG profile and abandon any thoughts of going to gay parties – I may just be looking to fill a hole in myself that my real friends and love life should be enough for.

9 comments

  1. [5]
    smoontjes
    Link
    I have little advice to give but just wanted to comment that this is so relatable - just replace "bear community" with "lesbian community". All the way down to the fear that the focus is on...

    I have little advice to give but just wanted to comment that this is so relatable - just replace "bear community" with "lesbian community". All the way down to the fear that the focus is on partying, drinking, and sex. I have been out for years, almost all my friends are even queer, but I am still anxious about participating in the local community. So yeah, you have my empathy.

    For what it's worth, it sounds to me like your problem is more about anxiety and less to do with the specific community? And it also seems to me that you are overthinking it a lot (I would know, because I do the same thing)

    23 votes
    1. [4]
      TubulerRosa
      Link Parent
      Yeah I definitely know I’m overthinking, I do tend to get in my own head a lot. My problem is more anxiety than anything else, I’ll grant you that. I used to have bad social anxiety but I don’t...

      Yeah I definitely know I’m overthinking, I do tend to get in my own head a lot. My problem is more anxiety than anything else, I’ll grant you that. I used to have bad social anxiety but I don’t anymore, I used to be really insecure and afraid of meeting new people but I don’t anymore, but for some reason thinking about going to meet these people is triggering all that again for me.

      I guess I just feel like I won’t fit in with a queer community like that because I was never properly exposed to it. I show up to one of these events and what? Announce that I’m here to see all the bears? It’s just seems so weird to me. I could literally go to a meetup for anything where I don’t know the people and start getting to know the others but when the purpose is to meet other men who look a certain way? I don’t even know where to begin and it makes me feel so lost

      But thank you, I’m glad that I’m not the only one and that these fears can even extend to our lesbian sisters

      8 votes
      1. [2]
        smoontjes
        Link Parent
        Well, maybe I do still have some advice - just thought I didn't as I'm not a bear. But I can definitely speak about social anxiety, and the key to overthinking things is to stop thinking. Like...

        Well, maybe I do still have some advice - just thought I didn't as I'm not a bear. But I can definitely speak about social anxiety, and the key to overthinking things is to stop thinking.

        Like @Akir says, just go.

        It sounds like such a stupid thing to say but it has helped me in the past, so maybe it will help you too? Now I still have many days where I can't leave my apartment, even ones where I won't open the curtains because I feel so anxious that I have to shut out the world or I can't get my mind to relax. But on better days, I try to literally ignore my thoughts and do things anyway, because I know my brain is lying to me and my the trains of thought I have are not representative of reality - it sounds like you know this too. So exposure therapy is the best way to work on social anxiety. You really have to rip the bandaid off, get it over with, get out there - there's a first time for everything, and the first time is going to by far be the most anxiety inducing one.

        I bet going to an event in the bear community for the first time gives you the same level of anxiety as the first day of school, a new semester, or a new job - where you'd also meet a ton of new people all at once. But your brain has somehow reinforced this idea in your head that the bear community is to be scared of even though it's not - but I remember from therapy and psychoeducation that anxiety makes us scared of things equal to the fight or flight response on a physical level, so we (you and I) end up in avoidance behavior to an large extent.

        I guess I just feel like I won’t fit in with a queer community like that because I was never properly exposed to it. I show up to one of these events and what? Announce that I’m here to see all the bears?

        Maybe not the last part, but yes, you could literally say something like that. There's nothing wrong with being relatively open about feeling nervous as it's your first time at a queer event - everybody there is going to be understanding of it, because they too had their first time when coming out. And you also won't be the only one who grew up in places without a gay scene. Don't be brutally honest about it of course, and maybe phrase it in different ways, but you definitely could say things along the lines of what you did in your post above: "almost all of my life I've lived in smaller locals that lacked any real gay scene". It's intimidating when you don't know a single soul, yes, but everybody is going to be able to relate to the things you say, how you feel about it, and probably understand it too! And since it sounds like you have a real social media presence, maybe a simple post would suffice? I bet someone would be very willing to take you under their wing if you just commented "never been to [bar/whatever], looks fun! Anyone wanna show me around?"

        and yes I know this entire comment is deeply ironic because I wouldn't be able to take my own advice lol - it is so much easier said than done

        15 votes
        1. TubulerRosa
          Link Parent
          Thank you. That was an invaluable post, you've made me see it from a different angle and I feel a lot more confident about it

          Thank you. That was an invaluable post, you've made me see it from a different angle and I feel a lot more confident about it

          9 votes
      2. Gaywallet
        Link Parent
        You and @smoontjes are both experiencing imposter syndrome. Your anxiety is making you question whether the space is for you, and you are hesitant to join the space because you are worried you are...

        I guess I just feel like I won’t fit in with a queer community like that because I was never properly exposed to it

        You and @smoontjes are both experiencing imposter syndrome. Your anxiety is making you question whether the space is for you, and you are hesitant to join the space because you are worried you are going to disrupt things. There are absolutely people who are going to enter these spaces and disrupt from time to time, but not a single one of them is worried about disrupting things. The forethought and anxiety you have because you wish to respect the space is more than any organizer could ask for.

        These spaces are almost always designed with some amount of inclusion in mind. After all, being queer is an extremely diverse thing! Even when you're thinking about two bears at a bear party, they probably have vastly different backgrounds, they can have intersectional identities (different race different ethnicity different culture hell even different sexuality) that they bring with them, and most of these spaces are explicitly inclusive for a reason - bears have friends and they might want to bring their friends along to the thing they enjoy!

        I know a lot of it is both of your anxieties getting in the way, but I would highly encourage both of you to challenge your assumptions about these communities. I think you'd be surprised at how diverse queer spaces can be, and how even among a group that seems like a lot of partiers there will be plenty of folks who aren't, and even among those who do party- instagram is just a slice of one's life, not it's entirety. I can't tell you how many people have been intimidated by my instagram or my dating profiles (which often feature a lot of event photos because I'm wearing the most interesting outfits there) but the reality is that I'm a nerd and the bulk of my time is spent at home or in smaller settings with others. Challenge your assumptions and go. Even if you validate your assumptions for that night go again to a different event and see if that assumption continues to hold - not everyone can make it to every event every night, and you deserve to experience what the community has to offer.

        5 votes
  2. Akir
    Link
    Just go. Literally the only thing stopping you is yourself. The party is open-invitation, is it not? Unless you're going there to be an ass, you will be perfectly fine. Don't worry about what the...

    Just go.

    Literally the only thing stopping you is yourself. The party is open-invitation, is it not? Unless you're going there to be an ass, you will be perfectly fine. Don't worry about what the people will be like; find out for yourself instead. I can guarantee you that you won't be the only one who doesn't know everyone. And if it turns out that one of your imagined turn-offs is true, then you won't be trapped there - you can just leave if you don't like it!

    Go out. Have fun. Try to make some new friends. If you fail, then the only thing you are out of is a few bucks and a bit of sleep.


    One other thing to consider; you don't need to be part of the bear community. It's really not a super tight-knit group to begin with; it's really more of a friend network (though of course, some of those friend groups may indeed be tight-knit). Beyond that, social media tends to create the impression of community that doesn't accurately portray what it's like. The idea you have in your head may not even be real. Just try and focus on what you need.

    17 votes
  3. FishFingus
    Link
    Aww. I remember my first munch (I only went to two, that I can recall). Super casual, but I still felt this bizarrely strong anxiety and impostor syndrome that was almost enough to make me get up...

    Aww. I remember my first munch (I only went to two, that I can recall). Super casual, but I still felt this bizarrely strong anxiety and impostor syndrome that was almost enough to make me get up and leave before anyone else had really arrived. It was really just a group chat and meal.

    Don't make the mistake of letting your nerves get the better of you, deleting everything and running. I bet if you go, you'll at least have a fun time and meet some people you can just hug or have a casual chat with, with no great expectation of crazy partying or drinking - certainly not everybody goes for that.

    11 votes
  4. meme
    Link
    Another vote for "just go". If you're afraid of rejection, it might help to have your first time goal being merely showing up. It's okay to be a wallflower the first time! Don't put pressure on...

    Another vote for "just go". If you're afraid of rejection, it might help to have your first time goal being merely showing up. It's okay to be a wallflower the first time! Don't put pressure on yourself to become "popular" or make friends, just check it out and get a feel for it. I'm also LGBT (on the lesbian side) and these types of gatherings are great even if you mostly keep to yourself. It's so affirming to be in a sea of bodies that are masc gay men. (Or in my case, androgynous lesbians).

    7 votes
  5. kfwyre
    Link
    Lots of other good advice in the topic, but I’ll also add that it’s not uncommon to be intimidated by people we are attracted to. When I was growing up closeted, I was intimidated by a lot of...

    Lots of other good advice in the topic, but I’ll also add that it’s not uncommon to be intimidated by people we are attracted to.

    When I was growing up closeted, I was intimidated by a lot of guys. My brain went “hey, most people here are homophobic, and that guy can beat you up, so tread lightly, yeah?” I thought that was the extent of it. The intimidation I felt seemed justified.

    But then I started going to queer affirming places with gay guys, and I still felt a lot of intimidation. “That guy could beat you up…” my brain thought (as usual) ignoring the fact that we were in a gay bar and the guy in question was wearing, say, a Kylie Minogue tank top.

    Turns out that I wasn’t just intimidated by guys because I feared them: I was also intimidated because I was attracted to them. It was hard for me to disentangle that though, and it’s worth noting here that there isn’t a complete overlap between the two categories (there are definitely guys who scare me who I’m not attracted to at all, and there are some I’m into that aren’t intimidating). For the bulk of guys though, there is a bit of an intimidation/interest overlap.

    Why am I saying this? Because that very well might be the root of the issue. Bears can be intimidating! They’re big, husky, manly dudes! And for people like us who find that attractive? Uhhhhh….. I’ll just go stand in the corner and not talk to anyone.

    But I’ll say this, as a bearish guy who is married to a definite bear: they can also be funny and kind and loving and cute and completely approachable. So I’m in agreement with the other people in this topic: try going! Maybe you’ll meet one of the nice ones (and most of them are probably nice ones).

    3 votes