David Kennerly, in this guest blog, vividly recalls childhood freedoms we have lost. As Heretic TOC was unfortunately unable to use the piece at the time first proposed, it was offered by mutual agreement for first publication at the excellent website You Are Your Story. Now it is reproduced here with the approval of webmaster Jay Edson, who has posted here as “Jedson”.
It’s very strange for me to hear today’s parents, and other oddly obsessive adults, nattering on about sexual “acting out” in children, convinced that an external, malign, influence must be responsible. They insist, without any evidence to support their view, that children must necessarily receive some form of social contamination necessary to infect them with an urge to play with each others genitals whether from pornography or possibly the suspicious bachelor down the street.
In their view, kids simply do not possess, on their own, the wherewithal to discover sexuality independently of some corrupt, exogenous and – invariably – adult male force.
I would like to ask them: Have you NO memories of your own childhood? Is it that you NEVER fooled around as a kid? How could you NOT have explored your, and your friends’, bodies?
If one is to believe them (and it’s hard for me to do so) then theirs was a radically different childhood from my own.
The following is a brief excerpt from my own exploratory childhood and my reflections upon it, today. And yes, it is absolutely true.
I performed fellatio, for the first time, on another boy when we were both seven years old one afternoon in my family’s garage, having never heard of it, nor seen it demonstrated, before.
It just seemed like the right thing to do (nearly fifty years ago). And, so it was.
It had been my idea, and Jonathan was game.
At first, my technique left much to be desired and consisted largely of simply “holding” my friend’s penis in my mouth, for a bit. I was, after all, starting from scratch. Like playing “chopsticks” on the piano during ones first lesson.
Soon, however, I would learn of the advantages to be conferred to us both if liberal, and vigorous, application of my tongue were employed.
We suffered a brief impasse when Jonathan suddenly stated, out of the blue, that what he really wanted to do was to “pee” in my mouth.
I quickly removed it from my mouth and, looking up at him, told him emphatically “No!”
That was a deal-breaker for me. At least, in that first encounter.
We did eventually come to an agreement which was mutually satisfying and would, in most cases, save me from the unwelcome taste of urine.
Later, I became aware of other boys also performing oral sex on one another (“what a coincidence!”, I had thought) their having arrived at the practice quite independently of my own brilliant inventiveness.
Most memorably, one such occurrence had been said to have occurred on a neighbor’s front lawn in the middle of the afternoon!
I hadn’t witnessed this with my own eyes but, I knew the boys said to have given this performance and, knowing them to be “wild” – by anyone’s standards – found the account completely credible.
That they would have given the neighborhood such a public performance I thought dangerously stupid. But, apart from it taking place on an elderly couple’s front lawn, it seemed perfectly reasonable – and to be expected – to my seven-year-old self.
Sucking, and other contact with penises not-ones-own were, instinctively, an extension of play, friendship and boy’s adventuring, to our developing minds. And it really was fun, after all!
Sometime during that or the next year, a parental alert went up in the neighborhood with mothers asking their kids if they had encountered a suspicious young man in a Volkswagen offering to “give rides”.
Apparently, one of my more attractive friends (a handsome blonde-haired boy) had taken him up on his offer and was told by the young Volkswagen-driving stranger that he was a student at the local university. Those were the only details provided to me by my mother and, if she knew any more, she wasn’t telling.
I was, of course, properly concerned, not knowing what it was he was up to other than a twisted desire to “kidnap”; the ostensible, and stated, basis for our mothers’ alarm.
This specter of a dangerous male adult, at the time, existed quite separately from my penchant for oral sex which, in any case, continued uninterrupted.
One major difference, of course, between now and then is that my parents, as with many parents of the time, did not articulate the sexual nature of such concerns with strangers to their kids.
So we had the advantage, as children, of not associating the danger of specifically designated “strangers” with our own, emerging, sexuality.
A sexuality, I might add, which we continued to explore in secret, even so and – crucially – away from what would surely have been the disapproving gaze of our parents.
I now realize that our parents gave us both the extraordinary freedom of movement and the hours of unstructured time necessary to conduct our many- and varied – explorations, whether they knew it or not.
All quite different from what kids are given today.
But it’s also true that sex, as a whole, was stigmatized back then and we learned that our parents seemed terribly concerned, in particular, with pre-marital sex (I had a sister who was six years older than me).
But even POST-marital sex was stigmatized, back then. ALL sex was nothing but stigma and something you just didn’t discuss with other people. Perhaps not even between adults having sex with each other, for all we knew.
Oh, about that: I was already aware of the “facts-of-life”, as it were, having received this arcane and simply astounding tidbit of information – not from my parents, of course – but from my older sister.
After I quickly disseminated this improbable, but credible (coming from my teenaged sister) revealed truth to my classmates, it propagated outward like wildfire.
I believe our school’s kindergartners, alone, (perhaps) remained unsophisticated in the ways of human sexual reproduction from that day forward (ah, the scale of lost innocence!).
My mother, having thus been spared the onerous task of any thoroughgoing birds-and-bees discussion in the future (although who knows if she or my father would ever have attempted it?) instead faced the prospect of reprimanding me for my jaw-dropping indiscretions after having been called by another, very irate, mother naming me (in a portent of the future?) as the source of the salacious revelation.
From that day forward, my relationships with other boy’s mothers would never again be comfortable or easy.
That her admonishments to me were as muted and tentative as they were was the only surprise. But then, again, maybe not; it was SEX, after all. If my father knew, he said nothing; also out of character.
Besides sex, it was also true that overly friendly strangers could themselves be stigmatized back then, but they had to actually cruise the streets in cars, in neighborhoods where they were completely unknown, offering rides to boys whom everyone recognized as particularly adorable, to qualify as the kind of “strangers” warranting especial wariness.
So, in my child’s mind, the dual stigmas of sex and preternaturally solicitous strangers existed as entirely separate phenomena; any connection between the two remained blissfully unformed.
I’m sure that this was true for many other kids at that time, as well, and in a way which differs vastly from today’s vigorously regulated, and tightly filtered, childhoods.
Sex was “dirty” – but so was playing in the mud. That didn’t keep boys like me from enjoying either.
But sex, on the other hand, was MUCH easier to hide.
And we knew, instinctively and logically, that what our parents didn’t know of our explorations – in the garage, in the woods, in the creek, in the basement, in the YMCA changing room (although probably not on the front lawn) could hurt neither them nor us. They just weren’t to know anything about it. And it was our job to keep it from them.
You see, secrets were an essential part of our childhoods. And that’s the way we wanted it.
And, on some level, I believe that’s the way our parents wanted it, too.
To some extent, we kids lived separate lives from our parents. And that was just fine with us.
DAVID KENNERLY WOULD ALSO LIKE TO MAKE A PITCH FOR NAMBLA:
And now my pitch for NAMBLA which I’m working on to try to drum up some support:
“I want to remind everyone in our circle that the organization, radioactive though it may appear and clumsy though it may have been in the past, does perform several essential and vital roles in the world. Without it, many boylovers and – yes – boys who have looked to it for what little hope they possess will be that much more isolated.
NAMBLA publicly asserts our humanity and insists upon the existence of an ethical framework for man/boy love which we urge others to understand and to embrace.
Lastly, there are lots of people, curious about Man/Boy Love as well as our organization, who visit our website to learn about this issue and to make some sense of it, including academics and scholars, civil libertarians, attorneys, students, civil administrators and possibly even future policy makers.
It is essential that our voice – of all voices – be heard in the unfolding and evolving debates which effect our future.
So yes, NAMBLA exists as more than just a recurring trope on Comedy Central, even if it is also that.”