Let's keep the sex talk real

BAD TEACHER: The writer's dad once told him that a homosexual is anyone who looks and behaves like Elton John. Much confusion ensued.


    Feb 12, 2014

    Let's keep the sex talk real

    UNDERSTANDING sexuality can be tough if the teachers are weird.

    The staff at the Health Promotion Board (HPB) are my heroes after addressing the sensitive issue of homosexuality by giving only sensible answers. They are good teachers.

    Growing up, my queries on sexuality were answered by my family. They were not good teachers.

    My family did for sex education what Anton Casey did for foreign workers.

    In an East London, working-class household, the ignorance was spellbinding. I recall coming across the word "gay" and asking my mother its meaning. She said a "gay" man was a "happy" man who always smiled.

    I never looked at Ronald McDonald in quite the same way again.

    My father proudly calls himself "old-school' (that is, intolerant). Any mention of "homosexuality" could have him reaching for something alcoholic.

    One day, I plucked up the courage to ask my father what a homosexual was. I waited for the right moment (when he was drunk).

    "That's easy to explain, boy," he slurred. "A homosexual is anyone who looks and behaves like Elton John."

    Being young and impressionable, I had no idea how to process this information. So a homosexual was anyone who was plump and bespectacled?

    That could include many men, including my uncle. And he certainly disagreed when I asked if he was a homosexual.

    I figured that my dad must have meant that male pianists were homosexuals. This hypothesis did not go down well with my music teacher.

    When synthesisers became all the rage in the late 1980s, I took piano lessons so I could learn how to play Axel F (the theme from Beverly Hills Cop, younger readers. I can still play it one-handed. I am available for bookings.).

    As I became more proficient, progressing from the one-handed Axel F to the one-handed Bad intro from Michael Jackson's album, I assumed I must be homosexual.

    Fortunately, my understanding of sexuality wasn't solely derived from my father. His mother was always around to add further insight.

    Her problem wasn't ignorance, but one of pronunciation.

    Sharing her suspicions of a woman's sexuality, she once said to me: "I think she's a 'lisbon'."

    "But she's standing over there," I replied, confused.

    "I know she's over there. I said she's a 'lisbon'."

    "But she can't be in Lisbon, if she's standing near us in a supermarket."

    "No, she's not in Lisbon. She is a 'lisbon'."

    My grandmother went to her grave calling lesbians "lisbons".

    She never had a jaundiced opinion of anyone. She once said to my sister: "And your best friend is a 'lisbon'? There's nothing wrong with being a 'lisbon'. Used to have a drink with all the 'lisbons' in the pubs during the War, they were terrific singers."

    Interestingly, most of the family now agrees that my grandmother's brother was probably gay. Of course, his sister never had the first clue.

    As she once pointed out: "He never got married, my brother, he much preferred the company of men. In those days, it was different. You didn't talk about those things. But I don't think he was a 'lisbon'."

    No, it's safe to say my great uncle wasn't a "lisbon".

    When it came to matters of sexuality, the ignorance was jaw-dropping in my family. But that was more than 30 years ago.

    Thankfully, the world has moved on and so has the HPB. The statutory board's FAQ section on sexuality - posted on its website - went viral last week. The answers were fair, fact-based and mature. Pleasingly, most of the feedback has been positive.

    I might send the link to my father. So could the HPB include a photo of Elton John?