I had a counselling session last night. It’s a regular thing now, as I’ve reconnected with the peer to peer network that I was part of many years ago. Because I recently had a spell in hospital I thought it might be useful to spend some time exploring some of my earlier experiences of illness. It seems there were a few of them. However, I inevitably got to the period that was my adolescence. From about 12 years old through to my early 20’s I was, psychologically speaking, a mess. The key part for me, it seems, was the complete lack of information, or worse, the misinformation that was coming from the significant adults in my life.
The transition from childhood to adulthood is difficult enough. However, without any guidance from someone who at least made some sense, it was a nightmare. The only information I picked up about the world of adulthood, came from the role models around me, the various media of the day and the other children and adolescents in my life.
In growing up, there are key developmental topics and transitions that have to be dealt with. So let’s get one of the most important ones out of the way right now. As the pop song lyric goes,”let’s talk about sex babee!” Which would have been great. The problem was, that nobody did, not in any way that made sense anyway. I was left to pick up snippets from adult conversations, newspaper stories and worst of all playground whispers that used to involve a lot of giggling.
At some point in my early teens I came across a book. It had some fairly graphic anatomical diagrams in it. Some of which appeared to be cut away sections of a penis. I recognised these; but I had some difficulty relating to some other bits that were drawn alongside. I eventually turned a page and bingo, I managed to join up the dots and realised that these other diagrams were of lady bits. What a revelation! Like something quite unlike a Playboy centrefold; there, laid out in front of me was a cutaway diagram of a man bit that had somehow managed to find its way into a lady bit. I took the book along to my mother to see if it was ok to read it. She decided that it was a little too much information at this stage and I never saw it again.
School didn’t help either. At sixteen, I was given a letter to take home. It sought consent from my parents, for the school to show us a sex education film. They obviously signed it, because several of us from the senior streams were one day ushered into the school hall so that we could be collectively traumatised with a film about Syphilis. It was clearly American in its content and targeted at American high school kids. Curiously, the film told us nothing about the actual sexual act itself. Rather, it carefully cut out immediately at the point of the first clinch. It then switched to the guilty couple, and that was the obvious emotion being projected in the scene, straightening out their clothes. We then accompanied the young lothario to his doctor where we were treated to graphic pictures of the various stages of the disease. Apart from these obvious visual horrors, the only thing that stuck in my mind from this film was that these American kids all had cars! We were lucky if we had a bike! The film was followed up with a Q & A session, with the boys trouped off to a separate room from the girls. A middle aged man whom I had never seen before stood at the front and fielded questions from some of the braver boys. The guy did ok, but he really didn’t look that relaxed in his task. The craziest thing about this whole scenario though, was that at no point was there any mention or discussion of sex. No mention of what actually happens, no mention of foreplay or the sex. Nothing about the emotional aspects for each gender. Nothing about mutual respect or the need to take things slowly, and most certainly nothing about the possibility of same sex attraction; perish the thought.
My Dad did eventually attempt to shoulder what he thought was his responsibility as a father. However, I was now about 19 years old and had pretty much figured things out for myself. This particular evening I was watching some late night TV, when he came in from the pub. He sat down and began to talk about his time just after the second world war, when he was stationed in Belgium. I listened with a mixture of curiosity and horror as I realised he was describing in graphic detail how he visited a prostitute to lose his virginity. Only he didn’t use the word prostitute. Rather, he used a word that I hadn’t heard before. At least, I hadn’t heard it in the context that he was using it. He referred to the woman as an “ooer”. This was a word I had been more used to reading in the comics I had as a child; a simple expression of mild surprise. I figured out that the word he had been reaching for was, Whore.
Just in case you’re wondering how all this is connected to my title for this blog. I suppose what I’m reaching for at the moment, is the way that my life was being constructed for me by the adults in my childhood. That my view of myself and the world around me developed into a distortion of reality that I just came to accept as real. In part two of this blog post I hope to explore my education and my transition into the world of work.