It occurs to me that maybe I'm not remembering the instructions right. Maybe they were more complex than I remember. I think maybe the rule was you could ask about conventional sex, and you weren't allowed to ask about kinky sex, but if you had a question about a practice so aberrant that if you asked your mom about it, she'd clutch her chest and slump over the steering wheel as she's driving your Little League team to the pizza parlor, then those questions you should bring to the Principal or Mr. Hoezel.
Maybe it was a public safety measure. I don't know.
Anyway, it doesn't matter, because every question the sixth grade boys pitched to the Principal and Mr. Hoezel fell well within passed-out-mom territory.
I remember when Mike H. raised the issue of gender-reassignment surgery, the Principal made a point of saying that he felt he had the authority to discuss that topic with us because it touched upon the "bizarre" and he could assume that we wouldn't feel comfortable talking to our parents about it.
"Artificial breasts are inserted into the man's chest," the Principal said, and he cupped his hands over his chest the way men always do when they're talking about women's breasts. "The vocal cords are adjusted. The genitals are cut away." At this point the Principal made a slashing motion with his open palm in front of his crotch. Remember he was sitting on a shelving unit, so he was elevated, and his legs were slightly spread. Looking back I'm sure the way he was sitting was a calculated gesture. "Don’t think of me as your Principal," his pose seemed to say. "Think of me as your pal, the grizzled but good-natured puberty veteran."
And you have to give him and Mr. Hoezel credit. That air of informality seemed to work. The boys opened up. They asked a lot of questions. I mean they were questions that would have made your mom careen into oncoming traffic, but they were questions. But when he made that slashing movement, he kind of lost the room a little bit. There was nervous laughter. There were some exclamations. I'm sure the girls in Mrs. Vay-ZAH-deez's room wondered in the hell was going on next door.
I might have been responsible for some of the noise myself. Not that I was a noisy kid, but I remember feeling shocked at the idea of transgender people. Shocked but fascinated. I remember making a mental note to myself: "Must find out more about guys who turn into women." (I wouldn't learn for a few more years that transgenderism could work the other way, female-to-male).
Many years after sixth grade, the Renée Richards story started appearing in the news. She sued the U.S. Open Tennis Association for the right to compete in the U.S. Open as a woman. I think she was the first transgender person I ever heard of by name and the first one I ever saw a picture of. I also remember as a teenager reading about Christine Jorgensen in People Magazine. She was the first person ever to have gender reassignment surgery. And I read some books from the library and tried to catch as many transgender-themed shows on "Donahue" as I could. (That often involved skipping school, because we didn't have VCRs or TiVo back then.)
It seemed like the story of a transgender person's life would always start out the same way: "For as long as I can remember, I felt trapped in the wrong body. I'd look in the mirror, and what I saw there didn't match my understanding of who I was. Every day I would think about how much I wanted to get out of that wrong body and start living my life in the right body."
I'd always have the same thought when I'd read or hear about that part of a transgendered person's life. I'd think "That's what being circumcised feels like."