“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the ball show!”
I stepped into the shower tentatively, nervous. There were about 15 guys there, all of them naked except for me. I was wearing my swim trunks, and even that made me nervous.
The shower was in a big wooden building at the edge of the camp. There was a small room with benches to change on, then a larger room with a set of showers in a large rectangle, where each scout could take a short shower during their break from camp activities.
I’d been nervous about the shower for days. The other kids in my scout troop had been talking about it, asking when we should shower as a group, asking each other who would go in naked or who would wear shorts. I’d been avoiding the question, not sure what I should do.
One friend, a kid from my scout troop named Jake, had talked about it almost obsessively. “Who do you think will wear shorts in the shower? Do you think the scout leaders will go in? Will they be naked?”
I was 13 and up at Boy Scout Camp for a full week in the summer time. We were there to earn merit badges. Our troop, number 39, kept a clean camp, and we had assigned jobs. Gathering fire wood, helping with the cooking, preparing the water, inspecting the tents and camp for cleanliness. We worked well together and behaved well in front of the leaders.
But when the leaders were away, the conversation topics strayed. The boys talked about masturbation. They talked about erections. They talked about girls that they liked and what they wanted to do to them. They cracked jokes around camp about camp life, like having fire ‘wood’, and ‘pitching tents’. And that kind of talk made me nervous and angry. Nervous because I knew that I liked guys, and I was worried that if I talked about it, then I’d be exposed, or worse, I might get aroused. Angry, because we were supposed to be nice Mormon boys who were virtuous and worthy, not talking about sinful and unchaste things.
On the second day of camp, a kid named Derrick had been talking about masturbation down by the lake, where we were getting ready to work on a swimming merit badge. In moments, we would be jumping in the water fully clothed, and we had to remove our pants in the water and turn them into a floatation device as part of the requirements for the badge. But Derrick was busy chatting about how big his dick could get and how he liked to play with it.
I’d looked over at him, nervous and speaking up. “Hey, could you not talk about stuff like that?”
And Derrick had looked shocked, and then angry, making fun of me in response. “What’s the matter, Chad? You’re just jealous cause you don’t even have a dick!”
“I do too!”
“Well, it’s not my fault you can’t get it hard!” Derrick had raised his voice.
“I–I can too!” I’d retorted, lamely, nervous.
“Oh, yeah? Prove it!”
I’d simply walked away, baffled at how often guys this age talked about their penises.
And now here we were in the shower, and some kid from another troop was announcing contestants in the ‘ball show’.
“First up, we have Scott!” he yelled. “Scott, show us your balls!”
The kid named Scott was 13, skinny enough that I could see his ribs, and he walked into the center of the wooden shower, strutting a bit.
“Scott has tiny balls and a big dick!” The kid doing the announcement was treating this like some kind of game show.
“Next up is Andy! Look at his big balls!”
My cheeks flushed and I couldn’t help but watch, but then I worried that others would see me watching, or worried that I would get aroused, so I quickly turned my back, washing myself quickly.
And that’s when the announcer guy noticed me.
“And hey, look over there at the guy who is too shy too show his balls! What’s the matter, are you too shy for the ball show?”
I turned around, quiet and nervous. He yelled louder.
“Is your dick too small to show off?” he yelled.
“No!” I shouted, a bit too defensively, and the other guys laughed but stayed silent, some of them clearly uncomfortable. I’d only been in this room, but some of these guys had probably been in here for 20 or 30 minutes.
“So show it off! You’re next on the show!”
I turned the shower off, held my head high, and walked right out of the shower, as some of the guys cat-called and laughed, making fun of me for being a ‘prude’. Then I cried from frustration as I walked back down to the camp, closing myself in the tent in anger and embarrassment.
Later that evening, my friend Josh leaned over at the campfire and told me he thought it was cool that I had walked away from Derrick and the group shower, and I said thanks, feeling somehow like I had done the right thing but not feeling like I had at all.
My troop practiced a few songs and a skit that we planned for the upcoming jamboree. We gave reports about our day’s activities with merit badges. We retired the flag and said an evening prayer, put out the fire and cleaned up the camp. I soon retired to my tent, where I put on a pair of sweats and a baggy T-shirt, kneeled to say my prayers, and climbed into my sleeping back.
I watched the top of the tent, thinking about boys, and why they were so mean to each other, and why they were obsessed with talking about penises (and showing them off, apparently), and why I didn’t fit in. Then, before I fell asleep, I wondered if I really wanted to. Because in this case, the reason I didn’t fit in, is because I was the one who kept my shorts on, and the only one who had been afraid to look.