Sunday, September 11, 2011

Weighty Matters

Dear Dr. Bill:
I'm a longtime reader of your columns; usually they're helpful and they are always interesting. Thank you. But I was pretty stunned at the level of contempt and blatant meanspiritedness you showed in your reply entitled, "Blubber Belongs On Whales Not Men." Sometimes my irreverence gets the better of me but it is never my intention to be blatantly cruel. (More on this below.)

In my view any advice columnist should show empathy and kindness, and you did neither. Not everyone shares your view. I find the best advice columnists cut through the crap, don't take excuses, and say what needs to be said, no matter how terrible.  I was taken aback by how condescending and arrogant your reply sounded. I haven't seen this before in your posts, so I can only guess it was a really bad day. Could be. I've had my share.

Sure, being tremendously overweight is a serious health problem for anyone. And sure, the great majority of gay men in bars (conscious as they are about visible appearance and looking fabulous) likely have no attraction to very obese peers. But I think using phrases like "manatees," I didn't come up with that term, and I guess whether it's derogatory or not depends on the user, same as with, say, "chubbybear." "stuff their faces," "utterly repulsed," "blubber," "humongous man boobs," "revulsion," "sloppy fat," and "frequently effeminate" mainly have one effect: they highlight YOUR insecurity about this topic and spotlight your need to denigrate an entire subgroup of the gay male population...possibly because you fear that you could become like them if Fate frowns on you.Anything's possible, but I can't imagine having such a level of self-hate that I'd let that happen, but who knows? [Don't over-react to that until you read the rest.]

It was a wise man who said we only hate things in others that we detect in ourselves. Honestly, I'm about five pounds overweight currently. No real danger of becoming morbidly obese and not really a fear of mine. Not to say I don't have my issues, being human.

And all the psychobabble about how people attracted to really fat men are insecure about their looks or are wanting to climb into a mother's womb was just laughable. Where are you getting this stuff? It may sound like psychobabble, yes, but just why do some people find fat sexy? It's just beyond me and I was searching for answers. If you have the answers I'll be happy to hear them. Clearly there are people who have a fat fetish, just as there are those with a bald or hairy or beard fetish and so on. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with any of it.

Full disclosure: I feel strongly about this, in part, because I'm overweight. Not by any means as overweight as the guys described by your writer and by you, but I need to lose weight. I weighed 180 in high school and was skinny (I'm tall) and now at age 48 I'm at 230 and the clinical BMI charts classify me as obese.I once weighed nearly as much.  In my case, part of the reason for the steady weight gain is medication for depression that I've been on for many years. These medications can and do affect metabolism, and also make people remarkably hungry. But on balance the weight is better than debilitating clinical depression. I know a lot of gay men and lesbians in my shoes, too. Okay, this is a good point and I'm glad you raised it. But you do realize I was not commenting on people who become obese due to physical ailments and medication but to GLUTTONY  and absolutely no exercise at all. I can feel sympathy for the first category but not so much for the second. And they do exist. [And you are undoubtedly aware that not everyone who takes anti-depressants experiences weight gain. Is the extreme hunger caused by the medication or by the depression itself? I know several people who are on or have been on anti-depressants and none of them experienced rabid hunger or weight gain, but perhaps every case is different.]

You are definitely right that very overweight people should lose weight. It's obvious. In my case, the extra poundage pushed me into the diabetic range for a while but my blood sugar gets a lot better when I manage to lose weight.  What I really take issue with is your total lack of kindness in the tone of your writing, as if you decided that you could be as nasty toward very obese people as you wished because they're the one minority that's generally seen as OK to malign. I don't see obese people as being a minority, especially since obesity is a major problem in the U.S. In the past week alone there have been several programs on the subject from Dr. Phil to 20/20. Obese people are not in the minority. Morbidly obese, maybe. But they have their admirers, so they're not doing so badly are they? And while I may not be attracted to very obese men doesn't mean I don't recognize that they can be perfectly nice and worthwhile human beings. But they'll probably live longer if they lose some weight.

Talking about your own struggles with weight doesn't counterbalance the cruelness of your comments, nor does tossing in a line about how it seems there's suiters for all types of gay men regardless of appearance in this wonderful, diverse world of ours. But isn't that good? Every other sentence in your response showed you're paying lip service to this idea. Every time I go out to a bar I see middle-aged men who are simply in terrible shape, be they bears, chubby bears, manatees, whatever you want to call them. It is a struggle [for me and everyone else] to stay in shape, but as long as we in the gay male community make obesity "sexy" it is not going to encourage anybody to take care of himself. The purpose of the whole bear movement was to address the fact that not all of us are young, thin, handsome etc. and that was great. But if it makes being obese and unhealthy a good "sexy" choice it's going too far in the wrong direction. Am I being cruel, or is the guy who tells a morbidly obese man that he's "hot" and encourages him to stay that way the really cruel one? Worse, some "chubby chasers"  want to have sex with some guy because of their fetish, but when it comes to long-term relationships, forget it. That can be pretty cruel to the big guy they're going after, too, who thinks that the chaser likes him for himself and not just his fat.

If you're going to style yourself as a counselor, be sophisticated about it and do what counselors do: Be courteous [me?], be as open-minded as you can [I do try],  and "do no harm" with the words you choose [The trouble is -- and forgive the cliche -- you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet]. Gay people have experienced the pain of stigma and discrimination and not fitting in their whole lives. Don't lash out against any segment of them under the guise of being helpful and spurring them to improve themselves. Advice columnist, heal thyself. If you knew me you'd know that I'm a blunt, no bull-shit, politically incorrect person and while it may make people mad at me at times [you should hear what certain bisexuals and asexuals have to say about me] at least no one should feel patronized. I'm not a touchy feely kind of guy, I say what I mean come hell or highwater. Actually that's one of the things people seem to like about the blog.

As for "manatees," we should feel sorry for them because of any health issues they have that are a.) caused by their obesity or b.) have caused their obesity. Otherwise, they're doing just great. I've seen many a "manatee" strutting around with admirers in tow, so let's not feel too sorry for them. I mean that was the whole point of the post, that there at least seem to be many more chubby chasers in the gay community than ever before. I have encountered a great many guys who are scratching their heads over it all. The thing that worries me is when all is said and done will obese men's admirers just fuck and forget 'em , or encourage them to get in shape?
 P.S. A manatee is a marine mammal, not a fish. Check your facts. --Bob
Well, I simply meant big fish as in "swims in the ocean" but I will double-check. 

I know there are some nice people in the gay community who happen to be morbidly obese for one reason or another. I don't exactly go around being nasty to them or anyone else. Just as they have to deal with the fact some may find them unattractive due to their weight, so, too, do other gay men have to deal with the same thing because they are hairy, smooth, HIV positive, bald, old, lame, infirm, poor and so on and so on. But we all do deal with it,  largely because there are people who find us attractive in spite of what others might find dismaying. A big difference is that being bald or hairy etc. doesn't represent a health risk as extreme obesity does.

What's strange about this whole situation is that we are not talking about cases where, say a man's lover puts on a great deal of weight over time [which can happen of course], and while that man's partner may no longer find him as attractive, he will still be in love with him and tactfully urge/help him to lose weight. No, what we have today is a completely different situation: men who are specifically out there looking for obese and often morbidly obese men. It is one thing for someone to look past what others might find repulsive [and we're not just talking about fat here] and appreciate the person's inner qualities, but being turned on by obesity is another matter entirely. 

And if you think this is bad, wait until I answer a recent question on "daddies" and cubs next week!


Phone Sex said...

Aw, this was a really quality post. In theory I'd like to write like this too - taking time and real effort to make a good article... but what can I say... I procrastinate alot and never seem to get something done.

Bill Samuels said...

Thanks for the compliment. Believe me, I know all about procrastination, but sometimes it's just about finding the time to give the most thorough answer I can give.

Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Hi there Bill, i've made a post about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in uganda and i would be really grateful to you if you just take a look at it...

Bill Samuels said...

Hey, maybe I waited too long but this doesn't appear to be up anymore. My apologies. Can I find it anywhere else? Bill