A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Is it true what they say about gerbils?

March 28, 1986

Dear Cecil:

While discussing a gay acquaintance recently, my friend Mary, a nurse, lauded him by adding, "and he's no damn gerbil stuffer, either." When I protested that she should not perpetuate cruel stereotypes of our homosexual brethren, she informed me that she personally had witnessed a fellow admitted by her hospital to remove a deceased gerbil lodged in his rectum. That gentleman is now doomed to be tied to a colostomy bag through eternity. What I'd like to know is, what are the mechanics and philosophy of gerbil stuffing? How are the gerbils inserted and retrieved? Don't they bite and scratch? Why not hamsters or snakes? Is this a common practice? My curious friends and I await your reply with bated breath.

Cecil replies:

Brace yourself, toots. What follows isn't for the weak of stomach. For starters, an awful lot of stuff has been found where that gerbil was found. The medical journals list, among other things, the following astonishing array: A bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's syrup, an ax handle, a nine-inch zucchini, countless dildoes and vibrators including one 14-inch model complete with two D-cell batteries, a plastic spatula, a 9-1/2-inch water bottle, a deodorant bottle, a Coke bottle, a large bottle cap, numerous other bottles, a 3-1/2-inch Japanese glass float ball, an 11-inch carrot, an antenna rod, a 150-watt light bulb, a 100-watt frosted bulb, a cucumber, a screwdriver, four rubber balls, 72-1/2 jeweler's saws (all from one patient, but not all at the same time, although 29 were discovered on one occasion), a paperweight, an apple, an onion, a plastic toothbrush package, two bananas, a frozen pig's tail (it got stuck when it thawed), a ten-inch length of broomstick, an 18-inch umbrella handle and central rod, a plantain encased in a condom, two Vaseline jars, a whiskey bottle with a cord attached, a teacup, an oil can, a six-by-five-inch tool box weighing 22 ounces, a six-inch stone weighing two pounds (in the latter two cases the patients died due to intestinal obstruction), a baby powder can, a test tube, a ball-point pen, a peanut butter jar, candles, baseballs, a sand-filled bicycle inner tube, sewing needles, a flashlight, a half-filled tobacco pouch, a turnip, a pair of eyeglasses, a hard-boiled egg, a carborundum grindstone (with handle), a suitcase key, a syringe, a file, tumblers and glasses, a polyethylene waste trap from the U-bend of a sink, and much, much more. In 1955 one man who was "feeling depressed" reportedly inserted a six-inch paper tube into his rectum, dropped in a lighted firecracker, and blew a hole in his anterior rectal wall. This changed his mood real quick.

"Insertion of foreign bodies into the rectum," as it's formally known, is by no means confined to gays. Many cases are ascribed to autoeroticism on the part of straights. Leaving aside victims of assault or accident, however, practitioners do have one thing in common: they're incredibly stupid.

You don't need to be an Einstein to realize that insertion of objects presents enormous health risks. The rectum can become lacerated, torn, or infected. Long-term effects can include a flaccid sphincter and fecal incontinence.

Which brings us to gerbils. While the examples above are well-documented in the medical literature, live or recently deceased fauna are something else. Rumors of gerbil (and mouse or hamster) stuffing have been circulating since about 1982. In 1984, a Denver weekly said it had a confirmed report of gerbilectomy in a local emergency room. The Manhattan publication New York Talk reported several years ago that New York doctors first caught on to stuffing when they started encountering patients with infections previously found only in rodents. But no such case has ever found its way into the formal literature of medicine.

Having investigated the matter in some depth, I'm inclined to write the whole thing off as an urban legend. Your nurse friend stoutly maintains that a patient was treated for a case of ingrown gerbil at her hospital in Chicago. But she concedes she didn't read the patient's chart or see any documentary evidence. A doctor and a nurse at the hospital to whom she appealed for corroboration of her story say they know nothing of any such case, although they had both heard about gerbil stuffing, the nurse from cops in the emergency room, the doctor at a medical meeting.

That's pretty much the story all over. I've checked with numerous sources in both the gay and medical communities, and though everybody has heard about gerbil stuffing, every attempt to track down an actual case has come to naught.

The whole business sounds completely nuts, and implausible to boot. Whatever the case, take my advice and stick to mammals your own size.

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