Where the Bears Aren’t

Earlier this week GLAAD released its annual Where We Are on TV report in which they track the presence of LGBT characters on television.  Diversity in the media is important because when you don’t see yourself anywhere you come to think of yourself as invisible and invisible = worthless.

Growing up in New Zealand in the 1970s the first gay man I ever saw on television was Marty Morrison, a minor recurring character on Barney Miller.  Yes, I’m that old.  Things have certainly improved since then.  But there is still a ways to go.

GLAAD focuses on sexual orientation, gender identity, and race/ethnicity.  But that’s not all the diversity that matters.  We all have our pet causes and mine is the lack of gay men of size in the media.  Won’t someone think of the bears?

It’s no surprise there are hardly any husky gay men on television.  There are hardly any husky men on television, and those that exist are typically relegated to supporting roles, meaning gay men are an underrepresented subset of an underrepresented group.   Off the top of my head we currently only have Cameron on Modern Family, Thor on Nurse Jackie and Brett on Undateable.

Undateable?  This is my exact definition of “dateable”.

Undateable?  This is my exact definition of “dateable”.

There’s a reason we see so few bears.  Gay men are expected to conform to many of the expectations placed on women – namely the “ideal” is that we should be slender with zero per cent body fat and no body hair.

People like to assume all gay men are hairless and thin because then we don’t challenge their notions of masculinity.  At its source this assumption is fuelled by homophobia.  In this way we become not “male” but “gay” which, as we saw above, mirrors what it means to be “female”.  Burly hairy men challenge that assumption.  Bears make homophobes question themselves and no hater likes their carefully constructed lie challenged.

It’s not just TV that suffers from a scarcity of bears, of course, and we can’t burden homophobia with all the blame.  How many posts do you click through on Advocate or Queerty only to view photo after photo of trim, young, relatively hairless men?  Don’t they profess to appeal to a general gay audience?  If so why is the sterotype their default setting?

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with showing us trim, young and hairless men.  That’s what sells.  Or at least we’re told that’s what sells.  I’ve never understood who made up the rules about “attractiveness”.  The conspiracy theorist in me believes that people are shown only young thin men ergo they receive the message that young and thin is hot ergo they demand that type in the media, thus completing the self-fulfilling circle.

I know I can see bears in specialist audience media (shout outs to two of my current favorites – Where the Bears Are and Playbear!).  But we’re owed at least one or two more burly bucks in the general media.  We’re certainly owed them in the general-audience gay media.  The stereotype of gay men as thin and hairless has its basis in homophobia – refusing to be slaves to that stereotype is, therefore, an act of defiance.  It’s time to let the bears roar.

In ONE MILLION DOMS Dominic Sheehan comments about life and political stuff.  Yes, the title is a parody of One Million Moms.  No, he is not a bear.  Yes, he knows there are some hairy men in the media but he contends they’re mostly otters or wolves, not bears.  Yes, there is a difference.  Yes, he’s an expert in this.  Yes, that came from experience with bears – lots of experience.

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