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Fat Chance

It's Friday night in Wilton Manors, and Sidelines, a gay sports bar, is packed with slender boys. Carlos Lopez, 28, sits on a barstool near the door nursing a glass of whiskey. Trim and handsome, Lopez chats with Blake, a lean 29-year-old with chubby cheeks.

Blake, who moved to Florida from the Midwest last year, says he doesn't really have one type of man he goes for.

Does he know that Lopez likes big men — really big men, as in guys who weigh 280 to 350 pounds?

"He likes fat guys!?" Blake says. He touches his cheeks. "Am I fat?" he asks several times, sounding almost hysterical.

Blake is not fat. His navy-blue T-shirt hugs a flat stomach. His fitted jeans hint at long, toned legs. He simply has a body type that Lopez does not find appealing. Lopez is a chubby chaser.

Blake rolls his eyes at Lopez, hoping perhaps that Lopez will say it's all a joke.

No. Lopez sweeps a hand over his hair, as if to say the concept is over Blake's head.

People often have trouble understanding that Lopez is attracted to only heavy men, he says. Even Lopez has trouble explaining it. The best he can do is point out that he once tried dating a man who was below his ideal weight range, saying, "The attraction was not all there."

Lopez says maybe he's drawn to the jovial, nurturing nature he associates with bigger men. Then too, he says, large gay men seem to particularly appreciate love and compassion — perhaps because they're so far from the mainstream. And Lopez is a caretaker-type, he says; perhaps it's just a good fit. In any event, he says, his shrink told him not to worry about it. It's just the way he's wired.

Lopez is not unique. There are whole pageants dedicated to this substratum of gay life in which titles such as Mr. Chubby International and Mr. Chaser International are conferred.

Some chasers say owning up to a fat fetish is like coming out of the closet a second time. Chubbies and chasers are often ridiculed within a gay community where svelte figures and boyish good looks are prized. In the 1970s, some gay bars and sex clubs barred fat men. But it was around the same time that the first group for chubs and chasers, Girth & Mirth, was formed, and today, the predilection of chasers seems to have become at least acceptable in some quarters if not celebrated.

Many chubs seem puzzled by their suitors' desires even as they appreciate that they are appreciated. They would still prefer to look more like Michelangelo's David than a Botero sculpture, they say, and would never date someone their own size.

Chubs are often lumped in with "bears," gay men who are typically large and hairy. Bear groups organized partly in response to the outbreak of AIDS in the early 1980s, when the idealized lean body type became associated instead with a wasting illness. It was an inadvertently opportune time, says Les Wright, a San Francisco-based author. Wright, a 54-year-old gay man with a full beard who prefers hairy, blue-collar men, has chronicled bear culture in several books and is founder of the Bear History Project. "The bear stuff comes out of people in the gay community feeling judged and excluded," he says. "We're all the people who got squeezed out."

Chubs and chasers, like bears, have remained a largely underground phenomenon. References occasionally slip into the mainstream of pop culture, however, as when Adam Sandler's character was dubbed a chubby chaser in the recent movie I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Playwright Terrence McNally actually went further in his 1975 hit The Ritz, which was made into a 1976 film and has just been revived on Broadway. The Ritz is essentially an ode to chubby chasing; in it, the hefty Gaetano Proclo is hiding from a hit man in a New York bathhouse, where he fends off the advances of a scrawny character named Claude Perkins, who is wild for fat men. When Perkins spots Proclo, he clutches his chest like a man struck by Cupid's arrow. Alas, the crush is one-sided, despite Perkins' offers of éclairs, brownies, and chocolate bars.

Chadrick Fowler, who hails from Boynton Beach, is six-foot-one. The gay 24-year-old has smooth skin, blue eyes, and a baby face. He also weighs 275 pounds. Among many gay men, his size can be regarded as nearly a sin and certainly grounds for discrimination. Fowler, who is also effeminate, says he often sees notices on gay dating websites specifying "no fats or fems."

Fowler is fascinated by chubby chasers because he can't fathom why anyone would prefer his body type; he finds fat repulsive. He has always wanted to be thin, like the rest of his family, he says. "I prefer thin guys. I'm what my friends call a self-hater." But, he adds, "A lot of chubs are just regular gay guys in large-guy bodies."

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Amy Guthrie
Contact: Amy Guthrie

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