Tuesday, July 06, 2010


For a while I’ve been thinking about how to write this because it’s not about what it seems to be about. It’s really about not thinking “big” enough, that is, out of the box -- past the limits of one’s own and one’s society’s ability to envision what’s “out there.” For one thing, most people don’t know how bad it could get. (A marine biologist on the radio yesterday said she weeps at what seems to be happening. FAR worse than BP. Dead zones in the sea that already exist and are expanding.) They don’t want to think about it. Back in the Sixties when there were still WWII veterans around, if you joked at a very bad time, “Well, at least things can’t get any worse!” they would jump to forbid you to say that because they KNOW things can always get a whole lot worse. Worse than you could ever think of.

But now that we’re in the Twenty-Tens, the part of our outlook that needs expanding is “How GOOD can it get? How much better can we imagine?” Sometimes that means looking at the same old stuff in an entirely new way.

So Howard Stern decides he’s going to turn the “big dick” syndrome on its head by holding a “littlest dick” contest. Not only that, he puts it on YouTube. Not only that, men turn out to compete. Here are all these naked men with nametags stuck to where their left lapels would be if they were wearing suits at a cocktail party. Some protect themselves with their hands. They are all body sizes and varying degrees of “cuteness” or muscularity.

Some do indeed have penises at the low end of the range of sizes. But also some guys show up who are evidently entirely unexpected to everyone on the scene. Men with micro-penises. You got that? I don’t mean small penises. Micro-penises are a medical category. They are baby-sized: barely perceptible on a grown man.

From “Men’s Health” : “Micropenis, also known as microphallus, is a penis that is 2.5 standard deviations below the mean (average) for the age and race of the child. This definition translates to a stretched penis length of less than 1.9cm (3/4 inch) long at birth and can be described as a micropenis. Statistically, micropenis occurs in 0.6% of the population. . .

“There are many reasons why the penis may not develop. Very early in the development of the human male or female fetus differences in the genitalia cannot be detected, even though the sex chromosomes XX (in most females) and XY (in most males) have put down the basic building blocks. It is hormones produced by the gonads determined by the sex chromosomes that then determine which organs develop and which ones disappear. The same tissue that forms the clitoris in the female forms into a penis in males, the tissue that makes the scrotum in the male makes the labia in the female. Because of the complexity of fetal development things can and do go wrong. Therefore it should be no surprise that things can go wrong in the development of the sex organs.” . . .

Recently there was a story in Slate about female babies with extra large clitoruses, sometimes mistaken for boys. While I was doing my ten week chaplaincy in the mid-West, two babies with indeterminate gender were born. Babies can also have XXY chromosomes and XYY chromosomes. Some suspect environmental contamination. Also, possible perturbations of the molecules in the mother during gestation for reasons of stress or nutrition.

What Stern was after was the social conviction that success in life goes only to those with big swinging dicks. His panel of judges included a black woman, a gay man, an engineer, and a couple of others. Stern kept the patter rolling but everyone was clearly flummoxed by these extreme cases. They just couldn’t get their heads around it. They kept saying things like, “You’ve really got balls to come in here like this.” And the guy with the microdick would say, “Are you kidding? I’m scared out of my mind!!” But one guy wore a funny hat and brought along a satirical song about himself to sing. He said hello to his girl friend of several years. Another said “hi” to his mom, who thought he was crazy for competing but also thought he was a terrific human being.

And they were. They didn’t hide, they didn’t cry, they were warm, friendly, sensible men -- guys you’d really like to know. Only their penises were small. The guys tended to be big pillowy fellows, but they had even bigger hearts. Howard Stern was torn between being a little sheepish about exposing them, grateful that his own equipment was standard, and honestly impressed by their courage. He certainly proved that you don’t need a big swinging dick to be a mensch. But women have known that all along. After all, they’re used to having no penis whatsoever. Except for a few anatomically inclusive people.

How “bad” can it get? Micro-penis. How good can it get? Mega-heart. Hearts trump dicks. How much worse can it get? Slate mentions the case of the boy whose circumcision went wrong and burned off his whole penis. Resorting to denial, they told him he was a girl. He wasn’t. He knew it. As soon as he reached the age of consent, he had plastic surgery, quite a lot of counseling, and was himself at last. That’s how much better it can get. But you have to believe it and you have to go after it.

This is entirely relevant to global warming and the state of the sea, because it’s our unfortunate conviction that bigger is better, the way to handle problems is by hiding them and denying them, and that the mechanical piston driven by fossil fuel is a manifestation of a Big Swinging Dick which is the key to happiness and great relationships. It’s not the size of the automobile -- it’s the skill of the driver.

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