changing bodies and masculinities
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Johnny’s Story
Johnny said that he thought increasingly about death with the approach
of his scheduled penectomy, an operation to amputate his cancerous pe-
nis.1 A wiry, sixty- eight- year- old man, Johnny wore a USA baseball cap to
honor the country where he had worked for many years and caught the
sexually transmitted infection that caused his cancer. Full of ner vous
energy, Johnny moved around frenetically as we talked in the break room
of the urology department in a hospital in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He stood
up, sat down, and endlessly rearranged his medical documents, pausing
only when he was overcome by pain from an earlier, unsuccessful re-
moval of a penile tumor. Blotting tears with a crumpled tissue he said
again and again, “Without my penis, I feel that now I’m not going to be a
man.” He told me that with luck, he would never wake up from the
Johnny’s inability to work, as a result of the chronic pain from his ill-
ness and prior surgery, compounded his depression. He said he had noth-
ing to do but sit around thinking about the upcoming loss of his penis
and his prior way of life, in which sex had gured so prominently. When
telling me the story of his past, Johnny focused on his achievements at
work and in his sex life. Th ese were key practices through which Johnny
understood himself as a man. In fact, his work and sexual successes were
interrelated, since he believed that his high- status position as the head
chef at a midwestern airport hotel had made him attractive to women.
All names are pseudonyms. “Johnny” has an Americanized pseudonym because he asked
me to call him by the nickname he was given in the United States.
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