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Gustavo Lozano, of Hollywood, is a trim 175 pounds. And he's handsome. The gay man is also unapologetically devoted to big men. Making them feel good makes him feel good, he explains.
Often, he adds, they are suspicious of him: Why would he want them?
Because he adores chubs. "I've always loved big men," says Lozano, who grew up in Colombia. "Every time I'd watch the movies, I'd say, 'Oh, I need to come to America!'"
Lozano likes chubs so much that in July he threw a party for them in Fort Lauderdale. The weekend-long event, which Lozano called Chubs in Paradise, drew 28 men from out of town. They gathered at Cheston House, a clothing-optional, 14-room men's resort not far from the beach, where they had a wiener roast on Saturday and a brunch buffet on Sunday. In between, the chubs and chasers hit the local gay bars and lounged by the Cheston House pool.
Lozano immigrated to Florida 12 years ago. Soon afterward he met Ron Van Sciver, who weighs 319 pounds. They've been together ever since. Van Sciver, age 59, is like a protective daddy bear, and 43-year-old Lozano is his cub. When Lozano's English fails him, Van Sciver takes over. When Lozano suggested a retreat for chubs in Fort Lauderdale, a city brimming with GQ-beautiful gay men, Van Sciver supported him whole hog.
What exactly does Lozano like about big men? He looks tickled just thinking about it. "Oh, God, their faces!" he says, tightening his hands into fists. "The big belly!"
Hearing this, Van Sciver glances down at his own considerable belly and laughs.
Lozano is a hairdresser at Estuardo's Hair Studio in Fort Lauderdale, where his co-workers have trouble understanding his preference. They tell him he could and should get himself a bona fide hottie, he says, but they don't understand: skinny men bore him.
There are whole pageants dedicated to this substratum of gay life, where 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 the gay community, where svelte figures and boyish good looks are prized. In the Seventies, some gay bars and sex clubs barred fat men. But it was around the same time when the first group for chubs and chasers, Girth & Mirth, was formed. And today the predilection of chasers seems to have become acceptable, if not celebrated, in some quarters.
References to this largely underground phenomenon 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 stage 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's offers of éclairs, brownies, and chocolate bars.
John Lee, a 41-year-old chub from Orlando, came to Fort Lauderdale for Chubs in Paradise. His friends give him a hard time for attending such events, Lee says, which they claim are just sex parties. "Any event is going to get pretty frisky," he says.
Things got pretty frisky at Chubs in Paradise, partygoers say. Every night the clothes came off and the big boys were in the pool. Lee, who stands six feet one inch tall and weighs 341 pounds, says he got lots of action. That was not unusual for him; he is generally quite sexually active, he says, estimating he's had 350 sexual partners in the past year or so. He is also open to coupling with another chub, he says, as long as the man has a cute face and a great personality. He says the heaviest guy he ever played with was roughly 380 pounds.
Everyone in his family is large, Lee says. They love fatty Southern fare like chicken fried steak with gravy and biscuits — and they all have coronary problems. Lee is at peace with his girth, he says, and is reassured when chasers fixate on it. "They wouldn't look at a muscled man any more than they would look at a woman," he says.
Seven years ago Lee dropped 70 pounds. He was dating a hunky Colombian lifeguard at the time, he says, and he blew it. "As my weight decreased slowly, it seemed like his interest decreased."
Biggercity.com, a dating Website for chubs and chasers, asked its users in July: Would you leave your guy if he got fatter or thinner? Of 3370 votes, the site says, 59 percent answered no, I love him no matter his size, and 5.7 percent said yes, I would not like his new size. Many of the rest were not sure how they'd react, the site says.
Carlos Lopez, a trim and handsome 28-year-old chub chaser, knows how he'd react. He says he recently broke off a two-year relationship after his partner had gastric bypass surgery and dropped 100 pounds. "Allegedly the doctor told him that he wouldn't live for more than a year, which I didn't believe. He had mild diabetes and he lives a very stressed life. I was supportive — I offered to help him exercise and watch what he eats — but I told him probably what the consequences would be."
The former partner is six feet tall and now weighs 250 pounds. That's about 30 pounds below Lopez's cutoff. Lopez says he is still attracted to the man's personality, but for him the physical draw evaporated. "I had to place some sort of guilt on myself because I'm the one who is attracted to these guys that have to be in this certain range," he says. "It's not something I can change and control."
So Lopez is back to the chase. It's what he calls "extreme dating," since his interests are so specific. And that can be frustrating. "You go to a gay bar, and they're all skinny or steroid queens," he says. "You're not going to find anything."
Sidelines, the gay sports bar in Wilton Manors, is said to offer a little more variety than the typical gay bar, but on a recent Friday night, as Lopez drains his whisky, the clientele looks gaunt to him.
Is there really no one in the bar whose looks he likes?
Lopez nods toward a blond man with a linebacker's build. The man has wide-set eyes, an upturned nose, and plenty of padding. But he looks a little young for Lopez, who prefers father-figure types. So he heads down the street to Scandals, a gay bar with a country and western theme behind an O.K. Corral façade.
The men at Scandals just might be the best line dancers ever. At first glance, they appear to be a bunch of firemen who left their wives at home for a night on the town, but they have an extra spring in their steps when stomping their boots in unison or turning 45 degrees on cue.
At the back of the bar, on a small platform, stands a big white teddy bear in a cowboy hat. In front of the stuffed animal sits a pair of really hefty men, watching the dancing from a distance. They sit with arms crossed and legs spread wide, like sumo wrestlers trying to find their balance. They're even bigger than the men Lopez is usually drawn to, but he knows one of them, Billy Parrella, who is five feet nine inches tall and 400 pounds.
Parrella, age 42, says his weight fluctuates but he has never been as thin as he'd like. "If I were 300 pounds, I'd be happy." He would also like to be in a relationship, he says, but the men who pursue him are all wrong. "It's always some bony, skinny toothpick. Or then you have some guys who like big guys because they think you'll do anything they want you to. And I'm a give-and-take kind of person. Some of them can be abusive."
Parrella says he is considering gastric bypass surgery, like his buddy Anthony Raiola had 10 years ago. Raiola, age 43, is standing nearby, wearing a sleeveless plaid shirt and grinning mischievously. Before the surgery, Raiola, who is five feet nine inches tall, weighed 420 pounds. Now he's 199 pounds. His partner, who weighs 165 pounds, feared Raiola would lose the weight and then dump him, Raiola says, but once he was reassured, he was supportive.
Losing the weight hugely boosted his self-esteem, Raiola says. "Honestly, if I had to do it again, I would. It brought me from here" — he holds his palm a few inches off the ground and then raises it to eye level — "to here."
The line dancers are beginning to head home. Lopez calls it a night, as do Raiola and Parrella. There's only one fellow left in the group, Russell Dutra, who has been quiet all evening. He looks like he's in a bad mood.
Actually he was just uncomfortable with Lopez around. As soon as Lopez exits, Dutra gushes like a teenager, confessing to a massive crush on the high school quarterback. His friends say he's exactly Lopez's type, he says, but Dutra says Lopez doesn't pay him any attention. "Whenever I see him, I get so nervous I feel nauseous," he says. "I think he's gorgeous. He walks on water."
Dutra, age 44, has salt-and-pepper hair and a trim goatee. He is five feet ten inches and 375 pounds. Some chubs carry their weight in their bellies, but Dutra is more evenly proportioned. He is stylishly dressed in camouflage cargo pants and white sneakers. He wonders if perhaps he isn't big enough to suit Lopez, although he is actually a little too big for Lopez's taste.
Perhaps not for long, though. Dutra has been attending Overeaters Anonymous meetings for about four months, he says, and in that time has lost 35 pounds. It's a struggle. "I've always been heavy," he says. "I've always turned to food to feel better; for every emotion, there's a food to quell it."
Most of the men he meets seem to want one-night stands with a large guy, he says. But he's optimistic the right guy is out there.
"I want to find somebody that, if I'm able to lose weight, they won't be like, See ya!"