By now you have probably seen them. Framed by arms, half-bare, resting on the table. A few inches below THE GREAT SEAL OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK: PERFORMANCE — INTEGRITY — PRIDE — I WORK FOR THE PEOPLE.
But the seal, colorful and large, barely competes for your attention. The eyes are drawn instead to what’s poking through the fabric on each side of the governor’s chest — poking, at the same time, through the terror and uncertainty of the pandemic pausing normal life for the lucky and ending it altogether for thousands of others around the world.
So unusually spherical, and so many of them — is that a total of four small, ball-like objects? Could nature be responsible for those?
It’s not that they appear to be hard. Everybody knows what that looks like. It’s that the hardness appears unmistakably foreign, an aspect given not by a holy creator or even a surgeon, but by someone — something — else.
As the world falls apart, as the questions we’re forced to ask grow grimmer each day, can you really blame anyone for choosing to meditate for just a little while on this question: Does Andrew Cuomo have nipple piercings?
According to Rich Azzopardi, the governor’s spokesperson, he doesn’t.
“Of course not,” Azzopardi told New York’s Intelligencer.
He added, “Sorry, internet!”
But at least one expert doesn’t buy it. Ashley Abrego, a piercer at Studs who has modified many nipples, told New York’s Intelligencer, “To me, they’re definitely pierced. It’s clear as day that there’s a nipple barbell under his shirt. You can see the end of the jewelry.”
It’s simply true that governments attempt to conceal all kinds of things. Even things partially visible to the naked eye. But it’s also true that the human body is a complex machine given to all sorts of odd behaviors. As Dan Savage wrote, “Only Andrew Cuomo knows for sure, of course, and he’s not telling.” But, Savage said, “I’ve spent a lot of time around gay guys with tit rings, and it’s my considered opinion that those are tit rings. Almost certainly.”
After Cuomo’s nipples showed up at his daily press briefing this week, the internet was quick to surface photos from 2017 in which his nipples, covered by a similar white polo shirt, didn’t resemble the 2020 version at all. Could they have been pierced sometime within the last three years? Was it just colder at the briefing than it was at the Pride parade where he was pictured with the less controversial version of his anatomy? Was he wearing a T-shirt under his polo that created some kind of bunching effect that resembled piercings? Or, as one Reddit user suggested, was he wearing suspenders? Pasties? Scotch tape?
I thought at least one other person might have answers. Until last fall, Cuomo was in a relationship with Sandra Lee, the television chef known for her concoctions made primarily from prepackaged foods, like canned pie fillings and other preservative-laden industrial marvels. (Lee marketed this style of meal-assembly as accessible, but was regularly needled for her Frankenrecipes by the culinary cultural elite, most famously Anthony Bourdain — though in the age of the virus, doomsday-friendly cooking is making quite the comeback.)
I sent Lee a message on Instagram. While I waited for her to read it, she uploaded a Story in which she seemed to address the issue (which has been labeled Nipplegate, in case you were wondering).
“Body shaming is not OK. It’s never gonna be OK,” she said. “And when people are out in the front lines working so hard for all of our benefits, to then turn around and body shame? Shame on you. Knock it off. Do something to uplift people and make the world a better place. Not take cheap shots that are unnecessary.” She added, “Anyway, I hope you all have a great day and think about that for a little while.”
Notably absent from her statement? A denial.
I decided the only thing left to do was call Barney Frank. Back in 2011, the former congressman stepped onto the House floor wearing a light-blue sweater through which his nipples were visible to anybody watching C-Span.
Future president Donald Trump was apparently doing just that. “Barney Frank looked disgusting — nipples protruding — in his blue shirt before Congress. Very very disrespectful,” he said on Twitter.
“I’d gone to work not expecting to be on the floor, but somebody got sick, and something had to be done on the floor and I had to do it, and I had my arm in a sling, and there wasn’t a jacket that fit me, so that’s why I was bent out of shape,” Frank told Intelligencer.
Frank described the insult as “Trump’s silliness” and said it didn’t bother him at all, even if it was, “a precursor for the kind of behavior he would have as president.”
In general, Frank said, being a politician whose nipples become a subject of mockery or scrutiny isn’t as negative an experience as you might think. “In some ways, it makes you feel good because it means you have people who are trying to attack you and they can’t find anything substantive.”
Of Cuomo’s critics, he said, “It reflects badly on them.”
With all of that out of the way, I asked Frank if he’d be surprised if it turned out that Cuomo does, in fact, have pierced nipples.
“I’m gonna act as if you didn’t ask me that,” he said.