Wasington, DC - I didn’t know that I could have two mothers.
Nor did I know that my little sister could have two fathers.
Indeed, I didn’t know (at age four) that my mother was pregnant, and when my sister appeared in our apartment and I viewed her diaper being changed, I asked with naïve ignorance, “Where’s her little ‘gigger’?”
Yes, I also assumed until about age 10 that “the stork brought me” or that “you were found under a cabbage leaf”—both then-prevalent circumlocutions for the messy reality of sex and birth. To be sure by that age such nonexplanations were wearing a bit thin. Since I was not living on a farm, I had no direct exposure to animal sexuality from which I might extrapolate. Thus when I encountered a Life magazine during a family visit to my maternal grandfather’s home that had a ground-breaking cover story with photos of birth, I rushed to my parents saying “Now I know where babies come from!” More than a bit of embarrassment ensued.
Thus, while one point of ignorance was removed, and subsequently my father provided me with “birds and bees” specificity, I remained blithely ignorant of the various (and still evolving) facets of homosexual activity. “Gay” was still a term for delighted pleasure, and lyrics of a classic University of Pennsylvania song “Drink a Highball” included, “…for tomorrow may bring sorrow, so tonight let’s all be gay.” (Penn hasn’t changed the lyrics and still sings the song at football games albeit with a grimace.)
Nevertheless, in the 1940s-50s, sex education—especially beyond the basic mechanics of sex—was restricted to high school “health education” classes. There was no distribution of contraceptives—and abortion, alone “on demand” was far from legal. Primarily, sex education was regarded as the province of the family for instructing both boys and girls about reproductive activity.
Consequently, I was well into my teens before I encountered a gay. Unfortunately, it was a negative encounter, as the male was serving as the “nurse” at a summer camp where I was a counselor. One day, he was no longer there. When I asked about his absence, it was explained that he had assaulted (using a crude term) a young camper and was immediately dismissed. There was no further mention of him or any legal action taken against him.
Thus throughout my university and military years, running into my mid-20s, I encountered only heterosexuals invariably interested in traditional sexual activity. Or at the maximum, they appeared sexually indifferent. As a slim, blonde male, retrospectively, I might have been a plausible target; however, I never received an “offer.” And the U.S. Foreign Service was highly hostile to homosexual activity, concluding from British experience that it was a gateway to treason and subject to dismissal.
My how times have changed.
Now there is an active chapter of gays at the State Department as well as “openly gay” ambassadors. The State Department’s annual Human Rights Report (HRR) after years of arguing that gays should be included in the text only if they were being actively persecuted for being gay, has an extensive section on societal respect for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons. Next year’s edition of the HRR probably will include “I” (for “Intersex”) to address the rights of those with “variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female.”
So one wonders how elementary school teachers will be directed to parse through such material? Or whether a prominent newspaper columnist (female without children) who claimed that parents unwilling to include their children in sex education classes were “bad”… “pitiful” parents might want to recalibrate her criticism given the complexities involved?
Not that I want to recycle 1950s ignorance; nor did I with my children. Nor are members of my children’s generation concealing basic sexual realities. But neither are they inflicted with too-much-information (TMI), details of sexual complexities with which biologically trained experts might grope with caution.
Likewise, the abortion “pro choice” vs “pro life” is a litmus test tar pit for politicians. In fact, one can accept both that “life” begins at conception and that a woman has the right to choose bringing that life to birth.
Frankly, I’m not willing to indict my father and mother as having been “bad” or “pitiful” parents. Early childhood ignorance does not mean parental neglect.