I remember snooping around a lot when I was a kid. I found my Mom’s underwear, some sexy letters she’d received, some weed, and a few things I didn’t understand at the time, but later understood were a vibrator and a diaphragm. I didn’t find a thing in my Dad’s house. I found my uncle’s Playboys. In my friend Marc’s house, we found his parents’ more confusing and shocking hardcore porn (I’ll never forget those copies of “Color Climax”). And in the houses of those for whom I babysitted as a teenager, I found all sorts of things. Somehow, I integrated the knowledge of what I found without difficulty: I wasn’t particularly traumatized by the knowledge that my Mom was a sexual being (though I was most certainly grossed out). If anything, the disgust I felt at some of what I found was almost punishment enough to make me stop. (Almost….)
At the time, I knew there was something up with my father’s invulnerability. It just didn’t seem right somehow. It wasn’t until my late teens that he finally told me that he is gay. (He’d told my Mom when I was just a toddler, and their marriage had ruptured.) Somehow, my father telegraphed to me very effectively that his sexuality was, at best, secret, and more accurately, shameful. The things I found in all the other places I looked – in my Mom’s house and in those of my friends and charges – none of it really shocked me. What it did was educate me: there were people who liked Color Climax, men who wrote of their ardor.
As our son reaches snooping age, I’m starting to think about these questions. We have never been at all secretive. If anything, the opposite – we’ve been almost exhibitionistic: we often have sex toys out in the open in our bedroom (I’m thinking of the rarely used, graphically purple, silicone dildo – perfectly penis-shaped, that sat for a while on the headboard, only to be secreted more recently to the area protected by a sliding door in that headboard). L recently told me of seeing a pair of handcuffs next to the bed of an acquaintance.
As I think about it, I think this all is relatively straightforward: our obligation – to our son, to our friends – isn’t to hide things. Hiding, after all, is something one does for that which is secret, and I don’t (want to) have secrets. Our obligation is to respect his, our friends’, freedom not to be exposed to my, to our sexuality. If he wants to look behind closed doors, if he wants to find dildos, lube, paddles, vibrators, porn, what have you – if he wants that stuff, it won’t be hard to find. (And, unlike for me growing up, he won’t be dependent on his uncle, or his friends’ parents, for access both to porn and to the information about desire other than one’s own that available porn provides – the internet has fixed all that.)
But he’ll have to want to know.