Thursday, July 30, 2015

What Did it Mean to Me?

The bookstore where I work has been doing "Pop Culture" month all of July.  Each Thursday has been a "throwback Thursday" with each Thursday being a different decade, starting with the 1950's. We are encouraged to wear period clothes.  I had nothing for the 1950's, so I just wore standard stuff.

For the 60's, I had plenty.  I wore a tie dyed shirt that a bought a block from Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco along with one of my peasant skirts.

Picture cropped as I don't have permission to show everyone in it

For the next week, 1970's, I wore the closest approximation that I had to a disco dress.  No one took pictures.  I guess it wasn't that memorable.  Halfway through the shift, I realized that this was not the first time I'd worn this dress to the bookstore- I'd done it years before, but as Monique.

"Monique" in the bookstore break room

I was SO ready for the 1980's.  I was born in the 1966, so my high school and University years were the 1980's.  I borrowed a Jams painters cap (with tails) from Wife.  It was from 1984, and was all the rage back then.

Yes, this was stylish once

I went to Party City for tights, earrings and scrunchies (which I wore on my wrist instead of my hair, and wore a bright blue sleeveless top I had along with a short mini skirt.  I was totally gnarly!

So during each week, we played music from the appropriate decade.  I brought in CDs for the 60's, 70's, and of course the 80's,  (I have a LOT of 80's CDs.)  One of my coworkers is in her early 20's and asked me an interesting question.  You see, she loves 80's music and stuff, and said she wishes she were born earlier so she could've experienced it all first hand.  I replied she would then be as old as I am, at which she laughed.  She then asked me "What was it like growing up in the 80's?"

What was it like growing up in the 80's?

Wow.  I know that everyone of my generation will have a different answer to this colored by what happened in their own lives then and since.  For example, I was quite politically active back then (and now) and that colors my perceptions.  I spoke to one of the managers at the bookstore who is also roughly of my generation.  She is African American, and we discussed how different our experiences were back then.  Radically different.  As I imagine they are for today's youth from different backgrounds and ethnicity.

SO... what were the 80s like for me.  Well, when they began, I was 13 and when they ended I was 23... a significant time for growth and change.  For me, there were a few distinct phases I can classify.  Of course they all blended together as time does, but well, here it is.

Early 1980s.  ~1980-~84  This is the time that everyone thinks about when they think about the 80s.  This time was the time of the "New Romantics:"  Duran Duran, Adam Ant, Ultravox, Human League, etc.  At this time, MTV had youth culture by the nose and were kicking us in the ass... even in small towns like mine.  This was the era of deregulation and the "Yuppie."  The beginning of truly conspicuous consumption.

Newsweek article on Yuppies

In 1982, I got my first "real" job, and my parents started leaving me alone in the house when they went away.  It was an era of new-found independence for me... and I loved it.  This is when I started crossdressing.  I knew I was different.  And I was SO ashamed of what I was doing.  I felt even worse when I bought clothes through the Sears catalog with my Burger King money.  I did the whole buy/purge thing several times.  You see, back then TG people were considered perverts, freaks, or worse.  I had a secret, so I withdrew from people rather than risk them discovering that secret.  Oh I had a few friends, and this is where being extremely unpopular helped.  (My unpopularity was not due to my withdrawal; I'd been unpopular since I was old enough to interact with other kids.)

It was a time of upheaval.  Nuclear Armageddon was a push button away, and we all knew it.  It added an "edge" to everything that, really, doesn't exist now.  Mine was the last generation to grow up with the fear of the Soviet Union blowing us to atoms.  It made everything seem, I don't know, more "live for today as tomorrow we may all be dead."

This is also when I trained to become an EMT.  I really wanted to help people.  And it seemed like a way to meet girls.  I couldn't get a date if I hung $100 bills around my neck.  Let's face it, I was a "late bloomer" and girls wanted guys who were, well, manly.  This was the era of Schwarzenegger and Stallone after all!


It was here that my political beliefs began to gel.  I was quite young when the whole Nixon/Watergate thing happened, and I saw what harm one person could do to a country.  And I saw all the conspicuous consumption and deregulation while the poor got poorer... and Reagan was doing things like cutting funds to and closing homes for the mentally challenged (a BIG one was just outside of my town, and all the residents who had no families came to my town or the neighboring one, where many got hit by cars.)  I began writing letters to my congressmen and senators, asking "why is **** happening when ****?" I never received any replies.  (Note- back then we had both parties represented in our area.)

I remember mostly the summers then, and how hot they were.  Winters were always a bleak time for me, so I guess I blocked them out.  I did a LOT of walking in the summer, just to think... and to be NOT dressing.  I especially did a lot of walking after my bike was stolen in 1983.

My first major depression hit in the summer of 1983.  Everyone else had such a bright future ahead (so it seemed) while I, well, how could a freak have a future?  And that's when the family dog Sabre died.  I really loved that dog.  I used to talk to him all the time as he accompanied me on walks.  He was my only confidant about my crossdressing.  And he died.  Soon after, my depression really took hold and I began spiraling out of control, ending with my being fired from my job.  (I was later re-hired.)  I met a girl in early 1984, and we dated for two years, but I didn't know how to handle that.  I also graduated High School in 1984.  By then, I had decided to stop crossdressing and to prove myself a man.  After all, only freaks crossdressed.  That's when I started martial arts.

Yes, this was a real movie.

Mid 80s: 1984-7:  In Summer of 1984, there was a major cultural shift... and as often happens, the music was among the causes.  In June 1984, Bruce Springsteen released Born in the USA.  And wow, suddenly EVERYONE was patriotic, and wearing Levis.  the early 80s scene of androgeny and all that were dead... killed by Bruce's homespun music.  And Reagan was running for re-election, so he did his best to co-opt this spirit.  Movies that were all "rah rah America" were all the rage: Red Dawn, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rocky IV, and of course, Top Gun.

In 1984, I started college... at Drexel University in Philadelphia.  The dorms were in one of the poorest parts of town.  I saw urban decay and hopelessness first hand.  I joined a fraternity so to prove my manhood to myself (and because the guys were really great.)  For many reasons, I decided that engineering (which I took to placate my father) wasn't for me.  I decided to serve humanity- as a teacher.  And I transferred to Penn State in 1986.

Penn State HUB lawn, May 1987.  Most of this has been since built over

The later Reagan years were a time of upheaval.  Iran Contra came to light, and many of Reagan's advisers and staff were going to jail for almost every crime under the sun.  America's confidence was falling apart.  And the music?  All corporate stuff- this was the rise of the "classic rock" format that still dominates radio today to a point.  New bands couldn't get airplay, so went underground.  Eventually, many would emerge in the early 1990s.  I became VERY politically active at PSU, attending anti-Reagan rallies, anti-apartheid events, speaking my mind and generally agitating.

We didn't have internet, and cell phones were for the rich.  Research meant going to the library.  I had the ONLY personal computer in the fraternity house at PSU (my Macintosh.)  People still wrote letters.  Long distance calls were uncommon as they were expensive... especially at a pay phone.  In fact, most dorm rooms didn't have phones- there was a "hall" pay phone where everyone took turns.

I've written a whole book on my time at Penn State.  I drank a LOT- in fact I found I had an amazing capacity for it.  It was a way I was better than other guys.  Never mind that my grades suffered a bit.  That's also when I started getting into fights.  Big Mouth, no social skills, plus alcohol... fights.  I thought I'd beaten the whole TG thing, but it was there, stirring in the back of my head, slowly driving me insane.  I transferred to the Penn State chapter of my fraternity, and they knew I was different.  Most of them never let me forget it.  And the worst thing was: they were right.

I loved my time at PSU despite all that.  Really.  It was at PSU that I learned Purpose.  I learned limits, and how low I could sink... or so I thought.  I found myself in adult relationships with adult problems.  And know what?  I loved it.  I was truly on my own.

Late 80's:  1987-1989: Somewhere around 1987, things shifted again. The music became tougher.  It was the time of Guns and Roses.  Hair bands.  Rap became the music of the Street.  Things just seemed more... bleak.  The stock market crashed in October of '87 and the world was in a post-Reagan hangover.  Hell, even Springsteen's new album was full of unsettling songs about things falling apart, especially his marriage. What I remember most from those days were the hot summer of 1988, when I stayed up at school (to take some classes I missed and because I couldn't stand being home with my brother.) But I remember that time most as wintry, bleak, and cold.  After all, I was at a school in the mountains.

Gloomy day at the Fraternity House, Spring 1987

I did my student teaching in Spring of 1989, and graduated at the end of that semester.  And moved back to my parent's house.  By then I was heavily depressed; as a relationship went seriously bad, I was away from a place that I loved, and I was back in Spring City.  This was the era of George HW Bush... and HIGH unemployment.  After a couple of false starts in various schools and odd jobs, I ended the decade waiting tables at TGI Fridays.

My "flair" from my Fridays days... yes I still have this.

The depression was deepening as the 1980's closed.  I was beginning to get suicidal.  My suicide attempt would occur in October of 1990.  That rage of bottled up feelings, of my secret, of drinking, and my inability to hold onto a relationship or find a "real" job had me convinced that I had no future.  The Darkness had me...


What did the 80's mean to me?

It was my time to "grow up."  The child grew into the man she didn't want to be.  America in many ways changed radically as it tried to redefine itself after the mess of Watergate and the Iranian Hostage Crisis and the OPEC embargo.  And we, as the young adults of the time, led a lot of that change, at least culturally.  We were labelled as Generation X, and we were picking up the pieces of the world that the boomers were screwing up... and we arguably would screw it up worse.

The 80's were a time of unspeakable pain as I forced myself to deny my true gender.  There were some good times, to be sure... VERY good times.  But the pain increased exponentially until finally I attempted suicide.  And after that I was a hate filled shell which I filled with alcohol.  It was only through the love of my Wife that I lived to re-discover myself in 2008.  And I thanked her by transitioning.

All the pain, all the Wagnerian drama, the depressions, the Loves...  I wouldn't trade it for the world.    It was my life.  I grew up in MY time... and as such am a product of it.  I am a Child of the 80's.  And as my generation gets older we come to grips with what that means.  Many of us are raising or have raised children whom we hope will inherit this world, as we did from our parents.

The generation before us had the 60's and all the meant.  The music- the culture- the pain.  We had the 80's.  Our children have Now.

And in many ways, I am still a child.  I will never stop learning.  And in many ways, will never grow up.  I'm starting my life over... now as the Woman I was born to be.  I have a daughter.

For the first time in my life, I'm excited about the Future.  And for me, that journey truly began over thirty years ago.

In the 80's.

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