Jul. 23rd, 2014 02:40 pm
liv: cup of tea with text from HHGttG (teeeeea)
[personal profile] liv
Some of my friends have been talking about how our 14-year-old selves would think about 2014, and that's interesting enough I thought I'd put it in its own post rather than in the comments on a locked journal article.

I was 14 in 1993. I think the furthest ahead I could imagine "the future" was probably about 2010, maybe 2013 at at push. Everything in the mid 2010s, both in terms of how the world would be and my own personal life seemed just too distant to imagine. I sometimes tried to imagine what my 30th birthday would be like, but I don't think I even had a concept of looking back on that date from five years on.

Career-wise, at 14 I was still answering the question "what do you want to do when you grow up?" with "junior school teacher", but I don't think I'd have been surprised that I ended up as a biology lecturer in a university. I had already planned to go to Oxford and read biochemistry, and I was toying with the idea of getting a higher degree in the subject. I was a few years from discovering what has become my actual scientific passion, I might have said genetics rather than cell fate or cancer, but again that would only have come as a mild surprise. I would have imagined the details wrong, but yeah, having a little flat on campus and going in to work and giving lecturers and seminars or into the lab and doing science, that would make sense to me.

On the other hand, if you'd told me at 14 that I would be married by now I wouldn't have believed you at all. I was completely convinced that I was terminally unattractive and completely uninterested in any sort of romantic or sexual relationship. I also regarded marriage as a means of exchanging independence for security, primarily in order to bring up children, and I was completely (and correctly) convinced I never wanted children and had no particular desire for security but a passionate yearning for independence as that was the main thing missing from my generally happy but fairly regimented teenaged life.

I had no idea that being attracted, let alone attractive, to women was an option. I considered the idea I was asexual, though that wasn't really an identity category in those days, more a biological deficiency I suppose, because I was both a late bloomer sexually and also never was and never have been attracted to teenaged boys. I would have been pleasantly surprised at 14 to find I have so many good friends now, but honestly I'm a bit surprised even at 35 that so many wonderful people like me and want to be part of my life. But the idea of lovers, past and present, completely unthinkable. I think partly I had absorbed from my background some disapproval of sex outside marriage, but thought of giving up the possibility of sex as a very minor sacrifice or possibly even an advantage.

14-year-old me, who was just trying for the first time and not very successfully to grow my hair out (I was not allowed to try until I'd had my bat mitzvah), would have been absolutely delighted to know that I now have hair long enough to sit on. At 14 I was also just starting to have some input into choosing my own clothes and trying, again with limited success, to develop a personal style. I can see a path for how I dress now developed from how I was trying to dress then, probably the key insight I was lacking was that with my high-waisted figure, untucked shirts look a lot better than tucked in ones, even though everybody around me considered loose shirts to be non-smart. I wear somewhat less purple than I'd thought I might, but still quite a lot.

What about the broader world? I know it's obvious, but the biggest surprise to 14-year-old me would be the internet and the Moore's law expansion of computers. The only way I could explain my current reality to my kid-self would be by referring to the eponymous Guide in Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy. I would have been absolutely bowled over to think that that the technology to make that possible would not only be invented in my lifetime, but would be available retail for no more than a few weeks' wages. I think I could have grasped some of the implications of having comprehensive, highly searchable reference libraries in your pocket, but I would have been completely fazed by the social implications. The fact you can talk to anyone, anywhere in the world at any time, in real time or asynchronously, in text, voice or video, the fact that anyone who has anything to say can publish and broadcast their ideas, and all this is just a part of the infrastructure that you pay a monthly subscription for like you do for a phoneline with no further costs beyond that, would have been incomprehensible to me.

Lots of people have talked about the difference the internet makes to being able to research stuff about sexuality, beyond the control of parents and teachers. I find it hard to imagine how my life might have gone if I'd caught some clue about Queer stuff before I was 20. My feeling is that my biggest problem as a teenager was not that I didn't have access to the internet, it's more that the information simply didn't exist. Almost nobody was talking non-judgementally and informatively about sexual and gender diversity. I imagine myself trying to explain to my 14-year-old self, look, kid, you're not asexual, you're bi, and you just happen to have a very strong preference for fully mature adults. But teenager!Liv had no possible context for this information.

I think the one thing my 14-year-old self would find most shocking, most alien about 2014, is that LGBT people (she didn't even know any other sexual and gender identities existed) would have legally enshrined equality. There would be actual laws prohibiting companies and organizations from discriminating against people attracted to others of the same sex. The accompanying social change is almost more surprising than the legislation that's resulted; the idea that most people would be entirely open about non-straight sexualities and relationships, the idea that it would be considered unacceptable to be homophobic just like it's bad to be racist, just mind-blowing. (I'm not saying homophobia has been eliminated, any more than racism has, just that it's generally considered to be a bad thing.)

Same sex romances being completely run of the mill in soap operas and TV shows, and the plot's not some dark thing about navigating homophobia, it's just the usual relationship drama, out trans celebrities and journalists, obvious, not just sub-textual, Queer content in pop-songs... Male-male or female-female couples getting married, the whole deal, putting on fancy clothes, announcing their weddings in the newspaper, inviting their work colleagues and schoolfriends and random cousins and in-laws, not just a secret group of close friends who are in the know and have carefully been sounded out for whether they're "tolerant", that concept is almost more surprising to my teenage self than the fact that those marriages are also legally recognized.

In many ways the world has turned out far better than I could have imagined at 14. Yes, we're still fighting in Iraq and there is still violence in the Middle East, but I don't think even as an idealistic 14-year-old I really thought that would be sorted out in twenty years. I don't think I would be that surprised by 9/11, I grew up in England not the US and I expect terrorism in one form or another. Indeed, I would have been and was, a few years later, pretty surprised by the amount of progress that was made in Ireland culminating in the Good Friday Agreement. I went and checked the dates and yes, by the time I was 14 I knew communism was over and boundaries were going to be re-drawn all over Eastern Europe, so I would be sad but not surprised to hear about ongoing conflicts. The Rwandan genocide was only a few months away, and yes, I was shocked by that. And environmental catastrophe seems more imminent than it did when I was a kid, though we were already starting to talk about green issues and global warming. Still, socially and technologically, 2014 looks in many ways more futuristic than I would have predicted, even if I had tried to imagine that far into the future.

So, what do you think, what would your 14-year-old self have made of 2014?
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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