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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Sunday Journal: A lifelong search for the naked truth
By Norma Watkins, Special to the Times
Published August 12, 2007
Growing up, I never saw a naked man. I had no brothers. My father was extremely modest. I think I once caught a glimpse of him in his boxers, darting from his closet to the bathroom. I'd seen man legs and that was it.
Naturally, I was curious. I'd read novels that pretty well hinted what men did with women but, not being sure of the equipment involved, I couldn't picture it. I went through the encyclopedia. Under Greece, I found a male statue. Down there, in the area of my curiosity, was a marble leaf-shaped thing. That must be it, but wouldn't the pointy parts get stuck like a fishhook?
I kept looking. The phone book one year featured on its cover a drawing of Mercury, the messenger god, naked except for his winged cap. Over his shoulder and covering the spot I wanted to see, he carried coils of - good grief! How did men hide that in their trousers? I figured out later it was phone cable.
Sex education in seventh grade didn't help. We got a film with diagrams showing the process of menstruation. There was a cartoon girl shivering under a rain of ice cubes, warning us not to take cold showers. Nothing about the good stuff. Girls and boys saw the film separately. My ignorance continued.
When puberty arrived and dating began, I thought I detected something under a boy's pants, but I never actually saw it. I heard from other girls about an affliction girls sometimes visited upon boys. I wondered: Did they literally turn blue? I didn't ask, out of fear of appearing ignorant or, worse, knowing too much and being considered fast.
I searched the drugstore racks for books that might give me some actual information. They were cruelly deceptive. The cover of something called Lust on the Cornish Coast, showing a dark man bending over a half-nude woman, ended all love scenes with: ". . . and then he took her." Or, ". . . the door closed."
I married at 19, to get out of the house and to satisfy my curiosity. Finally, a man of my own, whose parts I could study at leisure.
My husband-to-be was a good Presbyterian, and he wanted to wait until we said our vows. I left an earring in his car one night. When I drove over to retrieve it, I saw his naked behind through his bedroom window. What a thrill. I felt like a pervert peering through the open blinds and drove away quickly.
On our wedding night, we flew to New Orleans and stayed at the Monteleone Hotel in a room with peepholes, I was sure, where the staff watched us.
I used the bathroom first and came out in my first-night, lace-trimmed gown and peignoir. My husband went in for his turn fully clothed and shut the door behind him - exactly what I was used to in a man.
When he came out in his wedding pajamas, my mouth fell open. They were yellow nylon and almost transparent. I could see right through them. No wonder men shut themselves in the bathroom. I was right there with Sylvia Plath in The Bell Jar, when she got her first look at male equipment: turkey neck and gizzards.