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“They can’t all be, can they?” asks Duncan, somewhat desperately, “I mean, it’s not statistically possible.”

I can see Joe’s shoulders start to heave with silent laughter, “Maybe it’s something in the water.” he says, hastily leaving the room.

We are discussing the astonishing fact that virtually the whole population of girls in Duncan’s year group – a couple of hundred girls aged 16 – identify themselves, when asked, as bisexual. Duncan knows because, for reasons best known to himself, he seems to have personally asked every one.

I very much doubt that this is based on a whole load of sexual experience – of any kind. Or that it predicts much about their future sexual experiences. It probably speaks volumes about the ambiguity that young girls feel about sex. At this age, everyone talks about it, but it’s hard to work out how much is bravado. Rather than admit in public that they don’t feel ready, don’t know what they want, and even find the whole thing a bit scary and repellant, girls can adopt a badge of convenience. If they declare themselves bisexual then they sound sexually sophisticated, while having a ready made excuse for rejecting any offers. And of course it testifies to the popularity of Orange is the New Black.

I am more surprised to hear that none of the boys in the year group seem to define themselves as gay (or bisexual). This group don’t seem to have any hang ups about homosexuality – they all know openly gay adults, including parents and teachers, and they genuinely seem to find it difficult to understand how it could ever have been a problem. But accepting homosexuality as a normal part of life is one thing – it appears that it’s another thing, in the maelstrom of being male and sixteen, to declare yourself gay. Unless they really are statistically odd, the likelihood is that there are some kids in the group (of either gender) who will eventually be very comfortable defining themselves as gay. And a lot of gay people in adult life will attest that they knew they were gay by sixteen. Why the boys don’t define themselves as that right now is anybody’s guess: perhaps they don’t know, perhaps they aren’t sure, perhaps they regard it as private, or perhaps they don’t feel safe. Or perhaps, like the girls, they feel ambiguous about the whole thing.

Or perhaps it is something in the water.

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Is teenage unique to humans? Are there teenage cows? David Bainbridge, in “Teenagers, a Natural History” says that our teenage stage is what makes us human.

Duncan is going through the teenage explosion at the moment. He is discovering the entire world simultaneously – novels, science, girls, music, politics. His world is a bewildering kaleidoscope of new ideas, new sensations, new meanings. Fifteen years old, and his world holds an infinity of possibilities.

His teenage is different from mine. I absorbed everything I could lay my hands on, mopping it up: but he wants to master it, to conquer it. Is this a boy thing? I read books because I wanted to escape to different worlds, he reads books because they are long (The Count of Monte Christo, 1400 pages) or have shock value. But whatever his reasons he does read them, he is amazed by them, he falls under their spell, he talks about them. “What’s a really difficult author to read?” he asks me. “Try Kafka.” I say, offhandedly, and a few weeks later he is insisting on reading yet another bit of Kafka to me, “Mum, you’ve got to listen to this.”

(I can’t tell him how much I loathe Kafka; next time he asks I must swear to him that Jane Austen is widely known to be the most impenetrable of writers; that it is a unique and highly regarded achievement to read all six of her novels and the juvenilia.)

He doesn’t just learn information, he wants to test it, to see if he can break it. There is no subject on which he does not have an opinion, often several opinions, the more outlandish and shocking the better. Next week he will have a different opinion, but he is not likely to have just accepted any given piece of information as settled fact. He will espouse every political shade of the spectrum, sometimes simultaneously, as long as he can provoke an argument. He is furious about quantum mechanics: how can the heart of matter, the truth about the world around us, be so weird, so incomprehensible? Watching television with him is a nightmare: he challenges every statement. (“How do we know his mum is dead? I bet he’s just saying that. Now there’s no way the judges can vote him off, even though he can’t f***ing sing!”)

Some weekend nights I let him stay up a bit later to talk. He’s a night owl – he loves that spooling out of conversations into the late hours. When he’s a student he’ll want to talk through the night with friends. I try to keep any arguments gentle, not too rough – I’m too old and tired for that. Anyway, I want him to learn how to argue, how to spar, how to disarm his opponent, not to bludgeon them over the head. But I also want him to think round and check his opinion is on solid ground, and be able to abandon it. That’s a good point, I say, but have you thought what would happen if…

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My son came back from his biology lesson looking fed up. “Soya contains oestrogen!” he said, “Aren’t there any foods that contain testosterone?”

I laughed at my son because I know he is hoping to find a wonderfood that will make him superbly tall and strong (preferably overnight). I asked him what food he thought was the most masculine.

“A bacon sandwich.” he announced, “But it has to be made by a woman – and a woman who stays in the kitchen!

He was kidding me (a bit) but I felt a little sorry for him too. It has often been the subject of discussion between us. His life to date has been full of dominant women, and not that many men. Our family is full of powerful women, holding down jobs whilst running a household; the men are simply less visible, and sometimes absent. His primary school was almost entirely run by women, many of whom wasted no time in telling him that “boys were noisy and naughty” while “girls were neat and good”. Even his secondary school has a large number of women in senior leadership positions. Worst of all, he is surrounded by girls of his own age outperforming the boys (and mostly taller than him).

All this female power and success may cheer me up, but it is dismal for a boy like him. He would like to live in a more male world, a world in which being male was potent and glamorous, not lumbering and inept. I tried with all my might to raise my children as human beings first, gender last, but it never worked out that way. Being a boy has always defined him: he could no more leave it behind than the bindweed in my garden could wind clockwise.

I sometimes try to explain to him that the adult world is quite different from the way it appears to him at fifteen. Being male is not so much of a handicap in our society, I say wryly, whatever men would like to tell themselves. You will not spend your entire adult life in a world dominated by women. That is not the way it is, not at all.

But of course he doesn’t really believe me – and anyway, has a more pressing concern. Even if the world were ruled by women, will he eventually at least be taller than most of them?

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