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the question of the high school reunion

September 2, 2011

I’ve lost some readers as I’ve gone all-feminism-all-the-time with this blog. So today I’m getting back to the personal narrative (though I can’t promise there won’t be feminism in it), and asking for advice on whether I should go to my high school reunion.

Here’s what you need to know. I hated high school. Pretty much every second of it. I had some good friends, I made some music with some of them and some plays with others, and I’m glad I did all that. But I had two big problems: 1) the actual education part, and 2) the social part.

I wasn’t intellectually challenged most of the time, and as I discovered when I went away to college, being intellectually challenged is pretty much my favorite thing in the whole world. Now this isn’t a reason not to go back and see some friends, but I want you to understand why I was unhappy and therefore why I fear that returning to that culture will make me unhappy again. Because worse than the lack of intellectual challenge was that being intellectual simply wasn’t valued. It is my experience that women in Texas are not expected to be smart. When they are, they are expected to hide it. Some people are very good at this. I was not. I have never been able to convince anyone that I’m not smart.

Some allowances were made for smart women who were also pretty. I was not pretty. I was not ugly by any stretch, but I did not fit the Texas standard for big boobs, curvy hips, perfect makeup, and the cutest high pitched giggle you’ve ever heard. I did (and do) love girly things. Doing my hair and makeup is like arts and crafts for me: creative and aesthetically pleasing. But I was always going too far and being told I looked like a slut or worse just weird, so for a while, as a defense mechanism I think, I lost all interest in it. My senior year I even stopped shaving my legs. To get a male friend to shut up about it, I told him I’d shave when the Iraq war ended. Next day at school everybody started asking me about my war protest. I had to explain it’s not a protest I just choose not to spend my time shaving my legs. It would have been a very ineffective protest.

So I was smart, creative, and a little funny looking, all of which conspired to make boys very much not interested in me (even before the shaving thing), which further isolated me from the social world of dances and double dates. I am sometimes told now that my passion for the things I believe in can be kind of scary. I think I could be pretty scary then, too.

I also had big problems with the value system being taught by the school itself. What kind of school sponsors a beauty contest and publishes big pictures of the winners, the Class Beauties, in the yearbook? (When I tell people outside of Texas about that, they have a hard time believing me.) I don’t know where I learned it – I honestly think I was born a feminist – but this stuff just drove me crazy. This is how values are taught, and we were taught that the highest honor a girl can achieve is to be voted most beautiful. I won’t even go into the casual racism and de facto segregation of the student body. Suffice it to say, I didn’t feel comfortable in that culture. And I was aware that other people were not comfortable with me.

So now I have an opportunity to see some of my good friends (because the school was also full of good people and other kids just figuring shit out like I was), who I haven’t seen in years, but I’m very hesitant. It’s not like anything I’ve done in my life since is going to ease people’s discomfort with me. I’m an artist and an educator who at present is out of work. I’ve been married for a while but I don’t have kids, and people are starting to worry. Every time someone asks if I have children yet and I say no, I see this flash of an expression on their face that appears before they can hide it. It is confused, pitying, awkward. I don’t want to see that look any more than I have to.

I would be psyched for people to meet my husband. He’s pretty much amazing. And I think we have an amazing life. And I’d be psyched to see my friends. But I don’t want to spend the weekend fearing that people are going to judge me, because that will make me mad, which will make me mean, and then I will start judging other people myself. And that just doesn’t sound like fun.

My husband, for the record, doesn’t think I should go. What do you think? Did you feel this way in high school? How did you cope?

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