BEAR IN MIND

Introducing BENT's own Bear

Of course BENT needs an advice column.

In line with our desire to encourage reader response I am pleased to introduce a writer who makes a habit of thinking outside the box.

MAX VERGA was born 51 years ago in the Bronx, N.Y. At age five he asked his mother why two men couldn't get married. By age eighteen he realized that it's far better for two men to live in delicious sin, which he has managed to do with his lover for nineteen years.

Max has been an activist ever since getting a call from a friend reporting that he'd been in a riot at the Stonewall Bar only hours before. He began his activism with the West Side Discussion Group, later became involved with its offshoot theatre group, and was one of the founders of Mainstream, a gay-disabled group.

After beginning work for the City of New York, Max became a union activist; he ran the Housing Committee at one former union and began a lesbian and gay group at his current union, where he is vice-chair of a committee devoted to disability issues. He also worked to help win domestic partnership rights for all New York City workers.

In his spare time, Max writes gay fiction for various magazines, designs and creates elaborate Mardi Gras costumes, enjoys cooking (and eating), attending theatre, exploring the psychic, and collecting anything that you can make more than two of.

And now, Max.

-B.G.

Everybody knows what bears do in the woods....they sit around telling each other their life's stories and giving one another advice. What else would those big, hairy beasts do when they get together for their Teddy Bear Picnics?

Inspired by the wisdom of my fellow growlers, I'm here to give advice, when asked. So, if any of you out there have questions you'd like answered by someone who's been around the block a couple of times, please send them to Bear@bentvoices.org. And in case you're worried that you have to censor your thoughts, please remember that my walks around the block were often done while dressed in kinkwear and with a thought or two about who I might encounter along the way.

So let me know what's been on your mind lately. If it's a Big Unanswered Question (or even a little one), let me have a crack at it. It is, after all, what bears do best. Since this is my BENT debut, and you haven't had the chance to pose any questions yet, I thought I'd take the opportunity to tell you about something that's been on my mind. - Max Verga

 

THE UNSUNG UNHUNG

The Americans With Disabilities Act
defines a disability as something "which effects one of life's major functions." If we consider sex a major life function (and I certainly do) then we can consider any condition that impacts negatively on our sex lives to be a disability. That can cover a wide range of conditions from Erectile Disfunction to loss of ability caused by a recognized disability. But there is one "condition" that can impact on a man's sex life more than most of the obvious limiting conditions. I am, of course, talking about the man whose sex organ does not measure up to the approximate six inches that is the standard marker for designating a penis as either small or large.

Even if we weren't going to apply a legal definition to designating a small penis as a disability, the lack of ample inches would certainly meet the emotional criterion of a disability. It can be hidden or recognizable, depending on its owner's level of exhibitionism. It can cause shame. It can be the reason for rejection once revealed. Its existence is something that a man should probably discuss with a would-be partner, but it's usually left as an element of often-unwanted surprise. It can lead to a man being stigmatized. It can be accompanied by other disabling conditions. And it is something that most men are uncomfortable even discussing.

I know that some people will balk at equating having a small cock with having a disability, even after I've drawn the analogies above. And although I am making the comparison with a certain degree of tongue in cheek, it is important to remember that everything is relevant when we're thinking about putting more in cheek than tongue.

To a super-model a pimple is a disability.
To a man with all the right recognizable attractions, being "deficient" between the legs might cause the same amount of anxiety, depression, and feelings of inferiority as any of the recognized disabilities that meet the legal definition. And just as disability represents one of the last closet doors that needs to opened, being small-tooled is a closed door that most gay men don't even want to knock on, let alone consider opening. But knock we must! If for no other reason, just to find out what we're missing on the other side of the door.

Drawing on a Wall in Rome
PHOTO ©Robbo 1999

 

Some men will pay no heed to their lack of inches
when it comes to getting out there and playing the game. Others will use it as an excuse for remaining remote. Some men might make a greater effort if they felt there were others who appreciated their "deficiencies". Still others might feel better if they could communicate their feelings with men similarly equipped. Some might even want to meet up and have sex with others "of their kind," in the hope of a common bond of understanding on the issue of size. But when all avenues have been explored the fact remains that how a small-hung man feels about himself will determine just how successful he is in love and lust.

If that sounds familiar to readers with disabilities, I could rest my case. But I'm not going to. We've only just stuck our foot inside the closet. We need a better look at what's inside before I can say that my job is done. I cited the six-inch marker as a reference point for what most men consider small or large. In fact, the statistical average is a bit below the six-inch mark. Inches can be irrelevant if you factor in height. A five-foot man would be a very impressive sight with a six-inch tool. A seven-foot man with the same stat might give the opposite impression. But the real "measure of the man" is not just a matterof inches on a ruler, it's in how others perceive his size and how he perceives it himself.

Most people don't even use the six-inch marker to determine if someone's organ is small or large. Many people think that the average lies somewhere at seven or eight inches. That leaves a whole lot of men assuming they're on the downside of the size issue. Where does all this leave those who acknowledge that what nature gave them was the short end of the stick? It might leave them in a mental minefield similar to that faced by many disabled men. If they're honest about their "shortcomings" they may face instant rejection. If they're not upfront, they risk an even harsher rejection once their size is "uncovered".

They might also choose to search out men who look on a small organ as an asset. But how will they deal with someone attracted to a part of them that they've been told is less than desirable? Can they handle being loved for "all the wrong reasons?"

The answers aren't the least bit clearcut.
We live in a society that creates icons based on looks. We spoon-feed subliminal messages about self-worth starting in infancy the same way we feed baby food: with the best of intentions that may not produce the best long-term results. We want our babies to be perfect. We want our grownup men to be perfect. We offer a wide range of ways to achieve perfection, from lifting weights to cosmetic surgery.

But not every imperfection can be improved. Some stand out no matter how we try to cover them up. Others remain hidden, sometimes under our underwear. And in case you're thinking that a man with a small cock can always hide it with clothing, think about how many times you've gazed at a crotch and sized up what's inside instinctively....and made your decision about taking action based solely on your calculations.

Just as nobody wants to be labeled and judged solely on the basis of an observable disability, no man wants to be judged only on what he can offer once his shorts are down around his ankles. We all want to be loved just as we are. But if you display an obvious difference, being appreciated because of the difference can come in a close second.

That brings up the whole notion of whether or not going against the norm when it comes to attraction automatically constitutes a fetish. There are men out there who actively seek small-hung men. Do they have a preference, or is it fetish? The answer is really another question. Do you automatically label someone as weird and fetishistic simply because he sees an asset where everyone else sees a liability? I think that most people do, and that includes most men who find that they're being admired for something they've been conditioned to believe is a negative.

Why would someone want a three-incher,
the small man might wonder, when he can find a nine-incher just as easily? Aesthetics? Ability to handle the smaller version better? Some twisted need to get less than he deserves? All of the above? None of the above? Yes, it's a puzzlement all right. But I think the answer lies in the fact that society considers having a small cock as much a disability and liability as having a missing limb—maybe even more so. Who would want that little thing? Who would want to lie in bed next to a stump?

It's all a variation on a theme of non-understanding. And it's something that most of us would rather not think about, unless we happen to be the possessor of the disability. Then we have no choice but to think about it. It reminds us every time we look in a mirror, or into the eyes of someone whose admiration or love we seek. I have known men with very small cocks. I've also known men with very big cocks. I won't even discuss all those who occupied the middle ground. I can honestly say that I've enjoyed the full spectrum, with special delight reserved for the extremes on either end. But I am not the norm, and very grateful for that.

I have had partners apologize for being small
or steer my attention towards parts of their bodies that they were more secure about. I've still roamed right back where I wanted to be, to the spot they didn't think I would ever go in the first place. And I've loved the element of surprise when they realized that I wanted to lavish attention where little attention had been focused in the past. But I didn't go there to shock. I went there because I found beauty and desire where others found none. That is what I am about. And if that is fetishistic, I will wear my scarlet "F" with pride.

So, am I advocating that we all go out and find a small-dicked man and take him home to bed out of concern and compassion? Well, that would be a matter of seeking someone out for all the wrong reasons. Instead, I'm advocating that we not reject a man solely because he offers a tasty snack instead of a full-course meal at one sitting. Just remember that a full meal may leave you stuffed for hours while a series of small snacks may leave you coming back for more without feeling bloated.

How you choose to eat is, indeed, a matter of taste.
But I hope that you might at least sample the full range of what's available before deciding that one kind of meal is better than another. It's the same soap-box message I would pass on to the man who has never gotten past a potential sex partner's obvious disability. I would want to see a man with a small organ welcomed in a sexually charged arena just as easily as a man in full leather; I would want a man with a disability to be welcome there as well. I know that the reality will probably never match up with my wishes. We're as conditioned to steer clear of small-dicked men as we are to steer clear of men with recognizable disabilities.

Of course, we could always arrange for a special time and place for small men to meet up with their peers or with those who seek them out as sex objects. We could do the same for men with disabilities. Then everyone would be satisfied—segregated but satisfied, just like the leather men who pursue only leather men, "bears" who growl only with other "bears" and "chubbies" who are content to be sought out by men automatically labeled "chasers." Everyone would be neatly and safely in his element . . . and with no way to understand and appreciate the desire for difference.

I wish I could wind this up on a more positive note,
but I am a realist in spite of my love of fantasy. Too many of us know the hurt of rejection. We wonder why people can't see beyond what's presumed to be a flaw. Too many others still wonder why anyone would prefer a flaw. To find out, we'd have to ask just what a flaw is. If we're honest, we know the answer already: it's what everyone else says a flaw is. And contradicting what everyone says is, well, like opening up the door to a locked closet. It's so unfamiliar that at first it may be scary inside. Now that I think of it, opening a closet door is like pulling down a pants zipper. Not everyone will want what's inside. But those of us who have opened up closets before have only one response to offer: "You might be pleasantly surprised if you give yourself the chance."

©2000 Max Verga