Quick Documentary Review: Bear Nation

Bear Nation is a 2010 documentary directed by Malcolm Ingram and executive produced by Kevin Smith.

This film has a run time of 78 minutes. Although this film is technically unrated, it is recommended for viewers 18 years of age and older due to its profanity, sexual situations, and a moment of suicidal ideation.

It is available to purchase from Amazon.com. Bear Nation has received critical acclaim by winning the Official Selection in 2010 for both the Outfest and Frameline film festivals as well as the title of Centerpiece Selection for the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Fest. In 2011, the documentary also claimed a Jury Award by the Atlanta Film Fest.

This film examines the state of the Bear movement (a subgroup of the LGBTQ+ community that is comprised of burly, hairy, and friendly gay men who typically sport some type of facial hair) by way of interviews and journeys to different Bear events in the United States, Canada, and England. It is through this consideration of the movement that the interviewees reveal similar tales of realizing their sexualities, coming out, gay stereotypes, and the joy of finding their own niche group within the expansive LGBTQ+ community.

For many of the interview subjects, they knew they were gay at an early age based on their non-normative play for their gender and interest in boys. However, at the same time, they weren’t attracted to the campy personas of gay men like that of Paul Lynde and Liberace (some of the few well known gay men of the time) . Instead, these men took a liking to the mustachioed Burt Reynolds along with the lumberjack aesthetic. With the advent of the Internet coinciding with their coming outs, these men had the newfound knowledge of their types: Bears. But their desires would further complicate matters when faced with introducing their partners to family and friends. It can be a challenge in itself to come forth with an LGBTQ+ identity, let alone the appeal of large, hirsute men.

These revelations brought up the misconception that all gay men are outwardly flamboyant. Several interviewees describe the shock from those close to them after disclosing the gay men’s interest in Bears ranging from “but you played sports” to total disbelief (37:37). Nevertheless, these resilient LGBTQ+ men found their sexual identities validated within the Bear community. In particular, some men actively sought to go against “the dominate image of male queerness” as an interviewee phrased it (54:23). To that end, they cultivated the look of the ideal Bear by shaving their heads, growing beards, and building muscle. Another man was able to boost his sense of body positivity by finally going shirtless after feeling self-conscious about his hairy chest.

Overall, Bear Nation, with its conversational style interviews and instances of transnational Bear events inter-spliced with vintage footage of Smokey the Bear and wildlife, provides viewers with a greater understanding of what constitutes a Bear in addition to the acceptance this subsection of the LGBTQ+ community can offer. Furthermore, gay men are able to relate on a personal level to the stories shared by other gay men. Aside from this, the film could have expounded on the Bear movement prior to the 1990s and included a brief overview of notable figures in the community. This documentary is largely from the perspective of white gay men and does not have any contributions from people of diverse backgrounds and cultures. It would have been interesting to learn about transgender men who also identify as a Bear.

Films like this help identify that there is not one monolithic image of what it means to be LGBTQ+ . We come in all different sizes, shapes, and identities. All are real, and all are valid.

If you have questions on identity, would like to come out, or looking for local LGBTQ+ resources in your area, please contact the National LGBT Help Center through the support services listed below.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) National Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

LGBT National Coming Out Support Hotline: 1-888-688-5428 (1-888-OUT-LGBT)

LGBT National Youth Talkline: 1-800-246-7743 (1-800-246-PRIDE)

LGBT National Senior Hotline: 1-888-234-7243

You can also reach out online at www.LGBThotline.org/chat