Mom insists she did. Right, whatever. Nothing, nada, zilch, ground zero. (Then again, Mom doesn't remember feeding me butter and sugar sandwiches for lunch. She's not the most reliable witness.)
In fourth grade or so, I was on the school bus and the tougher, scarier, older kids (the ones who had breath and faces sliced like salami) called one of their victims "queer." I took note of this strange new word. No idea what it meant, just knew it was BAD. And I wanted to be bad. So bad, girls would want to hold my hand and boys would run in fear. Because that's what fourth grade boys care about.
That week, I experimented with my new perceived Badness. I called my older brother "queer." You know, just testing the waters. Jumping Jehoshaphat, I wasn't prepared for the outcome. Dad yanked me onto the porch like I'd just spat in the face of Billy Graham.
"Son, don't call your brother queer!"
"Why? Everybody does it."
Dad waffled. Mom, wearing a blood-orange blush and matching apron, scurried into the kitchen.
"It's a bad, bad, bad word," continued Dad.
"Well, the other kids--"
"Listen to me! Don't ever say it!"
"Why? What's it mean?"
"It means when men rub their pee-pees against one another and hard stuff comes out!"
For years, Dad's definition of "queer" baffled me. Kinda scared me, too. I mean I didn't want cement pouring out of my penis. It sounded horribly painful. Everyone would know it, too, a queer scarlet letter of shame.
So, boom, there was my first (and only) lesson about sex from my parents. I didn't even know what sex was. But Dad made certain I was on board about not being "queer."
But...there came a time when rebellion kicked in. Hell, yeah! My own personal revolution behind bathroom doors! Completely by accident, I began exploring myself. An innocent stroke here, there...and there and there and there. Things started feeling good. For a long time, I was terrified of what would happen if I continued. I mean, I didn't want to be queer, so I always withdrew, strangely unsatisfied.
Until that one fateful day when I threw caution to the wind and let it ride.
Due to the outcome, I hung my head in shame, absolutely knew I crossed the no-return "queer" border.
I worried for months. Feared going to Hell. The shame of being "queer." I still didn't understand the concept, not really, but Dad thought being queer was something awful so it had to be terrible.
Still it didn't deter my bathroom visits. Just try and stop me.
After a while, I wondered if there might be more to this queer business than Dad let on. Covertly, I eavesdropped on locker room talk, lavishly worshiped dog-eared National Geographic magazines and (the extremely soft side of) Sears catalogs. (Kids don't know how lucky they have it today with the internet; we had to make do with barely marginally sexy basics.) My younger brother and I bought used racy paperbacks, discussed them in private (Portnoy's Complaint & Semi-Tough). We pondered the Queer world we didn't understand.
Eventually, I pieced it all together, home-schooled myself.
A couple years ago, we moved my mom out of her house into an apartment. I found a paperback in the basement: "How to Tell Your Children About Sex."
"Wow. You never put this book to use did you, Mom?"
"What're you talking about? We were always open to talking about that...nasty stuff."
No. No, not at all. Which is why I had the "Sex Talk" with my daughter at a very early age. On a swing-set. She asked me about babies. Talk about uncomfortable. But I let it rip, no holds barred, no stupid, cutesy nicknames for body parts.
Remember, parents...don't let your babies grow up to be sex ignorant.