Our editor in chief has a discussion with the hosts of The Big Fat Gay Podcast to discuss their podcast, the chub /chaser community, its unique culture and its relationship to the bear community.
I have the body mass of a chub and the body hair of a grizzly. As such I have been classified as both a bear and a chub during my dating life. I have found camaraderie and love in both communities and I’ve also noted the issues and problems in both as well. I guess at this point in my life and given my career path, the pendulum has landed me in the bear space, but I still let my hair down (no pun intended) with the chubs and chasers!
For a long time I mistakenly assumed that the chub & chaser community was simply another part of the bear community, but I realize now that assessment was based on my bias as someone who went (and continues to go) back and forth between the two of them. This is just one of the many things I learned in my conversation with the boys over the The Big Fat Gay Podcast.
The Big Fat Gay Podcast, in and of itself, is a weekly show that examines the issues that fat people and their admirers face in their relationships, how they are portrayed in the media and hoy they are viewed by society. The show is hosted by four gay men uniquely qualified to discuss these issues: Dan Oliverio, noted public speaker on the topic, a chaser, and the author of The Round World: Life at the Intersection of Love, Sex and Fat; Trevor Kezon, a young adult fiction writer and chub who has had his nonfiction writing featured in The New York Times; Michael Willer, a film editor, writer, director and chaser working in Los Angeles and Donald Marshall, a chub who has worked as a producer, game designer and screenwriter for nearly 20 years. Dan and Trevor, who are married, bring their expert opinions on the topics at hand to the table while Don and Michael bring their lived experience and questions to the conversation. All four of them are committed and passionate to discussing these issues for an adoring audience which includes members of the gay chub/chaser community in addition to fat straight women who find similarities to their own experiences in the podcast.
With over 160 episodes thus far and multiple accolades from the plus-sized community, including acknowledgement as the 2023 Podcast of the Year from the Full Figured Industry Awards (FFIA), I knew there was no better group of people I could learn from about the gay chub / chaser community. I had so many questions and the guys were so forthcoming with their responses that I have decided to break this interview into two articles. Today we will talk about the chub & chaser community at large along with its relationship to the bear community and the formation and evolution of The Big Fat Gay Podcast. Next time we will talk about fat representation in the media.
Chubs & Chasers
BWM: Do you consider the chub/chaser community to be a part of the bear community / subculture?
Dan—I think it would be unfair to characterize one group as being part of the other. The bear and chub communities evolved separately and arose from different needs and social pressures. The two groups are quite distinct but have a great deal of overlap, and increasingly so in recent years. Nowadays, there are many fat men who are quite comfortable mixing into both bear and chub events, as well as many chasers who are attracted to both. However some people definitely feel more at home in one community than in the other. If you want an illustration of what I call the cultural difference, think about this: Imagine you asked your readers, “What makes a guy a bear?” You’d get a multitude of essays dealing with many different aspects and attributes. Now, by contrast, what if you asked your readers, “What makes a guy a chub?” I think that one’s a lot simpler to answer.
BWM: What has been your experience within the bear community as a chub? What steps can be taken to make it more welcoming to chubs and bears of size?
Don—To tell the truth, I haven’t really found much sanctuary in the bear community. I tend to feel as left out there as I do in the more mainstream gay communities. Bear seems to be synonymous with being hairy and having a more rugged, masculine-emphasis presentation. As someone who doesn’t have much in the way of body hair, I never really felt wanted or sought after in bear circles. I fell into the Chub world because I never saw anyone that looked like me in promos for bear events and found the chub/chaser world much more kind and non-judgmental.
BWM: More and more I have been getting pushback over the term chaser as it pertains to bears and chubs. Have you encountered this, and what are your thoughts on it?
Don—Personally, I don’t love the term chaser. It tends to make me think that I’m prey and they’re a predator, which immediately gives connotations of chubs being victimized and chasers being victimizers. I think that feeds into a stereotype that fat people are hapless bumblers romantically, at the whim of anyone who would deign to give them a few crumbs of affection. But, that said, I’ve lived with the term for over 30 years, and I’m used to it at this point, so I tend not to think about it too much.
Dan—I’ve gotten this question before in interviews, and my short answer is that there is no term that everyone likes, and chaser is the one we got. My longer answer is that chubby chaser is actually a reclaimed term. It was originally a pejorative used to ridicule us, but in recent years we’ve reclaimed and embraced it (similar to what happened with “queer”). The term for straight guys who like fat women is “FA” [pronounced eff-ay], which stands for fat admirer. It was invented by straight women as something they were more comfortable with, but the people who object to it see it as a euphemism for an attraction they feel shouldn’t exist in the first place. The most accurate term I’ve heard for someone with my tastes is “fat-attracted,” but it’s very academic and perhaps a bit clinical. Besides, people like their labels to be nouns—We say, he’s a bear, a chub, a top, a twink… I don’t think “He’s a fat-attractee” is going to catch on.
BWM: I would like to talk about the power dynamic in the chub/chaser community. I have heard arguments that chasers have more power because there are fewer of them and so they have their run of things so to speak but I have also heard that chubs in fact hold the power because after all they have the attributes that chasers are actively looking for. What are your thoughts, is either side right?
Michael—My sense is that there is definitely a set of privileges with chasers, even if we don’t realize it (we get to be small in an anti-fat world, we get to feel like a commodity in the dating scene, we get to “pass” whenever we want to hide from our own identity in the world of fatness. Whether or not there are fewer chasers is almost immaterial; chasers are regarded as the commodity and therefore get the privilege to act as such. Whether we do or don’t is down to personality. I do think there’s a fascinating dichotomy where chasers who were never invested in the chubs they previously hooked up with become smitten with some gorgeous chub and are immediately insecure and jealous because they’ve never had to deal with being on the other side of the desire seesaw. Chubs, if you get to experience that power flip, just know… you really do have ultimate power there. Use it responsibly! (Just as chasers should use their privilege responsibly! By breaking the fingers of those crabby people who take ‘junk food’ out of chubs’ shopping carts.)
Dan—I agree with Michael here. I’m not sure it’s about chub or chaser power per se, but rather privilege. As your question implies, any individual chub or chaser could be seen to have power over the other in a given situation. But your question gets at privilege, which is a background or context for all chub/chaser relationships. I describe our relationships as asymmetrical because chasers have thin privilege while chubs have bodies that are stigmatized. Certainly there could be many other circumstances or privileges in play, but thin/fat is a basic asymmetry that we deal with.
If I could change just one thing for chubs and chasers it would be this: Chasers need to come out of the closet about finding fat guys attractive. I don’t think there is a lack of chasers, I think there is a lack of out chasers. (And no, you are not out as a chaser just because you’ve dated a few fat men.) On the other side, I wish more chubs knew that being fat is not the root of their dating problems. Lots fat people are in wonderful relationships, and lots of very beautiful thin people are unhappy and single.
Don—This one’s a little difficult to answer. I think the power dynamics are real, but I think it varies more between individuals than belonging to either chasers or chubs as a group. Where chubs or chasers are in their journey of self-acceptance/confidence really does affect power dynamics in the relationships they find themselves in. Early on in my dating, I felt my body was repulsive, and couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to be with me. That led me to accept having less power in my own relationships, because I was willing to take the scraps of affection that I could find. As I grew in confidence and began to feel more at home in my own skin, it became harder and harder to settle for less than what I deserve. Today, I think I date fewer people than I used to, but that’s because I’m more aware of what I want, more aware of the warning signs of someone who isn’t on the same page as me, and have a greater understanding of my own value and power, both sexually and personally.
BWM: How has the chub and chaser scene evolved since you started dating? Have you noticed any changes with the rise of the body positivity movement?
Trevor—I think the biggest change has been more visibility and accessibility. When I was in college there weren’t a lot of options outside of BiggerCity and BearWWW. But now I know a lot of couples that have met on social media instead of apps like BiggerCity or Growlr. I think where the body positivity movement has come in has been from guys being more comfortable in their skin and feeling more comfortable posting pictures that show off their bodies. I also think there are a lot of chub/chaser couples with visibility online that make guys know that it’s possible to be in a relationship with someone who loves all of you.
BWM: What changes would you like to see instituted into the chub/ chaser scene?
Trevor— I would really love to see the community expand outside of bar events and weekend-long parties. I see so many plus-size clothing swaps and yoga classes for fat women. I would love to see these sorts of events for fat men as well as other ways to foster fat community. I also think chasers need to be able to socialize. Maybe we’ll set up a chaser daycare at the clothing swap.
Don—I’d like to see more visibility of fat people being sexual beings in general. Less condemnation of people for being attracted to me would be really nice. People—gay and straight—still react with surprise when someone is attracted to a fat person. Effectively this shames a lot of chasers into the closet, forcing chasers to have to come out twice: once as gay and again as a chaser. I can also speak from personal experience of the pain of being with someone who’s ashamed to introduce you to his friends or family as a boyfriend, or even to be seen in public with you.
BWM: I still to this day struggle with the word fat because it was used against me in a way to tear me down and make me feel different. Did any of you have a similar struggle with the word and how can we, as chubs reclaim it?
Trevor—I think there’s so much to say about it. Personally, most of my struggle with the word fat was about handling other people’s oppositions when I use it to describe myself. At this point in my life I think it’s a red flag when someone uses euphemisms to describe fat people because there’s something more behind it. Aubrey Gordon wrote a beautiful essay titled “Just Say Fat”, but I would also advise people to revisit the scene from King of the Hill where Bobby Hill tells his mom it’s okay to say the word fat.
Don—Once I started using the word fat more casually, it pretty much lost all power in my life. Yes, I am fat. It’s not a secret, and pretending it is by not using the word is like living in denial. The world will often see my fatness before they see my race, my age, or my sexuality. The world has defined me by my fatness since childhood, and fatness set me apart from the rest of the world looooong before I knew what the word gay was. Owning the word (and, more importantly, all that comes with it) has been essential for me to start really seeing who I am as a whole person. Confronting the word fat, owning it, defanging it and turning it into purely an adjective were essential to undoing some of the damage that’s been heaped on me over the years.
The Big Fat Gay Podcast
BWM: What made you decide to start the podcast?
Don—Honestly, I just noticed that there was no podcast for gay, fat men and the people who love them. (I say people because a lot of women listen to our podcast, and I LOVE that). Most gay-friendly podcasts either never talked about fatness or talked about it as a really negative thing, so putting out a good show that had a more positive view of the world for people like me sounded really appealing. I also liked the idea of trying to build a community, where chubby guys could support each other, chasers could feel less lonely and isolated, and, heck, if a few of our listeners meet mister right because of our podcast, what more could I hope for?
Michael—Yeah, as Don said, at the end of 2019, he mentioned to me that there didn’t seem to be any chub/chaser focused podcasts; it felt there was a dearth of voices representing our community. So I put him in touch with Dan, who I knew was a prominent voice in the community. I initially was hesitant to participate and thought I would just produce the show behind the scenes. So Dan and Don met while Trevor and I listened in and slowly became more involved. The discussion didn’t really come to life until all four of us were participating, at which point it felt clear what the show needed to be: all of us together.
BWM: What has the response been from the audience?
Michael—Joy, gratitude, and a heartbreaking number of people responding “I had no idea other people thought this way and I wish I had found this sooner.” Absolute dedication as well; the number of new listeners who decide to start from the beginning and listen to all 160+ episodes is always surprising, in a wonderful way.
It’s been really touching to hear from listeners about how much we’ve impacted their lives, whether it be just feeling less alone, or helping them get back into dating. I think my favorite response has been hearing from listeners who’ve been inspired to take action to confront anti-fat bias in the organizations they’re involved with. It warms my heart to know we helped someone feel more comfortable in their own skin, but it’s something else to hear that we inspired someone to make a change for others.
BWM: Are there plans to expand? For example video podcasting? Live episodes?
Michael—Hard plans for video, no, but we are always looking for ways to do live episodes. As the show’s technical producer, I certainly have the awareness that podcasts are more than audio these days, but having video would add a lot more to our workflow and a lot more tasks for me, and I don’t have the bandwidth, unfortunately. Part of what we always talk about is how to grow the show in a way that doesn’t over-extend any of us, as we do have day jobs and other obligations to balance. In a perfect world, I’d love to see a bigger output including video, shorts/reels, and other fun tidbits; if that’s what you’re after, our Patreon is a great place to start!
Trevor—We definitely want to do more live episodes. It was really magical to get to do a live episode at BiggerVegas and get to be in the same room as so many of our listeners. There’s a lot of events coming up this year, and we’re looking at ways to do live shows there. We’re also looking at maybe doing some events in Los Angeles because there is a lot of community forming around events like Club Chub and Fat Slut, and we would love to help foster new ways for that community to come together more often. I’ve enjoyed doing video content on Patreon, but I think I’m the most resistant to releasing the podcast in video form. While Youtube would help us reach new audiences, it is also home to some of the worst anti-fat trolling.
BWM: How do you decide what makes it to air? Are there any dream guests you’d like to have on the show?
Michael—I have an unspoken sixth sense of what should get cut that has gotten us this far. Sometimes Trevor will point out moments that need finessing, but 95% of the time it comes down to my editor brain doing its thing. Our Patreon has a series called “Cutting Room Floor,” where some of our tangents and goofs end up. As far as dream guests, it’s a tough call. We LOVE to talk to the influential figures in the world of fat. But because we’re four co-hosts, those episodes often become crowded and difficult to manage, particularly due to internet lag and technical concerns. We’re certainly not opposed to interview episodes, we just try to keep them as special one-offs rather than common occurrences.
Trevor—As the resident “extremely online” member of the podcast, I naturally gravitated toward the producer role. I tend to curate most of the stories, videos, and other content we talk about. Most of that comes from Google news alerts around plus-size fashion and fat politics, but I also follow a lot of fat activists and content creators and will find things that way. We also love when listeners send things in, regardless of whether it’s a news story, Instagram video, or a listener asking for advice.
There are so many celebrities that have come up a lot on the show that I’d love to have on: Lizzo, Harvey Guillén, Latrice Royale, Guy Branum. I think someone who we haven’t really talked about who I would totally geek out over would be Janus from Great British Bake Off. He is just so sweet and funny and I would love to have some fat chat with him.
BWM: What was the goal of the podcast when you started and has that mission statement changed or evolved since the beginning?
Michael—My personal goal has always been the same: I want to reach the heart of a young, questioning chaser who has nowhere else to turn to for answers and show them they’re not alone. I am proud to say that, based on listener mail, we have accomplished this many times over. As long as our show can continue to do that, I will be happy and satisfied.
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