I am a member of Generation X. I had to look this up recently because I could not remember the name of my generation or if I even belonged to one at all. People my age don’t generally identify as Generation X, but maybe because when the term was first introduced—by boomers—it was as an insult. The idea was that we were slackers. Our best dance move was standing and nodding. We majored in English and art therapy. We read Salinger’s other books. We smoked weed and ate mushrooms. And it was like we didn’t even appreciate it, man. We are the middle children, doing, by all accounts, exactly what we are supposed to be doing with little to no credit.
There has been so much talk recently about how the Boomers are greedy assholes and the Millennials are awesome but super anxious about it, and I was thinking, wait, wasn’t I born, too? What is my problem? My research about Generation X yielded articles titled, “Why Generation Xers are so Forgettable” and “The Forgotten Generation: Let’s Talk About Generation X”. Even the term X is indicative of a placeholder, something you put into an equation until you find something better. The name certainly doesn’t have the pizazz of “Baby boomer”, nor does it have the metallic coating of “Millennial.” My generation would simply let Joe Biden come in for a hug because we don’t want to be rude and our parents’ drunk friends have been doing that to us our whole lives. A millennial can just blink and be coated in the armor of backing up awkwardly but effectively.
Our oldest Xers are Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama, and the late Chris Farley. We are Tina Fey and Sarah Palin. We are three of the four women who broke the glass ceiling into Ghostbusting. We are three of the five women of Big Little Lies, notably not the one who actually pushes the abusive man to his death. We are Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix, Tupac and Biggie Smalls. We are the entire cast of 90210. Luke Perry’s death rattled our generation and our search engines as one of the first celebrity Xers to die of natural causes. I was guilty of searching for an explanation for how a man could be plucked from his youth, away from his wife and two grown children: Luke Perry + Cocaine. Luke Perry a smoker? Anything that made it seem like it could not happen to me. If I made a few minor changes.
I was born the same year as Chelsea Handler and Tiger Woods, which feels right. We are voted most likely to lose a sponsor. And to make a comeback. Our toxicology reports are complicated. As a girl, I was raised to believe that I could have a successful career, but also maybe I should put on some make-up and lose ten pounds just in case. Every night I watched my mom stationed at the kitchen sink, her hands dunked in the sudsy water. Gen X women were raised in a liminal space—it was like someone opened the cage door and we just stared at it. I admired powerful, working women on television, mostly fictional characters, like Murphy Brown, but the women I knew in my own life were working the double shift. I had no real-life model for what an independent working women looked like. Maybe this is why I work part-time, write for free, got divorced, and am never moving in with my boyfriend. It is like the collage of an actual life. I cut out the pictures that worked best for me.
Generation X deserves much more of the credit for the normalization and legalization of marijuana. The boomers are hot boxing their vacation homes and the millennials are easing their stomachaches, sadness, shyness, crippling debt, anxiety, stress, and insomnia so that they can make the world a better place for the rest of us. The massive failure of Nancy Reagan’s Say No to Drugs campaign? That was us. I thought the commercial with the fried egg representing my brain on drugs was just about marijuana. Partly because my dad smoked pot, so that made sense to me. Also, a cooked egg is not that much of a turnoff. My dad never tried to hide his reefer because he was a grown-ass man and it was none of my business what he did. My relationship with my kids is more complex. We have shared governance. They have not voted me out yet because I am the only one with a driver’s license.
Like many Gen Xers, I feel like I am playing the role of grown-up and not doing it all that well, like Tom Hanks in Big or one of the aliens on Third Rock. Our generation was expected to screw up, so we did. We would definitely drain the liquor cabinet if left unsupervised for a night or while mom was in the bathroom. We smoked in the car anyway. We were not actually at the library. We all had fake IDs. Now, I am a college professor with two kids and a home to manage. I have taken care of aging and dying parents. I am active in my community. I take the garbage out to the curb almost every week, yet I still feel like I live in the shadow of people who actually know how to be adults.
As a generation, we are doing quite well and have been deemed the “dark horse” generation. We are entrepreneurs and have the highest percentage of startup founders. Most polls show that Gen Xers identify as being happy and tend to have a good work/life balance. Some people suggest that it is because we were latch-key kids, so we learned how to entertain ourselves and make our own decisions at an early age. The decision I made was to come home from school and watch General Hospital and Donahue. Most Generation Xers were in shitty entry-level jobs when the internet arrived in the average American office, and we were the only ones who knew how to use it. You need help with that dial up? I got you, boss. Want to email someone? Scoot on over. Want to AIM chat with all your exes? I invented that.
Our generation might be best defined by the experience of spending our whole lives watching the rug get ripped out from under us and somehow still standing. Our parents got divorced. We did not know Rock Hudson was gay until we heard he died from AIDS. Our model of the perfect American family was The Cosby Show. We recently watched the Brett Kavanagh confirmation hearings and thought, Fuuuuuuuuuck. Yes, me too. We were all at that party. Even if the party was in a different zip code, different demographics, girl or boy, we were all there. It made me reevaluate my entire young adulthood. Every touch, comment, coercion. Maybe this is why we were so into M. Night Shyamalan movies.
Generation Xers know how to adapt. When I graduated from high school we did not have a computer at our house. I did not have a mobile phone. I did not personally know anyone who identified as gay. Marlboro Lights were about two bucks. Bill Clinton was serving his first year as President. The twin towers were still standing. OJ Simpson had not murdered any people as far as we knew. Maybe that is why we are less vocal than the millennials; we are just going to order another round and try not to implode. We can out drink all of you. We are here, like the middle kid sitting on the hump, shielding the oldest and the youngest from each other as they reach across—he is touching me! I was going to end with that we will bite both your fucking fingers off, but we all know that is not true. We will ease the situation by making you both laugh. A perfectly timed fart will do it. Or singing lines from Rockstar by Nickelback pretending that we like it in an ironic way. I’ll have the quesadilla.