Upon my arrival at the steamy, hellishly hot little Brooklyn dive bar in which the 1st Annual Smallest Penis in Brooklyn Pageant was to take place, the sense of eager anticipation was as potent as the sweat aroma permeating the room. "Let's see some small dicks!" was the general consensus of all the humans in attendance.
Accordingly, everyone bided their time in a penis-related fashion: by sipping on semen-esque "penis coladas" through penis-shaped straws, by talkin' about dicks, by speculating idly (about whose penises we were going to behold). It was, by far, the most crowded, sweaty, humid room I'd ever set foot in — much less planned to ogle at flaccid manbits in. Occasionally, the penis discourse was interrupted by a complaint about the heat.
At 3:00, the time at which the pageant was slated to start, a sweaty mass of journalists had formed at the front of the room. The panel of judges was introduced. Where are the small penises, the Journalist Heap seemed to seethe. Get these judges off the stage. Everyone shifted around impatiently. A stranger's sweat dripped on my head. I tried to take a picture and someone with a stupid hat got in the way — an occurrence that would undoubtedly happen to many a person, many times, during the course of the 1st Annual Smallest Penis in Brooklyn Contest.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity spent pressed up against a wall, feeling claustrophobic and hot while praying vainly for respite, The Littlest Penises in Brooklyn to Have Answered a Craigslist Ad finally emerged from their secret chambers. In a rush of activity, the contestants began catwalking down the bar in nothing but lil' bow-tie-clad penis-socks and sashes. Photographers were snapping with wild abandon. The Journalist Heap struggled to discern and quickly write down the names on the sashes: Perri Winkle, Sugar Daddy, uh, a lot of smudges that started with a Z, Rip Van Dinkle, Flow Rider, The Delivery Man.
Of the six men, it's worth noting, three were wearing masks. All the penises were pretty small — I think I would be remiss to write this and not mention that fact — but I was so overwhelmed by the whole scene that I didn't immediately feel any reaction to the sight of the besocked manhoods hovering over the surface on which I had just been served a drink.
The whole scene was rather thought-provoking. I had to wonder, like the sweatiest Carrie Bradshaw in all of Bushwick: what were we all doing there? What is it about the spectacle of a tiny penis that was so very compelling? I glanced out the door and saw that people were lined up on the street, peering in with curiosity, because the bar was over capacity. I tried to think of an analogous woman situation: the Smallest Breasts in Brooklyn? The Longest Labia in Brooklyn? I couldn't think of any perceived flaw with a woman's genitals that would overfill a bar — about a third with writers — at 3:00 pm on a Saturday, during the hottest weekend of the entire year. Similarly, I found it hard to imagine that the bar would have been half as crowded if it were to host a Biggest Dick in Brooklyn pageant.
The small penis is a running joke in our culture; it's kind of a meme as old as time. According to Susan Bordo, author of The Male Body, "the warlords of the Ottoman Empire publicly posted their genital measurements for conquered tribes to admire." A fresco at the ruins of Pompeii (circa 79 CE) depicts "a wealthy man using his enormous penis to counterbalance several bags of money on a scale." An easy way to disparage an alpha man for being too ostentatious or too aggressive is to insinuate that he's overcompensating for his deficient penis-size. Clearly, there's a way in which our ideal of a big, girthy dick is conflated with our ideal of strength, confidence, and virility.
Furthermore, I'd argue that, because a penis isn't usually seen in public (unless you're John Hamm in sweatpants being hounded by paparazzi), we see it as somehow more integral to a man's private, inner identity. The size of one's penis is an intimate secret; once uncovered, it has the potential to reveal something previously unknown about a man's innermost psyche. For instance, the trope of the "bashful nerd who secretly has a big dick and that changes everyone's opinion of him" is fairly common in pop culture — it's occurred in Game of Thrones, The Hard Times of RJ Berger, Skins, and The Jersey Shore, to name a few.
A Big Dick Contest wouldn't interest anyone because we're constantly surrounded by metaphorical Big Dick Contests. Basically everywhere one goes, one encounters some variation of that age-old battle. It's boring. The unabashed display of the small, flaccid phallus, on the other hand, is fascinating because it's unheard-of. In our cultural imaginary, the only public place for a bare, small penis to be out is within the confines of the locker room — and the small-dicked man is always supposed to be anxious there. According to a plastic surgeon quoted in The Male Body, the typical phalloplasty (penis enlargement) patient "wants to get big so he can show himself off to other men, to say, 'Mine is bigger than yours,' like a buck deer displaying its antler." Thus, the confidence required to strut around, nearly completely naked, fully aware that your penis is completely unimpressive, seems impossible to muster. Small dicks are normally a punchline. To see them as the focal point of a celebration is both alien and engrossing.
Sort of predictably, the specific events that occurred within the span of the pageant were less interesting than the underlying idea that drew everyone there. The day unfolded exactly how you might imagine a mediocrely-organized penis pageant at a bar would unfold — the only unexpected part was that a sewage line broke, prompting rumors that someone had pooped in their pants. ("I AM SO HOT. SOMEONE SHAT THEMSELVES. MY PHONE IS DYING. DON'T CRY FOR ME AFTER I AM GONE," this intrepid reporter texted about six people at once.) Before the unfortunate poo-incident happened, though, there was an "evening wear" (tuxedo penis sock) portion, a "talent" (mostly stripping and gyrating ironically) portion, and a "swimwear" (completely see through gauze penis-hammock) portion.
I think that penis anxiety got the best of most of the contenders — two of the masked competitors relied on stripping and drag gags during the talent portion, shirking the weird burden of male objectification through ironic feminization. The third masked young man became so drunk that he was disqualified after falling over on the stage and making fart noises with his hands, feebly. One of the unmasked men also became debilitatingly drunk; during the Q&A portion, he answered a series of completely unrelated questions with a rambling, incoherent diatribe about being 45 and bisexual. He then stripped completely naked. It turns out that subverting our dominant cultural mythology about large penises, in a public place, scrutinized by about 200 people, is not easy to do sober.
The remaining two contestants, who neither hid their identities nor became terrifyingly inebriated, were the only two genuinely liked by the crowd. Both were affable, humble, and obviously immensely comfortable in their own skin. The first runner-up, Rip Van Dinkle, was an elderly man with wild biker hair, sunglasses, and a very nonchalant bearing. The pageant winner, The Delivery Man, was almost shocking in his cheerful ordinariness. He had the look of a completely average, friendly guy, complete with a manicured beard, baseball hat, and bro-y demeanor. The Delivery Man had the easy confidence that one would stereotypically attribute to a well-endowed man — during the opening catwalk, he sort of wiggled his penis around with his hands while looking good-natured. For his talent portion he did self-deprecating standup (about how small his penis is, naturally).
At his coronation, the Smallest Penis Pageant Crown was placed on top of his baseball hat while he grinned amicably. I watched it happen from a back alleyway, surrounded by people muttering darkly about the feces smell, and felt happy for him.
Afterwards, when the Gothamist asked if he thinks that small penises have an undeserved bad reputation, he had this to say:
Yes. That's the media's fault, I think. For both men and women, they push out images of people who just aren't regular normal people. The size of a man's penis does not matter for who he is as a person or in a relationship. Same thing with breast size. We're all made in different shapes and sizes, but the media puts pressure on people to look a certain way. Most people do not look that way. Some people let that false sense of body image upset them and they shouldn't be upset at all. Even worse, some people use those false standards and judge other people. It's disconcerting.
He's right. Like the idealized feminine body, the humongous penis is a cultural fantasy inextricably linked with limiting a conception of how gender should operate. It's a hugely unrealistic expectation augmented by pop culture (i.e., gazing at celebrity packages) and, obviously, by the porn industry. It's fascinating to watch someone confidently and proudly defy the body-shaming imperative, which is why everyone so obviously best liked the men who weren't visibly anxious. An event like this — one that contradicts the phantom notion of inevitable public humiliation that stalks the man with a small penis — is compelling to us because it's bizarre but familiar. Anything that works to erode an unattainable, banal fantasy of masculinity is bizarre; anything that foregrounds the anxious reality that underlies said fantasy is familiar.
But also, it basically goes without saying that an event like this is compelling because of cheap beer and dicks in little tuxedos.
Image by the incomparable Jim Cooke.