When I entered puberty I realized I was very different from the other boys. I shut myself off, worrying all the time that I'd get found out, and wound up feeling completely devoid of masculinity. That changed when I became a chef.
Photo via Flickr user Jens Karlsson
Male chef, 25, UK
My penis is three inches long when erect and barely an inch when flaccid. I have a micropenis. I was born this way. When I was born, my dick looked like any other baby boy's—tiny and pink, bobbing around on top of a big set of balls like an elf hat. As I grew up, it didn't really get any bigger, and I never knew any better.
It wasn't until I saw other boys' dicks that I thought, Hmmm, mine is really small. It wasn't, like, non-existent—just really, really small. This awareness grew when I entered puberty. When I was about 12 and a shadowy slug of peach fuzz had appeared on my top lip, I asked my dad to have a look. "
What? Have a look at your willy?"
"Please, Dad. I don't think it's normal."
"Alright, son, let's have a look. Oh. Erm. Yeah, let's book an appointment with the GP."
So, off we went—me with my normal-sized balls, dropping voice, whiskery top lip, and very, very small penis. The doctor had a look and said, "We'll do some tests," and something like, "It should be growing." I sort of went blank and my ears felt like they were full of carpet. It was my dick they were talking about, and my dad was in the room.
Anyway, I had loads of tests and the doctors concluded that I was, in fact, abnormal. I've always been a bit overweight, which doesn't help, but one is considered to have a micropenis when your dick is at least 2.5 standard deviations smaller than the mean penis size, or, smaller than about 2.75 inches when erect, as opposed to the average five inches. I am three inches, so I'm just on the cusp. Most of the time the condition is spotted after birth. Mine wasn't. I don't blame my parents for it—most little boys have tiny appendages, and apparently I didn't look that abnormal.
Soon after, I became very, very aware of myself. Too aware. When other boys bragged about fingering girls and getting blowjobs behind the community center, I was thinking, This will never happen to me. I wasn't devoid of sexuality. Far from it—I fantasized, could get hard and come. But why would any girl ever want to deal with my tiny cock? How could I ever satisfy anyone?
I had to find a vocation to take my mind off the obsession. I was always good at sports but now, as a pubescent teenager, was scared of the changing room. I avoided anything outside of PE lessons, and found a way of showering and changing that protected my modesty. None of my friends had ever seen my penis and I wanted to keep it that way.
One evening, as a jacket potato danced its slow circles in the microwave, I decided to pick up one of my mom's many Jamie Oliver books. The way he wrote about food sounded like how my friends talked—it wasn't rocket science, it was more common sense and enthusiasm. I don't know if I'd like him in real life, but on the page the guy spoke to me. I found a recipe for sea bass cooked with vanilla and, for whatever reason, decided that would be my first foray into cooking. The next time we went to the grocery store, I spent some of my waiting wages on a couple of sea bass fillets, some vanilla pods, chilies, and whatever else was in the recipe. I'd written the ingredients on my wrist.
After school one day, I opened the book at the page I'd folded down and cooked the recipe for my mom and myself. She was dubious at first—"Vanilla and fish? You having a laugh, boy?"—but she really liked it. I fell in love with cooking at that minute—the attention it commands, how tactile you have to be with it all, the way you can make something amazing from so few things. I was 14 and it was an awakening. A vanilla-scented awakening.
From then on, I cooked non-stop: tagines, curries, slow-cooked joints of meat, fancy desserts. I became obsessed with spices, once even standing in the kitchen for about 20 minutes with a piece of star anise pressed to my nostril, for fuck's sake. To say that it made me forget what was in my boxers would be ridiculous. But it calmed the storm in my head, all the thoughts like, I'm going to be alone forever because of this. I'll never feel like a real man in any job I do. I'll never get past this. Cooking made me forget.
I left school at 16 and went to catering college—best decision of my life. One of my first thoughts was that, because I would be wearing baggy chef's clothes, no one would be any the wiser about what was going on downstairs. It was a big plus point in my head. When I told my dad this, he laughed his head off. But as a young man, your penis is everything. It's your antennae to the world.
"No one in their right mind, unless they fancy ya, is going to be looking at your crotch," he told me. "Stop thinking about it."
I tried to. I blazed through catering college, learned new techniques every day and passed all my exams with flying colors. I still hadn't had a woman anywhere near me—apart from in my head, of course—but this was me. I had an identity. I was a chef.
When I qualified and got my first job in a professional kitchen (a pretty nice place in the North of England, but I'm not telling you where) I felt on top of the moon—the banter, the pace, and the enthusiasm were infectious. I didn't care about the hours because I existed somewhere outside of my own thoughts and obsessions over my inadequacy as a man. It's not a stretch to say that the testosterone-fueled atmosphere made me feel more masculine than I ever had felt before. When the guys talked about sex and women, I joined in. When they pushed each other around, they pushed me around, too. I'd spent so long at school retreating and shying away from any kind of male bravado because I was so worried I'd get "found out." I felt like I always had a secret. At that point, though, that fear had (mostly) evaporated.
By age 20, I'd found myself in a really good kitchen. My boss was a tool—an out-and-out bully who'd throw plates and hot trays around when little things went wrong, like a baby throwing its rattle—but the other guys were a laugh and the food was top-notch. After a few months there I could turn carrots and julienne in a way that would make your eyes water. My sauces were like velvet and my ability to cook and rest a piece of meat—particularly game, like pigeon—was, I think, the best in the kitchen.
Butchering meat was something I always enjoyed, but at this place it became a real passion of mine. And yeah, cutting down a side of pig with a massive cleaver did make me feel like man. That might sound horrible to you but, when you've been struggling with your masculinity for your entire teenage and early adult life, you take what you can get.
I'm 25 now and working in a really cool place with considerable direction over what goes on the menu. Almost everyone is under 30, which is nice. I love meat, using big knives, and the piss-taking, often playground-like atmosphere of the kitchen more than ever. The playground was a scary place as a teenager, as I was so stuck in my head, but the kitchen almost replaced that for me. I was making the friendships I never really allowed myself to have.
I've never told anyone—and I mean anyone—at work about my affliction. But I did meet a girl. It took so fucking long for me to get to a place where I was comfortable with telling her—I'd never discussed it with anyone other than my doctor and parents—but, in the end, need and want got the better of me.
This girl was, and is, so lovely and sexy, and I wanted so badly to be intimate with her, to do the things people who like each other do. When I told her, she sort of shrugged her shoulders and said, "It's a myth that girls like big dicks. You know that, right?" It was the best thing I could have heard—matter-of-fact, funny, and not beating around the bush, for want of a better phrase. The first time we slept together was a bit… well, let's just say it didn't last long. We've been together nearly a year now, though, and she seems satisfied, which is all I could hope for. As long as she's happy and I carry on being a chef, I will feel like a real man.