Over brunch this morning at the Drake, while sipping our much needed Caesars and mowing our Benedicts, we discussed with great hilarity the phenomenon known as shirtcocking. I have actually experienced a shirtcocker in the flesh, unfortunately for me, many years ago while riding the very busy 501 across town. Quel sue-prise.
The streetcar was stalled at Leslie, and from my seat in the back I could hear a commotion taking place at the ‘cockpit’. (Pun most definitely intended.) A man — I want to recall him as being homeless although it is entirely possible he was just your run of the mill weirdo — was trying to pay his fare to the driver who was demanding the man exit the car immediately. “You can’t ride the streetcar like that, sir, please step off.” At first I didn’t even bother investigating; as not much is worthy of such an effort on the wretched albeit at times entertaining 501.
My attention only piqued when the man refused the driver’s demands for immediate departure, and began vehemently defending his right to ride the streetcar as he was. I could only see part of him from where I was seated so I leaned sideways in my seat and had a gander. My first thought was, “What the fuck is the hold up here, he seems fine to me.” However, as my eyes scanned the vagrant from head to toe, I realized abruptly what the issue was. He was wearing a collared shirt, perhaps even a jacket, but that was all. No pants, no underwear, and apparently little regard for the societal requirement that at all times when in public, we wear at least one of these things, if not both. This man was getting his shirtcock on.
The thing about shirtcocking, is that is catches you off guard; startles you abruptly into looking directly at a man’s bits with little to no prior warning. Blatant public nudity would be more forgiving because at least your brain can immediately register the offense, but with shirtcocking you almost feel like the asshole with your pants caught around your ankles. I am interested to know who else would agree with this, but a penis and balls out and about without context is a bizarre and oftentimes unsettling sight.
Of course at the time I had no such name for this shirtcockery. It was Sarah who brought to our attention that the term had some early linkage to the Burning Man festival. Burning Man welcomes individuals from all walks of life, and freedom through self expression is encouraged in every form. Except one. While at Burning Man, thou shalt not shirtcock.
Seth Stevenson wrote an article about Burning Man for slate.com that you should read here. The following excerpt highlights the ardently frowned upon act of shirtcocking at the festival:
“There was, however, one form of nudity that everyone seemed to agree had no place within the Burning Man community. This is the type of nudity known as “shirtcocking.” Shirtcocking is when a man wears a top but is naked from the waist down. I have also heard this look referred to as “the toddler,” or “Porky Pigging.”
For reasons that are hard to fully explain—if you’ve witnessed the phenomenon you know this is true—shirtcocking is disquieting to the observer’s soul. Visually disturbing to an extreme degree. People at Burning Man are so averse to shirtcocking that I saw several posted signs vehemently denouncing the practice. And yet there were shirtcockers.”
So maybe the man trying to board the TTC that fateful day was neither a homeless man, nor a garden variety weirdo, but a harmless shirtcocking exile from Black Rock City. In any case, this observer’s soul was disquieted.
Rock out with your cock… in,