Like every young man in the Western Hemisphere, I had put a ruler to my penis, hoping to get a read on my place in the world order. And for the longest time there was a disconnect between my ruler and my own eyes. My ruler told me I was average, if indeed average was between five and seven inches in length and five around, as is almost universally agreed upon. I fell exactly in the middle of average. Yet whenever I looked down there, especially unaroused, my penis often seemed undersized to me. My eyes found a different measure. Why was that?
I now understand this to be common among males, part of the chromosomal package. Maybe there’s some hardwiring in the XY psyche that predisposes us to insecurity in this particular area. We all want an oak tree between our legs, a frightening weapon that elicits gasps, inspires fear, a club, a bludgeon, a battering ram to smash open the gates. We fantasize splitting the world with our thrusts. Even men with true oaks wish their wood bigger. The burgeoning of Internet porn has given anyone with a smartphone easy access to endless photo galleries of monster cocks. Monster cocks to infinity. In researching this chapter, I glimpsed enough man meat to last several lifetimes and to understand why, these days, average isn’t enough. Not in this realm of caveman clubs and two-pound truncheons. Average is the new tiny.
As a young Asian man, I had to deal with an added dimension to the insecurity. I understand now that my self-appraisal was at least partly colored by the cultural indoctrination I had absorbed much of my life. We all, to some degree, absorb the mythologies around us, our vision refracted by the prisms of our particular time and place.
In his last novel, “Just Above My Head,” James Baldwin writes, regarding the mystique of the black male penis, that “it was more a matter of its color than its size . . . its color was its size.” Baldwin was saying that black, seen through the lens of our culturally constructed expectations, was often enough to create the mystique of virility. Of size. Sometimes you see what you expect to see, or what you want to see. Its color was its size. Perhaps the same dynamic applied to yellow men in reverse: its color was its lack of size.
Perhaps Westerners see in the Asian man — and by extension his penis — what they expect to see, what in some ways they need to see. Let’s be honest: many Western men derive enormous comfort and a good measure of delight in the myth of the small Asian penis. Racial Schadenfreude is why the myth endures, and why it will continue to do so. Too many non-Asian men get an immeasurable ego lift from it.
Never mind that no comprehensive science has conclusively verified the myth. Never mind that Google can provide a fair number of visual examples of Asian oaks. Never mind that the myth deeply hurts young Asian men in the West attempting to forge a sexual identity in the midst of overcoming a host of other demeaning perceptions. That it hurts them in a similar way that the myth of an undersized intellect hurts young black girls and boys. This latter myth tells young blacks that they’re intellectually inferior. The former myth tells young Asian men that they’re sexually inadequate. Who’s to say which is more wounding to the spirit in a young person seeking reassurance of worth and belonging, and trying to gauge how far he can expect to go in the world? I can say from experience, corroborated by a vast body of literature, that from puberty to marriage, almost nothing occupies the male brain more than sex, courtship, and love — and sex above all.
As an adolescent in America, I would have preferred virility to intellectual vigor. A perception of virility would have allowed me entry, I believed, into the game I most wanted to play. To fail there meant utter loss. To be excluded from this realm felt like exclusion from life itself, banishment from the essential core of things, from the only thing that truly mattered. The main event.
Instilling the message in a young man that he has a small (read: inadequate) cock cuts him down to size, informs him of his failure, his essential inadequacy, which can only mean that the one relaying the message must be more adequate than he. Spreading the rumor of an entire race of small-cocked men gives the rumormonger something to stand on to make him feel bigger. And it must mean that the monger’s race is more masculine, more worthy of the affections of women, more deserving of respect and admiration from other men.
So when the previously unknown Jeremy Lin, then of the New York Knicks, lit up the scoreboards for a phenomenal three weeks in the winter of 2012, Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock made sure to cut him down to size. Lin is an American-born Taiwanese, a yellow man amid a throng of towering black and white men. And Lin sometimes looks even shorter than his actual six feet three inches because, perhaps, his color is his size. He is thinly but adequately muscled, quick and agile, and absolutely fearless. The sight of him burning up the court and running circles around the NBA’s most celebrated athletes stunned everyone who witnessed it.
This wasn’t Ping-Pong. This was a high-profile, high-testosterone game involving the tallest and most athletic male specimens on the planet. Overnight, Lin became a hero in the yellow quarter of the globe. Obscure little villages in China celebrated him. Then, just after his most dazzling performance, in which he scorched Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, the columnist Whitlock, who is black, tweeted to his followers, “Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight.” Translation: This Asian dude might have outplayed the brothers tonight but he’ll still come up short under the sheets. Take that, uppity yellow man.
* * *
… You cannot deconstruct the experience of the Asian male without discussing the myth of his small penis any more than you can examine the black male experience without broaching the myth of his large one. Both mythologies stem from a broader premise that positions white males as the “just-right middle,” the ideal: not too big, not too small. From this view, black men, as embodied by their mythically large members, are inclined toward one extreme of manhood (primitive, beastly, dangerous), and Asian men, symbolized by their mythically smaller parts, are inclined toward the other (effeminate, passive, weak). It all works out well for white men (balanced, proportionate, beneficent), who, as members of the most evolved strain of Homo sapiens, occupy the hallowed center, where all men should aspire to be.
* * *
Its color was its size.
When I was fourteen, living with my family in the Bronx, I had a best friend named Vincent. We were in the same class at JHS 79. He was tall and lanky, with an air of sweetness and innocence that was not entirely phony. He was a pale-skinned, blue-eyed Jew who grew up in Argentina and who moved with his mother and sister to the Bronx the same year I did. We prowled the neighborhood together, a couple of peace-loving outsiders trying hard to blend in. We did the typical teenage things — went to movies, ogled girls, talked sports, traded pornography, and compared masturbation techniques. We spent a lot of time talking of everything to do with girls. They were still a largely undiscovered country. We fantasized about the ecstasies we would find there.
Vincent and I used to play a game in which we’d spot an attractive woman in a store or some other public place, get as close to her as we could without being obvious, and then — right there in the aisle or wherever — we’d secretly show each other the bulges in our pants. We were fourteen. We were squirrelly and obsessed and got erections at will. We always maintained a respectful distance from our targets. One woman in a music store, a Puerto Rican with a hellacious figure, caught on to our game and winked at Vincent. She told him something in Spanish as she swiveled away. Vincent preened.
During sleepovers in Vincent’s apartment, we’d compare equipment. We never touched each other’s genitalia, but we did share specs, like a couple of boys comparing model cars. Once we held a contest to see who could ejaculate farthest, and if I remember right, we both approached nine feet (or was it six feet?) but I bested him by a head. That I do remember. I raised my fists in the air like Muhammad Ali over Sonny Liston.
Vincent was proud of his penis. It was thick and longish even when flaccid, although it wasn’t as long as he claimed. He added a half inch or so. As a matter of general policy, you should never believe anything a male says about his penis, and this includes anything I say about mine. That’s because the matter isn’t only about inches. It isn’t even mainly about inches. It’s about men measuring their value as sexual beings. With so much at stake, it’s hard to keep the ruler still. Anyway, Vincent’s penis, when aroused, stood at a slight upward angle, the base somewhat thicker and tapering toward a nice big head. It did not grow all that much from its flaccid state. It filled out, certainly, and elongated a little, but what you saw soft was mostly what you got hard.
“God, it’s so beautiful!” he used to say, clasping it like a sword. “Don’t you think it’s beautiful?”
“Uh-huh,” I’d say.
Luckily for me in our comparison game, my penis grew substantially when aroused, although, like my later Rabbit, it veered slightly left. When Vincent and I held our erections side by side, I was always pleasantly surprised to see the marked lack of difference. His was slightly longer and straighter, mine, we both agreed, was slightly darker and more mysterious. Neither was the hands-down leading man, although if forced to choose, I would give the nod to Vincent. So would he. We men, who will always be partly boys, measure differences by fractions of an inch, and Vincent gloated about his slight (maybe three quarters of an inch) advantage over me.
My black protector-friend at school, Joe Webb, claimed to have an eight-inch cock but also once confessed sheepishly that he climaxed quickly after entering a girl. “I bet you chinks and white boys with your pinky dicks last longer,” he told Vincent and me. The two of us were virgins and could only nod in awe and try to imagine the orgiastic world that our friend claimed to live in. Those black guys sure had it good, we thought.
It would not be until college that I began learning the downside, the shadow reality, of the big black penis myth. A handsome coal-black African American guy named Raymond, whom I met my freshman year, confessed to me over vodka that he was “very average.” He said women were sometimes disappointed when the big unveiling took place. “They’d have this expression, like, ‘Oh.’ And you could tell they’re thinking ‘Where’s the rest of it?’” he said. But he did not seem to carry any shame about it. At one point he told me he liked being average.
Why is that? I asked him.
“Some brothers get down on themselves for their big dicks,” he said. “A big dick must mean a small brain, right?”
A black man’s large penis pointed to the possibility of truth in other stereotypical notions, “and that’s a path a lot of brothers don’t want to go down,” Raymond said. It all sounded so adolescent. Yet Raymond and I understood that we lived in a world where puerile thinking was an undercurrent, always there, always just a moment away from surfacing.
Raymond and I asked each other questions we couldn’t answer: Would embracing one stereotype require you to embrace all? Would shunning one require shunning all? What exactly is the honorable way to behave toward a stereotype, a mythology that we believe contains a nugget of truth? We doused these questions in Smirnoff over many months, reveling in the camaraderie even as we resigned ourselves to vexing conundrums. What do we do about this race thing? Is there any way around it? We often reached a point in our Smirnoff sessions when we would sigh and fall silent. Apprehending it all felt impossible. We could not even think about transcending it. “What a fucking cauldron,” Raymond used to say.
Excerpted from “Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self” by Alex Tizon. Copyright © 2014 by Alex Tizon. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.