I went to a fine public high school in Boulder Colorado; 1,000 students per grade. I was a good girl, a strong student, an over-achiever, a budding feminist, a girl who wanted a boyfriend, desperately.
My friends were like me: college-bound AP-takers, fine athletes and empowered student leaders. I briefly had a boyfriend as driven as I was, but mostly I was well-loved by my best girlfriends. I planned to fall in love, and maybe have sex, too, later—with a wonderful boy who I could meet in college, where being smart, and Jewish, wouldn’t matter quite so much.
We were the class of 1982. I graduated from high school the same year as Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee accused of sexual assault by multiple women. I came up in the same culture.
Now, I can’t help but find myself remembering 1982.
We danced to DEVO, the B52s, the Clash, Elvis Costello and Madness at parties we threw in living rooms at our parents’ houses. We wanted a way to be together that was different, more fun and more safe than what was the normal night of revelry in our small Western town. At our intimate parties, we saw and loved each other. We drank beer. We played quarters. One or two of the most devoted romantic couples, built from our tight friendship circle, chose together to have sex—but mostly, we drank, flirted and danced. We were sweet and naive, experimenting with being older, carefully, oddly, together, in fits and starts.
Perhaps we were exactly what you’d expect: just young and hungry and full of want. Elsewhere in town, other kids did more like what was expected. Sometimes, we went to the parties the “popular kids” threw—football players and cheerleaders, kids from wealthy homes. At those parties, kids drank way more beer, stood in sticky stinky hallways, acted dumb, got too drunk. Nobody knew what to say.
I didn’t think any of this was attractive, or even fun, and I certainly was not attractive in this context, given that I was smart. Once I did make out briefly with a boy from a rival school under the bleachers at a football game. I remember his name was Reggie and that he put his tongue in my mouth and I thought that was awful—but I did relish the adventure, the possibility, the fact of being chosen and the taste of something new.
Occasionally, we decided to attend huge parties that were open to all the students, hundreds and hundreds of us. These were called “woodsies,” although they mostly took place in the plains outside of Boulder—just grass. We all had to drive there following some strange mimeographed map, and once we arrived, in marauding clusters lit by car headlights, people drank unimaginable quantities of beer from kegs set up in the dark.
At one, I ended up with an older boy, in a group where another one of my friends was similarly coupled. We all made out. It was dark and maybe we were around a fire. I was much more drunk than I’d ever been. I didn’t really like it; I didn’t even know the guy’s name. This was not what I wanted at all. I was a good girl, and all of it felt scary: the drinking, the not knowing.
I wormed my way out of that embrace. One of my friends drove us home. I threw up on the front porch and then my dad let me in. I told him how drunk I was, but not about the yucky kissing. He took me to my room and helped me into bed. I rarely drank that much again, ever, in my life. I cannot say the same for the kissing.
This was not my “me, too” moment. But I did learn something about alcohol, boys, parties and sex.
I ended up at Amherst, the class of 1986. Frat parties dominated the social scene, which was fueled by alcohol. I remember ending up in a dorm room with a man I only barely knew after one, doing something I didn’t like. I’m not sure what. I was drunk, and he was more drunk, and I wormed out of it and got home somehow. I forget how. I forgot it right away. I still forget it, because it was gross.
Frats were banned at Amherst during my sophomore year because they were known as havens for drunken misogyny, bigoted admissions and hold-outs for the patriarchal boys-club. That didn’t stop the culture, though. During my junior year, I lost my virginity at something like a frat party in my own dorm where I was actually the RA. I had long had a crush from afar on this boy—he was one of the smartest people in my constitutional law class, as was I; a star of the baseball team; gorgeous, verbal and very suave.
We flirted on the dance floor. I thought we were going to have a relationship, based on our shared intellect and hunger for more, and that fooling around in my dorm room would be the beginning. He had no idea I was a virgin. He was drunk. Thing moved fast. I had most likely had something to drink, too, but mostly I was operating via naivete, and want, and his lead.
It turns out he had a girlfriend at another school. That was that. I took a morning-after pill. He told all to his suitemates. I was heart-broken and very embarrassed.
This was not my “me, too” moment. But I did learn something more about alcohol, boys, parties and sex.
Outside of the sweet boyfriend I did meet during my freshman year, my youthful sexuality was nothing like what I wanted. It was organized by a series of potentially dangerous encounters that I skirted with desire in my heart and body, and fear there as well. I was not date raped, or molested, or violated—ish. Who can say, really? I mostly forget the details of these many sordid misfires.
Or: I thought I had forgotten, until testimony about Brett Kavanaugh’s past behavior and that of his friends, fratmates, and teammates arrived—as familiar to me as the air I still breathe. With and against such men, I learned to be a young woman, and now a grown one. I have worked to forget what I learned of alcohol, boys, parties and sex during high school and college, and to find love and sex in places organized outside of sexism, inebriation and men’s uncontrolled and dangerous potent desire and self-hatred and anger. I wish I could say that I always succeeded.
I have done everything in my power—including teaching feminist and queer studies, being an activist, making art and striving for healthy adult relationships with men and women—to grow into a version of womanhood that lets me and others live sex, love and romance outside the frameworks that men like Kavanaugh, especially the “elite” ones, so easily inherit and own. Forgetting has been part of that, and not talking about it, and doing better.
As a grown woman, I seek experiences with partners who want to engage differently with me, even though we all came from this place. We all came from the 1980s, with its woodsies and frat parties and their throwing up, making out, taking and losing each other’s virginities—just not as anyone would really want.
As a queer feminist, I understand that these violent encounters, these sorry missed opportunities for connection, these experiences where girls are hurt physically and emotionally and sexually—are actually bad for all humans, and are driven by sexist understandings of sex and gender which give boys and the girls who love and want them few chances or opportunities to be decent.
The remembering doesn’t feel helpful, just sad—for the society, for those men I can barely name, for myself.
My fellow alumnae of the classes of 1982 and 1986, all in our mid-50s, hear these lurid tales of our peers—as common as our hopes for change, as core as our attempts to heal, as definitive as our homes and towns of origin and colleges of choice—and are taken right back to all that we have buried. Not just the violence, but the mundane, addled, disequalibriums of power and desire, love, lust and hurt that turned us into the people we are today.
And now, it has become apparent that some of us are still the people we were then, while others have tried to do better for ourselves and our towns, schools, society and kids.
I invoke my stories with strained fondness, and some hope, but mostly I write because it feels necessary—not so much to remember, but instead to draw out, in other terms and for other ends, our sexist, violent youth. We need better forms and fora to make sense of our woodsies and frat parties; we need better conversations, held outside the patriarchal places where we started, and where the old rules still hold.