Lopez began to gain weight rapidly when he was about 8 years old. It wasn't until decades later that a doctor told him he probably gained weight because of undiagnosed sleep apnea. By the time he came out at 14, his family accepted him, and he was happy, except for the nagging issue of his weight. On Lopez's 25th birthday, he was out at a club and a potential suitor approached him. The man put his hand on Lopez's stomach and said, "If you lost this, you'd be sexy. It was this epiphany moment, and it was like, 'You know what, I am sexy.
In fact, Lopez said, it wasn't until he was 30 that he attended an event in the bear community — a community of gay men who are usually larger, taller and hairier than one might find in the mainstream gay community. Lopez said his whole world changed then, but that it's still not without its pressures. Are you a big boy with muscle? Are you a total chub? The bear community, Lopez explained, like all subcommunities, is not immune to negativity.
While it has been a refuge for almost every person I interviewed, it's also come with its own weird set of expectations about who you can date, whatever size you have to be.
Many respondents told Mic that the bear community was a surprising, welcoming refuge from spaces that might have been less friendly to their weight. But, many also said that there are very few sexual or romantic depictions of big men. Who are the visibly gay, overweight men out there? Though each talented in their own right, none were ever explicitly sexual or sexualized. Diaz said that this lack of visibility of husky gay men has had an immediate mental impact on him, a person whose weight has fluctuated throughout the years.
While the date went well enough in person, when he went back home, the man messaged him with a simple offer: If you need a fitness instructor, let me know. Diaz is currently in a relationship where he says his partner loves him at his current size. But during his single years, the bars were often unwelcoming to people of his size, he said. Diaz also said he's found refuge in the bear scene.
But when he does enter mainstream spaces, he often has to arm himself with his own personal mantra. His secret? He learned about his body as a straight man: He dated women until he was There was a pervading culture of slim body worship that turned him off. Now, it's not the elephant in the room anymore. So I really felt like I was being made love to for who I was entirely and for more than just my sexual organs.
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To really make love to someone is to enjoy every single inch of them. Raul Quintero spoke to me about what happens when the search for that feeling of being appreciated for your size can go to extremes. Quintero spent a few months in gainer and feeder culture, where men worship men with big bellies, and some go to extremes to gain weight. Quintero has seen videos of men eating lard and funneling gallons of milk into their partners' guts — because of a sexual attraction to bellies.
He met men who brought him to restaurants just to share in the experience of watching him eat. With one man, Quintero made a list of restaurants where he wanted to eat in Los Angeles and his date would bring him there and watch him eat. Even within that world, Quintero said, there was pressure to look a certain way and he had been turned down for not being large enough. Comments from his family members, even his own mother, who is a fitness instructor, fueled this fear.
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This led to a fear of being fat in childhood. Even that his name rhymed with "fat" was a lot for Johnson to handle as a child. Though Johnson said he would later find sexual partners who appreciated him for his size, it was still a fraught experience. His own problems with his weight didn't allow him to enjoy the experiences. Though Johnson describes himself as "bear adjacent," he credits experiences in the New York City bear community with a better body self-image.
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I wasn't just an erotic object. Johnson said that, for a while, he refused to go into bars that weren't size-friendly. He'd only go to gay bars where he knew he wouldn't be the biggest person in the room, so that his tendency to compare his size with others wouldn't hinder him from having a good time.
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