In the house of my youth, flatulence did not exist. 

Farts. The natural biological process of releasing gas from the body was a source of embarrassment, shame. Farts were not heard or acknowledged. The bathroom was, presumably, the acceptable place to release the pressures of it all. Privately. Otherwise, they were to be held, concealed and, if one slipped, ignored. Still are. 

The word fart, truth be told, feels abrasive to me. Still. Not because it is, I suspect. Rather, because the learned shame of it from my youth still vibrates within me.

Yes, I grew up in a household that denied the humanity, the mammality, of farting. Of the word “fart” even, noun and verb. It was the act, the air and the odor that hath no name. And do not recall it happening. With one outstanding deviation: 

When a cousin slightly older than me was visiting with his family for Thanksgiving, he abruptly left the table during the meal. He hurried across the dining/living room, laughing at what he knew he was about to do, and took up a position in the doorway from our dining/living room into our family room. 

He stood facing us, with a mischievous smile and glint, and with his ass pointing away around the corner. It was almost a show of defiant crudeness while barely obeying what must have been my aunt’s directive, “If you need to fart, leave the table to do it.”

To me, what a coup. It’s the only time I ever knew, for certain knew, of anyone farting in the house I grew up in from ages one to 18. A household of five, including my dad, my two older brothers, my mother and myself. And this was the first, the only, time I ever absolutely knew of anyone to openly fart in our house.

Or even outdoors. Or elsewhere at all. The household rules and uptight shame carried with the members of the household, wherever we went, it seems. 

Wait, that’s not quite true. I remember once farting in our house. I was in middle school. A few kids were over, including a couple girls. In a moment of awkward, playful co-ed wrestling, one of the girls pounced on me. An involuntary fart announced itself. 

I felt a rush of embarrassment. I tried to smile and laugh through it with them. To play it off, I claimed it was the purposeful defense I’d developed to protect myself against my two much older, bigger brothers. She had no way of knowing the impossibility of that claim. 

These decades later, I have no idea when or how I broke free of the conditioned shame around flatulence. Or became capable of being mammal without fear, guilt and embarrassment. Somehow, it happened. My authentic and unavoidable biology was unchained.

Maybe it happened the first time I met my now-wife’s parents. It was at their house. Her dad placed a fart noisemaker under the dinner table and sounded off at an opportune time. Just to play with me, show his sense of humor. He, of course, had no reason to know where I’d come from. It’s not the kind of “crime” and denial the typical person suspects might exist in someone else’s family, is it? 

I doubt I knew how to react when he triggered the fart noises. I have no idea what they saw in my face as I, likely, tried to act like I knew how to react. But it showed me my future in-laws’ humor vibe. I can appreciate that. They didn’t know it, but for me they recalibrated what’s possible: Not all families were uptight like mine. Farts and noises can … be.

And so, in the household of my adult making, with my wife and two sons, tween- and teen-aged sons at that, flatulence sometimes is a damn carnival band. There’s no holding back. Hell, it even can be a competition, battle of the musical sphincters. 

There are sounds of wayward brass horns and percussive rhythms, fortissimos and pianissimos, and all volumes between. There are crop-dustings and bomb blasts and Dutch ovens and … 

It happens at the table where we eat, in the rolling confines of the car, while playing video games or streaming TV. Anywhere, everywhere. All’s fair.

In short, there is acknowledgement of and allowance for this natural, bodily process. And there are humane reactions to it. There’s laughter and playful looks of disgust. Maybe sometimes there’s real annoyance. But no shame.

Maybe sometimes it’s too much. Maybe we’ve all somehow overcompensated against my youth. I don’t know. Truly, sometimes I wonder how we came so far to this place of crude comfort with each other. But given the household of my youth, I’ll take it. 

Free the humanity, I say. Free the farts.

The Flatulence is #Nine in the weekly memoir series, Among Other Things. What’s it about? Read Introducing ‘Among Other Things,’ A Weekly Memoir Series.