Yes, that was Dog Bites you heard on Italian radio last week talking about gay marriage. We're still not really sure how it happened: One minute we were sitting at our desk, idly wondering how the Chronicle could possibly continue its near two-week run of unprovocative, angle-free, front-page stories on the City Hall nuptials (yes, they're still going on, and yes, folks have different opinions on that), when our phone rang with an urgent message from Milan. A pleasant chap named Claudio, who hosts a weekly hourlong program about homosexuality on Radio Popolare, a Pacifica-style community radio station that broadcasts throughout Italy, wanted to talk to a real-life San Francisco journalist about gay marriage.
We were needed!
But what, exactly, would we say? We were still adjusting the band of our "Warning: Expert at Work" cap -- the bill is autographed by Bruce Cain, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley -- when Claudio began tossing us softballs: How many people are showing up? Is the gay community happy about the attention? What's the "mood" of the city? Damn it, we wanted to hit one out of the park -- one does not bomb on Italian radio and stay in this game very long -- but our safe, horribly generalized responses to Claudio's overbroad, unfocused questions left us feeling like just another talking head with nothing new to offer. We looked at our stack of Chronicles and winced. The last question was something about President Bush's proposed amendment, and only in conclusion did we hit our stride: "Well, I dunno, Claudio, I guess it'll be decided in the courts."
The interview over, we asked Claudio a few questions of our own. Were we helpful? Did he learn anything? "Oh, yes," he said cheerfully. "San Francisco is beyond our expectations. We don't dare to speak about marriage. We can barely talk about civil unions." Would he offer his own take on gay marriage during the show? He tittered nervously. "Not really," he replied. "We have the pope."
We hung up feeling strange, and not just because of the language barrier. We knew we were giving Italians some information they probably hadn't heard, except for that line we quoted from The Godfather, but we couldn't shake the idea that Dog Bites, despite our best intentions, had simply contributed to the excess of hot air puffing up this particular "debate." We vowed to do better next time -- ring, phone, ring! -- and to answer every query, no matter our expert opinion, thusly: "Gee, that's a good question. For a judge."
Meantime, what about those unlucky gays and lesbians who couldn't care a tinker's cuss about marriage because they have yet to navigate the prickly path to true love? Have we all just forgotten about them? No, we have not. A friend of Dog Bites offers the following tale from a different kind of gay dating scene:
The gym is a cold, lonely place in winter. And ever since we stopped going, we've developed a rigorous workout routine under the soft, amber glow of the refrigerator light, where we've kept warm by bingeing on pungent cheeses, pints of Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby, and other enriched white flour treats. Bad move: Although we've long maintained a streamlined figure, we now find, to our horror, that we can no longer fit into our size-32 pants. The situation reached full-blown crisis stage when a college chum recently remarked, "I like your new look -- you've filled out nicely." Suddenly, body dysmorphia has moved to the top of our list of obsessions.
We head to the nearest watering hole to reflect on getting older, growing larger, and, perhaps, facing life alone. (Not that we'd tie the knot at a municipal government building, anyway. No, no: We want a fat rock on our finger, a reservation at Grace Cathedral, and a registry at Sur la Table.) And while liberating our three bourbons in the bathroom of the Stud, we notice a flier tacked above the urinal advertising an upcoming event called "Planet Big, a club for big men and their admirers." Hmm. Perhaps we've been orbiting around the wrong celestial bodies.
The next Sunday, we visit the biweekly event, and meet "Planet Big"'s co-promoter, Troy Schoonover. The manager of an employment agency by day, Schoonover, 36, promotes the club with his boyfriend of eight years and comes across as unpretentious, soft-spoken, and not terribly fat at all. ("I lost 60 pounds doing Atkins," he explains, which we find amusing for a promoter celebrating the ample homosexual.) Decked out in casual SOMA-style -- jeans, black T-shirt, and reversed baseball cap -- Schoonover explains the evolution of the Russian doll-like "chub" subculture, which is a spinoff of the, ahem, larger bear community (aka hairy gay men), which is itself a derivative of the overall GLBT community, which is ... you get the idea.
Some lessons from Schoonover: Fat clubgoers prefer the term "chubs," and their admirers like to be called "chub chasers." To us, these terms sound creepy in a cloying, Weight Watchers kind of way, not at all like specific sexual fetishes. "Chubs," Schoonover further clarifies, "are either chubby or husky, and the chub chasers are typically, though not always, average to thin."
Like what we used to be: skinny, scrawny, and sickly. Sigh.
The dance floor is packed with men, many of them drinking beer and eating from a platter of crackers and chocolate-laced cookies, which we think is great for a club that caters -- literally! -- to heavyset people. But the vibe at "Planet Big" is refreshingly different in other ways, too: The men eschew the highly cologned, perfectly coiffed look one finds at most gay bars in the city, where those who aren't lean, and who don't smell like they've marinated in Calvin Klein's Obsession, are liable to feel unwelcome.
But maybe, just maybe, we haven't put on as much weight as we thought: While standing in line to use the bathroom, a hairy ogre drapes his large, tattooed arm around us and coos into our ear, "I just love your ginger hair, and I'd love to be your daddy." Gulp. Lacking the courage to give him a slap across the face for being so fresh -- the guy is enormous, after all -- we gently disentangle ourselves from his viselike hug and mutter, "Oh, that's sweet. I have to pee now."
Maybe Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is right: Gay men are paranoid narcissists staving off the effects of crow's-feet, unsightly nose hair, and love handles. Still, it's nice to know a place like "Planet Big" exists, not only to make us feel better by comparison, but also to promote a mellow alternative to the typical clubs brimming with wildly attractive, height-weight-proportionate men who, sadly, won't force us into a bear hug. (Brock Keeling)