From the moment he began seeing doctors, former actor and current storyteller Don Cummings understood his medical team. “They had two goals,” recalls Cummings, who many might remember from his time playing the gay waiter on Dharma & Greg. “The first was to diagnose whether or not I had Peyronie’s disease. They get you erect by injecting your penis with a drug and handing you pornography — old-timey, a magazine. They do, sweetly, ask you whether you want the gay or the straight porn.”
Once hard, the medical professionals, “cream up your penis and take an ultrasound, looking for plaque. If they find plaque, well, you have Peyronie’s disease,” he explains.
Then goal two: treatment. “In my case… it was Verapamil [in] saline injections. This has the effect of trying to turn the stubborn plaque from something like cheddar into Swiss.” But when first diagnosed by ultrasound, “I started to cry and told him how difficult sex had become.”
Today, Cummings is cured, and with Bent But Not Broken, he’s offering the first memoir about Peyronie’s disease, a disfiguring but usually treatable penile condition that afflicts 5 percent of men.
How did he cope in a world hyper-focused on dicks? He “escaped into wine and weed. I was not going to a psychotherapist at the time. That came later, once the depression and general hatred-for-living set in …. But I did not maintain my self-esteem around my penis. I was floored. I was told that I had a mild case of Peyronie’s disease. But I came in early for treatment and my guess is that I was not fully presenting yet. My doctor told me, ‘Most gay men come in sooner than straight men since they are more identified with their penises.’”
Inital treatments went well, “but then my penis got so much worse, bending, shrinking, constricting. There were days… I would look at the knives in the kitchen and I would think, One quick swipe across this deformed thing, and this bullshit will be over.”
He says, “to have an average penis that was not only shrinking to below average, but also, to curving into horrible shapes and nonfunctioning? What did this mean? What had I become?”
Eventually, Cummings “figured if I didn’t get into some sort of acceptance about the different routes my fate could take me, I would end up in enormous psychological trouble. Luckily, after six extra treatments and using the penis stretcher and being diligent, my penis did get much better. But it was a crapshoot and I have to say, I did not do it with any kind of grace.”
He didn’t plan to reveal all this in the memoir, but “with trepidation I went deeper… Once I got going I loved writing about my sex life, my feelings about sex, my problematic love life, and of course, my penis. We all have a sex life and we all have trouble. I’ve had a lot of sex. This should just be normal, to share these things with ease.”
Cummings’s husband was “very supportive” of the revealing book. “Adam was certainly wary of having our sex life out there… mostly because he’s a bottom. But I never understood any of his embarrassment about being a bottom.”
Today, the happily married Cummings’s book (dubbed a “phallic memoir” by Permanent Midnight author Jerry Stahl) joins the ranks of other great gay medical memoirs (think Augusten Burroughs’s).
Cummings is creating a space for people to come forward at his events, via social media, and even in the online support group he runs. “I’m happy to be ‘The Peyronie’s guy,’ since I am on the other side of it,” Cummings says.
“Had it turned out that my sex life as a top had ended, I would have accepted that.... I am not religious, but I do know I am not this body. How can I be? All these allergies and stomach problems and cancers and everything else we all have, health-wise? If I ever have a tombstone, and I won’t have one, but if I ever did, it would read, ‘My sinuses have never felt better.’”