The bear community is a subset of the gay community, which is often divided into subcommunities for the purpose of establishing common interests with peers. Thus, Bears are gay men who are generally either very heavyset or stocky, or very muscular. They have hairy bodies and some sort of facial hair, and often have a traditionally masculine gender role.

Bear men sometimes disassociate themselves from the gay community at large, having their own bars and social events where they can socialize with other members of the bear community. They have pageants (much like beauty pagents but generally hyper-sexual) where titles and sashes (made of leather) are given out to winners. (Example: "Mr. Washington, D.C Bear, 2002.")

The bear community was created by men who didn't feel that they fit into mainstream gay culture, believing it to place unnecessary emphasis on gay men who fit a particular bodily norm (thin, hairless and young). In turn, some, both in and out of the bear community, criticize it as tending to exclude people who do not fit into their own standards of what a "real man" is.

Some terminology relating to the bear community includes:

  • bear - a man with a full beard or van dyke, a hairy chest and body, masculine acting, usually older (or older looking), sometimes overweight or stocky, commonly found wearing flannel, leather, or blue jeans.
  • cub - a younger (or younger looking) version of a bear, with a smaller frame.
  • otter - a person who meets all of the above descriptions except for the weight - typically thinner, or with lean muscle
  • twink - a younger (18-25) or younger looking man, who is also thinner and less hirsute than a bear (this term is not exclusive to the bear community)
  • chaser - a term that refers to someone who is not a bear, cub, or otter, but is sexually or romantically attracted to them (this term is used in various communities to describe an outsider who has sexual attraction to people within the community)