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Letter from a Gen-Xer

"We are used to being in between."

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Greetings from one of the 65 million people born in the U.S. between 1965-1980, lovingly known as Generation X. We are like a tennis net between the rallies back in forth, watching balls hurled between Baby Boomers: “You kids are spoiled and don’t know anything!” and Millennials: “You’re spoiled and you ruined everything!”

We are used to being in between. We were children as national divorce rates rose and peaked in 1980. We were the Latchkey Kids making our way home with house keys around our necks. Doing homework, chores, maybe starting dinner, until our parents, parent, or guardian showed up.

Then there were seminal events and milestones that should have been amazing but weren’t. Nearly every classroom watched as a teacher — she felt like all of our teacher — Christa McAuliffe, took off in the Challenger space shuttle, only to see it explode, in real time, IRL, right before our young eyes.

When we began to blossom sexually and explore that very real part of being human, a mysterious disease was discovered. Nameless, no cause or real understanding. You didn’t know much about sex, except that it could kill you. So that very natural, beautiful desire had to be contained, controlled, and even feared. 

We reclaimed our bodies — adorning our skin with piercings and tattoos. We were called slackers, cynical, misanthropes. Well?! 

Then we were in college, during a golden age of Hip Hop. We heard A Tribe Called Quest’s “Check The Rhime” for the first time. “All the time Tip!” It doesn’t get any better than that. Then: bam! Recession. Caps and gowns turned into coats and begging cups. The popular Got Milk? ads inspired classic Gen X irony. My senior class photo’s banner read, “Got Work?” 

Ours was the first generation expected to do less well financially than our parents. Sorry Millennials, we beat you there. 

But it's not all bad. I love Gen X. We have an interesting link the 20th and 21st centuries. We went to the library to research, had to wait to talk on the phone or hear our favorite song on the radio or video on MTV. Origami-folded notes thrown at just the right velocity and trajectory were our “texts.” 

We learned self-reliance: it is not your turn or do it yourself. 

We try so very hard. We bought houses and had kids, became helicopter parents planning play dates, the antithesis of our childhoods. We won’t get divorced like our parents did, until some do. Or we did not have kids or married because well, duh?  

We are the diplomatic middle. So I am grateful to the Baby Boomers who put their lives on the line to register people to vote and protest wars, fought for the environment and for civil rights. To the Millennials, thank you for pushing intersectional justice and fighting against patriarchal systems of power. 

The story of Generation X is still being written. As someone told me recently, we may be the flyest 40 and 50-year-olds around. We have a DIY spirit to create family without a blueprint. Optimists hidden behind a very sheer scrim of cynicism.

I just have one request to the Baby Boomers and Millennials: Maybe you could put down your rackets, come to the net and listen.

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