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I am become History


It just dawned on me that I asked my students to write about the historical context of race and gender relations in 1996.

They have no idea what it was like to be beaten up for being gay—despite not being gay, just reading books, which same difference—in high school, and when I tell them that there wasn’t a single person out in my entire high school, they stare at me in disbelief. And with good reason: when I ask them if they attended a school in which no one was out, no one raises their hand. They live in a different—and frankly better—world, and they have no idea how historically unique their lives are.

All of which is me building up to my point, which was that after I informed them that when I started college I couldn’t buy books online because the Internet wasn’t robust enough to accommodate tiny pictures of book covers, one of my male students looked at me, horror in his eyes, and asked “Then how did you get your porn?”

Which is the second-best porn-related question I’ve ever been asked in a classroom. It fought the good fight, but I think we can agree that the champion retains her belt.

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  • rm

    High schools in my part of the country are still living in that era of history.

  • Erik Loomis

    You have more interesting classroom discussions than I do.

    • SEK

      By design. But really, teaching students about their own historical context — i.e. the rhetorical context of what they read and watch — requires these sorts of discussions. For example, do you realize that since these students have been 10 years old, there’s not been a single summer in which there wasn’t a blockbuster superhero film? They just think it’s normal to have superhero films every summer, as opposed to it be a post-9/11 phenomenon. I have to get them to realize that their “normal” is historically contingent before I can ask them to evaluate the efficacy of contemporary rhetorical gestures. (I think I dropped a paper or two from the middle of that sentence, but I take it you can connect the dots.)

      That said, I absolute hate the fact that 1996 qualifies as “long, long ago, the before time” to them.

      • John

        Is it really post 9/11? X-Men was in 2000, and while Spider-Man came out post 9/11, it was in production before that.

        Even beyond this, I’m not convinced that superhero movies are a “post-9/11 phenomenon” any more than, say, social networking sites are. Both largely came to prominence after 9/11, but the causation is hard to demonstrate.

        • SEK

          X-Men is a bit of an aberration, but Spiderman definitely “benefited” from post-9/11 New York comity, and the rest of the films were a little more explicit: Batman Begins ends with a bullet train crashing into a skyscraper, and as for Superman Returns, it goes without saying. (That Singer directed all the films that don’t neatly fit my model isn’t a coincidence. I should’ve already written about that, and will sometime in the near future.)

        • rea

          while Spider-Man came out post 9/11, it was in production before that

          Took my very young grandson to the movies the evening of 9/11/01. They showed a trailer for Spiderman, still months away from release. It showed Spiderman catching criminals in a web between the two towers. That scene evidently was cut from the movie.

          • rea

            And of course, it appears to be available online . . .

            • Grep Agni

              I’m fairly sure it was never part of the movie. See here for example:

              According to Sony Pictures, the scene from the trailer was never supposed to be in the film: It was a stand-alone story that was meant to drum up excitement for the film. Which makes sense, given that the trailer didn’t really fit into the logic of the film: How was Spider-Man ever going to build a web that large? Peter Parker isn’t a giant. And he uses his web-slingers to fly from building to building, not catch helicopters.

      • Anonymous

        I know you already have, but you should really dip into the university chapters of White Noise again. Ringing bells, here.

  • mch

    The longer you teach, the more you come to expect this. Still, the pace and depth of amnesia (not really the right word, since nothing has been forgotten by our students –they never knew it) have increased greatly in my 36 or so years of college teaching. But more striking to me, the amnesia of younger colleagues — “amnesia” more properly used. Yes, they have some vague notion that once there were no maternity leaves and salaries truly and utterly sucked and forget it if you were black or brown or gay…. But it’s like all that was a thousand years ago, not just 10 or 20 or 30. The danger here (and I see it every day) is that, while professing all sorts of good and progressive positions, they have no idea how strong the powers against them are, how fragile still are the gains only recently made but that they take as givens. They lack an oppositional disposition, a get-out-and-fight mentality (not to mention organizing skills). It worries me a lot.

    • Linnaeus

      I know Ralph Nader is not the most favored person here at LGM, but I remember seeing a talk by him in which he mentioned something that he called (although I don’t know if the term was original to him) the “liberals’ dilemma”, and the situation you describe is the kind of thing he meant, i.e., liberal reforms are successful to the point that people just assume that the condition such reforms brought about is the default and sometimes, going even further, people think that the structures that maintain these reforms are no longer needed.

      • We see this in the public sector, and especially the fire service, all the time. Assaults by outsiders on civil service in the name of more flexibility are entirely predicated on amnesia about what things were like before civil service reforms. Where you see arguments for privatization of fire services you can be assured there is no real recognition of why private fire services were done away with in the first place. But everything old is new again; can Americans behave any other way?

        • mch

          Yes, the public sector feels this most of all. Talk to people who were teachers (from pre-K through college) before unionization. Unions are not panaceas, but without them, where would we be? But we’re not even arguing just unions anymore; we’re arguing public vs. private! Unbelievable! Especially with fire-fighting. What better emblem of our collective stake in one another’s safety and security than fire in its destructive mode? (or in its positive mode, the hearth?)

          • Cody

            Perhaps this can be conveniently attributed to our history teachings. I’m only 6 years removed from HS, and the issues you speak of were never broached. Schools prefer to just gloss over all the bad things in American History, cause we’re the best!

            Without proper History teaching, we are doomed to repeat our past mistakes.

  • And your answer was…

    • SEK

      …that I’ve heard stories about kids who would distract 7-11 clerks by staging fights in the front of store while their friends stole Playboys and the like from behind the counter.

      • Hob

        That sounds awfully elaborate. Everyone I knew used the “have an older brother, or have a friend who has an older brother” method.

        • Uncle Ebeneezer

          If your dad didn’t have a poorly hidden and easily accessible stash somewhere in a closet or under a bed, you have a pretty good case for child neglect.

          • lounger

            Alot of us Xers did not have dads so we had to raid the stash of our friends’ fathers. LazyBoy apparently put the fabric pockets on some of its models specifically to house the highlights of that stash. A find second to only the garage beer fridge.

            • Woodrowfan

              Boy Scout paper drives were a great source. hit the house with the young “hip” couple and there were always Playboys in with the other magazines…

          • Woodrowfan

            nope, and believe me I LOOKED. No porn, no tobacco, and maybe a can of beer in the fridge. MAYBE.

        • Halloween Jack

          Like drugs, I and the rest of the boys (we honestly believed that girls had zero desire or use for visual porn) had our sources, who were almost always guys from divorced families with non-custodial dads.

      • osceola

        Speaking as a child of the ’70s, a friend’s older brother had some Penthouses around. Playboy just wasn’t good enough after that.

      • joel hanes

        How quickly we forget


        and the hand-hacked shell scripts needed to merge and uudecode the 30 or so individual 4 kbyte text files that together disseminated one low-res nekkid picture via Usenet

        Available at finer universities and backbone sites by 1990 at the latest.

        • Emma in Sydney

          Usenet had some pretty good text erotica too, if my memory of procrastination on my PhD thesis in the early 90s is any guide.

        • Just Dropping By

          And in the 1990s USenet hadn’t been completely overrun with spam yet either.

        • Halloween Jack

          I haven’t forgotten. Believe me. And it’s amusing now, considering the time put into assembling, decoding and saving those files, that in general quality they were way inferior to both the newsstand porn of the time and today’s internet porn. It was the sheer novelty of it, as if you had a robot that could assemble random Lego parts into a Realdoll.

      • Halloween Jack

        I had come up with my own scheme when I was about fourteen or so, which involved stuffing a Penthouse Forum inside a larger magazine and taking it to the counter of the newsstand when the clerk was busy. (Even then, I thought that most of the stories in Forum were probably bogus, but it had the virtue of being small and therefore more easily concealable.)

        As it happened, the magazine that I chose for camouflage was Heavy Metal, and flipping through it, I found out that it had visual porn much more explicit than anything in Playboy or Penthouse, and also passed beneath the radar of the newsstand clerk; as far as he was concerned, apparently, it was just an oversized and overpriced comic. He probably thought that it was a music magazine.

        • Grep Agni

          .. or he didn’t care. Clerks in general are far less interested in what customers but than most people assume.

    • elm

      My mother’s Victoria Secret catalogs?

    • FMguru

      We had to count on nature to provide, and lo and behold, sometimes it did!

      • Uncle Ebeneezer

        Heh. One day my friend (who had VERY strict parents with no hesitation to give him the belt for even fairly trivial offenses) told me about his “find.” It somehow involved a sunken boat, a local pond and a bunch of soggy but still readable gems: Club International, Swank etc. My house became the safe house for viewing events and I eventually the full-time custodian of the collection. Mother load indeed. It was more exciting than finding a treasure map for a lost chest of gold.

  • c u n d gulag

    This is not p*rn related, but I think it’s funny.

    I was directing a college production of “Much Ado About Nothing.”
    I was also an Adjunct, so I was there at the school a good chunk of the day, and everyday I’d bring a water bottle with all of the water frozen, and then add water from the fountain as the day wore on, and this way, I’d have the cold water I loved to drink the whole time I was there.

    At one of the rehearsal’s, one of the young guys asks me, ” You know ___________, I alway wanted to ask you this – how do you get the ice in that water bottle?”

    I was as frozen as the ice for a few seconds, then I looked at him and said, “How do you think?”

    And he says, “I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking?”

    I looked at him and said, “What did you get on your SAT’s?”

    He still looked perplexed, so I said, “I fill it with water every night and leave it in the freezer. It’s not really not that complicated – not like putting a little ship in the bottle.”

    And he said, “Oh.”
    And he said it without a trace of embarrassment.

    • Julian

      Morgan Freeman’s character has a strikingly similar encounter with Jay Baruchel’s character in “Million Dollar Baby.”

      • rea

        Life sometimes replicates art. About to argue before the state supreme court, I could not get my briefcase (containing my notes for the argument) to open. My grandson pointed out that the same thing happened to SpongeBob

    • BigHank53

      There’s an excellent chance that in all the places he grew up, if you wanted ice, you pushed a little lever on the front of the freezer door. I can still remember the first time I saw one of those in the seventies, and my conviction that it was a frivolous luxury.

  • DrDick

    How would you feel about having been in high school in the 1960s like me? As I routinely tell my students, it was a completely different world.

    • JoyfulA

      I don’t have students, but twice a year on average I describe male and female help-wanted ads to someone or other.

      • DrDick

        In my anthropology of gender class, I tell them that in high school I only knew 3 people whose mothers worked outside the home and 3 others (one overlap actually) whose parents were divorced. I am not sure that they actually believe me.

        • DrDick

          I also attended segregated schools for the first few years.

          • Daverz

            Well, that’s making a comeback.

            • Bill Murray

              they never really went away, they just moved to the suburbs

            • DrDick

              Well, it is a bit different now, as it was legally mandated back then and is only de facto today, so that is at least a minor improvement.

  • mch

    Yeah (my NJ “yeah” proudly to the fore tonight), it was a totally different world in the 1960’s. But you know, my parents’ world (both born 1918) was totally different from mine, but I knew a lot about it, from them, from the world around me — and it wasn’t just me. Not to get all old fart, but we used to listen a lot more to the stories of our parents, grandparents, the adults around us, and learned (whether to replicate or do a reaction-formation number). It really feels like that kind of link to the previous generation (or two) is much weaker now. Not gone, but weaker.

    • rea

      My mother could remember horse-drawn vehicles in the streets; my grandfather could remember riding in a covered wagon.

      • LeeEsq

        IMO the changes witnessed by somebody born in the late 19th century who managed to live till the 1950s or 1960s were tremendous. If an American or European, you were born in a world where blacksmiths were still important and died in a world where humans took off into space.

        • The Dark Avenger

          My great-grandmother was born in 1885, and lived to the age of 99. She lived from the horse-and-carriage era to see men walk on the moon.

          • xenos

            My grandfather was ten years younger than that, but he would go to Memorial day parades as a child and see Civil War vets marching by. I still have trouble appreciating that the war was not that many generations ago.

            • Grandchildren of President John Tyler (1790-1862) are alive today.

              (Or at least were still alive in June of this year.)

          • LeeEsq

            The technological changes in your great-grandmother’s life were immense. The social changes absolutely epic. Your great-grandmother was born into a world rife with hierarchy, monarchy, patriarchy, racism, and sexism. She lived through the fall of monarchy through out the world, the rise of feminism, the decline of racism and imperialism, and the sexual revolution. The world where she was born and the world where she died had very little in common.

            I was born in 1980. If I live to be a century, I still imagine that the world of 2080 will have more in common with 1980 than 1985 had with 1885.

            • Dave

              Keep hoping.

            • njorl

              Let’s just hope that 2080 doesn’t have more in common with 1885 than 1980.

        • rural

          My grandmother was born on a small farm in 1900 and died on a small farm 90 years later. She experienced electrification, the combustion engine replacing the horse and many other technological breakthroughs but her working life was still dictated by the seasons and weather.

      • rea

        I should add that both my mother (who could remember horse-drawn vehicles in the street) and my grandfather (who rode in a covered wagon) worked on the Manhattan Project. There’s your technological change . . .

  • cpinva

    geez man, what kind of primordial high school did you go to?

    They have no idea what it was like to be beaten up for being gay—despite not being gay, just reading books, which same difference—in high school,

    seriously, i read books, openly, in high school, and did not suffer this. granted, i also played football, so that may have helped. perhaps, i was just considered too ugly to have been thought to be gay. also too, i didn’t accessorize well. but still. and this was in va, in the early 70’s, still going through the throes of desegregation. i also knew guys who were quite obviously black, we somehow managed to keep from killing each other.

    nader isn’t particulary orginal or cunning, whatever you grow up with is your normal.

    damn close though.

    “Then how did you get your porn?”

    the difference, i think, is that #1 was said knowingly, #2 in all seriousness. makes all the difference.

    • 1995 is missing buses

      Yeah, should I feel lucky? I was a HS freshman in 1996 at a pretty big public school, and while some people used gay slurs — some viciously, some out of mean-spirited senses of humor — I don’t recall many beatings, much less any along the lines of “let’s kick his ass, he’s gay” (there could well have been, given the biases of memory and my own possible obliviousness — but it’d be a little surprising). We did have an LGBT Alliance; I don’t know which, if any, members were in fact out at the time.

    • Halloween Jack

      granted, i also played football, so that may have helped.

      You think?

      • John (not McCain)

        The utter cluelessness of even the intelligent, well-educated high school athletes about the lives of the intelligent, well educated high school non-athletes cannot be overestimated.

  • I hit this moment my first quarter teaching when we did the 1980s and I realized no one remembered and virtually no one was born when the Berlin Wall came down. Now, I should have realized that, given that I was all of six years old, but it’s a memory that’s stuck with me, because it was one of two times in my childhood that I was woken up in the middle of the night to watch tv (the other being Mandela walking out of prison).

    • Emma in Sydney

      I was recently in Berin with my sub-teen children — it was hard even explaining the Wall (which is still a ghostly presence there). They just couldn’t get it, despite the efforts of their father and I, and we remember it well. It’s the reason that we had never travelled to Berlin in our youths. A German teacher we got into conversation with said it’s hard to explain to German kids too. That’s a good thing, in a way.

  • Chet Murthy

    They have no idea what it was like to be beaten up for being gay—despite not being gay

    This. This. And y’know, when this happens to you, it changes everything about how you feel and think. The visceral hatred of those white folk that I felt (that I -feel- in my bones) for what they did to me …..

    And as you say, I wasn’t even gay. Turns out, there was a guy in my high school at the same time as me, who -is- gay (lives a few blocks from me now, far, far away from our hometown) and I can only -imagine- what his life was like. Living in mortal fear of ever being found out. Mortal fear.

    Visceral hatred doesn’t do justice to what I feel towards those people.

    • Malaclypse

      Yep. Was not that long ago that you did not need to actually be attracted to men to be a fag. Christ almighty I hated being a teenager.

      • DrDick

        Christ almighty I hated being a teenager.

        Seconded and my name is Dick on top of it.

        • Rhino

          Dick on top of it…

          …I see what you did there.

          And yeah, also got into fights because obviously a kid who read books must be a fag. That ended quite abruptly after a summer of karate school and farm labour, and a lacerated kidney to the football team’s star linebacker. I got suspended for three days, but oddly nobody in my circle ever got picked on again.

          Who ever said violence never solved anything?

          • GFW

            I don’t know if it’s original, but I have a saying: “Violence never solved anything, but it can certainly be part of the process.”

      • Linnaeus

        See, I can understand why a lot of people didn’t like being a teenager. Yet, despite the trying times that I sometimes had at that age, I can honestly say that I had a pretty good time in high school. I was doing well, I was involved in activities I liked, and I had good friends, etc. Granted, I know I didn’t have to deal with some of the things that some of my peers did.

      • Joseph Slater

        I still remember this conversation with a jock in my high school (in the mid-late 1970s).

        Jock: “See [name of other guy]? He’s a fag!”

        Me [genuinely]: “You mean, he likes to have sex with guys?”

        Jock: “No, not like that, but he’s a FAG!”

        • njorl

          You had Federal Army Generals in your high school?

      • spencer

        Christ almighty I hated being a teenager.

        Yeah. shudder

      • nixnutz

        I think there are lots of factors at work in this, like I grew up in the Boston area, class of ’86, and certainly no bully worth his salt would forget to call you a “feaggit” while he was threatening to kick your ass. And that happened to me probably once a week or so, but I never thought they were suggesting I was gay, just reluctant to defend myself. And I also had a fair number of out gay friends, six I can think of off-hand, mostly girls, mostly overlapping with the nuclear freeze crowd, but there were others I knew of.

        So it’s hard to judge how many people actually got beat up for being gay, as it was de rigueur to use homophobic insults whenever you were engaging in the regional pastime of “what chu lookin’ at?”

        I’m sure there are many differences from today but I am surprised SEK didn’t know any kids who were out 10 years after my experience.

        • Malaclypse

          I graduated in 1984 from a Philly suburb, and knew exactly zero out kids.

          • elm

            1994 graduate of a mostly blue-collar NJ public high school: only one student who was out (a woman), widespread harassment of men suspected of being gay (though no physical attacks that I knew of).

            Given I was in the supposedly liberal North East, I’m not at all surprised by SEK’s story since, if I remember correctly, he grew up in the south.

            • Western Dave

              1985 North Shore of Long Island. Nobody came out until after graduation. Even within the drama club, nobody came out. My date to the graduation dance came out right after she got to college. I think she was surprised that I didn’t come out (because I’m straight). Another friend in drama and in our class was stereotypically gay and took a lot of crap. Within weeks of graduation he came out to a small group of us working on a summer show. We were all “but we’ve been telling people you aren’t for years.” and he was all “and thank for you that, but those folks can’t hurt me now.” I still think about half my class expects me to show up at reunions with a boyfriend.

            • Anonymous

              I graduated in 2003 from a Canadian high school. Not a single out student in my 300 person graduating class.

              Although we also didn’t have the violence that others mention here, so anyone staying closeted must have been responding to other pressures (or the threat of violence, maybe?).

    • John (not McCain)

      “Living in mortal fear of ever being found out. Mortal fear.”

      Even never have experienced a physical beating, that fear was enough to cause post-high school panic attacks to such an extent that I was never able to finish college. Got to the point that walking through a classroom door became a physical impossibility.

  • Thlayli

    IIRC, the answer in 1996 was still “videocassettes”.

  • Jon H

    Tell that student about getting porn gifs off of Compuserve at $6/hr after 6 pm. Slowly

    • Jon H

      Oh, and the other answer to the second question is “in the woods”.

      • xaaronx

        This. I remember talking with a friend about how in second or third grade I saw my first nudie mag in a tree fort my friends and I found in the woods and he had a similar story. We decided that everyone somehow finds their first one in the woods.

        Then there was the guy in high school who became notorious for shoplifting dirty magazines and was very open about where he hid his stash above the ceiling tiles at school.

        • Jon H

          I only realized how universal it was when I read a listicle in the uk Telegraph that mentioned porn in the woods as one of the things being killed by the Internet.

          David Sedaris has a story about it, too.

  • rea

    I’m not sure anyone in my (small town, New Mexican 1968-1972)high school knew that gay people existed. But maybe that was just me.

    • rea

      I should add that 1996 was so much unbelievably better than 1970 that it is hard to grasp if you are a young pup like, say, SEK. :)

      In 1970, there was almost no acknowlegement of gayness in mainstream culture at all. Just about nobody in the world was out. And for a gay kid like me–hell it would be years before I was even out to myself.

      And you still got persecuted for being weird.

      • DrDick

        While I am pretty sure there were some, but I never knew anybody who was gay (though we knew they existed) in high school. Met my first openly gay friend in college.

      • Michael Sullivan

        Indeed, 1996 was unbelievably better than 1983 as well (the last year I was in high school). College in 1984 was the first time I met anyone my age who was out, and the major campus drama that spring was when the two out gay men I knew had someone break into their room and spray paint “faggots” all over the walls of their room.

        Of course, in the 70s and 80s growing up, I (and every other geeky, socially awkward or weak boy I ever knew), regularly being called various homosexual slurs was pretty much standard procedure. And this was not the jocular, yet still massively homophobic, banter that is common today, but fighting words, intended to either start a fight or grind the recipient down.

        And that was all after stonewell. There’s this huge gap between 1980 and 1996 that is as big as the gap between 1996 and today. And the completely crazy thing is that the gap between 1964 and 1980 is probably bigger still.

        Reading _The Naked Civil Servant_ gave me quite a shock to see what the life of an out homosexual was like in the 30s to the 60s.

    • Where in New Mexico did you go to school?

      • rea

        Silver City

  • Alan Tomlinson

    Perhaps you could tell them of my friend who was caught by his parents, doing something then unmentionable, who killed himself with his mother’s gun. And his younger siblings who both killed themselves because of that tragedy.

    The world is getting better. Slowly.

    Alan Tomlinson

  • Bitter Scribe

    Meh. One generation cometh, another passeth, or however that goes.

    Look on the bright side: We had less history to memorize.

  • Murc

    I realize now that I went through High School in a very unique and transformative period.

    I was class of ’99, which means I entered HS as a freshman in ’95.

    When I entered high school, almost nobody I knew had the internet, and those who did had dial-up. When I graduated we all had broadband.

    When I entered High School, porn was this mysterious, wondrous, hard-to-find mother lode. Our freshman class trip was to NYC, and at the hotel (which was in Jersey) we discovered, on the topmost floor, in an obscure corner, a magazine vending machine and a cigarette vending machine. (Remember both of those?) The magazine vending machine had Penthouse in it.

    We cleaned both machines out. I still have that Penthouse, for the nostalgia value.

    When I graduated High School, however, porn was like ‘whatever. I have the internet.’

    When I entered High School, nobody really knew anyone who was out. A lot of us didn’t know that being gay was an actual thing. ‘Fag’ hadn’t yet become a ubiquitous lunchroom insult.

    When I graduated High School, Will and Grace was a top-rated sitcom and the school had a Gay/Straight Alliance.

    It was a strange time to be alive, in hindsight.

  • I interviewed a kid for my college a few weeks ago. She asked me about tech at the school, and I rambled about my first e-mail address being from those years.

    It wasn’t until I got home that I realized she was probably born the year after I graduated from college.

    All of the things I was rambling on about were literally before her time.

    • DrDick

      My freshmen students were born after my son graduated high school.

      • Murc

        This may be overly personal, DrDick, but I’ve been meaning to tell you for awhile that you give me hope for my old age and for teachers in the golden years of their life in general.

        I’m doing support for Learning Management Systems for a variety of universities these days (including for-profits, which yes, makes me feel dirty) and it is often… painful, to put it mildly, to deal with people over a certain age. A seventy year old with a doctorate can’t POSSIBLY be ignorant of anything, of course. If he doesn’t know what an ‘internet browser’ is it must be my fault for explaining it better, or the universities fault. It isn’t his for volunteering to teach online courses when he was unequipped to do so.

        • DrDick

          I am actually one of the more tech savvy of my colleagues (even the younger ones), mostly because I am not afraid of it. I also do not long for the “good old days”, because they weren’t really. There are specific things I miss, but I think today is much better in may ways than when I grew up. I also learned long ago to admit that there are things I do not know and things I am not good at (people pay me not to sing).

          • Careful there with all that humility, or you might have to change your handle to DrNotADick.

            • DrDick

              But I am a Dick and have been all my life. You will have to blame my mama, as that is what she named me (or at least what she always called me).

          • Hogan

            “How much do you get not to rehearse?”

            “You couldn’t afford it.”

  • LeeEsq

    I was in my junior year of high school in 1996 and there was openly gay student. Nobody ever beat him up but thats because we were in a squishy liberal school district and the administration would not tolerate anything like this. A kid who put who put up homophobic graffiti was quickly punished. Its odd to think that my school district was actually a pioneer when it came to respecting LBGT students.

  • Jameson Quinn

    I believe I witnessed the transition from one world to another at my San Francisco high school in 1991. Some students started to put up ACT-UP stickers in flourescent colors, others retaliated with stickers containing such pearls as the one about Steve, and eventually after some tensions the balance of the community fell on the side of the good. Later, I even came to school in a dress without incident (I’m not gay or trans, but I kind of wished I were at the time; long story).

    Earlier, in elementary school, there were illicit games of “smear the queer” in a remote corner of the playground. It was a violent but consensual game, but probably served as training for the non-consensual adult version.

  • Vance Maverick

    My own stories are pretty similar to those here (I graduated in 1982 from a private school in Los Angeles). But tangentially, I wonder — was it clear to others in their respective times and places that the idiom “X sucks”, to mean it’s bad, was based on the same routine homophobia? I remember having this explained to me in middle school, as if I were a dunce for not knowing. So I find it strange now that, in an era when literal homosexuality and blowjobs hardly raise eyebrows, everybody still relies figuratively on an archaic association of blowjobs with male homosexuality and thereby with degradation.

    • Sucks, bites, blows, eats. I’ve even heard “chews.”

    • Thlayli

      I remember college-football-themed T-shirts reading “X sucks, but Y swallows”.

      (Class of 1990)

      • Estragon

        Oh boy, I remember going to an Eagles game in 2006 and seeing t-shirts being sold outside the stadium saying “Dallas sucks, T.O. swallows”, which is basically living proof that Philly is 15 years slow.

    • Just Dropping By

      Since “that sucks” or similar phrasing is not of sexual origin, it’s hardly strange that people don’t make that association. C.S. Lewis even used it in the Narnia books: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-583268.html

      • Vance Maverick

        If anything, that shows that the association, historically sound or not, was clear and firm for many Americans of my generation. It’s still remarkable that today’s yoof go around saying what sounds to their parents like “X is a filthy invert” while at the same time caring less about inversion than ever before.

  • Matt T. in New Orleans

    Hey, y’all remember, year or so back, a high school in Northeast Mississippi banned a lesbian senior from the prom and, when the rest of the country pointed out that it was a dick move, basically held the prom in another place? Remember that? All but the lesbian, the black kids and the “weird kids” went to an invite-only prom at another location.

    That’s my high school, and I graduated in 1993. No one was out when I went – though I know of at least two who’ve come out since – and the first I ever even heard of the concept of “gay” was around 1985, when the AIDS crisis blew up in the national media. I was a weird kid, though, and spent most of my time with my nose in a book. I really wasn’t hassled all that much, and neither were the few kids who were as weird as or weirder than me. Only folks I remember being picked on by “the cool kids” were the white trash kids.

    It wasn’t friendly to “unusual”, though, and it’s definitely discouraging to anything but conformity. I catch a good bit of shit from folks I used to know for being unmarried and childless at 37, about as much as I used to get for spending so much time at the local community college library.

    And while I don’t teach, I do work with a number of folks on the cusp of adulthood. I’m in the service industry, and I wonder if that doesn’t make for a different scenario, inre: the age gap. I’ve felt old and out-of-touch for almost 10 years now, ever since cell phones became ubiquitous and Appetite For Destruction became a staple of classic rock radio. For what it’s worth, it’s the same gap I felt with the hipster kids in Athens that I do with the hood kids here in New Orleans.

  • Anonymous

    So, now we have gas lines. Obama’s Jimmy Carter flashback is complete. Luckily it ends soon, and we have a return to normalcy in the White House.

    • Malaclypse

      Praise Cthulhu there were no gas lines in the wake of Katrina, what with so many more people being, well, dead.

      • Woodrowfan

        and the worst gas lines of the 70s were when Nixon and Ford were president, but hey

    • Halloween Jack

      Pancakes for everyone!

    • chris

      And what exactly is “abnormal” about the present occupant of the WH compared to every other one plus Romney… Hmmmm.

  • Michael Sullivan

    This spurred me to recall the first GLBT activism I ever saw:

    silence = death

    Back then, I don’t think I ever would have believed that by my mid 40s, I would be able to attend the *legal* *church* wedding of two lesbian friends, as I did 3 weeks ago.

  • mch

    Torn between tales of the Civil War or the Blizzard of ’88 (1888), life without electricity or even gas (kerosene, candles) — heard not directly, but from the children, = my grandparents, of those who lived through these events, and tepid tales of porn-reading (do bare-breasted women in National Geographic count? passages in novels not far removed from Lady Chatterly’s Lover?).

    I think I am registering a scale here. Civil War! Women’s tits for adolescent boys! Gee, we’ve made such progress!

    • rea

      Women’s tits for adolescent boys girls! Now that’s progress!

  • I remember a discussion on the school bus (as a sophomore, ’68 or ’69) in which I was trying to convince someone that the word homosexual did not come from the Latin homo, as in “man-sex,” but the Greek homo. Nonetheless, the subject was pretty alien to us, & we didn’t imagine that anyone we knew was “that way.”

    I left town after sophomore yr. When I returned & caught up in 1971, I was told that a couple of the guys in the theater club had come out (or been revealed/exposed; not sure if anyone really “came out” in those days).

    Another revelation was that the school’s Latin teacher had boarded several students from the hinterlands at his house, as the school had stopped boarding students, & you can probably guess what the deal was there. Wish I’d been there to witness his downfall, as he was a jerk as well as a predator.

    Former boys’ (now co-ed, if anyone still says that) private school in Seattle, since you asked.

    One other late ’60s memory: Stayed w/ cousins on Long Island during the summer of ’68 & managed to get into the city & wander around the Village/Lower East Side unescorted a few times. One evening (late enough to be dark)I encountered some sort of street event. At first it looked like a buncha hippies milling about in the street, someone on an upper floor had put their speakers in the window & was playing music, seemed interesting so I hung around. I then noticed two male (I know, how could I tell? Ha ha.) hippies making a big deal of kissing each other. Turned out to be a post-Stonewall protest deal about police harassment of a gay bar. I was mostly surprised that ordinary-looking hippies would be gay.

  • Dave

    Fuckin’ history, how does that work, then?

  • This is why I start my history classes by asking “What’s the first historical event you remember?” (As in, the first memory of an event outside your immediate family.) It helps me figure out where to draw the lines on assumed knowledge, and starts a conversation about the connections between personal lives and historical context.

    It is also quite depressing since at this point, 90% of the answers are Lewinsky or 9/11.

    • Brandon C.

      Bill Clinton being elected in 1996. I was 7. This whole comment section has been an amazing read. To think that I would never understand at all where we came from had I not had an excellent American History Teacher my junior year of high school.

      • joel hanes

        Good God I’m old.

        The first history I remember is Ike on the cover of LIFE magazine, and Kruschev with the shoe and “we will bury you”.

    • Estragon

      1994 MLB Strike, or Joe Carter’s home run in 1993.

      Well, they were historic to me!

    • Woodrowfan

      Johnson’s speech announcing he would not run again and the fire in Apollo 1.

    • chris

      Challenger, I think. And yes, it is kind of depressing how much older that is than your students…

  • William Burns

    Some of the things that don’t change that you might expect to change are also interesting. When I was a kid in the 60s, the biggest bill in ordinary circulation was a twenty–a lot of places wouldn’t take anything bigger. That’s still true, even though a twenty isn’t worth anything like what it was in the 60s.

    • chris

      Fifties and hundreds aren’t that common, but I don’t know many (if any) places that won’t take one if you offer it.

      The continued dominance of the $20 is probably due to ATMs, which will happily give you $200 in $20s, but stock nothing larger, and perhaps the fact that large purchases are usually made by plastic anyway.

      • William Burns

        There’s at least one ATM I know that gives fifties if you ask for more than $100. I think its mostly the shift to plastic–the $20 lost a lot of its value before ATMs were even introduced.

  • Eric

    My wife is teaching a class in which she tried to use 9/11 as an example of an event with a wide impact on the nation’s memory. Most of her students did not actually personally remember the events of the day.

    • steverino

      During the 9/11 event, I was wondering whether to emphasize to the neighbor’s kid (age 6) to pay attention, as he would want to remember it in the future, or whether drawing undue attention to it would traumatize him (I have no kids of my own to judge by). I ended up letting his parents rear him without me butting in.

      Gay-wise, I graduated HS (northeast NJ) in 1981 without knowing of anyone being out (though my mother referenced a favorite cousin of hers I never met, and his partner). At my 25th reunion (the first I was able to attend) one of my classmates was “out” in the sense that he was gay but nobody cared, much as I became fat and no one cared. Also one of my younger friends came out in the 90s and was generally accepted (and his partner is a great guy! Totally out of his league).

      The first I even became aware of homosexuality as a concept was with the “Motel On The Mountain” imbroglio ca. 1977 (looked it up).

      I remember watching the moon landing (6 1/2 yo). I was five days shy of a year old when JFK was shot. I don’t remember that.

  • Woodrowfan

    I covered the Birmingham campaign in 1963 in class today. Man it’s hard to get students to grasp the whole idea of Jim Crow.

  • Cool Bev

    Wow, this is fun. I was in HS in ~1972-74, Boston suburbs, and knew about 3 openly gay but not out guys. I hung out with the hippies and the theater folk, and we did not consider this to be a problem. But these were the days of glam rock. Like Jagger and Bowie and Marc Bolan, gay or bi men were considered glamorous and avant-garde. At least these guys were.

    At least one turned out to be conventionally hetero, just pretty and flamboyant. One became a marine. The other a depressed alcoholic. I’m not saying it was easy to be gay, but they were accepted by a medium sized group of their peers.

    I was one of the wimpy guys who got beat up for being gay, myself, but wore it proudly. Yeah, I’m gay, I just like girls better.

    Funny times.

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  • Larry Lennhoff

    Graduated High School in 1975. Didn’t know anyone openly gay, my suburban public school had no black or hispanic students – ethnic tension was fights between the Italian and Irish fraternities/gangs. I never saw porn until amazingly late by contemporary standards – maybe early 90s? I guess I lived the life of a sheltered innocent.

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