The gay male community has created an impossible body standard that we’re all expected to possess. This body is rock hard, broad-shouldered, thin-waisted, and always on vacation. We confront this ideal on a daily basis both digitally and IRL.
But not all queer men subscribe to this ideal. A select group of larger-set individuals who actively reject the sociocultural norms of attractiveness are known as “gainers” or “feeders.” For them, the bigger and more robust a body is, the better. The act of feeding and growing is the ultimate kink. (Note: Some in the community regard gaining as a sexual orientation, not a kink.)
Braden, 28, fantasizes about becoming the “biggest pig” possible. “Just the thought of being a big blubbery mass or a huge muscle chub larger than a strongman competitor is amazing,” he tells NewNowNext. “Feeling huge is the end goal.”
Trent has gained nearly 200 pounds during his eight years in the gainer community. The 26-year-old enjoys the uniquely vulnerable bond between a gainer and feeder. “I enjoy the experience of eating, the feeling of heft and softness, and the closeness you feel to a guy who is feeding you,” he tells NewNowNext.
For Tim, 19, the gainer fetish is appealing because it offers a very particular dom/sub role: the gainer actively works to grow their body to please their feeder or “encourager.” In Tim’s ideal scenario, the feeder is the dominant.
“It can get pretty intense with a dominant feeder ordering you to finish your plate when you feel like you will burst,” he explains to NewNowNext. However, gainers can also be doms, demanding that feeders grab their food, rub their bellies, and run errands if the gainer has become immobile.
Gaining (also referred to as “feederism” or “fat fetishism”) is commonly linked to BDSM. Like many other BDSM communities, gainers are active and tightly knit online, frequenting niche websites to share recipes and experiences, show off their bellies, encourage each other, and discuss the healthiest ways to get fat fast.
The first gainer-exclusive website, GainRWeb, launched in 1996, decades after the Girth & Mirth Movement formed to promote positive attitudes toward larger bodies and fat fetishism in 1976. This first-of-its-kind movement is now considered the birth of the gainer fetish. Its inception spurred gainer-specific newsletters and publications like The Oinquirer and Dragongate and events like EncourageCon, a weekend-long weight gain competition and event.
“It’s very fun to play with bellies and be with someone with a larger build knowing that they are going to grow even bigger,” Tim says of the sexual appeal. “Contrast is also hot to me. To feel so big next to a smaller guy or a fit guy, you definitely start to feel like a prize pig, and it’s hot to know he just wants you bigger and fatter.”
Tim also finds public gossip and humiliation (“How did that fat guy get with him?”) a massive turn-on but can’t explain why, insisting it’s part of his DNA. Even as a kid, Tim always wanted to be fat, stuffing pillows under his shirt and fantasizing about heavy-set characters like Homer Simpson.
“I first really got into it at 16 when I went searching for fat guys on the internet and found feederism, lurking on sites that I probably shouldn’t have been on,” he remembers. At that time, Tim weighed 180 pounds; now he hovers around 300 and is aiming to reach 350. “I don’t really know when I will stop,” he says. “It’s something a lot of gainers struggle to come up with an answer to.”
Tim admits that feederism as a fetish has its cons. “Coming to terms that I’m into a fetish so controversial or strange is pretty hard to accept,” he says. “I have fantasies of getting to 800 pounds and being almost immobile. In reality, I will likely stop around 400 to 450 pounds. I’m young, so I don’t wanna get to that goal too fast.”
Tim is right: Even among kinky queers, the gainer fetish is very controversial. Every individual I spoke with requested anonymity, and the one who did agree to share their identity—a popular online persona known as GainerBull—dropped out last minute due to the vicious attacks he received online after agreeing to take part in an article about him and the gainer fetish for Metro U.K.
When I requested to speak with someone from one of the aforementioned online gainer communities, I was met with a similar resistance. “We do not support media inquiries into our community,” a representative told me via email. “In the past, any time our community (or previous websites serving our community) were mentioned in the media, it led to an influx of trolls harassing and abusing our members. As a group that is already marginalized, we’ve decided to do what we can to avoid future exposure.”
These trolls are the reason why the virtual gainer community exists in the first place: to find protection, camaraderie, and acceptance. (Every single individual I spoke to is well aware of the risks involved with gaining and does what they can to put on weight in as healthy a way as possible.)
“The community has some of the nicest, most open-minded people I have ever had the pleasure of speaking to, which really helps me feel included, as being a bigger guy in the gay community has its challenges,” Tim says. “It’s really nice to have your body and image appreciated and praised.”
Trent agrees. “I don’t feel like part of the greater LGBTQ community a lot of the time,” he says. “Because I’m so far from the usual expectations, I often don’t fit in.”
Nobody can fully understand what it means to be LGBTQ unless you are a member of the community. The same goes for gay gainers. You may not understand it, but you don’t have to. The gainer fetish is largely popular among—and born from—the queer community, and for fellow queers to judge gainers goes against everything we stand for. We value those who eat highly restrictive, sometimes disordered diets and work out two times a day, seven times a week, yet we condemn those who do the opposite. It doesn’t make much sense, does it?