Even though puberty hadn't started for me yet, and I didn't have a clear idea of what sex was, I knew what being a boy was. I knew that my penis was the defining characteristic that made me a boy. I'm not sure when I learned that, but certainly long before the Sixth Grade. Maybe even before I started school.
I don't think that, at age 11, I had the vocabulary or the cognitive capacity to express how I felt about finding out that part of my penis was gone. But if I did, and if you could have somehow convinced me you were the one person in the world I could talk to about it, I think I would have told you something along these lines:
Finding out that part of my penis is gone feels like finding out that part of my identity as a boy is gone. And that scares me, because my gender identity is important to me. It's part of what makes me feel good about being me. A big part. A couple years ago, when I got hit in the head with the rock, and Dr. McLinden stitched me up without anesthetic, he told me 'Hold still and be a man.' And I did. I did hold still. And when he finished stitching up my head, Dr. McLinden told me I was 'a brave little fella.'
It felt good to be a brave little fella. It felt good to be a man, even if only a temporary man for purposes of getting stitches. It feels good when I'm playing baseball, and my friends say 'Hey, there goes Willie Mays!' or 'There goes Vida Blue!' It feels good when somebody says to my dad 'Your boy looks like a football player. Look at those shoulders!'
I don't feel the same way about being a boy now. Now I feel like I'm something less than a boy and that I'm going to grow up to be something less than a man.
Now did I feel all of that right at that moment, right there in Mr. Hoezel's classroom looking at the animated penis with the detachable foreskin in the Sex Ed' movie? I'm not sure. I think I felt some of it then, and some of it I would feel later in the days and months and years to come, after I'd made it past the initial shock.
Certainly I felt enough of it at that particular moment that there was no question of participating in the question-and-answer session that the Principal had announced would follow the film. There was no way I was going to raise my hand and say. "What's this about part of my penis is gone? Does that have anything to do with that funny-looking brown stripe down there?"
That would have been suicide. Because those same boys who called you 'Willie Mays' if you batted in a run or caught a fly ball would snap into attack mode at the first sign of weakness or vulnerability. They were like a pack of carnivores out on the savanna, docile and fun-loving for the most part, but always on the lookout for a limping zebra.