In Defense of Castration, Or, A report from the Mr. Lower East Side Pageant

Like many, I have always enjoyed the disgustingness of the human body. I spent hours in my youth poring over the photographs of deformities in my father’s Mayo Clinic book, exclaiming over the gnarled horns and aberrant appendages that festooned the sad-eyed wretches peering naked and ashamed from its pages. I memorized the preliminary symptoms of leprosy and checked myself daily for tell-tale lesions, mesmerized by visions of the noseless phantoms who would one day welcome me as one of their own. I have sought out the ancient medical museum in Vienna, a squat stone hut that was purportedly a favorite hangout of Freud, and spent a happy afternoon checking out the Victorian wax models of diseased fallopian tubes and syphilitic fetuses, until I was none-too-subtly propositioned by the Nigerian security guard and made a hasty exit. I watch plastic-surgery reality shows, am moving into an apartment over a funeral home, and once made out with a Republican in a beer garden in Nebraska. I do not sicken easily.

Therefore, when Reverend Jen Miller, warned the spectators at the annual Mr. Lower East Side Pageant last Wednesday that we would see body parts we had never seen before, I chuckled smugly to myself. A body part I had never seen before? Hah! For God’s sake, I’m practically a doctor by now, what with all the gross stuff I’ve seen.


Collective Unconscious has long held a place in my affections as a place where you can run into both people from “the scene” who get written up in Time Out, and the seriously crazy freaks that keep us on our toes in Art Land. People that you would NOT want sitting on your furniture. People who’s B.O. lingers in the air long after they’ve gone. People that you don’t want to see naked. No really. You don’t want to see them naked. Ever.

That doesn’t mean that THEY don’t want YOU to see them naked.

The Mr. Lower East Side Pageant is, primarily, a celebration of the human body—but the sort you don’t see often. You see it all the time in the world of culture or Kultur, as the Germans would say. They know from nice bodies—check out “Triumph of the Will” sometime. It almost makes you think you deserve to die for being so inferior. Everywhere, one sees paeans to the beauty and strength of humanity. Michelangelo. The world of modern dance, where titans in flesh colored body stockings undulate gracefully, grasping each other’s perfect bodies. Hot Irish rugby players, like the sweaty guy in the Irish Spring commercial. Mr. LES takes all those Chelsea Boy ideals of the perfect male form and sticks a freshly sharpened pencil (suitable for judging) right where it hurts. In the prostate. Gazing at all the unclothed male forms (and a couple of females, but they didn’t take their clothes off, just dangled dildoes through their flies and cut themselves, because, as we’ve learned, that’s what LESBIANS do) as they wait backstage to go on, still, focused, and displaying all the signs of nervousness and forced camraderie that we recognize from countless Miss America pageants is like being in the Greek wing of an art museum in Hell.

Actually, that isn’t true. Most of the guys were fine. A few were even fuckable. Certainly all of the past Mr. Lower East Sides—many of whom were there to pay tribute to the contest that had made them the stars they are today, are perfectly passable male specimens. Johnny McGovern, the Gay Pimp, the always elegant Neal Medlyn—these are cute guys. But I, like the unprofessional journalist I am, have allowed a single event to cloud my entire perception of the whole. One, single, traumatizing incident and I cast aspersions on the entire organization. I can’t really, honestly say anything about what any of the contestants did or said or wore or looked like because I can’t remember. I saw them, but I didn’t SEE them. In fact, I have, as Oedipus before me, put my eyes out in horror with the pin of my mother’s tunic, and I will never see anything again.

This is all because of Tommy Dee, the Naked Guy.

Tommy Dee, the Naked Guy strode out to face his complacent, slightly tipsy audience, a paunchy, wide-hipped man in his sixties (can a man have cellulite? Alas, the answer is yes), with his hair dyed an unfortunate shade that I can only refer to as “Ronald Reagan Red” and displayed a set of genitalia so mutated, so aberrant, that I may be put off dick for life. What I for a blessed moment mistook for the unfortunate “second stomach” that many very overweight people have was actually the top of his scrotum, which was roughly the size, shape and texture of a semi-deflated basketball. His penis, placed oddly in the middle of this enormous, wretched wad of flesh, was tiny—less an independent entity than a misshapen, protruding boil. A tiny stream of trickling pus dripped from the end and nestled in a small ridge below its “faucet.” The audience, previously given to cackling and heckling of the “Take off your pants!” and “Show us your balls!” variety was absolutely, deathly silent. At least, I think they were. I myself felt the rushing of water in my ears, as though my head had turned into a conch shell. The quiet was interrupted though, when I heard my friend Lauren whisper helpfully in my ear, “Imagine putting your mouth on that thing.”

I turned to the other side, to whisper something to Neal, but no sooner had I got my mouth near his ear than he screamed, “I HAVE WILLED MYSELF INTO A COMA AND I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”

The pageant went on, but I don’t think anyone could think about anything but Tommy Dee and his freakish nut sack. We were reminded of it again and again, as Tommy Dee had unfortunately neglected to bring swimwear or evening wear. Actually, that’s not true. For evening wear he wore a belt.

We spoke of nothing else through Pakistani cab driver food afterwards, or on the subway ride home. Or the next day. I called my gentleman friend first thing in the morning. I described what I had seen and delivered the following prepared statement:

“Honey, I want to make something very clear right now. Should we ever get married, have children, or wind up together somehow for the long haul, I want it contracted into the marriage license or pre-nup or Ketubah or whatever we have that if anything like that happens to you, I CAN LEAVE YOU. No questions asked. I GET TO LEAVE AND I WILL STILL BE ENTITLED TO ANY AND ALL ALIMONY OR MONIES THAT WOULD BE PAID OVER TO ME IN THE EVEN OF OUR DIVORCE OR SPLIT.” To clarify further, and be kind, I added: “I won’t leave you if you get really fat, or bald, or if you get sick, or anything else. BUT IF THAT…(shudder) HAPPENS, I GET TO LEAVE.”

I could hear his breath over the phone for long moment until he said in his gentle, posh, accent, “Darling. If that ever happens to me, I don’t want you to leave me. I want you to fucking kill me.”

I hung up, feeling tender and in love.

But why? Why should I be so riled up and threatened, yes, threatened, by a simple deformity? I don’t even have a nut sack. Could it be because my insatiable prurience has finally gotten the better of me? That something has finally disturbed my usual unflappable self? That something like that could happen to someone that I love someday? That I realize that I’m a squeamish, prissy little bitch?

I do know this. Tommy Dee’s amazing nut sack has forced me to examine my own motivations for shocking and disturbing people and reveling in their disturbance. It has shown me the limits and pathos of being human. It has forced me to reprioritize my relationship. It has forced me to explore why people like to see other people naked and humiliated and laugh at them. In a small way, the atrocities of Abu Ghraib and such seem humanized—a logical mutation of the human love of other’s misfortune. In the words of Morrissey, “we hate it when our friends become successful,” but we love it when other people are in pain. But Tommy Dee didn’t seem to mind. He was standing in front of a bunch of people for contest where the prize is a can of beer. He liked it. He seemed happy and proud and utterly at peace. Perhaps this is the most disturbing part of all.

At the end of the night, when the traditional prizes for the runners-up are given, Rev. Jen and Faceboy presented Tommy Dee with a special certificate “Best Nutsack.” I’d like to amend that and award him a prize of my own—“For reasons stated in the previous paragraph, I award Tommy Dee, the Naked Guy, the Rachel Shukert Award for the most artistically affecting Nut sack of the Year.” Tommy Dee, Naked Guy, if you read this, please let me know where to send your certificate. It will be my honor.

However, that doesn’t mean I ever, ever want to see it again.

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