It's time for the class that our school euphemistically calls sex education. That's because it's the 1980s and our deeply uncomfortable male maths teacher is taking us on another laughably abrupt safari through the thickets of teenage sexuality.

Today he's taking great care not to get mired in another unproductive discussion about gender or orientation. The only productive thing he's interested in is reproduction. So he draws us a simple chalk outline of the mechanics of love, exactly as though he were tracing the scene of a crime.

Disease, inflammations, abortions, unwanted pregnancies. These are his preferred topics.

Condoms don't work, he warns us. Gay people do not exist, this is Donegal not San Francisco, stop taking a hand at me for the love of God.

If you want sex you must get hitched. Everyone else is out of luck. Got it? Got it?

We've got it. He leaves out all the beautiful mysteries of love and we soon discover that he always will.

What is it that happens inside you when you see your secret crush on the way to school, we want to know? What puts those lead weights on our tongues when all we want to do is tell them how wonderful they are? Why do we flush red whenever we see them?

These are the everyday mysteries that we really want to hear about, but straight answers to questions that are this simple and human are strictly forbidden in our conservative Catholic school.

Instead we are told that there are topics so terrible that they must never be discussed. Life is complicated, so it's best avoided.

I have recently discovered that I am one of these terrible topics myself; I have recently made the dangerous journey from teenager to unspeakable secret on my own.

My maths teacher is bluntly telling us why people in my position should accept our lonely fates and shut up. It's the era of Don't Ask, Don't Tell after all.

People can see it, they can even suggest it, but they cannot say it. Not out loud. My reality just doesn't comport with his religious ideology.

That is why, early one summer morning, a middle aged relative arrives at my front door with some bulky exercise equipment and not a single word.

It's such a teenage gay boy rite of passage, this. I watch as he silently unpacks some ancient muscle flexing device from a torn cardboard box in the trunk of his car.

The illustration of a Speedo wearing muscle man on the box belongs to an earlier decade. Turning to me he says, “You're too thin,” with an expression that suggests this is the least of my problems.

I look back at him. He's almost bald and doughy around the waistline and I want to say, “Well, it didn't work well for you did it?”

Who does this man think he think he is and who does he think I am, I wonder? Why does he expect me to stand in front of him listening to these paternalistic bromides with an expression of interest instead of contempt?

But I greet his unannounced arrival the way I am learning to respond to every other crass intrusion into my privacy now, with nail pairing indifference, neither friendly nor aloof. In my town he is a successful businessman who expects to be listened to, and for this reason alone he generally is.

To me, though, he is an avatar of failure. Sire of four children who spill half their meals on their chests, married to a woman who can barely stand to inhabit the same county, it is humorous and humiliating to be upbraided for all my shortcomings without even a passing reference to his own.

But I listen as he unburdens himself and I watch as he drives away. Men like this were everywhere in my past and are nowhere in my present.

It will never occur to him that I might want to pursue a different path to my future. It will never occur to him that a different path might exist.

They were the tight faced emissaries from an Ireland that believed there were discussions that were too important to ever have and people (including children) who were too inconvenient to ever acknowledge.

They let silence fall on the topics that made them uncomfortable, and they let silence fall on the people who made them uncomfortable too, banishing them to the edge of town, like a princess in a fairy tale. You were not expected to return.

But years later I would learn that I had a strength that he could not see, and that it dwarfed his own.

I discovered that the beautiful mysteries that they had tried to shield us from were also the rich source of love and life. We didn't need their lessons how to be men. We just needed some decent examples.