‘Fat boys make you feel thinner!’: fat GBQ men’s comfort and stigma in UK bear spaces

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Despite heightened stigmatisation of fatness in gay/bisexual/queer (GBQ) men’s spaces, geographers have yet to explore the nexus of men, sexualities, and fatness. ‘Bear’ is a term used to describe a set of global identities, communities and bodies of GBQ men who are usually large and hairy. Spaces created and used by Bears have been described as inclusive of fat GBQ men, but no geographic research has investigated such men’s experiences in them. This paper presents findings from ‘Bearspace’, a study of Bear spaces in the UK from 2018 to 2020. It shows that ‘comfort’ was how fat GBQ men framed their experiences of both Bear spaces (‘comfortable’) and mainstream LGBTQ spaces (‘uncomfortable’), and that this meant ‘standing out’ or ‘fitting in’ amongst a majority of proximate thin or fat bodies respectively. However the paper also demonstrates that fat stigma persists in Bear spaces, and thatit is part of how Bear spaces are produced as comfortable for most fat GBQ men, through their awareness that they are not the fattest man present. The paper concludes by asserting the significance of differences between spatially proximate fat bodies for the relational conceptualisation of fatness and fat stigma, and for making fat-inclusive spaces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)876-895
Number of pages20
JournalGender, Place and Culture. A Journal of Feminist Geography
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Ethical approval for the project was granted by the University of Brighton’s research ethics committee (Ref 2018-0476). Sampling was supported by site owners/organisers through their own advertising, and some organisers themselves participated. Attendees were made aware that I was a visiting researcher, and of the nature of my research, through the organisers’ advertising and their welcoming activities at the site. Focus group and interview participants were provided with detailed project information sheets and signed consent forms. After each site visit recorded audio data were transcribed by a professional transcriber familiar with LGBTQ communities and jargons. Participants were assigned pseudonyms and potentially identifying discussions were genericised or, where necessary to guarantee anonymity or upon participant request, removed from the dataset.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Bears
  • Fatness
  • Men
  • Sexualities
  • Stigma
  • geography


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