Fear and Loathing at the Urinal
I remember the first time it happened. It was the summer between 8th grade and
my freshman year in high school. At a precocious 14, Dad had taken me to the Giant’sgame at Candlestick Park. In the top of the fourth inning I needed to go to the bathroom. He cautioned me to wait until there were two outs, and then to dash up and go, thus beating the “between inning urinators” (his phrase) and allowing me to return to my seat by the start of the next inning. It made sense.
When the second out was made, I wheeled out of my aisle seat and scampered up the wide cement steps, trying vainly to take them two at a time, but settling for an awkward, stretching one-and-a-half step stride.
I pushed through the heavy door and was immediately taken aback by how large, yet empty, the room was. It was a weekday afternoon game and the small crowd was obviously populated with between inning urinators. Taking my spot, I unzipped and began to pee. Suddenly, there was a significant roar and within seconds, there were thirty men pouring into the bathroom, lining up alongside me, talking excitedly. For reasons unclear to me then, I was suddenly incapable of continuing, the flow of urine having simply stopped. I felt a tightening in my stomach, but there was no other physical manifestation. I knew I wasn’t finished as I still felt the pressure of a full bladder. I remember feeling a vague sense of both violation and intrusion as I returned to my seat and waited until I got home to relieve myself.
I had yet to go through the young boy’s litmus test of masculinity that a high school locker room provided. The inherent pressures that permeate the often infantile atmosphere of a locker room had yet to cross my radar. At the ballgame, the intimidating room full of men awakened in me an anxiety which has remained with me to this day, an emotional stigma that is both troubling and laughable.
I have witnessed this often in grown men over the years. For many of us, this simple transaction is a lot more complex than it looks. What goes through a man’s mind when he enters a bathroom only to see one of the two urinals occupied? Does the decision to stand next to another man occur instinctively or is it arrived at intellectually? How many of us have seen a man choose the cocoon-like safety and security of a stall?
What are the reasons that cause a man to “freeze up”, or worse yet, skirt the entire issue and use the stall? Fear has to be right up there, but fear of what? Measuring up? Penis size has always been only a local phone call away from a man’s conscious mind, and what more than standing exposed next to a stranger could bring this age-old concern abruptly to the surface.
Vulnerability certainly plays a large part because, let’s face it, we’re in a semi-public place holding our privates, and should someone choose, he would certainly have the upper hand, so to speak, in any physical confrontation. Homophobia probably influences some men who may be apprehensive at the specter of their urinal partner being gay.
Fast forward to present. The experience seems to have changed little, save for my having overcome the physical inability to stand next to a stranger and urinate. The sense of encroachment remains, though my anxiety has been rendered benign as I have chosen to laugh at the phenomenon rather than fear it.
All of these theories, and certainly others, contribute to this odd experience, but I hearken back to that day at Candlestick, and a young boy’s sense of invasion. What had been till that moment a strictly private affair, had suddenly become a group activity.
The most interesting irony may be that women, historically more comfortable than men with the subject of intimacy, are not only allowed, but required, to partake in this most intimate of bodily functions in the sanctuary of a stall, while men are, each time, forced to make a decision on the very subject with which we are inherently anxious.