The End Of Bear Week

Today is the last day of Bear Week in Provincetown. Alas, I came down with bronchitis the past couple of Whitman days so missed some of the festivities. In case you want a primer on what bear culture is, here's a link to my 2003 Salon essay, which seems to have become something of a manifesto for this movement. This year's was about double last year's attendance. Given how good a time most people seem to have had, I predict an even bigger turnout in the future.

What's it about? In part a celebration of mature masculinity - untweaked, unshaven, full-bellied masculinity. Simultaneously, it's an attempt to subvert a little of that masculinity. The atmosphere is almost aggressively gentle, good-humored, accepting, and friendly. These are not men trying to impress anyone, or to throw their considerable weight around. Mostly over forty, these men are not traumatized by having a gut or some flab. They're not afraid that back-hair tumbles over their collar. They're not afraid to embrace their sexual orientation as fully as their gender. They are what happens, I think, when an entire generation of gay men reach maturity having always been out of the closet in large numbers, already over much of the psychological damage of past generations, and eager to move forward, together, and have some fun.

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I remain convinced that this is the cultural future of mainstream gay male America. In its Whitmanesque embrace of fraternity, in it disavowal of body-fascism, in its democratic spirit and sense of play, it's also something straight America could learn from. Many straight men, for example, lack good friendship networks and an image of masculinity that isn't laced with violence, machismo or sexual ego. Bears are an antidote to that. Maybe straight guys will notice.

(Illustration: Walt Whitman, bear icon.)