Gerbilling Mishap Injures Two

Gerbil
Gerbil. Frank Greenaway/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Viral "news story" claims two men were injured in a "gerbilling" mishap involving a tiny rodent, a cardboard tube and an untimely-lit match.

Description: Fake news
Circulating since: 1993
Status: False

Example:
Email text contributed by a reader in 1997:

Direct from the LA Times:

"In retrospect, lighting the match was my big mistake. But I was only trying to retrieve the gerbil," Eric Tomaszewski told bemused doctors in the Severe Burns Unit of Salt Lake City Hospital. Tomaszewski, and his homosexual partner Andrew "Kiki" Farnum, had been admitted for emergency treatment after a felching session had gone seriously wrong.

"I pushed a cardboard tube up his rectum and slipped Raggot, our gerbil, in," he explained. "As usual, Kiki shouted out 'Armageddon', my cue that he'd had enough. I tried to retrieve Raggot but he wouldn't come out again,so I peered into the tube and struck a match, thinking the light might attract him."

At a hushed press conference, a hospital spokesman described what happened next. "The match ignited a pocket of intestinal gas and a flame shot out the tubing, igniting Mr Tomaszewski's hair and severely burning his face. It also set fire to the gerbil's fur and whiskers which in turn ignited a larger pocket of gas further up the intestine, propelling the rodent out like a cannonball."

Tomaszewski suffered second degree burns and a broken nose from the impact of the gerbil, while Farnum suffered first and second degree burns to his anus and lower intestinal tract.


Analysis: Albeit attributed to the Los Angeles Times, this lurid bit of potty humor did not originate in any newspaper. Neither the content nor the style conforms to even the lowest of journalistic standards. It's fake news, a joke, or more precisely a joke bordering on an urban legend, because people insist on claiming it's true. Variants of the story can be found in Internet message board postings dating back to 1993.

I'm obliged to point out that the term "felching" is, um, sorely misused in the text. It's an actual slang word that refers to a sexual activity, and that sexual activity has something to do with rectums, but nothing to do with gerbils. Rather than attempt to provide a clinically correct definition of the term, I will refer you to the Internet. The Internet knows more about felching than you likely will want to know yourself. Fair warning.

Does "Gerbil Stuffing" Even Exist?

The narrative does revolve around an instance of what some like to call "gerbilling" (or "gerbil stuffing"), which, simply defined, is — supposedly — the act of inserting a live rodent into one's own or another person's anus for sexual pleasure.

I say "supposedly" because despite the fact that a name for such a practice exists, there's no evidence that the practice itself does. Quite the opposite, in fact. "Both in my professional and personal life, thousands of guys have freely admitted to doing the most out-there, dangerous, risky, stupid, kinky stuff," sex advice columnist Dan Savage wrote in 1998.

"But not once in all these years has anyone ever told me that he, or anyone he knows, or anyone anyone he knows knows, has ever put a gerbil in his ass. Like the doomed gerbils themselves, this story has no legs. It is an urban legend."

Richard Gere

The best known gerbilling story in popular culture is, of course, the Richard Gere story, in which it's said that the actor was supposedly rushed to an L.A. emergency ward many years ago to have a stuck gerbil removed from his rectum. Virtually everyone in America, I'm tempted to say, knows somebody who knows somebody who claims to have been right there when Gere was admitted to the hospital, or knows the surgeon who performed the gerbilectomy, or a nurse who was sworn to secrecy.

Although Gere has never out-and-out denied the story — and really, who would ever want to actually say the words, "No I didn't put a gerbil in my butt" — he did once mention it in a magazine interview in which he said, "I stopped reading the press a long time ago. Lots of crazy things came up about me at first, especially from the tabloids. There is an infamous 'Gere stuck a hamster up his bum' urban myth."

The man doesn't know a hamster from a gerbil. What are the odds he had an intimate encounter with either one?