When a gay man is looking to score, whether it's for a one-night stand or in his quest for love in the arms of Mr. Right, what quality is most important? Is it dazzling good looks, a chest complete with six-pack abs or a bank account with a boatload of zeroes?
Actually none of these appears to top the list, according to an unofficial survey taken during a recent stroll along several of the more popular streets in Chicago's Boystown. What reigns supreme as the most sought after item, and what some say is on their list of wishes for Santa this year, is a man with a—you guessed it—very large penis.
That's right. Dick size seems to still matter.
And in his new book, Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America ( Doubleday, $22.95 ) , pop-culture journalist Scott Poulson-Bryant confronts the powerful social legacy and complicated repercussions of America's deep-seated obsession with black male endowment.
But do we really care about the 'size of the package' or is the author simply reflecting on his own admitted personal encounters with those who have observed that he doesn't 'measure up' to their expectations of the black man possessing the bigger penis?
'Considering the number of people willing to talk about it when asked, I think there are a lot of people enamored, obsessed and just plain captivated by the idea of dick size,' he said. 'In the book I contend that 'penis envy' is primarily a male phenomenon—we want to 'measure up' with our sex partners. But for a lot of men, 'measuring up' in terms of dick size is often about how you swing in the locker room, where you find other men measuring their masculinity against other guys.'
In the book, Poulson-Bryant examines cultural history and his own personal reflections on America's sexual and racial fascinations and concludes that black men are still vulnerable to being judged, feared, cheered and seduced for their presumed sexual prowess.
The book begins with a letter to Emmett Till, the young Chicago boy who, during a visit to his family's farm in 1950s Mississippi, was beaten, tortured and lynched because he whistled at a white woman. Poulson-Bryant says that the letter helped him work out some of the feelings he still has about Till's murder and why something like that was still allowed to occur in 20th-century America.
'I wanted to establish early in the book that there are many ways that blackness is a construct of other people's imaginations and neuroses, and that Till died in some ways because of that,' he said.
In fact, Hung offers the reader a double entendre in its reference not only to penis size but also to the fact that Black men were once literally hung from trees, often because they were falsely viewed as a threat because of their sexual potency.
'The hideous act of lynching is part of our nation's long history of using and abusing the Black body,' he says. 'The Black male body has too often been the site of galvanic battles and changes that have defined the very basic meaning of power relations and the shifting cultural codes and myths of American masculinity.'
To support his thesis, Poulson-Bryant sites slavery and the days of Jim Crow, then moves to contemporary American history with the trials ( literal and figurative ) of O.J. Simpson, Dennis Rodman and Kobe Bryant, for illustrative purposes as he explores the legends, stereotypes and expectations surrounding black male sexuality.
In addition, he uses probing interviews that he says, confirms his view that society's continued fixation affects how black men—regardless of upbringing, education, income level or sexual orientation—perceive themselves.
'It was important for me while writing Hung to use my own story as a launching pad because, like many men, I have a sort of conflicted relationship with my dick,' he said. 'I'm not the guy who says he'd trade ten IQ points for two more inches, ( though who's gonna turn down two more inches, right? ) , but a lot of the stuff I've learned about the world and about my place in it has come from my own relationship to it sexually—whether that means the white woman I had sex with in college who told me she thought I'd be bigger to the way I feel about how Black men ( and men in general ) go through so many changes to establish authentic selves.'
Phallic jealousy and the quest for power
Is the tension that often exists between Black and white men or the attraction to Black men, in the final analysis, as Poulson-Bryant posits, really all about a matter of 'inches?' Or, posed another way, is it the illusion of the size of the penis or the size itself that wields power for men of color?
'I quote James Baldwin who wrote the size is the color; the color is the size and on some level I think what he writes is true,' Poulson-Bryant said. 'It's almost a good stereotype to say that all Black men have big dicks and fuck, to quote Toni Morrison, like stars. Black men hold on to that myth with a vengeance, perhaps because there's power to be derived from it as a man, particularly when in society, culturally or politically speaking, there's [ for black men ] a feeling of powerlessness.'
As Black men seek to define and re-define themselves, the power of myth plays a huge role in one's perceived level of success. And according to the author, because society continues to confound the quest of men of color to achieve equality in the work place, many often use the bedroom as their seat of power. Scott-Poulson points to the phenomenon of the recent construct of the 'homo-thug' to illustrate his view.
'The homo-thug is the result of hip-hop's deep infiltration into American culture and even effects how gay brothers define their own desire,' he said. 'It's an example of how blackness, as we know it, is a sort of costume that we wear, whether to impress or define ourselves or to enable us to withstand life. The clothes they wear, their 'drag' so to speak,' creates an illusion of Black male power and strength. But at the end of the day, it's still about how we as Black men negotiate our lives-—the homo-thug crashes the party and provides another space for brothers to be who they are.'
So does 'dick size' really matter? It does if you refer to numerous Web sites that say you can 'size it in weeks' or other sites that assert that the average penis size is 6.2 inches, but that black men average 6.89 inches, compared to white men at 6.22, Hispanic at 6.15, Native American at 5.66 and Asian at 5.33 inches. ( Where do they get those numbers anyway? )
And isn't it too bad that we can't all be like Lexington Steele, the Black porn star who Poulson-Bryant interviewed for his book, who measures, penis-wise, 11 inches by 7 inches? Now that's no myth!
'It all goes to show that the myths are out there. We can be defined by them and their limitations and allow others to constantly create who black men are, or we can study them, maybe retool them and make them work for us,' the author says. 'That's what Hung is ultimately for me.'
Poulson-Bryant is currently senior editor of the quarterly fashion/lifestyle magazine America and is a graduate of Brown University. He was the first African-American columnist of a major music monthly, Spin and was also a founding editor of the premier urban magazine Vibe.
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