I was ten when I encountered my first public penis.
The early 80s found an innovative use for nylon: “running shorts,” a sportswear essential with cutting-edge fabric technology. The early 80s also found me, sitting with my classmates in a half-circle on our 5th-grade classroom floor with my teacher—a marathoner in training—proudly sporting a pair.
If unfamiliar with circa 1981 running shorts, they came equipped with a feature called a “liner.” And while the mesh brief did allow the wearer to forego underwear, it also allowed the escape of my 5th-grade teacher’s penis. Its presence was unsettling and also unnoticed by everyone. Except me. The color of the flesh was arresting: a blushing beige set-off boldly against the muted green of the onion-skin nylon fabric.
While my classmates scooched forward to see a half dozen tadpoles, swishing around aimlessly in a repurposed pie plate (the irony just registering with me now) I took advantage of what I thought was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. (Little did I know that my next two decades would be an onslaught of one penis after the next vying for my tactile attentions and fawning praise.) Out of respect for Mr. McLaren’s privacy, I tried not to stare. But here was my chance to see a live one.
And now, after decades practicing the fine art of furtive crotch-watching, I have grown skilled. I can confidently discern what lurks behind the broadcloth of a khaki or the buttons of a fly. And I’ve caught other women doing this too. We rarely discuss it, and never in the company of men. We know how uncomfortable this would make men feel: being objectified like this. We keep quiet. You know, out of respect.
*The early 80s found itself, years later, in trouble over this now-rightfully-retired descriptor.