Randy Stern: Bear Cliqueatude

Recently on the Four Lakes Bears message board, an anonymous poster made an observation that the Bear Coffees on Thursdays in Madison, Wisconsin tended to be cliquish. He claimed he was an outsider and felt like he would not be able to participate because of the regulars who show up. He even said that the weekly coffees are too frequent to be held. Some people say that there is rampant cliquishness in the Bear Community. Cliquishness online. Cliquishness offline. Whether it’s regional, generational or based on a common interest of some sort, there is a perception of cliquishness in this community.

Where did this perception come from? A dictionary definition of a clique reads as “a small exclusive group of friends or associates.” From being a subcommunity within a distinct cultural group, the definition has a double meaning. The smaller the subset of any culture, the closer-knit the community end up being. However, based on various observations by a cross-section of the bear community, the definition of cliquishness seems to be played out in the form of a bear club.

Some of cliquishness in the bear community, or perhaps in the eyes of various observers most of it, stems from the fact that most bear clubs meet at a bar. Bear clubs got their start years ago by meeting at bars as it was the only means for bearfolk to hang out. “Basically,” Tony Bossaller, co-founder of the new club Bears of St. Louis, explains, “by being at a bar, only bar-folk tend to participate, thus making the group’s interests even more specific and cliquish.”

In the past few years, bears clubs have been changing the way their groups are meeting. Several bear clubs are primarily meeting at coffeehouses and shunning the bar scene altogether. The Bears of St. Louis, along with Madison’s Four Lakes Bears and Minneapolis-St. Paul’s North Country Bears have gone this route. The latter two clubs do sponsor bar nights, but they are not the focus for all club gatherings and business.

Several observers in the bear community point to the influence of the Gen-X Bears movement as the example for these changes. The main drive for Gen-X Bears have been to bring younger bears into the community and create spaces away from the bar atmosphere. The earlier successes of Gen-X Bears are now being carried out into the bear community’s mainstream, as more bears are coming into the community with other needs outside of the bar and the traditional structure of the bear club.

To come to a Bear Coffee at Michelangelo’s, just a few doors from the state capitol building, the newcomer will certainly find a warm welcome from the Four Lakes Bears leadership when they come inside. One member said that the club is a major change from most bear clubs as they are “not cruisy.” From what I have seen, the notion that the Four Lakes Bears are not welcoming as an organization is a fallacy. I have seen the leadership of this club to be the most welcoming people you will find in this part of the Midwest among bear clubs. As for the club being defined as a “clique,” there is nothing “exclusive” to be found about this organization. ”The club itself promotes an open atmosphere,” said Lon Becher, President of the Four Lakes Bears, “attempting to reach out to others, offering alternatives for people that want to get involved with other like minded gay men.  Our group is young, but I see a lot of potential.  I believe (this article’s) observations are true though, as many guys make an effort to be friendly and welcome new guys.  Our motivation is our mission statement, ‘Our purpose is to organize social activities that will foster camaraderie and enjoyment among our members.’”

Certainly if someone has a problem with another individual in any club or clique, that person should not be afraid to be assertive about their issues. At the same time, some people do not have to give anyone they have issues with the attention they thrive on or shun themselves away from the group because of some hatred towards someone. In any organization, you will find that the membership will exude their own ideals on how they act as a club. As for the Four Lakes Bears, they are endeavored to keep the door open to the new people and to help assure them to come back and come often. This is essentially the goal for any fledgling club. As any new organization grows and bring more people to their events, the ideal of the club must be set forth. To avoid being branded as “cliquish,” an open presence will indeed infuse even more people to come back for more camaraderie.