The Towering Phallus

Early this month, the Empire State Building turned 75 years old. At 1,453 feet, once the tallest building in the world and once again the tallest in New York, it remains the central phallic symbol of our city and preeminent in the nation’s consciousness of concrete cock. Some gay men might prefer the flashy pointiness of the Chrysler Building, as I did in my callow youth, but over time, it’s the stolid and majestic presence of the Empire State that holds my attention and regard.

While the Twin Towers have now become more memorable in their absence than they ever were in reality, their ennoblement as synonymous with loss and sacrifice never really had to displace any sexual symbolism. Perhaps because they were a matched set, they never really took on the phallic mantle. There’s only ever room for one big dick in any landscape, be it metropolis or men’s room.

Although now three-quarters of a century old, the Empire State has never needed to resort to a building’s version of Viagra either. It remains massively upright and rigid, moving less than two inches from side to side in the wind. And make no mistake, it’s been through a lot. The ESB sustains more than a hundred lightning bolts a year, but no electro shock therapy can change this big boy’s sexual identity. It also weathered an airplane hit, when a fog-addled B-25 drove into the 70th floor in the final days of the Second World War.

So, it has its scars, but remains a survivor. Like many gay men, the Empire State has held on to its place in the world through a strange mixture of self-reliance, style, and self-imposed isolationism, keeping a little above and away from its closest neighbors—a tad chilly and wind-blown perhaps, but providing a beacon for iconoclasts and mavericks for miles around. In fact, the “lavender/lavender/white” light scheme was introduced in 1990 to honor Gay Pride Week and the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.

But it’s also been a magnet for the playing out of stories of personal tragedy, whether as a favorite spot for attempted suicides—34 of them successful at last count—or as the mediator among a hairy bruiser, a hysterical blond, and the forces of society that want so desperately to drive them apart, their love too, too taboo to be countenanced.

The Empire State Building remains a symbol of man’s achievement, of virulence, a sign that we can get it up and keep it up, baby, and stay hard and tall all through the night.