Trepidation of a Half-Circumcision

My favourite story about F. Scott Fitzgerald is one I heard while watching the second season of the HBO comedy series Bored to Death. In the scene, Jonathan Ames (played by Jason Schwartzman) just got dumped by a girl and feels really inadequate about his penis. He asks his friend Ray (played by Zach Galifianakis) to inspect his gadget and determine whether Jonathan should be in fear that he has a less than prominent member. Ray would have nothing to do with it at first, but Jonathan rationalized this action saying that Ernest Hemingway did it for Fitzgerald when the author of The Great Gatsby faced the same problem.

I think this is an issue every man faces at some point or another in his life: how do we compare? Are we too small? Are we too big? Do we hang off to the side too much? And to any man reading this essay and saying to themselves, “Bah! I’ve never experienced that!” You’re a goddamned liar! You and I both know you’ve compared yourself to other guys in the locker room, you’ve performed the tip of the thumb to tip of the index finger test[1], and you have on more than one occasion considered calling for your free sample of Enzyte[2].

As much as this is an “everyday every-man issue,” I think I suffer from this anxiety a little more than most other men do. To get to the short and stubby of things, I’m half-circumcised. It’s hard to explain this physical anomaly without the aid of some visual similes: a normal circumcised penis looks like a turtle’s head, a normal uncircumcised penis looks like a stocking toque. We all know this. Mine looks like the turtle is wearing a turtle neck or an Adidas jogging jacket with the zipper done all the way up[3]. My mother eventually explained to me that the doctor just didn’t cut enough skin off. My parents also considered having me complete the procedure a little later on in life; thankfully, they decided not to be sadists.

Though I was reassured that not having all of the skin cut off is a little more common than I would expect, the thirteen year old version of myself would not hear that. I was a freak.

Well, to be fair, I was already well established as a “freak” by my peers well before I discovered there was something up down there. By the time junior high hit for me, I was about six-feet tall and well over 200 pounds. Already at the extreme scrutiny of my peers, last thing I wanted to do was give them another reason to discriminate against me. The dreaded locker room was a place to avoid for me at all cost. I did everything I could to avoid gym class, making an art out of using my asthma as an excuse not to participate[4].

Unfortunately, hiding my phallic-phantasm didn’t help me much in the making friends category. I sometimes thought that rumour got out about my half-circumcision. I was eternally embarrassed as it felt like judging eyes peered upon me at all times. I took solace in my large headphones and blasting whatever aggressive music I could find at full blast to drown out everything around me. I think a lot of other kids would have cracked under this kind of peer-abuse day to day. I was lucky. I had an outlet. The outlet turned into a hobby. And then that turned into my first glimpse of finding decent people I could relate to.

Towards the end of high school, I got to be a part of an amazing band. It wasn’t even the music that made it so great. It was the people I surrounded myself with. There were four other guys in this band and we all clicked pretty quick. Mostly, I grew very close with our drummer, Liam McGowan. Really funny guy who had neither an inner monologue nor any kind of social filter[5]. This was especially evident when he began a quandary through the band about who was “cut”[6] and who wasn’t “cut.” Everyone went around and revealed the state of their genitalia; I was the last to reveal what mine was like.

It was a moment of truth for me. If this band were to become any more successful we would probably go on tour. If we went on tour, I would have to live in a van with these guys for weeks on end: we’d wind up sharing beds, sharing meals, sharing bodily functions, and sharing everything else possible[7]. I had to know if these guys were really different, I had to know whether I could trust them on this deep of a level, I had to know if I actually had friends or jut band-mates.

Liam looked right at me and asked, “So, Chris, cut or uncut?”

Moment of truth!

“Well, I’m sort of both. You see my doctor didn’t cut enough off so I don’t have the stocking-toque, but I also don’t have a turtle-head… it’s something like a turtle-neck.”

At first the guys just seemed confused at the prospect of a half-circumcision. Alex, our bass player, tried to demonstrate his idea of what it may look like by balling up his fist and laying his over hand on top, parallel with the first hand, with his fingers hanging off[8]. I retorted with my own hand-simulation, balling up my fist and then wrapping my other hand around my fist with my knuckles just peeking under.

This incited a world of curiosity from Liam, and from that day forward, at least once a week, he’d say, “One of these days, Chris, you gotta show us the half-cut.”

That day finally came during the summer of 2006 while the band was on what would become our last tour together. We drove down to Vancouver, eight of us crammed into a single cargo van with no trailer for our gear, and we stayed at UBC’s residence. We arrived in Vancouver sometime in the afternoon during rush hour and finally made it to our room by mid-evening. Maybe it was the exhaustion of a long drive, maybe it was the stress of being stuck on the Cocahaula for so many hours, but as soon as we all dropped off our bags I could see a look in Liam’s eyes. It’s this special look there he’s thinking of something and it’s only a matter of seconds before he blurts out whatever it is kicking around in his head. He stares off into space for a moment, not blinking, mouth closed and very still. I watched Liam as he assembled his idea and I prepared myself for what would come out of his mouth. And I counted three…

Two…

One…

“Chris! It’s time! Time to show us the half-cut!”

The rest of the band and our friends that we brought along with us all laughed in disbelief, never once expecting me to actually go through with revealing the half-cut for inspection. But, Liam insisted: now was the time to finally see my half-circumcision.

Liam sat down in the kitchen and leaned an elbow on the table, waiting to get what he wanted. A couple of the other guys stood next to him, curious as to whether I’d actually go through with presenting my genitals. Most other males would probably do everything they could to avoid showing themselves to other males, but this was different for me. I knew I was in safe hands with these people, these weren’t the scrutinizing eyes and judgmental attitudes I went to junior high with, these were people I spent close to every waking moment with. I knew I could trust them.

After the Jonathan Ames character opens his pants and reveals himself, all hesitancy leaves the Ray character as he looks down to his friend’s dangly-bits. He stares at it for a second, and then says that Ames is perfectly normal. To push his point, he exposes himself as well to Ames and shows that they’re both practically the same size and Ames has nothing to worry about. What should have been an extremely awkward scene suddenly became one of the most casual conversations ever held on television.

The story practically goes the same for when Fitzgerald showed Hemingway his little Gatsby. Ernest shrugged, told him it was fine, and they moved on with their day.

I exposed myself and Liam’s curious eyes studied me for a moment, trying to take in what was laid out before him. He planted his palms against his knees, leaned forward and tilted his head as he stared deep into my crotch. Then, with a sigh, a slap on his knees, and a sudden jut upright, he declared: “That’s it? It doesn’t loom weird at all. Pretty normal actually. What’s the big deal?”

For a moment, I was almost disappointed that my penis wasn’t particularly impressive. But, all my junior high trepidations suddenly subsided.  Why it wasn’t completely bizarre for Liam to be inspecting my gadget boggled me at first. For generations there have been unspoken cues about other mens’ genitals: you don’t look at the guy beside you at the urinals, you never look down in the locker room, and if you accidentally see another man’s penis you never mention it or comment about it. I guess these social rules didn’t matter to Liam, or perhaps that’s just how close we became while touring together. After all, he was nothing like the kids I went to junior high or high school with. I always suspected that I had his acceptance and his inspection of my half-circumcision only solidified what I already knew: Liam was that good of a friend. I guess like Hemingway and Fitzgerald and like Jonathan Ames and Ray, the best friends are the ones who can see your junk and not be weird about it.

After the band broke up, Liam and I didn’t talk for a while. He would call me the odd time to get an update on everything that had been going on with me, but it wasn’t like it was while we were on tour together. There weren’t any particular harsh feelings, we were both just growing up and going our separate ways. But not too long ago we met up at a party. We exchanged the usual greetings and pleasantries and caught up on each others’ lives. When the conversation dropped and that moment of awkward silence was about to pop up on us, I saw that look again in Liam’s face. And I counted three…

Two…

One…

“Hey, Chris! Remember the time you showed me your half-cut?”


[1] To those who don’t know what the “tip of the thumb to the tip of the index finger test” is, it’s an urban legend that states a properly proportioned man’s member will fit perfectly length-wise in the space between his thumb and index finger while his fingers are stretched out.

[2] “Natural male-enhancement” my ass. There only thing that should be naturally that long is a Boa Constrictor.

[3] If I were Kurt Vonnegut, I’d be placing my own drawings right about here.

[4] I even perfected the fake cough so well that I found a way to make it sound as though I had a severe croup. It’s in knowing how to get the right amount of phlegm in your throat, how to get it to vibrate as the cough travels up, and how to push that air your diaphragm to get a nice volume.

[5] What he lacked in these departments he made for in charisma. So he’d say strange things, but it always came off as funny and endearing.

[6] “Cut” of course refers to whether you had your foreskin cut off or not.

[7] In fact, there isn’t a lot you can hide while on tour. So it’s not even a choice that you’re sharing these things. It’s just going to happen and that’s just how it is.

[8] Like if the stocking-toque had a slit through it horizontally from head on, then the bottom half was removed.

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