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Homobesity: How one overweight, gay, middle-aged man learned to be comfortable in his skin

Writer and performer Connor O’Donoghue’s play is a funny, poignant tale of survival in a homophobic and fat-phobic world

It all started with his foreskin. Connor O’Donoghue (42) had been living in London, the closest he’d been to his Ballincollig home in 20 years, teaching English as a foreign language to students and trainee teachers. He had moved to Poland from Cork at 21, where his teaching career began, and pivoted between 10 different countries (“I always say Slovenia is where I’ll retire”) before settling in the UK capital.

During this time, he’d kept a blog – originally to legitimise his attempt at weight loss, and to commit to accountability along the way – unravelling just enough, day-by-day, to tell the stories of his life; the kinds that shaped him, his viewpoint and mind when entering and leaving relationships.

“And then, at the start of the pandemic, I got a proper management job and thought I’d should better stop blogging,” he smiles, over Zoom from a London cafe. “I’m too grown up for this.” But he missed it – the creative outlet, the telling of stories – which is why, when he saw an Instagram ad for the Brighton Fringe Festival, he booked a train.

“I committed to a poem,” he smiles again. “But I had nothing at that point. I’d never performed before, and I was 41 at that stage. So I wrote a poem on the train on the way down. And it was actually about my foreskin.”


By the time the poem had been performed, in 2022, O’Donoghue’s enthusiasm had been underscored by the rarity of his kind of storytelling; that of marginalised bodies in an unmarginalised sphere. Gay, fat (a word he has “become a lot more comfortable with” and, in fact, makes him feel powerful) and in his 40s, opportunities were rarely afforded to him, and his story was rarely told.

“I took that poem as a starting point,” he says, checking behind him to see if anyone had heard his previous few words. “And I told myself that I was going to put together an hour’s worth of material. I didn’t know what shape it was going to have, or what it was going to be. I just knew I had a lot to say.”

The result is Homobesity, the one-man tragicomedy detailing the two self-described cornerstones of O’Donoghue’s life: homosexuality and fatness. “I grew up in a very Catholic home,” he says. “Like, not just run-of-the-mill Catholics. My parents were members of a fundamentalist Catholic group. My brother is a priest, another brother is a missionary. We were hard-core. I was a true believer up until I was 16, then I decided I’d prefer being gay to being holy.”

He details this conflict admirably, the struggle for self-acceptance beginning early, with raw humour: “I think I was two years too early for the gay thing to be okay in Ireland,” he laughs. “I remember being in third year in University College Cork and seeing first years shout about being gay. At that stage, I was still whispering it to friends in nightclubs.”

At its simplest, Homobesity is about being overweight in a fat-phobic world. However, O’Donoghue’s own story delineates a radical form of self-love in a world brushing up against him. He tells the story of finding himself welcomed in communities of straight men, and then finding new aspects of himself in the words of gay fat fetishists online and in London, all the while exploring the reality, heartache and joy of bariatric surgery. Taking aim at the harmful, cruel and oftentimes fatal weight-loss industry, the conversation in Homobesity speaks to a larger one about authenticity, spanning a range of underrepresented identities, in a world that doesn’t cater to them.

“It’s a show that’s a lot about being fat and a lot about being gay, but I’m conscious I speak about it quite seriously––when it really is quite funny.”

We don’t really include men in the story of attaining the perfect body. We talk about women – frequently enough for it to become normal – refusing desserts and taking up hybrid and far-reaching exercise classes such as piloxing and Bikram to obtain slimness, neatness and control, more often than not to the detriment of their health. However, according to the Health Research Board’s (HRB) 2020 hospital admissions report, 13 per cent of adult admissions due to an eating disorder were males. And studies have shown that men may account for 25 per cent of those suffering from anorexia or bulimia nervosa.

Another report published by the Irish Medical Journal showed that between March and September 2020, 40 per cent of patients admitted to hospital suffering from an eating disorder were male, “considerably higher than any other year”. And finally, in a 2016 report using a sample of adolescent boys with eating disorders, 52 per cent of those surveyed showed vital physical signs that met the criteria for urgent medical admission.

When I arrived to London at 35, I’d never had a boyfriend, I had no group of gay friends. A big part of my journey was stumbling into the chubby-chaser world, where I found a new sort of acceptance

It appears that these problems, both anecdotally and statistically, become more acute when they fall within the bounds of LGBTQIA+, most notably for bisexual and gay men. It’s not uncommon for men in these categories to open a dating app like Grindr and be greeted with caustic and unrelenting phrases such as “no fats, no femmes” and “gym-fit only”; when agenda-setting gay men’s magazine Attitude conducted a body survey in 2017, 84 per cent of respondents said they felt under “intense pressure” to have a so-called “good body”.

Further research published in 2019 by Philip Joy and Matthew Numer from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia found that “social demands placed upon gay men to eat healthily and achieve a perfect body are linked to anxiety and depression and have serious mental health consequences”. The US National Eating Disorder Association (Neda) similarly says that “LGBTQ+-identified people experience unique stressors that may contribute to the development of an eating disorder”, such as the “inability to meet body image ideals within some LGBTQ+ cultural contexts”.

O’Donoghue argues that bigger gay men experience a double form of stigma: firstly, from heteronormative society, which rejects them for being gay; and secondly, from mainstream gay culture, which rejects them for being fat. In addition, they also experience shaming from mainstream heteronormative society simply because of their body size, such as when seeking healthcare, aeroplane seating or clothing. “I’ve been very overweight at different stages,” O’Donoghue says. “You don’t necessarily find yourself at home or welcome in the gay community when you look like that. When I arrived to London at 35, I’d never had a boyfriend, I had no group of gay friends. A big part of my journey was stumbling into the chubby-chaser world, one I always knew existed but never researched, where I found a new sort of acceptance. But while still struggling, too.

“Society teaches us not to like certain bodies, not to accept them or tolerate them. And I think a major reason for that is because we don’t hear stories from people in these bodies. Not ones without judgment. The stories we hear today about fat people are told within the same tone as we used to hear stories about gay people. And that needs to change.”

I think a younger me was also completely persuaded that there was a thin person inside me waiting to get out, and that the only path to happiness was to unlock that

It’s a story even Hollywood has struggled to get right emotionally. A24 and film-maker Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale may have secured lead actor Brendan Fraser an Academy Award, but few viewers have come away from it with feelings of gratitude. In it, Fraser plays a man named Charlie – the actor’s frame unrecognisable beneath folds of graphic, photorealistic prosthetic fat. He lives alone in a dark, unkempt apartment where he grieves his male lover, and hopes to retie the bond with his estranged ex-wife and teenage daughter. His sole acquaintances are a nurse and a young evangelist who shows up at his doorstep. Charlie teaches an online essay-writing course, but he keeps his computer camera off out of shame, because he weighs about six hundred pounds (42 stone).

“Yeah… it’s very one-sided,” O’Donoghue says. “It definitely sees obesity as tragedy and it kind of sees homosexuality as a tragedy, too. My biggest issue was the sad, dramatic music every time he ate anything. It was a bit like, look at this author of his own misfortune. It’s very blaming. Also, I think there is that fear for a fat person that you will get locked in your body or house. I had an emotional response to that, anyway.”

The discussion around fatness on-screen brings up its own particular wounds, and O’Donoghue is sympathetic. If a younger him were to see Homobesity. he says, he would have mixed feelings. “So, in part, it’s a story of hope,” he says. “There is very much the ‘it gets better’ idea and there are moments of joy and connection, whether that be sexual connection, romantic connection or whatever. And I think a younger me would have loved seeing that.” But he adds, “I think a younger me was also completely persuaded that there was a thin person inside me waiting to get out, and that the only path to happiness was to unlock that. So I think part of the younger me would be quite disappointed with, with how the weight story goes. Because, I mean, that’s absolutely what fat people are taught––that that thin person inside you is the real you and that’s the you that needs to be released into the world. But I think overall, it would have been very empowering for young me to to see a show like this. Because I did find my tribe. And there is one out there for everybody.”

Homobesity runs at the Outhouse Theatre on Capel Street from May 1-6 as part of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival.