Sex ed the old-fashioned way

My dad took a very straightforward approach to sex ed, at least he did with me.

Maybe it was the same with my two brothers. I don’t know, since I’ve never discussed the topic with them. In the area of sex and romance, teenaged brothers tend to say terrible things to each other, or at least they did fifty years ago. We were fond of hurling politically incorrect epithets – accusations implying same-sex attraction and the like.

“Queer” seemed to be an overworked word from the time I was 16 to 19, and it was often preceded by a not-attractive adjective, even as some of us managed to get through high school and out into the great wide world with only a dim idea of what a homosexual was, although years later it occurred to me that the lad who often flattered me in the West Lorne pool hall, might have had an ulterior motive.

I’m not implying this low level of awareness was my father’s fault. Scotch Presbyterian farming communities at the time were not exactly hotbeds of open discussion. Whether you wore a red handkerchief in the right-rear or the left-rear pocket of your bib overalls did not appear to be a signal of anything other than an inclination to be right-handed or left-handed. And farm kids were born that way. It wasn’t a choice. Although, if farm people believed they had no choice, why was so much effort put into trying and trying to get kids in the old one-room schoolhouses to all write with their right hands? It was confusing then, and it’s often confusing now.

In 1965, when I was 15, one of the neighbours trucked the bull to the field where our Holstein milk cow was pasturing with the steers. Over the years, my brothers, my two sisters and I had developed familiarity with how horses, cattle, sheep and pigs went about the all-important business of continuing the species. And we were intimately acquainted with the connection between those acts and the birth of young ’uns. Nobody had to tell us how pregnancy came about.

I was alone with my dad as we watched the bull and the cow in the fifty-acre pasture. The conversation went as follows.

My dad: “You know how animals reproduce?”

Me: “Yeah.”

My father: “Well, it’s something the same with humans.”

Me: Silence.

I admired the lack of embarrassing questions and his brevity then, and I admire it now. No need for charts or diagrams or diatribes about consent throughout several grades of school. No need for a heifer to bawl #MeToo to her sister. Any farm kid with two eyes could see that mammalian reproduction was female-centred. Period, full stop, now go help your mother weed the garden and always show respect to women, young man.

As for the love that once dared not speak its name, Canada legalized gay marriage in 2005 and we came to see gay marriage as “something the same as” heterosexual marriage. Even down on the farm, people had to admit the sky did not fall overnight; the day after legalization, everybody still put on their rubber boots one foot at a time. And if they didn’t, maybe that was natural. Maybe they weren’t so much queer as the way God made ’em.