The Silence Has Consequences

Photo by Dana Rothstein

Photo by Dana Rothstein

If there is an exact moment for the inception of puberty—a moment that contains within it the seed for the rest of the process–then I’m sure that moment for me, at least, could be defined by this: in that crystalline microsecond after I noted the first drop of blood on my panties, I became aware that it would be a very bad thing to talk to my parents about the changes happening inside of me, both then and forevermore; and that the consequences if I did, if not exactly biblical, would be comparably horrific.

In my particular family, there was a whole range of topics that I simply knew were beyond the pale of what could even be mentioned, and sex was indubitably, irrevocably one of them. My parents’ own silence about sex, in particular, sent a crystal-clear message that bringing it up as a topic to be discussed with equanimity, with openness to wherever the discussion might lead, was about as sensible as intentionally spawning an overwhelming quantity of frogs in the basement. Did I want to invite pestilence into our “normal” family life, as if the inception of my sexuality wasn’t already bad enough?

This silence, as far as I could know without actually knowing to ask, permeated the lives of my friends, too: nothing I heard from them would have indicated that things were any different for them at home. The normalcy of this silence was duly assumed and absorbed, the status quo protected. Sex was a social tool, and the boys were in charge of using it. Gay people, let alone people even more aberrant, seemed not to exist as actual human beings. Talking wasn’t going to change anything because you just didn’t do it, except for ribald joking and hushed gossip that, well, reinforced the status quo.

Over the span of my adult years, I became aware of having been harmed as a child by damaging words and actions; but the powerful effects of all this silence were more difficult to identify. Though so much about my own sexuality healed over time without my having to specifically think about the insidious effects of all this silence, raising Lena finally gave me reason to confront it, and to confront it utterly.

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