In Spring 2019, I re-booted my course, Feminist Online Spaces. This time I taught it with Masters students in Liberal Studies (MALS) at the CUNY Graduate Center and it was called Contemporary Feminist Theories: The Nowheres & Everywhere of Online Feminism. Some quick research established that the last time I had used this site was six years previously in August 2013. At that time it was serving as a research and teaching site for me as well as the temporary internet home for the then still-forming FemTechnet. The last post from that use was called “Ramping Up: Dialogues on Feminism and Technology.” It held some of our collective work as a small number of us began to nourish the roots of what would become FemTechNet’s signature and multiple enterprises including our DOCC, Feminist Wikistorming, and many other projects. We were meeting at my house in Highland Park, CA and in IRL inventing digital worlds, classes, tool kits, community and more. This post features a photo of Adrianne Wadewitz, the feminist Wikipedian and FemTechNet early stalwart, who died tragically about a year later.

Adrianne Wadewitz, ’13

See the rest on Online Feminist Spaces.

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In the 2018-2019 academic year, twelve committed participants are joining in sustained conversation, tool building, and programming, while attending ethically and thoughtfully to the buzzing interplay of feelings, intimate community, video, and tech as part of the VHS Archives Working Group at the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY GC. Engaging three community partners—the XFR CollectiveInterference Archive, and Visual AIDS—and one design practice, Partner and Partners, this year’s Working Group is building an open source “tool” that should be used on a short stacks of videos by a known and manageable group of participants (party-goers). The tool will help partiers to best care.share for digital and other fragile objects of and for the community who made or needs them. Our prototype for a lightweight open source website generator (the “tool“)  should facilitate ethical research about and activation of small collections of digitized videotape. Using the tool, each communal engagement with video is a “party“: a gathering of humans to work collectively and in real-time on an actionable task spending time in and enjoying each other’s presence and some tapes; shared, task-focused, committed engagements with the materials enabled by using the tool (“My VHS Archives Party.”)

We prioritize keeping VHS and other fragile materials small and local: to respect the uses and needs of specific communities, the importance of engaging with archives in a group setting, and of dedicating both time and presence to community archival work. The tapes should connect to or produce a project of and for a community who understand, need, and want them.

To learn more about our methods for caring.sharing for vulnerable video and the party games this inspires please see “Party Games with VHS Archives,” published on the GC Center for Humanities blog.

 

The VHS Archives Working Group at the CUNY GC (2018-2019) is engaging in sustained conversations as we are tool-building a lightweight app that can sit on top of a small stack of digitized VHS tapes so as to attend thoughtfully and ethically to the buzzing interplay of feelings, intimate community, video, and tech in relation to tape. We think hard about the connections between the digital migration of tape—its saving or loss—and also, then, safety. Although we start with tape, we attend primarily to people and their things:

  • the needs for the privacy of public things.
  • the needs for publicity of things that have been forced into privacy.
  • the needs for the privacy of vulnerable people and communities as some of their things become public.
  • the needs for vulnerable people and communities to have access to representation, and its salvage, in ways that empower and do not endanger them.

Carol Leigh, “Safe Sex Slut” 1987.

We are committed to the safety and care of vulnerable people and their objects. For our group this has primarily meant queers and trans people/of color, women and feminists, people affected by HIV/AIDS, and those with non-hegemonic sexualities and its representation. Attending to our people, and their practices and things, raises concerns that we understand as ethical, conceptual, and technological. This is what our group calls “caring.sharing.” We insist you shouldn’t share (digital media) without care (of those whose it is and was and will be). Attending to the experiences and wants of people, in community, at every technological step, is an act of ethical obligation and its technological formatting.

We believe that frames for thinking about and taking action on caring.sharing should be written into all encounters (personal, technological, interfacial) when the already fragile materials of vulnerable others become available online, including:

  • the ethics of reuse: “Can we develop queer archival practices that engage subtle questions of power and access, the strangeness of the past, the tension between the individual and collective, and the changing historical contexts that have shaped viewership, authorship, and privacy? Can we somehow account for both the delights and the troubles that our digital technologies facilitate? In short: Can we enact community-engaged, ethically informed, queer approaches to the conundrums that lie at the center of our documentary and archival impulses? Maybe some stories shouldn’t be told in public. Maybe some archival materials should remain hard to find. Maybe it matters who tells which stories. And maybe just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” (Rachel Mattson, Queer Histories, Videotape, and the Ethics of Reuse)
  • nostalgia and intellectual feelings:  Things matter to those who own, save, made and share them. How do we make sure to honor “the feelings attached to desire and sexuality, whether in a peep show booth or a backyard in the shadows of East Los Angeles.” (Juan Fernández, Nostalgia and “Intellectual Feelings”)
  • working from unmade, lost, or hidden archives: Sometimes there isn’t a record to be found because people chose to remain unrecorded because documentation can bring in the state, the family, or other outside forces of potential discipline or punishment. “Is it possible to reintroduce the cultural work of our archival subjects when there aren’t many video materials available?” (Jaime Shearn Coan,” Crucial Circulations: VHS and Queer AIDS Archives“)
  • finding and working from material that is too personal, graphic or painful to be shared, or was never made for curious, potentially violent others.
  • finding and working from personal archives of loss: can we be technologically tender?
  • attending to accessibility: so that saved things can be used by all who need them.
  • context-building: how to understand, preserve, and honor where work came from while enriching our understanding of past times, places, and people. This is critical, because it insures that things (and their peoples) aren’t and can’t be ripped from their original home, place, people, use, and values.
  • staying small; resisting scale: at some point, the number of objects, tags, people, or connections can get too large for the community that salvaged things to insure and protect them.
  • rules of engagement: objects online should be engaged with using agreed upon rules written by the community that made/saved them: community-specific, community-produced, iterative, and adaptive.
  • preservation with purpose: communities should know why they are saving and for what and whom.
  • activation as safety: easy to lose things can gain a toe-hold in memory, history, and advocacy when they are saved and used. Once known, procedures for safety can be written onto them.
  • acknowledging communal knowledge and other types of ownership within and beyond the tech.

From Bebashi AIDS educational trigger tape, late 1980s. See more: “Stacked on Her Office Shelf: Stewardship and AIDS Archives,” Theodore Kerr and Alexandra Juhasz

At previous meetings, we have come up with some tactics we want to build into the use of our tool. Scale, time, presence, and collectivity are key.

1. We recommend using our tool in a group:

  • the tapes should be a project of a community.
  • playing with your stack should be embedded in the world somehow, and fun.
  • it should be used by people who understand, need, want the tapes, or a/the community, or the tech.
  • different types of users could bring and learn different skills to the stack: to set it up, to add videos, to comment/annotate videos, to curate, to show them, to learn and share skills from/with each other.

2. Our tool should ideally be used locally and in shared time (online or off):

  • there’s a materiality and embodiedness to working in-person, in real time

3. Caring.sharing happens best with and for and by a small group of people:

  • a known group, already known or getting known via tapey engagement.
  • with shared interests: already known or getting known via tapey engagement.
  • a groups with their own, known, self-developed, adaptable rules of engagement.
  • to be helped along, facilitated, by the tool, the tech, the instructions.

4. Ownership and access:

  • who holds the rights to the material?
  • do we respect the system that grants that? if not, what rights systems do we honor and why?

FOR OUR NEXT MEETING: TACTICS TO ENGAGE/OR WRITE INTO THE TECH:

  • write instructions and/or questions that move people through a set of issues with associated writing before they can touch the tool, or before each in a series of steps that follow one after the other in the tool
  • do this in short steps
  • allow users of the tool to answer, and thus to be “ethical” in any way they choose, but choose they must, first
  • create fields, pages, areas on the tool for users to fill in their answers (including none) to the concerns above; step by step, information would be built by the users to surround their now-digital always-vulnerable objects
  • step by step builders/users indicate their own degrees of comfort and concern, including none
  • create activities, engagements with the tool that build out user interaction and connection with others, with the material, with the material’s initial owners or makers and/or new users (what we call “party games’)
  • being alone with a tape found in a box is only a beginning of its/our care!

From “Compulsive Practice,” (Jean Carlomusto, Hugh Ryan, and Alexandra Juhasz, 2016)

I had the pleasure of attending the 2nd International Conference on Interface Politics, “After Post-Truth,” in Barcelona, Spain, November 28-30, 2018. Scores of speakers, hours of intensity, dark findings about seamless interfaces—even so, the experience was deeply replenishing for no reason more central than that there I was, in Spain no less, and in community with many many others, from around the world, all of us, paying attention. This, the conference co-organizer, Jorge Luis Marzo (with Bani Brusadin) described at our introductory sessions as “an urgent abandonment from the real being replaced by our desire and will to freedom.”

While I can not cover all that I learned, or even all that moved me there (people and their ideas and actions), I will use this brief recap of the highlights of the proceedings to help me to better understand critical frameworks that link to the work I have been doing towards the completion and release of my new website (thanks Ethel Moore and Partner and Partners), fakenews-poetry.org: a useful and pretty container holding the media, ephemera, and yes, the poems, that I have been producing with so many others by initiating, in 2018, something like fifteen Fake News Poetry Workshops, around the world, as Radical Digital Media Literacy given the Fact of Fake News. For some, this post might serve as an introduction to the larger #100hardtruths-#fakenews project (initiated during the first 100 days of the Trump administration, thanks to Craig Dietrich for that website), while for others, it might be a recap of the concerns and practices the project engages or a chance to see your own work held alongside that of others who engaged in different places and communities.

But most importantly, this post and the site serves as an invitation to mount and run your own Workshop, in your community, with your own poets, theorists, and participants (feel free to reach out to me! Stage 2 of the website will build out more how-to documents.)

But the project is always, also about sharing what we do and know about fake news and related travesties. In Barcelona, I learned about a number of exciting sister projects, all seeking, as do I, to break through the transparency of interfaces, and to reveal, understand, undermine, or remake all that might be algorithmically, ideologically, financially, and psychically hidden behind the ever more huge and inapproachable back-end, our frothy frozen impenetrable cloud:

  • bellingcat: the home of online investigations.
  • HyperNormalization by Adam Curtis.
  • Safebook by Ben Grosser. Facebook without the content!
  • Algorithms Allowed, and much more charting the real costs of “free” interfaces (see image below), by Joana Moll,
  • Digital Dietetics, by Javier Lopes, Pedro Fernandez de Castro, and Victor Sampedro. Their project uses a dietary model to facilitate a critical digital citizenship where limiting consumption, setting collective goals for media interaction, and being with others who know more are steps towards better digital health.
  • the films of Metahaven, emphasizing our simultaneous time-scales, each a version of competing or even co-exiting realities: real for people in parallel, these versions  are incompatible and also all “true.”

Joana Moll, DEFOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOREST

As critically for my own heart, mind, and practice, I heard presentations that named dynamics that help focus or nuance some of my own perhaps more inchoate motives for the fakenews-poetry project:

  • Doro Wiese‘s explanation that information does not not allow us to feel in time, and then many related pleas for slowness.
  • a shared response by many of the speakers to begin research into the (very recent) past of the internet to understand how earlier cycles of sudden technological, corporate, and digital change have been reacted to by humans.
  • careful attention to delineate between the precise terms and functions of a variety of truth vocabularies—veracity, sincerity, frankness, persuasion, evidence, proof—both in regards to how information is produced, packaged, and sold but also for our (changing) sense of selves as political, psychoanalytic, and human subjects, sometimes embodied.
  • an understanding of truth in a time of post-facts as that which produces a sense of coherence, even if it is false, and despite any evidence, thus a new kind of “partisan knowledge” (Emillie V. De Keulenaar)
  • a related set of attempts to understand how algorithms and computational propaganda have been used to “dismiss, distort, distract, and dismay” (Berke Alikasifoglu and Gabriele Cosentino)
  • several returns to Hito Steyerl’s idea of the “poor image” (what I have called “bad video” in my perhaps old but still too-valid YouTube work), and its links to veracity, and more so addiction, and its sustaining but false forms of intimacy (one click away, so close, just nearby, an immediacy [do see Pooja Rangan here!])
  • significant work on new and consolidating interface realisms (what Christian Andersen and Soren Polk call the “metainterface,” one that both represents and produces our new [fake, post-truth] realities, all the while obscuring the labor, networks, and other resources that produce it).
  • a continuing keen attention to collectives, commons, publics, and lived networks, including the work by Marco Deseriis on “Condividual” activities: “sharing as ‘dividing’ together.”

Then, some useful questions and tactics:

  • do people even want to be truthful (anymore)?
  • strive for trust over truth: create invitations to engage with evidence rather than statements of truth which only lead to suspicion (Enrico Beccari)
  • Pay Attention to What I do Not Say

With this last tactic as a directive and method, I will conclude by nodding briefly at what was impossible not to notice as being invisible and unsaid at this wonderful event: the many approaches, politics, people, and theories whose names and terms and needs were never (or rarely) uttered over hours and days of astute and informative analysis: that is, just about anything to do with race, ethnicity, sexuality, sex, indigeneity, ability, age and as often as not gender or feminism. These body- and place-based, situated politics, theories, lived experiences and methods with their own regal, lengthy, powerful ideas, movements, and actions that have been so central to our experiences, analyses, critiques and movements about the internet and its world (from #Blacklivesmatter to #metoo, from Donna Haraway to my/our own femtechnet and in particular our “Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Workbook“) were, oddly, invisibilized. A cultural and intellectual outsider, I am not sure why these movements and their core theories and practices of justice, epistemology, creativity, and sustainability were not go-to reservoirs of inspiration and power for most of my fellow panelists. Certainly, a significant amount of the evil, despair, violence, and injustice that has been enacted in and by corporate and political regimes of post-truth have been against others seemingly marked by difference of race, gender, sexuality, citizenship, and otherwise. And, responsive movements have been mounted digitally, and otherwise, in response. Perhaps the connection of these movements and methods to “identity” or the “body” or “community” or “care” or the “individual” make these vital traditions seem inadequate in the face of the immensity of our data and its infrastructure that enclouds us? I really don’t understand … But, I will not testify to the definitive necessity of these traditions, because that’s been done everywhere by my allies and colleagues for decades (you can find many links to such research and action in the #100hardtruths primer), but I will end by repeating what I said in my own presentation:

I want to engage in alternative formats for the generation and movement of meaningful fragments, post truth but gentle, not easily spreadable or digestable, not expendable, but rather demanding your attention and care—so perhaps for this moment at least, made for and consumed by small local groups that will listen together in time. With diverse participants in unique places, I am exploring truth and authentication systems that veer away from cameras, and indexical “truth,” thus mobilizing other systems outside of journalistic evidence or slick socials. I want to engage in alternative formats for the generation and movement of meaningful fragments that can mobilize and save honest expressions about our lived experiences of the internet’s deceptions in ways that might momentarily liberate us, or at least partially remove us from the logics of capitalist and governmental watching and lying that have underwritten this dangerous dishonest flow.

What if we aimed for gentle truths? For now.

From Toronto Fake News Poetry Workshop

 

My VHS Archives Party

November 20, 2018

In 2017-2018, I initiated a working group sponsored by the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center, VHS Archives. Over seven meetings and one public presentation (Come Play with our VHS Archive), approximately twenty people—anyone with an interest in the places where analog videotape meets queer histories and queer/feminist/of color AIDS activism—came together to consider ‘the difficulties, surprises, losses and bounty that adhere to the task of collecting, preserving, and facilitating access and ethical questions related to the reuse of video materials documenting queer and trans lives.’ At each of our meetings ‘members of the group presented the holdings, concerns, worries, plans for, and uses of a VHS archive important to their scholarship, activism, art-making or community.’ (The Work(s) of the VHS Archives)

And this year, we’re really working again.

During the 2018-2019 academic year we will be project-focused: prototyping a lightweight, static site generator for the ethical research and activation of small collections of videotape. Again with the sponsorship and support of the Center for the Humanities, this year we will engage twelve committed participants for sustained conversation, tool building, programming, and most importantly, attending ethically and thoughtfully to the buzzing interplay of feelings, intimate community, video, and tech. Engaging three community partners—the XFR CollectiveInterference Archive, and Visual AIDS—and one design practice, Partner and Partners, this year’s Working Group will meet to discuss, design, and implement a prototype for the community-based, internet-supported use of small stacks of digitized tape keeping in mind and at our fingertips a set of questions about archives, queers, tape, safety, accessibility and more … (The Work(s) of the VHS Archives)

Over the first two meetings of 2018, our group has been busy and focused. Each participant has moved (or tried to move) some tape materials (our own, those we have digitized by or from others, or some we have found already online) into our Github lab: these we call our short stack (it is by definition small, contained, manageable, knowable, and yummy!)
We explain to the technologists on the team what seems too hard, as access is key to the project. But then, so again, is digital media literacy. So we also want people who use our app to work (with others) to understand the many steps, technologies, implications, uses, and feelings associated to moving, saving, and using a small tape archive online. These responsibilities and actions shouldn’t be so easy as to be obscured.

Some notes from our last meeting:

1. We recommend doing it in a group:

  • the tapes should already be a project of a community
  • playing with your stack should be embedded in the world somehow, and fun
  • it should be used by people who understand, need, want the tapes, or a/the community, or the tech
  • different types of users could bring and learn different skills to the stack: to set it up, to add  videos, to comment/annotate videos, to curate, to show them
  • Questions of ownership are critical
    • What are the ethical implications?

2. It’s not an accessibility project:

  • maybe it’s sitting on the internet but it’s closed or has rules to engage
  • it’s not about getting things out but rather, doing things for particular people
    • then these questions about ownership don’t matter as much

3. There are a lot of services out there already, we don’t want to replicate them

  • We are not making a documentary
  • VDB, EAI already get things out, distribute, we are not distributors
  • We are making something that is collective and collaborative, the making makes the community
  • We are not a video hosting site (to show video work), Interference Archive does this
  • It is more like curating, within and for communities, making a small set of things exciting for a small group of people

4. If it’s local, safety and ownership issues both become manageable:

  • there’s a materiality and embodiedness to working in-person, in real time

5. The stack is about sharing with and for and by a small group of people

At our previous meeting, we decided that we were committed to our short stacks being engaged by an equally short stack of people: that is, a known group, with shared interests and their own known, self-developed rules of engagement (helped along by the tool, the tech, the instructions). This group could be online or off, or mixed, it could even be as small as one, but the one commitment that is critical, beyond interest in the materials, is time and presence.
This spending time in each other’s presence with and for some tapes is what we are calling the Party, or probably Parties: shared, task-focused, committed engagements with the materials and using the tool. (“Party”: a gathering of humans to work collectively and in real-time on an actionable task).
Our assignment for the third meeting is to IMAGINE OUR PARTY OR PARTIES.
My short stack is an object of one: it is VHS footage of a research meeting (albeit 4:19:19 in length!) In, 1995? I held a meeting in NY where 50-60 media feminists came to talk about the history of feminist film and video over the course of a day. I held four other such meetings: in Philadelphia, Chicago, Long Beach, and San Francisco. Those tapes, and the interviews I subsequently shot of 21 feminists (as well as many paper records, like logs, attendance sheets, and agendas, see below) are archived as part of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Collection. I archived (in 2003?) them there because I hoped that later scholars would (want to) access the interviews and research meetings for their own related projects. (This happened for this first time, this year, when a scholar from the Netherlands learned about the archive and asked for access to my interview with Carolee Schneeman, upon whom he writes. We learned it hadn’t been digitized, although it was available for use at the UCLA Film and TV Archive. One thing led to the next, and I ended up paying to have many of the materials digitized!)
The finished project is available as a documentary (1996) and a book (2001) of the same name: Women of Vision.
Here are the answers to my tasks for the November 20, 2018 meeting:
1. make an invitation: this would be an email, written by me, carefully.
2. a guest list: I would want 6-10 people with a keen interest in feminist media history. Ideally, they would be much like the people in the various working groups that I recorded on VHS, that is the process from before would be reflected and doubled: cross-generational, scholars, artists, activists, archivists, students, diverse in race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. It takes work to get a group of people who are both committed and diverse. It takes pretty deep connections to community.
3. What do they bring (their own videos, or are they just playing with yours?): For the first party or two, we would engage with my tiny, slow stack. Or maybe this is over several meetings because it is so long? Maybe we’d annotate? As we continue to party, I’d invite participants to add one thing of their own to the stack, each. We’d all have to see these, too. Carefully, thoughtfully, responsively, so that the stack would build to reflect who we all are at the time of engagement—our discrete interests and commitments—which would add up to a larger view of feminist media at this time if someone engaged with the whole stack. I’d want each participant to be fully committed to her own tape.
4. is there food? There is always food, it makes a meeting feel more like a home.
5. what kind of place: online or off, mixed? I’d want mostly offline with 1-2 people porting in via computer to keep these affordances of the digital live in our hearts and heads.
6. what kind of party and how many parties are they obligated to commit to? It would be a set of working parties with some time for connection and play. I would want people to commit to all of the parties over the course of two months ending with an exhibition. Each party would last for three hours.
1. Collections assessment party; rights/ownership party
2. transfer party; annotation party
3. writing/context party
4. curation part; acces
5. exhibition
Resources:
  • digitized paper materials

Committed media praxis is a doing as much as it is a knowing. Queerness is a manner of being as much as it is a politics, theory, or set of modish objects. Our labor in queer cinema studies might result in institutional anthologies, retrospectives, or canons, but for me it needs smaller, stranger sites, activities, and outcomes that honor how it’s done: its moods, weather, learning and loving.

Alex, Carolyn, Jazzy and Deborah at Union Square Park, as part of the event, “Dear J,” revisiting “Homosexuals: One Child’s Point of View,” featuring Jazzy and directed by her mother, Juanita Mohammed (1990)

In this talk, I introduce a multi-sited project (three websites: a graduate class, an in-process web app for vulnerable video, and a working group sponsored by the Center for the Humanities, at the CUNY Graduate Center) where I engage in inter-disciplinary, community-based, activist queer film scholarship: VHS Archives. In the talk, I will show some attempts to work with and use some of my own queer media archives, initially held on VHS tape. How I do and did this, often with others in and outside the academy, taking up many art forms and as well as adaptive platforms, and now making use of my own and other’s soon to be lost video fragments, is what I have longed called my committed media praxis. Theory adjacent and conversant, sexual and political proclivities in flux, responsive to communities and collaborators, primarily and definitively process-oriented and often production-based, my committed media praxis in queer media and its archives is about using media as one part of a beloved community’s efforts at doing our best at living queer feminist lives.

Please find here, my power point, script, and three screenshots of me reading (pretty poorly) from my computer: “My VHS Archives: confessions from the field of queer feminist media praxis,” for The Labour of Media (Studies): Activism, Education, and Industry Conference, held at Concordia University, November 17, 2018. Do take a look at the three sites linked above. There’s much to see and explore by colleagues, students, technologists, archivists, friends, and loved ones.

Snow kept me from physically attending.

 

I went to a fine public high school in Boulder Colorado. 1000 students per grade, we were the class of 1982.

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 when these were few, fine athletes and empowered student leaders. I briefly had a boyfriend as driven as I. 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 would meet in college where being smart (and Jewish) wouldn’t matter quite so much. Sex was not really a part of what I wanted, although affection and attention were. Luckily, I was cherished by a co-ed group of friends made up of our school’s best and brightest, all en route to Stanford, Brown, Swarthmore, and the like. I’d go to Amherst, the class of 1986. More on that soon.

We danced to DEVO, the B52s, the Clash, Elvis Costello, and Madness at parties we threw on our own. 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. Held at someone’s house, we drank beer pretty safely that we bought with fake IDs. Sometimes our parents bought it for us. 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. Or perhaps we were exactly what you’d expect: just young and hungry and full of want.

Every once and awhile we chose to go to the parties the “popular kids” threw (football players and cheerleaders, kids from wealthy homes). There kids drank way more beer, stood in sticky stinky hallways, acted dumb, got too drunk, and nobody knew what to say. I didn’t think any of this was attractive or even fun really, 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. 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. At woodsies, 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; she was also pretty drunk, just less so (this was before the concept of designated drivers really took). I made it home and threw up on the front porch of my house before I rang the door bell. 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. The room spun. I rarely drank that much again (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.

At Amherst from 1982-1986, frat parties dominated the social scene: fueled by alcohol. These dangerous spaces were pretty much the only social game in town. I remember ending up in a dorm room with a man I only barely knew after some frat party, doing something I didn’t like. I’m not sure what. I was drunk. He was more drunk. 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 for this very reason: known as they were as havens for drunken misogyny, bigoted admissions, and as hold-outs of the patriarchal boys-club soul of the place. In the 1980s, my school was beginning or pretending to change, given that women had been only recently admitted (against the good-ole boys’ best efforts; they fought, too, for their frats, which immediately popped up again, illegal bastions of just the kinds of male comaraderie that was built upon hatred of women [and themselves, most likely] that still fire these elite institutions and their all-male hold-outs).

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 because he was one of the smartest people in my constitutional law class (as was I). He was 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 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 suite mates. 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—the very one I had yearned for … we weren’t ready for intercourse yet, although we tried many other things including sharing a whole bottle of expensive champagne … wowza!—my youthful sexuality was pretty horrid. Nothing like what I wanted. Instead 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.

Yes, I thought I had mostly forgotten, until testimony about Brett Kavanaugh’s past behavior and that of his friends, frat mates, 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 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 dudes like Kavanaugh, especially the “elite” ones, inherit and own. 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. Rather, I’d say I’m working at it. Forgetting has been part of that; and not talking about it; and doing better. The remembering doesn’t feel helpful, just sad: for the society, for those men I can barely name, for myself.

As a queer feminist, I understand that these violent encounters, these sorry missed opportunities for connection, these experiences where girls are hurt physically, 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. As a grown woman, I seek experiences with men (and women) who want to engage differently with me, even though we all came from this place, the 1980s: woodsies, frat parties, throwing up, making out, taking and losing virginity, but not as anyone would really want.

The classes of 1982 and 1986 are all in our mid-50s. We hear these lurid tales of our peers—as common as are our hopes for change, as core as are our attempts to heal, as definitive as were our homes and towns of origin and colleges of choice—and each episode takes us right back to all that we (hope we) have buried. Not just the violent me-too moments where lines were fully crossed (some of us escaped these, just luck really; many or most did not) but the mundane, addled, disequalibriums of power and desire, love, lust, and hurt that turned us into the men and women we are today.

This week, it became apparent that some of us are more stuck in the 1980s then others. For my peers from the class of 1982 and 1986 (including the boys, now men), those who have tried to do better for ourselves and our towns, schools, society and kids—given this, our ugly shared past—I invoke my stories with strained fondness and some hope. But mostly I write because it feels necessary. It turns out, this is 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 where we might make sense of our woodsies and frat parties. And better yet, we need better conversations, held outside the patriarchal places where we started and where the old rules still hold. Given that bad sex is one of our generation’s worst shared secrets and current public legacies, I know that we must continue our work to make love and connection better.