Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Adventures In the Cuddle Puddle

(Link) Will the "don't label me" fluidity of teens sexuality have an impact on tomorrow's LGBT community -- or is that impact already happening?

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
By Kim Ficera

“Since the school day is winding down, things in the hallway are starting to get rowdy. Jane disappears for
a while and comes back carrying a pint-size girl over her shoulder. 'Now I take her off and we have gay sex!' she says gleefully, as she parades back and forth in front
of the cuddle puddle. 'And it's awesome!' The hijacked
girl hangs limply, a smile creeping to her lips.”

-- Alex Morris in “The Cuddle Puddle of Stuyvesant
High School,” the cover story for New York Magazine,
Jan 31, 2006.

Cuddle puddle — creative, albeit a little gross. Did we teach our children well?

If you haven't read Alex Morris's story, here's the condensed version: A small clique of
16-year-olds who attend New York's Stuyvesant High and call themselves the “cuddle puddle” experiment with their sexuality in the city. Whether they're having safe sex or not is unclear. I suppose we're to assume they are since the author notes that the kids are among “the brightest public school students in New York.” Whether they are gay, lesbian, straight or bi is yet to be determined. They're young experimenters, after all. But more importantly, some have no desire to be labeled.

“These teenagers don't feel as though their sexuality has to define them, or that they have to define it,” Morris asserts. Like Ilia, a senior boy, who as Morris notes in the piece frowns at the use of labels, says, “It's not lesbian or bisexual. It's just, whatever…”

Smart kids with their share of hormones, these students are growing up in a place and time where sex fits nicely between readin' and writin' into a little elective I can't resist calling writhematic. They are, as Morris puts it, “vaguely progressive but generally mainstream kids for whom same-sex intimacy is standard operating procedure.”

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the article is this: the sexual behaviors of the cuddle puddle don't appear to be politically motivated. No one's civil liberties are at issue, and if there's a gay/straight alliance at Stuyvesant, no one is threatening its existence. Apparently, the students are sowing their queer oats simply because they can.

Their agenda then, or lack of it, can be summed up in one of their own frequently used words: “Whatever.”

Times have changed … sort of.

East Boring High School, Ho-Hum Connecticut, 1976: The Wall. It's the place in the courtyard where I hang out with friends, smoke cigarettes and sneak a few hits of grass between classes. We talk about each other, music and our teachers and parents. We also talk about Patty Hearst, race riots and how we'll work to legalize pot when we hit 18, because surely that will bring peace to the world.

Sometimes, Heidi (not her real name), one of my closest friends, will pull a fifth of Jack Daniel's and a pint of Smirnoff out from between the liner and ripped pockets of her snorkel coat, and pass the bottles around low so we can take swigs. She has a whole bar in there, and a pharmacy, as well. If we feel brave, we raise a bottle to a friend's brother, a Viet Nam War vet, who recently blew his own head off.

We laugh, get high and talk about the next time we'll get together to laugh and get high. Some of us leave to go someplace else to laugh and get high. No one ever declares, “We're off to have gay sex now!”

We have gay sex, sure. By “we” I mean the lesbians — Heidi, Maria (not her real name, either) and I. Only gay people have gay sex in my high school.

Back then, my friends and I weren't as open about our sexuality as the kids at Stuyvesant are today, but we were more politically aware, I believe, even without cable news, MTV and the Internet. Some of us were just as selfish, though.

In the late 70s, the stage was set for our success — plenty of folks were ready to listen to new voices post-Viet Nam. But we numbed our awareness with drugs and had little to say besides our version of “whatever” — “later for that, man.”

We should be running the world today, or at least playing a larger role in it. Instead, we're paying the price for all the pot we smoked and all the peace we only wished for then. We, the Let-Someone-Else-Do-It-While-I-Smoke-A-Bowl generation, have discovered that it wasn't such a great idea to let someone else do it. Thanks in great part to our own apathy, we have no real leadership today. We didn't produce a peacemaker we can call our own. We lack greatness in the form of a human being dedicated to civil rights.

At the risk of sounding like an old woman who walked three miles in the snow to school with only a nickel bag to keep me warm, I don't want the kids at Stuyvesant to make a mistake similar to mine. I want them to care about more than their next orgasm. I don't want them to pay a price for their apathy in thirty years; I don't want any of us to pay that price.

I fear we will, though.

Christmas Eve, 2005, Jeb Bush's Florida: My sister is about to serve a great meal when the discussion begins. This year we get the political/gay/Christian conversation out of the way early.

There are ten of us, including my 15-year-old nephew.

The youngest is cooing and bouncing in a short chair with wheels. Her sister is screaming at an olive that has rolled off her high chair. The parents of those two are wondering if they'll ever sleep again.

My sister, I'm sensing, wants the conversation over before it begins. She's a little more conservative than the rest of us – just a little. My 85-year old Roman Catholic mother is hoping that we'll avoid the topic of pedophile priests. My brother-in-law is ready, however. He knows he has to pick up the slack and speak for The Average Man — the absent, blue-collar straight guy who's got more important things to worry about than gay and lesbian rights.

My partner and I are, as usual, upset with the administration and the apathy of Americans in light of it. Mr. Average might not think about gay and lesbian rights, but he sure as hell thinks about lesbians. This we know all too well.

The truth is, we're all upset with the state of the world in our own ways and for our own reasons. Even my mother is upset. But I sense she's upset because my partner and I are extremely upset. She wants everyone to love us as much as she does.

The only person at the table who isn't upset is my nephew, who when asked by my partner if he and his friends care if a person is lesbian or gay, shakes his head. “No,” he says matter-of-factly. “Wanna see my new cell?”

This is encouraging.

I'm happy he's an ally — until, that is, he announces that he'll likely become “Republican,
I guess.”

“Why?” my partner asks.

“I don't know,” he answers.

I think about my nephew — a smart, straight kid growing up in great comfort in the ‘burbs, and about the city kids at Stuyvesant — not-so-straight and growing up in great comfort, and I wonder if it matters that the politics that preceded their “whatever”-ness, cell phones and cuddle puddles appears to be lost on them. Sure, their actions smack of the Everyteen's need to be cool, but shouldn't the end give the means its due?

Should I care that they don't seem to care that the only reason they get to not care is because of all the people that cared in the past?

I'm torn.
Maybe the fact that they don't have a definable agenda as it pertains to sexuality — other than please me, me, ME! — is a good thing. I mean, if these students say “whatever” then maybe their kids will say “whatever” instead of trying to pass discriminating legislation. Not the best scenario, but definitely not the worst. Maybe what they're not doing will be more effective than anything the HRC or GLAAD will do in the years ahead.

Maybe not.
New York Magazine cover

The kids at Stuyvesant are caught up in a sexual revolution of sorts, where the battle cry might as well be, “The Kama Sutra in Every Backback!” And on the face of it, there's nothing wrong with that. But what's the point of a movement that isn't moving in any real direction?

It's not a movement, you say? They're just riding the waves of a movement? Okay, I'll buy that. Let them feast at the trough! Enough queers have starved. But in return, may I ask that they pay it forward? May I ask that they think about the world as if they affect it, not as if the world only affects them?

The free-love/whatever attitude of the cuddle puddle and other “vaguely progressive” teens is, well, lame. It's absent of glory. Like a circle jerk, it's self-aggrandizing.

Try to forgive this pot for calling the kettle black, but the ghost of Graham Nash is haunting me, singing:

And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.

Maybe I'm asking too much from kids so young, but it's hard to see them as teens when they're behaving like twenty-somethings. Take cuddle-puddler Jane, for example. She told Morris, “I've made it my own personal policy that if I'm going to give oral sex, I'm going to receive oral sex.”

Good for Jane! Let's also hope it's good for the dental dam industry. But I wonder if it's occurred to Jane that the nonchalance with which she announced her fellatio exchange policy was afforded her by people who actually give a damn and aren't afraid to say so.

Jane and the others have an opportunity to make a huge difference in the lives of gays and lesbians who will remain queer long after the SATs and who can't politically, socially and economically afford to say “whatever.”

If they never step up, it'll probably be a while before we know for sure if the cuddle puddle is actually doing a disservice to those who have no choice but to care. But in the meantime they should at least stop lying to themselves. As another student, Elle, reveals, they care more than they want to admit.

Elle told Morris that she, “kissed five people and, like, hooked up with two going beyond kissing. One of them was a boy and one of them was a girl. The reason I started hooking up with the guy is because he was making out with this other guy and he came back and was like, ‘I have to prove that I'm straight.' And I was standing right there. That's how it all began.”

Only people who care have something to “prove.”

The students of Stuyvesant might continue to say “whatever” well into college, but as they'll undoubtedly discover, there are no do-overs in Adultland. There they will say “whatever” a lot less, because almost everything will have meaning. And they will care. They will care a lot. Some will also have regrets.

Such is life.

So go on, cuddle-puddlers, have your fun, but please play safe and remember what some of us forgot: Teach your children well.