My Life as a Eunuch

What's a man to do if he doesn't want his balls hanging around? Simple: Just find someone to cut them off.

He played soccer, was an accomplished swimmer, and dabbled in figure skating, though never successfully because, as he notes dryly, "I didn't have the figure for it." In high school he made good money baby-sitting because parents around the neighborhood trusted him.

It wasn't until his brother-in-law seduced him at age 16 that Gelding realized he was gay. "I had no sexual upbringing whatsoever," he recalls. "I didn't know I was different. I knew I liked boys and I didn't like girls, and that was disturbing to me. I didn't know what homosexuality was. I knew there was such a term, and I knew it meant something bad, but I didn't equate that with myself. Perhaps I should have."

In 1967 Gelding joined the Air Force, primarily to avoid being drafted. While on a tour of duty in Vietnam, he was injured in an attack on his barracks. "Somebody tossed a grenade in the barracks and killed my buddy Bill," he recalls. "I got a piece of shrapnel in my butt, and the grenade blew the entire place flat. The roof fell on me. One minute I am sleeping peacefully in my rack, and the next thing I know, I am still laying on my back in some hospital."

After the war Gelding went to college and received his commission, rising to the rank of lieutenant before leaving the service in 1981 to work in computers in the private sector.

Throughout that era his parents pressured him to get married and start a family. He was the oldest son, after all, and that's what good sons did. Not until he was 30 did Gelding muster the nerve to tell his mother that it wasn't likely to happen.

"All she said was, 'Let's not tell your father right now.' She kept it a secret from him for a couple years, and it started grating on both of them because he knew something was wrong. Finally she told him, and he said, 'Oh that. I've known that for years.'"


Like many men obsessed with castration, Gelding gravitated toward the S&M scene, thinking that people who enjoy inflicting pain on their genitals might be sympathetic with the notion of cutting them off. "And that is where a lot of them succeed," he says.

His specialty was ball torture, and he was adept at it. A photo on his Website shows him lying on his back, knees to his chest, a piece of string tied around his testicles tight enough to make them beet red. He pierced them with needles, trussed them in leather collars, and hung weights from them. "It feels like you are dehumanizing your genitals," he says. "You are making them into a tool or apparatus."

For most into the S&M scene, that's enough. But there's a fringe element who move into the realm of body modification and a smaller subset who take that to the extreme: split or removed penises, vaginas sewn closed, even limb amputations.

"For a certain percentage of people, the pain is something they talk about when they do these forms of body mutilations," says Eric Silverman, a professor of sociology and anthropology at DePauw University in Indiana. "They self-administer pain as a way of controlling it, owning it, overcoming it."

Silverman has made a career of studying indigenous peoples in New Guinea, where genital mutilation is often used as a coming-of-age ritual. In the U.S. something as extreme as castration is harder to explain. "This might instead be a way of doing to yourself what society is doing to you, by administering it to yourself," he says, thinking out loud. "You transform the symbolism of oppression into something empowering."

Gelding has told his story to psychiatrists who posited that castration is a form of revenge on his parents for pressuring him to procreate, that it could be an expression of self-loathing, or that it's the manifestation of a deep-seated desire to be a woman. But the explanations don't seem to fit. "They try to cubbyhole you into known quantities. They don't have a clue. They don't have enough research on this. You can draw a parallel with the transgender issue. How long was it until the transgender diagnosis was accepted? It took 30 years or so for the idea to go from outrageous to medically accepted."

By the early '90s, Gelding had already decided he had to be castrated. Unlike his doctors he was not prone to deep introspection on the issue. He simply decided it was time for the boys to go. "How can you assign a logical reason to a desire to be castrated?" he asks.

His initial attempt occurred one night in 1991. After dipping his scrotum in ice water to numb it, he tied off his testicles with rubber bands and cut off two-thirds of his scrotum with a knife. He was in the throes of a sexual frenzy and felt little pain. "It was like I was outside my body," he recalls.

But he was in trouble. "You are in a state of sexual excitement, and then your body exhausts the supply of adrenaline. It simply can't continue anymore, and you go into clinical shock, which is just about what happened."

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