Sex & Death, Narrated

This post is going to get unusually dark pretty quickly. I can’t recommend that you read it, but it is something that I have to write. But before things turn dismal, I’d like to start with an anecdote from my youth to perhaps ballast you against what follows.

When I was in high school, one of my friends would occasionally do an evening of binge drinking. As far as I know, she always did it in the (relative) safety of her own home. Anyway, towards the end of one party when most of the people had gone, an incident occurred. According to the not-particularly-inebriated person still present, it went like this. My friend was laying on the couch. One of her friends — male — was sprawled on the floor. Both were quite drunk. “Hey,” she says to him, “do you want to have sex?” To which he replies “Sure.” Nobody moves. A few silent, motionless minutes later, she asks “Hey, did we have sex?” To which he replies “I don’t remember.”

Nothing happens rather often.

But there are times when very bad things happen. One notorious example would be in Steubenville; Ariel Levy has written a complex, nuanced, and horrifying account of what followed. But my first priority isn’t to talk about what Levy wrote well, but to look at another example: Saratoga, about which Nina Burleigh wrote a horrible account. Burleigh’s narrative is horrible because it is obvious what it wants to be true: that the lead character, Audrie — the “pretty and popular” girl who committed suicide — was the victim. To anybody, like me, who doesn’t get the exclusivity of her victimhood, the article concludes “You have no idea what it’s like to be a girl.”

Okay, I have no idea what it’s like to be a girl. But I do have an idea of what it’s like to think, and Ariel Levy’s article made me think while Burleigh’s merely made me critique.

As noted, the fundamental problem with Burleigh’s article is that she sympathizes with the dead girl exclusively, glossing over the reports that she was a troubled girl. So let’s unpack what Burleigh tells us with a bit less sympathy and a bit more clarity. It is worth noting that the “popular and pretty” girl was already into drinking (to “loosen up”) and dating a (“slightly”) older guy. This is relevant because her drinking is criminal behavior on her part, and the article gently implies — and glosses over — the possibility that she’d been getting raped all summer long (per Laurie Anderson; we’ll get to her). It ignores Audrie’s inebriated assaults (“making out”) with multiple male partygoers, but expects the only slightly less-drunk guys (also engaged in criminal behavior) to be models of mature and noble restraint when she blacks out. Instead, they draw on her in what could be interpreted as a bad parody Amanda Palmer’s body-canvas-strip performance in Germany. With plenty of blame for the day to go around, they instead go all Lord of the Flies and shame the person who had put herself in the position of having the least control. After Audrie commits suicide, Burleigh/society blames the people who didn’t have control over her suicide to continue the pattern, excepting the mom who already blames herself for not saying anything at that last crucial moment while — in Burleigh’s narrative — politely ignoring every crucial moment that came before it.

By my account, almost all of the kids are horrible little monsters; anybody who disagrees has very different memories from their second decade of life than I do. But there is an exception: I feel bad for the kids, both in Saratoga and Steubenville, who were the relatively clear-headed kids who saw that bad things were going on and fled instead of calling on the police to mop their friends up. Because when you’re in that situation, you want to believe that your friends are competent enough to live their lives without external authoritarian intervention. You want to believe that they can get their shit together and get back to being in your peer group. And if you call the cops and tell them to break up the mess your friend is in, then the friendship is going to be over for quite some time to follow. So you bet on your friend, because that’s what friends do: they bet on each other instead of against each other. So I do feel bad for the kids who had the sense to leave the bad situation, but later found out that they were wrong to bet on their friends’ life-competence.

But as Jane Hanlin told Ariel Levy, “There is a better explanation than that everybody here is evil all the time: intoxicated teen-agers are the world’s worst thinkers.” So let’s spend some time talking about stuff that went wrong and how to avoid it in your life, because real life is not reliably like that scene in 10 Things I Hate About You where Heath Ledger protects and nutures an inebriated Julia Stiles. (I realize this may sound like I’m about to blame the victim, except that I don’t need to: Audrei said “I fucked up and I can’t do anything to fix it,” and Ms. X wasn’t even sure she was a victim — she texted a defendant to say “we know you didn’t rape me.”) So on that note, let’s talk about

How To Go Drinking!

  1. “Don’t do it; you’re too young and it’s illegal,” is what I’m required to say. But that didn’t stop me, so after you’ve ignored that rule, here’s the rules you shouldn’t ignore…
  2. Know how you’re getting home from a worst-case scenario. Even if you have a designated driver, have a back-up plan: taxi (requires credit card), bus, parent or sibling pick-up, or — my preference — your own two feet. Do not allow yourself to be stranded with bad drunks. Do not lose track of your phone. (And, to clarify, hitchhiking is not a plan, and it’s certainly not a plan for a worst-case scenario.)
  3. Take 5 steps to get your next drink. If you can’t take 5 steps without assistance from friends, strangers, walls, or the floor, then you need to wait a while before having that next drink. This rule should also make it rather difficult for people to give you altered drinks because you’re always the person taking action to get your next drink. (Additionally, and obviously, always maintain control of your drink. If your drink leaves your line of sight, it’s not yours anymore — take 5 steps and get a new one.)
  4. Be aware of the worst person in the room. I’m not talking about the worst drunk, I’m talking about the worst person. As Audrei put it, “it’s gonna get out. Shit always does. Especially with the people who were there.” So don’t let your shit out around those “especially” people who like to spread shit around. Alternately, stow your shit when the shit-spreaders show up. This can be difficult as you don’t necessarily know where the sudden-but-inevitable betrayal is going to come from until somebody does it, but behave as if it will — which may simply come down to “don’t be the worst drunk in the room.”

There. That’s hopefully all you really need to know to avoid getting blind-drunk at a party and falling prey to whatever pack of jackals happened to wander in.

But Burleigh is also worried about girls being coerced into sexting. So let me be very clear:

Creating and transmitting kiddie porn, even of yourself, is a felony that makes you a sex offender.
Re-transmitting kiddie porn, even of people you know, is a felony that makes you a sex offender.

Do not trust the movie Crazy, Stupid, Love where the babysitter giving kiddie porn of herself to a boy several years younger than her was part of the endearing Happy Ending. That movie was a lie, and what she did was a felony, and she turned the little boy into a felon and sex-offender as well. Is the law stupid? Probably, but kids who can’t aspire past being porn stars are stupid too, so there’s a certain polite symmetry there. The symmetry breaks down when the girls sending the images are never charged with a crime, but we’ll come back to this point.

Yet Burleigh doesn’t stop there, either. She’s worried that boys don’t know what constitutes rape (dear everybody, sex with the comatose isn’t just rape, it’s also disturbingly close to necrophilia; I can’t believe I have to explain this), so she cites Laurie Anderson on the subject. And Laurie Anderson tells boys “if a young woman isn’t of age, she isn’t capable of giving informed consent, and if she’s drunk or high, there’s no informed consent. And those cases, if you have sex, you can go to jail.” Which would mean that Knocked Up was actually a comedy about rape. Or it could mean that Anderson’s definition of rape is woefully paternalistic, because the only thing that scares parents more than thinking that their teenaged sons aren’t in control of their bodies would be thinking that their teenaged daughters are in control of their bodies — so we reverse the fears and say that the sons have to be in control of their bodies because the daughters aren’t in control of theirs, thus perpetuating male empowerment while allowing society to dismiss female drives, desires, impulses, and instincts. (Double-down by checking the prime definition of consent: “permission for something to happen” — the girl only has to give permission, it’s the boy that actually gets to have sex.)

Let me be very clear on this point: this particularly open definition of rape actually reinforces rape culture by assuming that men are always informed and consenting while women are often incapable of informed consent, regardless of how consenting — or aggressively demanding — they are. Or, bluntly, this definition assumes that women can’t be trusted with their bodies.

And going back to the point where young women are creating selfie-kiddie porn but never being charged with a crime, we do still believe that women can’t be held responsible for — and thus not trusted with — their bodies. And I’d guess that’s a substantial part of what the old white guys in congress are thinking every time they grumble about women’s health care and contraceptives. They’re not opposed to such things for their wives, or their mistresses, or the strippers that they have catering to them; they’re opposed to thinking about their daughters in that way, or causing constituents and contributors to think about their daughters in that way. So they grumble on with a batshit-crazy narrative that maintains, essentially, that women are incapable of managing their otherwise chaste and pure bodies.

This may tie into the conservative phenomena of Daddy’s Girl & Purity Rings & Chastity Belts — I wouldn’t know, I “have no idea what it’s like to be a girl” and skipped that (incestuously over-toned) stuff and the subsequent backlash literature. But the point I’m really going for is this: every time a girl makes kiddie porn of herself and is not charged as a felonious sex-offender because it’s some boy’s fault (who is getting charged with felonies), the patriarchy is reinforced.

So kids, that’s what I know, and, in the same vein as the Miley Cyrus performance, it’s more than I wanted to know about the subject. Beyond that, any big fad is like teenagers having sex: far more are talking about it than actually doing it, and those that are doing it are doing it badly. Conversely, competence, control, and refinement are always good virtues to cultivate no matter what you’re using them for. Additionally, figure out how to live with yourself before you try to figure who else you want to live with; divorce rates are highest among those that marry the youngest. And finally (again), beware of older people who want to have sex with you; there’s probably something very wrong with them.

Addendum: Here we’ve got cops citing 60 kids for being dumb — which is to say “getting caught with alcohol.” And over here, we’ve got 300 kids breaking into and vandalizing some guy’s house while he’s on the other side of the country… and when the guy politely and civilly rounds up the evidence that the kids idiotically put online, the parents start attacking him? But other than losing even more faith in the subsequent generation (and also my own: “I don’t know you people.”), it seems clear to me that if we take Anderson’s “no minors, drunks, or stoners” definition of rape, then there was almost certainly a whole lot of rape going on between these two events and the lack of reporting and prosecution only entrenches the idea that the status quo patriarchy is a big pro-boy conspiracy theory (and this California online-history purging for minors law is really just promoting evidence-tampering). Or maybe the definition is wrong. And maybe the parents are attacking the victim of that particular party specifically because he’s trying to push a reality in over their beliefs about their kids which extend from a belief about their own childhoods: that they weren’t that bad and turned out fine as demonstrated by their good kids, and therefore their good — which is better than “not bad” — kids will turn out great. In other words, I would guess that the parents are lashing out not so much because they’re horrible parents (though they might be) but instead because they feel like their ignorant hope is being viciously attacked by cruel and insensitive facts and realities.

So, kids, don’t be stupid enough to create cruel and insensitive facts and realities that will viciously attack your parents’ necessarily-ignorant hopes for you. And if your parents ask you the sublimely formulated question “You’re not going to tell me that you’re XYZing, are you?” please note that you can truthfully answer them by saying “No mom/dad, I’m not going to tell you that” before you change the subject.