Dan Oliverio is an imposing figure. At 6 feet and 225 solid pounds, able to bench press 350, the man resembles Jason Alexander's more attractive, very muscular younger brother.
I first met Dan in 1999, when he cast me in a play he was directing at New Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco.
One night, Dan mentioned he liked the new version of the VW Bug. A cast member cracked, "Only because it's shaped like your boyfriend!" Dan laughed, and rehearsal began.
What? If that wasn't an insult, was Dan was a "chubby chaser"? I was full of questions, mostly, "How can someone who looks like you be attracted to guys who look like that?" But I was far too polite and professional to ask!
Fast-forward to 2013. Dan, now a self-described "out-loud chubby chaser living in Los Angeles, a city of hyper-real magazine beauty," lectures, offers private counseling and writes extensively on the topic. His book Round World: Men Who Chase Obesity, and What Drives Us, is coming out this spring. He's also appeared on MTV's True Life, The Tyra Banks Show, and other programs.
Meanwhile, I'd moved to L.A. and created a popular gay comedy Web series, Old Dogs & New Tricks, about four middle-aged gay friends living in youth-obsessed Hollywood.
Now, I'm always looking for unique story lines and original angles. As I plotted the show's third season (now playing out at odnt.tv), I remembered how puzzled I was by this man with the superhero physique and a propensity for overweight men. The topic seemed ideal for the perpetually perplexed character Muscles (played to perfection by Jeffrey Patrick Olson).
Other than as a comic bit in the play and film The Ritz by Terrence McNally, I'd never seen "chubby chasing" as a plot device in a show -- and certainly not as anything other than "the joke."
I became puzzled. We're a community that supposedly embraces "fringe elements," yet chubby chasing is still a "joke." Why, for instance, are "golden showers" a less shocking topic of conversation than an attraction to men who don't fit the mainstream's ideal of perfection? Why was it still considered taboo, if not perverse?
Determined not to treat the topic as just "the joke" but to explore it as honestly as a 10-minute-per-episode sitcom could, I contacted Dan. I asked him to be my "story consultant." He said yes and was so enthusiastic; I eventually cast him in the role of "Lucas," a man who becomes involved romantically with Muscles even as he struggles to admit to himself his chaser tendencies.
As we worked on the storyline, Dan led me into a fascinating world I never really understood. He was a very patient tour guide. I now know the difference between "chasers" and "feeders," the meaning of "chub floss," and, as Dan points out, that "objectification works both ways"!
But Dan is so well-spoken; he can explain it all much better than I!
Leon Acord: So is "chubby chasing" the correct phrase? Is there a new, politically correct phrase?
Dan Oliverio: "Chubby chasing" is as good as it gets. There's no good word that everyone likes. "Fat" is taboo in our culture. I don't mean just the word. I mean that the more a word directly points to the image of fat, the less acceptable we find it. Imagine being at a swanky party in the 1940s. There was no polite way to say "homosexual," and even less reason to bring it up. That's why we have euphemisms. So "chubby chaser" is pretty neutral; it points to fat but it's also kinda cute. Some guys take offense at "chaser." To them it seems to imply some sort of crazed hunt for fat guys. In the straight community they use "F.A.," which stands for "fat admirer." Sometimes they just say "admirer." In no case is "fat" used in the appellation. "Fat" remains unspeakable. I admit that "admirer" is more accurate and sounds better, but it's also a bit cold for my taste. We are talking about sexual attraction, not appreciating antique furniture.
L.A.: When did you first notice your interest in big guys?
D.O.: I knew I was into fat when I was 5. I didn't figure out I was gay until I was 20.
L.A.: Was it something that took a while to understand? To accept?
D.O.: Definitely something that took a while to understand. I grew up living next door to a gay couple and lived in an arts dorm in college; I've always been around gay people. But you've seen gay magazines, the kinds of guys in them. I thought they were good-looking, and I even wanted to look like them, and so do a lot of straight guys. But I never wanted to hop in bed with one or put my dick up his ass, so I figured I wasn't gay. I took years to figure out that fat made such a big difference in my sexuality.
L.A.: How did you come to accept it? Embrace it?
D.O.: I didn't so much fight against it as remain ignorant of it, how deep it ran. Many other guys fight against it or think of fucking a fat guy as a guilty pleasure or, worse, a dirty secret. Again, the stigma of fat. Remember too that a lot of guys who can't handle their attraction to fat guys often can't even handle being gay. I hear this a lot. For me it took several long-term relationships that didn't work out to show me just how important that physical aspect was. I didn't dump my ex because he wasn't fat enough. Actually, he started the break-up process because he said that he didn't feel like I was attracted to him, not the way any other gay guy would be. He said, "Dan, being married to you, I feel like a woman married to a gay man." I thought he was beautiful, like those guys in the gay magazines, but he knew he'd never have the sexual relationship with me that he wanted. I came to see the same thing for myself. We're still very close friends. We kept the love and just ditched the bad sex.
L.A.: How did your interest first manifest itself?
D.O.: I can remember conversations about fat from early childhood. People talking about it, being concerned with it, from when I was 5. Some boys know when they're 5 or 6 that they like men. For me it was fat. Later I was fascinated with really obese guys, sometimes women, but mostly boys my own age. I was too young to have sexual feelings. But as we know as gay men, that fascination often turns into sexual attraction.
L.A.: How long did it take until you understood that interest?
D.O.: I knew I liked fat guys by the time I was 22. I figured I liked both fat and thin. This is sort of like young gay guys who say that they're bi. Some are, but most are just on their way to being gay. Lots of chasers in their 20s think like this too. It's like when you're a teenager and you'll see any movie that comes out? Then in your 30s, you start seeing only the movies you like in particular genres. And then in your 40s or 50s, a movie has to really capture your interest for you to go see it. That's what a lot of chasers go through. In our 20s it seems like fat guys are just one type of guy we like. As we mature, however, most of us who are chasers find that fat guys are our decided preference. I've even had some chasers tell me that for them, sex with a guy who's not fat just isn't worth the effort of getting undressed, let alone setting up a date. It's "Go fat or go home."
In the show, Lucas starts going out with Muscles to prove himself. Many people know what it's like to not like what you're supposed to like -- not just chubby chasers. Lucas is desperately trying to be normal, trying to not be stuck with the stigma of liking fat, or at least not liking only fat men. But just as many men come to see that they like only gay sex, I and a lot of other chasers have some to see we like only fat sex.
L.A.: One of my misconceptions when I first started writing was that chasers would try to "fatten up" their partners. You quickly corrected me, pointing out that "feeders" were a very different community altogether. It lead to some last-minute rewrites in our Thanksgiving episode! [Laughs.] Can you explain the difference between "chasers" and "feeders"?
D.O.: Chasers are guys who like fat men. Other than that, they're pretty much like other gay guys. Encouragers (feeders, as they're called in the straight community) are the kinky side of fat. It might help to know that there are gainers ("feedees" in the straight world) who want to get fat, or fatter or even enormously obese. Encouragers are their counterpart. It's best to think of gainers and encouragers like S&M partners. If I told you a guy beats his boyfriend with a belt, you might be alarmed. If I told you the boyfriend likes it, has always liked it, and they've been doing it since their first date, maybe you'd see it differently. Encouragers get a bad rap because people can't imagine that their partner would want to get fat. Now, there are encouragers who fatten unsuspecting partners for the encourager's sexual pleasure. But we have a word for non-consensual sex; it's called abuse. It's no different than if a guy were into S&M but his partner isn't, so he only hits his partner while he's sleeping and feigns ignorance of the bruises the next day. Lucas isn't trying to fatten Muscles. But, like many chasers, Lucas sees a good appetite and a disregard for calories as manly.
L.A.: One way I approached writing this was, as you suggested, that "coming out" as a chaser is very similar to coming out of the closet for a second time. When did you? How did you work up the courage? How did friends and family react?
D.O.: I don't suppose I've ever made a formal declaration. People just see whom you're dating and they catch on. People get it. Now, I'm very "out" about being attracted to fat guys. I lead seminars around the country, so I get all sorts of reactions. Basically, people react to me the same way they react to fat. If they think fat is just another body type, then they think I just have another type of attraction. If they think fat is unhealthy, then they think I have an unhealthy attraction. If they think that fat people are gross, then I have a gross fetish. If they think fat people are poor unfortunates who can't control their eating, then they see me as a predator of the weak-willed.
L.A.: Where does one draw the line between desire and fetishism?
D.O.: That's an easy one. Fetish is what you call someone's desire if you think it's stupid, sick or dirty. If you can't stand stupid men, if you insist that any man you go out with be smart and have excellent conversational skills, no one accuses you of having an "intelligence fetish." A fetish always describes something negative. Now "fetish" does have a very specific definition in sexology, but that's not what people mean when they use it.
I talk a lot in my seminars [about] "desire" vs. "objectification." I say that you're objectifying someone when what you want is more important than who the other person is. For example, if you're comfortable seeing yourself as a writer, then you probably don't have a problem if a guy says, "I just love writers. They're so great in bed." On the other hand, you're a Hispanic guy, but it's not a huge part of how you see yourself. So perhaps you're a little unsure if a guy says, "I just love Latinos. They're so good in bed." Do you take the compliment or take offense? However, if someone frames you in an identity that you actively reject, or a part of yourself that you're at war with, you're likely to feel demeaned, devalued, and objectified: "I just love huge fat guys. They're so good in bed." If you're OK with being fat, you're probably OK with the comment. If you hate being fat, or if you live in fear of becoming fat, then the comment seems insensitive, offensive, even hostile.
L.A.: Your book talks about challenges that are unique to "fat/thin relationships." Can you talk about those?
D.O.: Well, in fat/thin relationships, you don't double your wardrobe!
Seriously, though, I think the most salient difference is that in many fat/thin relationships, one person is being admired for a characteristic that he is indifferent to or would actively like to change. Now, this depends on the fat guy. Some guys are perfectly happy being admired for their girth and being fat. Perhaps it's not a characteristic that they would chose to possess, but they fully intend to make the best of it.
And then there are some chasers, like Lucas in the show, who can't handle the stigma of being "that couple" at the bar, at the club, at the office holiday party. In my seminars and writings, I work on getting guys to embrace who they are -- all of who they are.
Another facet is what men and women are concerned with. The gay men in my seminars seemed mostly concerned with dating, relationships and fidelity. The straights in my seminars seem to have that mostly worked out. They're concerned with objectification, identity, and coming out (in the case of straight FAs.) Remember, most gay men have an experience of coming out. Straight men who like fat women don't get that trial run. Most of them have never had to come out of any closet in their lives.
L.A.: When you meet someone you're interested in, is he skeptical that someone who looks like you might be interested? How do you handle that?
D.O.: Oh, man, you have no idea. Ever try to cruise a guy and have him ignore you and face the wall? Lots of hot fat guys won't even make eye contact with me, which makes it very hard to assess interest. How I handle it is that I'm very direct and very frank with guys. Most chasers aren't as bold as I am. Fat guys ask me all the time, "Where are all these chasers you keep talking about?" I tell them, "They're the ones trying to get your attention! But when you won't even look at them, they just give up. That guy who keeps staring at you in a daze like he's been hit by a frying pan? He's not making fun of you, he's cruising you. Maybe badly, but that's only because he thinks that someone so fat and beautiful is just out of his league." (This goes over a lot better when I'm telling it in a seminar and all the chasers nod vigorously in agreement.)
L.A.: You speak frequently and quite openly on the topic. You must have encountered the occasional hater. How do you handle folks like that?
D.O.: Again, fat is taboo. People who have a problem with fat tend to keep their distance from someone who keeps talking about it. When I do encounter it, I never take what they say personally. I'm not what's offending them. When I'm out with a huge guy and we're holding hands, people don't care that much. If anything, they smile. Sometimes they even say, "You guys are such cute couple." I think it's because deep down people want to believe that there really is someone for everyone. Maybe seeing a muscle hunk with a huge fat guy gives people hope.
L.A.: Finally, where the hell are the "skinny chasers"?
D.O.: I know a lot of fat guys who say, very earnestly, "I know I should be really impressed by all your muscle, but I'm really more into young, skinny guys." I totally get it. That contrast of body types in bed can be totally hot. Also, a limber, skinny dude can service a huge fat man in geometries that my size and bulk won't permit. One of my very fat friends loves sex with twinks and refers to them as "chub floss." He says he loves how they can bend themselves into and around all his folds and creases.
Dan and his real-life partner Trevor