If you became incredibly successful and super-wealthy, would it change who you are? If you could rub elbows with the rich and famous, would that affect your relationships with the folks you knew along the way, the ones who supported you and encouraged you to follow your dream?
Imagine this scenario a little differently. Instead of achieving occupational or financial success, consider physical beauty or personal appearance. Thinking back to high school, we all know about the “in-crowd.” The prettiest, most athletic, best-looking were almost always also the most popular. If you were not part of this group but were one of the outcasts who didn’t stand a chance of ever fitting into those social circles, you’re painfully aware that nothing you said or did would likely have made a difference. On your best day, you still wouldn’t quite make it because you just didn’t fit. You didn’t look the part. You weren’t pretty enough, or skinny enough, or muscular enough.
And maybe as a teenager—or perhaps even still as an adult—you fantasized about being accepted into this exclusive group of popular people. Perhaps you wondered what it would feel like to be part of that circle, to be accepted and welcomed and included. Instead of just being an observer, you’d be a participant. Rather than just being an admirer, you’d be admired. Instead of feeling ashamed of your appearance, wanting to slink off into the corner where you wouldn’t be seen and judged, you’d be center stage, in the limelight, respected and possibly even envied by those around you.
How could such a transformation not change a person? It would be sort of like a poor person winning the lottery. Let’s be honest, we’ve all seen it happen in one way or another. We’ve known people who faced major challenges, perhaps their weight, their financial situation, or their appearance. They’ve been the outsider, and sometimes we’ve befriended them, encouraged them, reached out to them. But then their situation changed. They lost the weight, improved their situation or their looks, and in the process they gained confidence. They made new friends, many of them the same type of popular folks who would have previously looked down on them. And they left you behind. They forgot about how you had been their friend when no one else supported them. They now seem to have developed amnesia, and you barely exist to them.
I’ve known several people who have undergone weight-loss surgeries, and some of them have been my dearest friends. I’ve enthusiastically supported them in their decision to embrace a healthier lifestyle. I’ve thrilled at their progress. But sadly, in some cases, once their weight disappeared, so too did their desire to be my friend. They didn’t need a self-effacing, shy, nerdy, gay man with social anxiety in their life holding them back. They now have a fabulous body, and they want to party, and dance, and run marathons.
In some ways it’s like the alcoholic who gets sober. He discovers he has to make all new friends in order to maintain his sobriety, but in the process, he also dispenses of anyone in his life who is not a part of his “one-day-at-a-time, keep-coming-back” lifestyle. Or it’s like the poor person who eventually becomes rich. She doesn’t spend a lot of time in her old neighborhood hanging out with her former coworkers who live paycheck to paycheck. Instead, she moves on to socialize instead with other people of means, people who are like the newer version of herself.
I explore this dynamic in my new release, Slim Chance, which is the story of an overweight gay man’s journey to his fittest and healthiest self. Oliver Paxton is in his midtwenties, and he’s always been overweight. Finally, he has his epiphany and embarks upon a serious effort to take off the excess pounds and make a new life for himself.
I wanted to portray Oliver as more than just a sympathetic character, though. I saw him as flawed in many ways, and most of these imperfections are a result of what he’s been through as fatboy outcast. All his life he’s been made fun of, excluded, looked down upon. He has zero reasons to trust other people, and is therefore often cynical. He’s learned to look out for himself, and sometimes that shield of self-protection can come across as pure selfishness. Well, perhaps it is, but why shouldn’t he be selfish?
Slim Chance is Oliver’s story, and it’s an attempt to not only present a touching love story between two characters who desperately need and deserve love, but also an honest examination of what a man like Oliver would likely go through in order to learn the lessons about what really matters in life. He achieves his goal. He loses the weight and finds himself suddenly embraced by a whole new set of friends who love the new, hot-looking, cool gay guy he’s become.
But is it worth it if it means giving up the one person who loved him unconditionally all along the way?
Can a man improve his appearance without losing everything good inside him?
Oliver has always been obese and suffered from a negative body image. He’s tried diets before, failing time after time, but he vows this time will be different. As he begins an exercise program, his confidence increases—and so does his interest in his friend and coworker Benjy. Though they bonded long ago over a love of online gaming, it takes a lot of courage for Oliver to share his new body and be intimate with another man.
A passionate romance blooms, but as Oliver nears his goal, it seems he doesn’t need Benjy—with his chronic anxiety and troubled past—now that he’s made attractive new friends at the gym. But not all relationships are equal, and Oliver realizes that Benjy, who loved and supported him when no one else did, is more than a reminder of his old life.
A pleasing appearance means nothing when it hides a lonely, empty heart, and if Oliver cannot decide what’s truly important, he’ll lose what he cherishes most.
Jeff Erno is a gay man who writes gay-themed fiction. His stories include m/m romances, young adult themes, BDSM, paranormal & sci-fi, and mysteries. Jeff Erno grew up in rural northern-Michigan and is very much a country boy at heart. He came out as gay in his early twenties and began writing gay-themed stories in the late 1990s. Initially he wrote for his own enjoyment, then one day posted some of his work on a free amateur website. The positive feedback he received spurred him to continue. By the time he received his first publishing contract, he’d completed four novel-length stories. Many of Jeff’s stories are set in his small, northern-Michigan hometown, Boyne City. He’s passionate about combating teen bullying and LGBT homelessness. He loves decorating cakes, cooking, crafts, and PFLAG. And he’s never written a story without a happy ending.