The Curious Case of the White Man’s Dick
My capsule hotel had bigger beds and cheaper rates than anything else in the area, but it didn’t have walls around its showers. So as I stood in the steam of the sento – the communal bath shared by guests – realising what the next week would have in store, I started to believe that all the woke white girls were right.
On my left was a row of naked Japanese men, their skin left pale by the suits that never leave their bodies, scrubbing themselves clean within exposed shower blocks. On my right were more bare bodies, sitting over tiny wooden stools with their legs opened to the wall, lathering their skin and pouring buckets of steaming water onto their heads to rinse it all away.
I had entered the room with my soap bottles covering my crotch, recoiling from the water that splattered off the wet, hairy bodies around me. But soon enough, I let my toiletries slide to my sides.
Maybe it was because no one was looking anywhere but at the walls before them, or because the steam in the air created a cloud that just slightly skewed our vision, or because these were total strangers whose knowledge of my body, and mine of theirs, meant nothing at the end of the day – but I had no problem being naked here.
Bodies are bodies, pubes are pubes, dicks are dicks. As that thought came into my head, it struck me as one of the most liberating things a man can think at any point in his life. Night after night, I went back to shower in the basement of my capsule hotel, and my clothes would come off a little more comfortably.
And then, one day, a white man walked in.
I had just pulled my face away from the water when I saw him, a body with paler skin and more hair than the average I’d come to know.
In my mind, he had walked in with a bravado that only a man with a presumption of having the biggest dick in the room would carry. I imagined the conversations he would have when he went home, when someone would bring up the topic of dating an Asian man and the presumption of his small dick arose, and the stories he might tell where the punchline would be, “It’s true!”
I’ve had to get my dick out for doctors a couple times in my life, and never had an issue doing it. The idea of being naked more publicly, though, has always terrified me, because I’ve always been wary of the Asian dick myth.
I know that I’m a grower, not a shower, with experience enough to also know it’s not a practical issue. But unless I’m 100 per cent erect, you could be forgiven for believing the stereotype at the sight of my naked body. That means that when a 21st birthday party gets out of hand and skinny dipping commences, I typically leave the premise in fear of perpetuating something I already know to be false, but can’t prove.
Bodies are bodies and dicks are dicks, yes, but the presumptions around them aren’t.
Maybe the reason I had felt so comfortable in that sento was because everybody there — and in the city that surrounded it — looked like me. Until I opened my mouth to speak and let slip that I’m not actually Japanese, I could pass off as a “regular” person.
Unlike my life in Australia, I could at least look like the majority of society in Japan, and that came with the relief of having a “normal” body that, as far as I knew, didn’t have the same negative connotations surrounding it.
I thought all these things as I brushed my teeth by the vanities outside the sento, and soon saw that white man leave the room and dash towards the lockers to cover his body with not one, but two towels.
As he quickly left the room, I was left to wonder, Where did his machismo go?
Maybe it was in my head. Maybe I got that one wrong. Maybe I had prepared myself for the worst intent in case of the worst outcome, so that if something did happen, it would hurt a little less. I don’t think that was unnecessary or excessive. I think that’s what minorities in societies learn to do so that they can stand up for themselves when things do go awry. They just don’t often realise they’re doing it, or how exhausting it can be.
As that week in the capsule hotel came to an end, I realised it was less a liberation and more of a temporary retreat from that state of caution that was waiting for me back home. Sometimes, taking cover in a different culture can be a worthwhile respite from those ideas, if a place where you can take cover even exists. But until our societies learn to get over those conceptions, about Asian men, about women in general, about certain religions and skin tones, it’s only ever going to be temporary.
Cover by Keith Maguire