Generation X: They Fucking Forgot My Birthday

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. 

marcia marcia marcia

 

 

 

 

57 comments

  1. Ruth · August 16

    Nailed it.

  2. Thelma Garner · August 16

    Another super one Hilarious. You know yourself so well (or is it so good). Thanks.

  3. Lisa Parani · August 17

    This is great

  4. Gina · August 17

    This is perfect. You are describing me – from watching my mom with her hands in the sudsy kitchen sink, right down to divorced college professor with two kids watching Kavanagh hearings thinking “Fuuuuck. I was at that party”. Luke Perry 😧. Brilliant. Thank you for writing and posting it!

    • ringhillary · August 17

      Solidarity! Thank you for that 🙂

    • Kathleen · September 15

      OMG— Yes.
      I reposted this, and in the comments section I could not stop myself from quoting those very two lines.

      This is so spot on, but just needs to be book length so I can laugh and know I’m not alone for much longer than the few minutes it takes to read a great personal essay of sorts.

      Or made into a movie, but not really Under the Tuscan Sun and not really Trainwreck but somewhere in the middle.
      C’mon, I know you’ve got it in you.

  5. karenmaginnis · August 17

    So much yes. Thank you.

  6. julie · August 18

    Wow, so well written! Find this post from a link on facebook. You nailed it Hilary!

  7. Dee · August 19

    Great piece! Didn’t we meet at a Pixies show?

    • christanvick · August 28

      It would be cooler if you did.

  8. Suzanne · August 19

    Well the Hill’s really do have eyes! I enjoyed reading every word, very descriptive. Found myself going down memory lane. Going to go listen to my 80’s mix!

    • ringhillary · August 22

      Long time listener, first time caller! Thank you “Suzanne”

  9. Mavourneen Mooney · August 20

    YES!!!

  10. April · August 20

    Yes on draining the liquor cabinet and parties at some randos house when parents were away. In high school. Bartles and Jaymes, Alternative music. We had it all.

  11. Anon Tredy · August 21

    Thank you for spoiling BLL for me – I’d only watched episode 1. 😩 Now, I’ll go back and finish your article.

    • ringhillary · August 21

      Oh no! I figured Season 1 was fair game. But maybe write me back when you finish the season and let me know what you think ….

  12. Truer words may never have been spoken.
    “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.”
    And, proof that we know how to use variations and conjugations of “fuck” to fit every situation. It is a gift of our generation.

  13. Sherry · August 23

    As the kids say, “It me.”

  14. Molly Cantrell-Kraig · August 23

    I actually laughed out loud at the last line. Whenever I go to a new restaurant, if they have a quesadilla on the menu, I order it. The logic behind it is that it’s almost impossible to screw up a quesadilla. If they do, I don’t feel good about eating anything else there. It’s my food litmus test.

  15. Penny · August 23

    Im one of the youngest baby boomer, being born in september of 1964. I can actually relate my entire life as a generation X. I guess I was born months too soon.

    • ringhillary · August 24

      I think you are Gen X. According to my research the real historical time marker ending the boomer Gen is JFK’s assassination (November ‘63) …. Metaphorical rug rips out

    • ringhillary · August 24

      Also thanks for reading!

  16. Adrienne Bennett · August 23

    My God. That is freakishly accurate. I feel so validated right now!

  17. Jen · August 24

    This is great, fits Gen X to a “T”. We hear about millennials in the workplace all the time but it’s Gen X managing them, like the big sibling left in the house alone with their kid brother/sister for the first time!

  18. dorota2014 · August 24

    This is perfection. Thank you. Nearly nodded my head off in violent agreement.

  19. SMOakes · August 24

    This is shockingly accurate and wonderfully written. It is exactly me.

  20. Anne · August 25

    Accurate except I don’t know how you could possibly not know anyone who was gay, let alone say it twice here. Gen X was the AIDS generation and the out lesbian generation. We are the ones who grew up after stonewall and the pill made being gay and sexually active normal…only to slam into the 1980s and 90s wall of death (for men mostly) and high profile lawsuits with people trying to take away our children (for women mostly.) Gen X was the first out generation from high school on, and that fact that you apparently missed it until 1992, is not something to be proud of.

    • ringhillary · August 25

      It is not something I promote as being proud of but it was absolutely my reality. There was not anyone at my high school who was openly gay. I did not know about Stonewall until graduate school. The progress that has been made for LGBTQ rights is the most significant human rights advance that has occurred in my lifetime. I am proud of that. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I really appreciate it. You are most likely not the only one who was uncomfortable with that. (Also just FYI I grew up in North Florida. It was not incredibly progressive.)
      .

  21. Kim Switzer · August 25

    This is great! I see myself and my people here.

    One thing. The term Generation X was coined by Douglas Coupland in his book of the same name and wasn’t an insult. And he’s one of us. As seems to always happen to us, he got hijacked by the Boomers and then those who came after, and mostly by the marketing people. So I’m trying to keep him from being forgotten. GenX has to stick together.

    • S.E. Reed · August 25

      Actually, Generation X was first used as the title of a British book written in 1965 written by Jane Deverson and Charles Hamblett. Ironically it was about youth/teen culture of the time, which means it was about Boomers. So, even our name didn’t really belong to us. The term was then co-opted as the name of Billy Idol’s first band in the late 1970s, and again, they were all boomers. Coupland was born in 1961, so while what he wrote may have resonated with Gen Xers and been applied to us, he is firmly within the Boomer cohort himself by any measure out there.

      • Kim Switzer · August 26

        Very cool. I didn’t know about the British book or about Billy Idol’s first band. All the hype when the book came out made it sound like he had coined the term himself.

        Perhaps like me and many of us in that liminal zone between Boomers and Gen X (1964 for me), Coupland picked the dates he used for Gen X to include himself because he didn’t at all feel like a Boomer.

  22. DrDredd · August 25

    The Luke Perry reference hit home. I found myself actually wishing that he had done something unhealthy like drugs or smoking, because otherwise it showed me something about mortality that I don’t want to see.

    • Jo · September 1

      I did the same thing, wishing and googling he did some drug or “something” he did caused it. I felt horrible doing it, but natural causes? No. We can’t possibly be that old.

  23. Amanda · August 26

    You nailed this so hard that all I want to do now is sit here and have a good deep cry over how accurate every single word was.

    Whew. *slow clap*

    • ringhillary · August 26

      Ok, that’s the best compliment possible. Thank you.

  24. rushdoggie · August 27

    “because he was a grown-ass man and it was none of my business what he did” Oh this, so this. Also “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.” OMG yes.

  25. Holly · August 27

    I finally feel seen & understood! Bravo!

  26. kerryemckenna · August 27

    Reblogged this on Kerry e McKenna and commented:
    Right ON. I am an Xer and I worked at Fast Company the first year it was published. Of course, as a temp. There, I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and was like, YEP. And Time magazine who tried to play like we Xers were a waste of space. The part about getting the rug ripped out from under us. Definitely. My dad had years of job security, and my mom is still living off his forced retirement when it all went to shit. I think becuase we watched the world go from secure, to “a bill of goods” in only a couple decades, we should all just go to wine country and raise a glass to our resilience!! We are Generation Resilience! Let’s coin it.

  27. Pia · August 27

    I still don’t know or understand who Gen X-ers are!

  28. Emily · August 27

    Gen-xer, middle child here, read this the day after my 45th birthday. It’s so very true. I got teared up.

  29. CO Mama · August 28

    I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this. It’s dead on (except I need to google the movie reference). I was born in 76, so I feel like I should know that.

    Technically most of our parents were divorced at least twice. You were generous there with your reference to divorce. Or maybe I was just in an extra divorce-ish zip code.

    I have so many favorite parts. And a part of me is so pissed that we accepted sexual harassment as the price for success. Thank god our kids won’t.

    Such mixed messages for our gen. We’re a bit pessimistic by nature, no real role models.

    I do hope I can find more of your stuff to read.

    CO Mama

  30. Posy Roberts · August 28

    Yes! You touched on so many of my own thoughts over the years. But the paragraph that started: “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.” Holy! That hit home and brought me to tears.

  31. Debbie Murray · August 28

    get outta my head!!! and your writing craft is so fine

  32. James Strong · August 28

    Nicely done. Reminds me of The Hamlet Syndrome (albeit more concise.)

  33. Jodi Payne · August 28

    Basically my autobiography. As a friend of mine said, our super power is making everyone forget we exist.

  34. Bonnie K. Aldinger · August 28

    I was gonna say they forgot us ’cause there’s, like, 16 of us but then you named 11, referred to 6 more plus the cast of 90210, and then most of the commenters are too, so I guess I was understimating at least slightly.

  35. Jonny O' Tighe · August 28

    that was the best piece of journalism I have read in years. I truly did not want it to end. I am about to see if you have any other entries online to read. I felt like climbing on top of my house in tears and cheering after reading this.

    brilliant work. thank you for sharing it with the world.

    • ringhillary · August 28

      Thank you! Yes, I have stuff back for years. Search it up!

  36. alesiagillefalyn · August 29

    Is “fucking perfect” too strong of a reply? I read this right after walking out of a conference room and thinking “I still can’t believe you actually let me be in charge”.

  37. Sarah · August 31

    I LOVE this. I thought I was the only one who felt like they’re “living in the shadow of people who actually know how to be adults,” not to mention secretly ashamed about it because I’m almost 50, but now I feel gratified and a little more understood. Thank you for such a smart, compelling, hilarious and accurate piece. I’m going to read it to my 14 year old and feel competent for a change.

  38. Noli Me Tangere · August 31

    I’d replace the Cosby Show with the Brady Bunch and 90210 with The Breakfast Club for me. Our best dance moves involved break dancing or doing the Cabbage Patch. Maybe moon walking. Yeah, and head nodding.

  39. Pingback: Worth Reading — 9.4.19 | A Touch of Cass
  40. Daedalus Lex · November 4

    Love that title!

  41. Steffanie Lisowe · 26 Days Ago

    I must thank you for the efforts you’ve put in penning this site. I really hope to check out the same high-grade content by you in the future as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my own, personal site now 😉

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