Ask James Clements, co-chair of this year's Bear Invasion planning committee, to define what a ''bear'' is, and you might catch him in a tongue-twister.
''If you think you're a bear, you're a bear,'' he says, with a laugh. ''There are bears who are hairy. There are bears who have no hair. There are bears who like bears with hair and guys who aren't bears who love bears.
''I think everybody has their own definition. The stereotypical bear is somebody that looks sort of like a bear, that's sturdily built, [has] rather a good-size belly and is furry.''
Whatever they look like, hundreds of bears from all over the East Coast and beyond are expected to descend upon Washington Friday, Aug. 8, through Sunday, Aug. 10, for the 12th Annual Bear Invasion, presented by the District of Columbia Bear Club (DCBC). This year's theme is ''Psychedelic Fur.''
Bradley Hill, who serves on the board of Brother Help Thyself and on the Bear Invasion planning committee, says the event is an opportunity for ''like-minded individuals to socialize and get together.
''We have a lot of things going on at the same time because we want people to have a choice,'' Hill says. ''D.C. is like that. There's always so much going on, and you can always find something to do.''
This year's lineup includes a pool party atop the Liaison Capitol Hill, the weekend's host hotel; Friday night parties at local bars, including the D.C. Eagle and Green Lantern; performances by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and comedian Paul J. Williams; a silent auction; and the annual Mr. D.C. Bear and Mr. D.C. Bear Cub contests, scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 9, in the Federal Hall of the host hotel.
Hill says he attended his first Bear Invasion four years ago and remembers it as a ''life-changing experience.''
''I was surprised to discover that there are men like me, and men who like men like me. I honestly thought that being attractive meant having to be thin, young, hairless and a little feminine. My first Bear Invasion was like a testosterone overload. It was so terrific to see manly, burly men hugging, growling, groping and woofing at each other.
''I gave myself permission to be myself, and to enjoy the company of the men around me. It felt like I had found a home.''
Clements echoes that homecoming sentiment.
''It's a weekend where we get together and socialize, party and swim and raise money for charity,'' he says.
This year's Bear Invasion beneficiary is Brother Help Thyself. For more information about the weekend, visit www.bearinvasion.com.