Yes, absolutely: Chubby people need—and deserve—love. Sure, an unhealthy obsession with weight and dieting has taken its toll on many a person's health. I'm aware of studies that show that physically fit heavy guys can be as healthy as their thin-but-unfit brethren. And it's not like I'm a fatophobe; in my long, rather checkered sex life, I've chased any number of well-larded lads.
But at last month's San Francisco LGBT International Film Festival, I was watching the ingratiating comedy Bear City—wherein a fat-fancier dissuades his, well, morbidly obese boyfriend from having a stomach-reduction operation—when I began to ponder: Is fetishizing flab really all that fabulous?
One can—I devoutly hope—ask that question without being accused of demonizing the girthy. I speak as someone whose own Body Mass Index hovers just this side of "overweight," a man with an abiding (if slightly guilty) love for Entenmann's cheese-filled coffee cake. But I find it tough to believe that a guy who can't stroll down Castro Street without waddling is truly in tip-top shape.
It's true that few bears are as ginormous as the gent in the film. And decades of the "fat is a feminist issue" line can make one feel almost churlish to—while still decrying weight-based bigotry—come out in favor of dieting and exercise.
But there it is. It's not the first time that risky business has made men horny. Cigarette smoking turns some guys on—right now I'm multitasking over to a website that features hunky dudes sucking cancer sticks whilst they get sucked off. More than a few fellows buy into the erotic allure of that third martini, or the cult of the beered-up butchboy. And the eroticization of barebacking has reached proportions nearly as epidemic as HIV itself. Hell, I've been known to eroticize speed freaks, and how fucked up is that?
There have always been heavyset homos and the chubby-chasers who crave them. But the bear boom coincided with some specific circumstances. AIDS left its victims looking like walking skeletons. Gym culture, in part a reaction to the HIV epidemic, gave rise to a generation of muscle maniacs, their bodies pruned and perfect, their attitude perceived to be exclusionary, their veins too often awash in steroids. And then along came bear culture, with its promise of big-bellied, bearded bonhomie, a relaxed refuge from both the markers of sickness and the strictures of body fascism. In an era of sexual self-denial, when you were admonished to always wrap your sausage before sticking it in, it came as a relief to eat a big, greasy burger and be thought sexy for doing so. And if Americans' girth has been increasing at a rapid rate, well, that just means more cute cubs to cuddle.
Human nature being what it is, the "bear community" has grown fractured, even fractious. Some accuse so-called muscle bears of being a self-anointed elite, while others wonder whether slim-but-furry "otters" truly fit in. Be all that as it may, there's little doubt that men with big bellies enjoy an enhanced prestige within the queer community, and it seems almost ungracious to rain on their pounds-plus parade.
But I must report (rather regretfully, since I could easily inhale an entire one of those Entenmann's cakes at one sitting) that yes, science has marched on, and new studies indicate that being overweight may indeed be harmful to your health, even if you're otherwise fit. So while we're all used to the medical mucky-mucks changing their minds about, say, what causes cancer, for the time being it appears that yes, the explosive rise in type 2 diabetes and the exponential growth of waistlines are linked.
When the big guy's boyfriend in Bear City trotted out the "I love you just the way you are" number, it was clear that he wanted his honey in part because of his size. And though he brought up the risks of weight-reduction surgery, not once did the possibility of a coronary enter the picture. (What did affect their deliberations was weight-related job discrimination, something clearly wrong and not to be tolerated. Civil rights shouldn't hinge on calorie intake.)
Love the eater, but not the fat? Toleration, not glorification? That sort of thing veers uncomfortably close to the homophobic line that gay sex is regrettably unhealthy, and that 'phobes may love the sinner but hate the sin. And fuck that.
Blame, condescension, guilt—it's not a nutritious stew.
OK, I'll say it: Some of my best friends are big, bootylicious Falstaffian fags. And I'd hate to see them die before their time. And I'm not immune to the allure of a really big belly in my bed. Juicy manboobs with gnawable nips? I'm there!
And if I have a sense of unearned superiority when I'm sweating at the gym and someone even more out-of-shape than I walks by? Well, I have enough of a moral compass to feel secretly ashamed of myself.
Big bottom line? There's nothing particularly hot about not being able to make it up two flights of stairs without panting.
Now, about that half-coffeecake sitting in the kitchen…
I really should reward myself for finishing this column, right?