Growing up, I never knew what a “normal boy” was — just that I wasn’t one. The older I got, the more I could look around the classroom, cafeteria, and locker room, deeply sensing my difference with the other boys, if not seeing it on full display.

What does a “normal boy” do? What are his hobbies, how does he speak, and how does he behave, especially around other boys? How does he interact with other boys at school but also at the birthday parties and sleepovers I never had?

What does a “normal boy” look like? How does he dress, and how does he cut or style his hair? What does he look like in the mirror, and what does he see? How does a normal boy feel as his naked prepubescent body turns into a man’s?

How does this “normal boy” turned “normal man” feel about his naked body? His penis?

I’m still unsure of many of the answers to these questions. From the inside out, I’ve struggled to feel normal (comfortable) in my own skin. This masculine body. Starting with that particular appendage.

I vividly remember the first time I saw a circumcised penis. I was young, maybe 7 or 8, when a peer encouraged all three of us in the circle to drop our pants.

Thinking back on this childhood memory, I can’t believe I actually whipped mine out alongside the other two. I don’t remember feeling remotely anxious about it either. I know I was more carefree in those years before puberty — but that carefree?

Once puberty struck, the walls went way up. I can’t imagine replaying this same scene at 11 or 12 — or 36, for that matter, my current age.

The third boy in the circle was also uncircumcised, but I couldn’t stop staring at the first boy’s circumcised penis. In his memoir, Bent on Men, Harrison Bly put it just as I would have for many years: “I didn’t know I was uncircumcised.”

This other boy’s penis splayed before me looked nothing like mine. I’d never seen anything like it. Quite frankly, I didn’t know they could look like that.

Was something wrong with his penis? Or perhaps mine?

Given one or the other, I felt something must be way more wrong with mine than his. Or if not “wrong,” at least inferior. After all, this kid was so confident to initiate this innocent exercise with us.

Suddenly I wasn’t as confident about my penis anymore — not that I ever thought about it to that point. I didn’t realize I needed to be. Until this moment.

Strangely, I don’t recall any ensuing conversation about the differing penises in that circle. I certainly never said anything. After a few exposing seconds, we all lifted our pants and it was back to fun and games.

Some time later, I learned about circumcision from the Bible (thanks God). Until then, I didn’t make the connection that my peer’s penis was circumcised, compared to mine which was not.

Oh. That’s why it had looked so . . . bulbous.

I started asserting that a circumcised penis was bigger (which was obviously better) than an uncircumcised penis. Maybe my peer’s penis was indeed bigger than mine, or the foggy innocence of my 7-year-old memory convinced me it was. But for years, even decades, this visual of a penis with a boldly sprouted tip made me feel like my sheathed penis was just smaller.

Alas, circumcised and uncircumcised penises alike come in all shapes and sizes. Comparing lengths of each variety can be something of an optical illusion, I’ve learned, as this diagram of three seemingly different but actually congruent lines illustrates:

Arrows Optical Illusion

Throughout my teens and twenties I often felt like the top arrow, insecure that I was smaller than my peers. But I’m sure we were more similar than I credited myself.

Another exposure happened in high school. I was changing in the locker room before PE when one classmate towered nakedly over another boy who had knelt to tie his shoes. The standing classmate dangled his circumcised penis over the poor boy’s face, and all his friends laughed. I darted from the locker room before I could get a good look and possibly get bullied (abused?) by his swinging weapon myself.

My half-second look left me with the same two takeaways as my childhood exposure years earlier: length and confidence. Though clearly more nefarious an exposure this time, my classmate’s naked confidence felt similar to that of my childhood peer — another boy who was circumcised.

I felt smaller than this bully in many ways, and I didn’t feel remotely as confident to unveil myself as he’d done for a couple dozen eyes to behold.

My last exposure story came many years later while working at a boys camp. Out of nowhere, a fellow counselor flashed me and another guy during our staff training (no children were remotely present). That same silly confidence of the high school bully. I was struck with how effortlessly he whipped it out. Naturally, he was circumcised.

“It’s an all-guys’ camp. You’d have seen it eventually,” he joked.

Um. I would??

I hadn’t yet seen the bounty of penises I would eventually discover online, so this circumcised shape still felt jarring to me, vastly different from my own, stirring up many uncomfortable feelings. From my exposure experiences with that childhood peer to that high school bully now to this camp counselor, I was forming these unconscious connections through the years that:

circumcised = normal, bigger, confident

uncircumcised = not normal, smaller, not confident

Honestly, it’s only been in recent years that I’ve come to a conscious awareness that I am in a masculine minority in America as someone who is uncircumcised.

Now, don’t get me wrong — as an Enneagram Four, I take great delight in discovering new ways that I am unique. After all, I have something only 20% of my fellow American males possess — my “four”-skin, if you will.

How ironic, I realize, that I actually tangibly possess more of my masculine body than most men in this country, and yet I have often felt much less masculine with it.

Beyond some enjoyment with feeling unique, being uncircumcised has also granted me greater connection with my Latino roots, a culture that generally doesn’t circumcise. My Mexican grandfather and his Mexican grandfather and his Mexican grandfather before him were all most likely uncircumcised, and maybe I’m thinking too much about my ancestors’ penises here, but I weirdly appreciate this masculine thread through the generations.

I generally enjoy feeling unique. I really do.

But I also hate getting any attention for it. (Enneagram countertype here for all the Enneanerds reading!)

Being unique can be utterly isolating. I have a penis like all the other guys around me, but mine objectively doesn’t look like most of theirs. It’s objectively different. Which makes my body objectively different.

Which makes me objectively different. As if I needed this visible reminder for my masculine separation.

I’ve often wondered how much of this bodily difference is at least partly why I’ve struggled to participate in appropriately shared nude settings — places like locker rooms and Korean spas, which some in our YOB community have greatly benefitted from.

The only time I’ve ever stepped into an open shower was by necessity during a summer work stint. The showers at our housing site were broken for a couple days, so a male coworker and I embarked to this local gym where we soon stood naked opposite each other in the open shower. No one else present.

I faced the wall the entire time. I couldn’t bear the thought of turning around to see his naked body — infinitely more so, having him see mine.

I’ll wind down this blog with two conversations I’ve had about being uncircumcised and the ensuing shame that followed.

The first was an online conversation with one of my first SSA (same-sex attracted) friends. We were chatting on AIM or Skype or something, and he was going on some theological tangent about circumcision. I chimed in that I wasn’t — circumcised, that is.

His attention magnetized to me. Suddenly, I felt like a piece of meat to him. He’d been honest with me about struggling with naked webcam interactions with other gay men, and he straight up told me he was now super curious to see what mine looked like.

Our friendship was never the same after that.

The second story happened at an in-person event several years ago.

I went on a camping trip with some former YOB community members — a trip that started in camaraderie, only to end in isolation. One of the guys was peeing in the woods, as one does when one camps, but he stood with his hands on his hips as he let his penis fly, away from the group. Another guy commented on his dramatic peeing posture, which led to a discussion of who holds their penises when they pee and who doesn’t.

Turns out everyone else in the center of camp confirmed that they did, in fact, hold theirs, and that Superman over there was the weird one. I stayed silent on the fringe of camp setting up something, but well within earshot.

“What about you, Tom?” someone called to me.

I hesitated. “I hold mine too,” I said. And I should have just left it there.

But my unique self couldn’t help myself. Unlike the others who’d shared about holding their penises for aiming purposes, I explained that if I didn’t pull back my foreskin I’d feel an uncomfortable, if not burning sensation that isn’t fun to feel.

“Wait, you’re uncircumcised?” the same guy cried incredulously. “All this time we’ve been friends and you’ve never told me this?”

Turns out I was the only one in our group of five or six who was — aligning well with that 20% statistic. The group dynamic devolved after my apparent bombshell. I felt shamed by this one friend in particular, as if he were betrayed somehow. As if he never even knew me. As if I should have disclosed this information or even shown him firsthand much sooner into our friendship?

The campout got so weird so quick, and I wanted none of it. Everyone else slept in the tent, and I opted for a hammock twenty yards away. I mean, I was going to sleep in my hammock that night anyway. I like my space.

But I needed my space that night.

It took me hours to fall asleep, the sounds of my friends in the circumcision tent talking and laughing, reminding me of my separation from them. Every rocking of the hammock repeated a common refrain going back to seven years old:

I am different.

I am different.

I am different.

To close this supremely awkward but hopefully resonating-to-some blog, I will say that I’ve softened (pun sorta intended) on the insecurity of both my size and shape. The more penises I’ve seen online, despite my admittedly lustful intent, the less “separate” I feel.

There’s always the hung-like-a-horse outlier, of course. But I generally feel normal with my size and comfortable with my shape. “Better” or “worse” isn’t much in my vocabulary anymore.

Today I may feel less shame about my penis in the company of myself, however I still have no desire to share or reciprocate nudity with anyone else — in-person in healthy ways or even online in unhealthy ways. With online behaviors, I’ve been a peeping tom (pun definitely intended) rather than ever showing myself to anyone.

Something about getting naked in front of anyone — be it trusted friend, doctor, or horny stranger on the Internet — still arrests me. I can’t bear the attention for being different.

I don’t know where that leaves me moving forward — if anywhere. I kinda hope God still has some growth (pun again sorta intended) in store for me. I’d love to overcome any insecurity or shame in my life. But I don’t know what that might look like.

Me, shower freely in an open shower?

Me, go to a Korean spa?

Goodness, with friends?? I have no desire to see my friends’ dicks or have them ever see mine. What a horror story.

But also what a blog that would be . . .

Has the size or shape of your circumcised or uncircumcised penis caused you shame? How have you seen growth overcoming your bodily insecurities?

About the Author

  • I’m 82. In hs and college , there only gang showers. In hs, there six of us in our class who were uncut. No bullying etc but I knew we were a minority. Now when I shower after exercise at my gym, I rarely see an intact penis. I wouldn’t let my son be cut and I haven’t heard any complaints from him. My grandson is intact too. At this age, I’m proud of my intact penis…no shame or avoiding other men in locker room. I’m convinced my sex life is superior to cut guys. My orgasms are truly intense!!

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