Skip to comments.The Cuddle Puddle of Stuyvesant High School
Posted on 01/31/2006 1:44:20 PM PST by presidio9
Alair is wearing a tight white tank top cut off above the hem to show her midriff. Her black cargo pants graze the top of her combat boots, and her black leather belt is studded with metal chains that drape down at intervals across her hips. She has long blonde curls that at various times have been dyed green, blue, red, purple, and orange. (A mistake, she says. Even if you mean to dye your hair orange, its still a mistake.) Despite the fact that shes fully clothed, she seems somehow exposed, her baby fat lingering in all the right places. Walking down the sterile, white halls of Stuyvesant High School, she creates a wave of attention. Shes not the most popular girl in school, but she is well known. People like me, she wrote in an instant message. Well, most of them.
Alair is headed for the section of the second-floor hallway where her friends gather every day during their free tenth period for the cuddle puddle, as she calls it. There are girls petting girls and girls petting guys and guys petting guys. She dives into the undulating heap of backpacks and blue jeans and emerges between her two best friends, Jane and Elle, whose names have been changed at their request. They are all 16, juniors at Stuyvesant. Alair slips into Janes lap, and Elle reclines next to them, watching, cat-eyed. All three have hooked up with each other. All three have hooked up with boyssometimes the same boys. But its not that theyre gay or bisexual, not exactly. Not always.
Their friend Nathan, a senior with John Lennon hair and glasses, is there with his guitar, strumming softly under the conversation. So many of the girls here are lesbian or have experimented or are confused, he says.
Ilia, another senior boy, frowns at Nathans use of labels. Its not lesbian or bisexual. Its just, whatever . . .
Since the school day is winding down, things in the hallway are starting to get rowdy. Jane disappears for a while and comes back carrying a pint-size girl over her shoulder. Now I take her off and we have gay sex! she says gleefully, as she parades back and forth in front of the cuddle puddle. And its awesome! The hijacked girl hangs limply, a smile creeping to her lips. Ilia has stuffed papers up the front of his shirt and prances around on tiptoe, batting his eyes and sticking out his chest. Elle is watching, enthralled, as two boys lock lips across the hall. Oh, my, she murmurs. Homoerotica. Theres nothing more exciting than watching two men make out. And everyone is talking to another girl in the puddle who just came out, meaning she announced that shes now open to sexual overtures from both boys and girls, which makes her a minor celebrity, for a little while.
When asked how many of her female friends have had same-sex experiences, Alair answers, All of them. Then she stops to think about it. All right, maybe 80 percent. At least 80 percent of them have experimented. And they still are. Its either to please a man, or to try it out, or just to be fun, or cause youre bored, or just cause you like it . . . whatever.
With teenagers there is always a fair amount of posturing when it comes to sex, a tendency to exaggerate or trivialize, innocence mixed with swagger. Its also true that the puddle is just one clique at Stuyvesant, and that Stuyvesant can hardly be considered a typical high school. It attracts the brightest public-school students in New York, and that may be an environment conducive to fewer sexual inhibitions. In our school, Elle says, people are getting a better education, so theyre more open-minded.
That said, the Stuyvesant cuddle puddle is emblematic of the changing landscape of high-school sexuality across the country. This past September, when the National Center for Health Statistics released its first survey in which teens were questioned about their sexual behavior, 11 percent of American girls polled in the 15-to-19 demographic claimed to have had same-sex encountersthe same percentage of all women ages 15 to 44 who reported same-sex experiences, even though the teenagers have much shorter sexual histories. It doesnt take a Stuyvesant education to see what this means: More girls are experimenting with each other, and theyre starting younger. And this is a conservative estimate, according to Ritch Savin-Williams, a professor of human development at Cornell who has been conducting research on same-sex-attracted adolescents for over twenty years. Depending on how you phrase the questions and how you define sex between women, he believes that its possible to get up to 20 percent of teenage girls.
Of course, what cant be expressed in statistical terms is how teenagers think about their same-sex interactions. Go to the schools, talk to the kids, and youll see that somewhere along the line this generation has started to conceive of sexuality differently. Ten years ago in the halls of Stuyvesant you might have found a few goth girls kissing goth girls, kids on the fringes defiantly bucking the system. Now you find a group of vaguely progressive but generally mainstream kids for whom same-sex intimacy is standard operating procedure. Its not like, Oh, Im going to hit on her now. Its just kind of like, you come up to a friend, you grab their ass, Alair explains. Its just, like, our way of saying hello. These teenagers dont feel as though their sexuality has to define them, or that they have to define it, which has led some psychologists and child-development specialists to label them the post-gay generation. But kids like Alair and her friends are in the process of working up their own language to describe their behavior. Along with gay, straight, and bisexual, theyll drop in new words, some of which theyve coined themselves: polysexual, ambisexual, pansexual, pansensual, polyfide, bi-curious, bi-queer, fluid, metroflexible, heteroflexible, heterosexual with lesbian tendenciesor, as Alair puts it, just sexual. The terms are designed less to achieve specificity than to leave all options open.
To some it may sound like a sexual Utopia, where labels have been banned and traditional gender roles surpassed, but its a complicated place to be. Anyone who has ever been a girl in high school knows the vicissitudes of female friendships. Add to that a sexual component and, well, things get interesting. Take Alair and her friend Jane, for example. Weve been dancing around each other for, like, three years now, says Alair. Id hop into bed with her in a second. Jane is tall and curvy with green eyes and faint dimples. She thinks Alair is amazing, but shes already had a female friendship ruined when it turned into a romantic relationship, so shes reluctant to let it happen again. Still, they pet each other in the hall, flirt, kiss, but thats it, so far. Alair, Jane explains, is literally in love with everyone and in love with no one.
Relationships are a bitch, dude.
Alair is having lunch with Jane, Elle, and their friend Nathan at a little Indian place near Janes Upper West Side apartment. Jane has been telling the story of her first lesbian relationship: She fell for a girl who got arrested while protesting the Republican National Convention (very cool), but the girl stopped calling after they spent the night together (very uncool).
We should all be single for the rest of our lives, Alair continues. And we should all have sugar daddies. As the only child of divorced parents, Alair learned early that love doesnt always end in happily ever after and that sex doesnt always end in love.
Nathan looks across the table at her and nods knowingly. He recently broke up with a girl he still cant get off his mind, even though he wasnt entirely faithful when they were together. I agree. I wholeheartedly agree, he says.
I disagree, says Elle, alarmed. Shes the romantic of the group, a bit naïve, if you ask the others.
Well, says Nathan. Youre, like, the only one in a happy relationship right now, so . . .
Alair cracks up. Happy? Her man is gayer than I am! (Jane, the sarcastic one, has a joke about this boy: Hes got one finger left in the closet, and its in Elle, depending on what time it is.)
But at least shes happy, argues Nathan.
When Im single, I say Im happy Im single, and when Im in a relationship I seem happy in the relationship. Really, Im filled with angst! says Elle.
Nathan rolls his eyes. Anyone who says theyre filled with angst is definitely not filled with angst.
Hes got a point. In her brand-new sneakers and her sparkly barrettes, Elle is hardly a poster child for teenage anxiety. She makes As at Stuyvesant, babysits her cousins, and is engaging in a way that will go over well in college interviews.
Then again, none of them are bad kids. Sure, they drink and smoke and party, but in a couple of years, theyll be drinking and smoking and partying at Princeton or MIT. They had to be pretty serious students to even get into Stuyvesant, which accepts only about 3 percent of its applicants. And when theyre not studying, theyre going to music lessons, SAT prep, debate practice, Japanese class, theater rehearsal, or some other résumé-building extracurricular activity.
Their sexual behavior is by no means the norm at their school; Stuyvesant has some 3,000 students, and Alairs group numbers a couple dozen. But theyre also not the only kids at school who experiment with members of the same sex. Other people do it, too, said a junior whos part of a more popular crowd. They get drunk and want to be a sex object. But thats different. Those people arent bisexual. Alair and her friends, on the other hand, are known as the bi clique. In the social strata, theyre closer to the cool kids than to the nerds. The boys have shaggy hair and T-shirts emblazoned with the names of sixties rockers. The girls are pretty and clever and extroverted. Some kids think theyre too promiscuous. One student-union leader told me, Its weird. Its just sort of incestuous. But others admire them. Alair in particular is seen as a kind of punk-rock queen bee. Shes good-looking, and she does what she wants, said a senior boy. Thats an attractive quality.
The interesting kids kind of gravitate towards each other, Elle had explained earlier. A lot of them are heteroflexible or bisexual or gay. And what happens is, like, were all just really comfortable around each other.
Still, among her friends, Elles ideas are the most traditional. Her first kiss with a girl was at Hebrew school. Since then, shes made out with girls frequently but dated only guys.
Ive always been the marrying type, she says to the table. Not just cause its been forced on me, but cause its a good idea. I really want to have kids when I grow up.
Have mine, offers Alair.
I will, Elle coos in her best sultry voice. Anything for you, Alair.
Jane blinks quickly, something she has a habit of doing when shes gathering her thoughts. They will probably have the technology by the time we grow up that you two could have a baby together.
But, like, if Alair doesnt want to birth her own child, I could.
Ill birth it, Alair says, sighing. I just want you to raise it and pay for it and take care of it and never tell it that Im its parent. Cause, I mean, that would scar a child for life. Like, the child would start convulsing. Everyone laughs.
Youd be an awesome mom, I think, says Elle. Her own mom puts a lot of pressure on her to date a nice Jewish boy. Once, Elle asked her, Mom, what if I have these feelings for girls? and she said, Do you have feelings for boys too? Im like, Yeah. And shes like, Then you have to ignore the ones you have for girls. If you can be straight, you have to be straight. Elle asked to go by a nickname because she hasnt told her mother that shes not ignoring those feelings.
Even as cultural acceptance of gay and bisexual teenagers grows, these kids are coming up against an uncomfortable generational divide. In many of their families, the Its fine, as long as its not my kid attitude prevails. Some of the parents take comfort in the belief that this is just a phase their daughters will grow out of. Others take more drastic measures. Earlier this year at Horace Mann, when one girls parents found out that she was having a relationship with another girl, they searched her room, confiscated her love letters, and even had the phone company send them transcripts of all her text messages. Then they informed her girlfriends parents. In the end, the girls were forbidden to see each other outside school.
Even Jane, whose parents know about her bisexuality and are particularly well suited to understanding it (her mother teaches a college course in human sexuality), has run up against the limits of their liberal attitudes. They requested that she go by her middle name in this story. My mom thinks Im going to grow up and be ashamed of my sexuality, she says. But I wont.
To these kids, homophobia is as socially shunned as racism was to the generation before them. They say its practically the one thing thats not tolerated at their school. One boy who made disparaging remarks about gay people has been ridiculed and taunted, his belongings hidden around the school. Were a creative bunch when we hate someone, says Nathan. Once the tormenters, now the tormented.
Alair is one of the lucky ones whose parents dont mind her bisexual tendencies. Her dad is the president of a company that manages performance artists and her mom is a professional organizer. My parents are awesome, she says. I think theyve tried to raise me slightly quirky, like in a very hippie little way, and it totally backfired on them.
Cause you ended up like a hippie? Nathan asks.
No, cause I went further than I think they wanted me to go. Despite the bravado, theres a sweetness to Alair. She sings in the Trinity Childrens Choir. She does the dishes without being asked. Shes a daddys girl and her mothers confidante, though she hasnt always managed to skirt trouble away from home. She got kicked out of her middle school, Columbia Prep, after getting into an altercation with a girl who had been making her life miserable. (I threw a bagel at her head, all right? I attacked her with a bagel.)
My moms like, Alair, I dont understand you. I want to be a parent to you but I have no control at all . . . As a person youre awesome. Youre hilarious, you entertain me, youre so cool. I would totally be your friend. But as your mother, Im worried.
I cant say I was pleased, her mother tells me about first learning of Alairs bisexual experimentation. But I cant say I was upset either. I like that shes forthright about what she wants, that she values her freedom, that she takes care of herself. But I have all the trepidations a parent has when they learn their child is becoming sexually active.
Of course, none of these kids will have to deal with their parents quite this directly in another year or soa fact of which they are all acutely aware. College is already becoming a pressing issue. Everyone thinks Elle is going to get into Harvard. If I fail physics, my average drops like a stone, she frets. Alair and Nathan want to go to the same college, wherever that may be.
You do realize, Alair tells him, that, like, were two of the most awesome people in the school.
We would room, Nathan says. We would totally room.
Fuck yeah. But Im gonna need a lock on my door for like, Im bringing these five girls home, Nathan. What are you doing tonight? She mimics his voice, Im reading my book.
Ouch! Nathan scowls at her.
Its the Kama Sutra!
Oh, right, right.
Ive actually read the Kama Sutra, Alair informs the table. Some of that shit just isnt gonna work.
I know! says Jane. We have three editions at my house.
Like, Ive tried it. You need a man thats like Argh! Alair pumps her arms up above her head. Ive got one of those guys, actually. Shes talking about Jason, the boy she was hanging out with last night, another frequenter of the cuddle puddle. Hes so built.
Hes in love with you, Jane says drily.
No, hes not!
Yes he is!
How could he not be in love with Alair? Nathan reasons.
Jane nods in Alairs direction. He bought you gum.
He bought you gum. This cinches it for Nathan. Yeah, he loves you. He wants you so in his underwear.
Alair looks at him blankly. But he already has that. Were friends. Theres no need to bring love into it.
But later, back at Janes apartment, as the afternoon is turning to night, Alair has the look of, if not love, at least infatuation, as she waits in the hallway for the elevator to take her back down. Only its not Jason shes saying good-night toits Jane. You make my knees weak, she says. And then to cut the tension: I showered for you and everything. She leans in and gives Jane a kiss.
It practically takes a diagram to plot all the various hookups and connections within the cuddle puddle. Elles kissed Jane and Janes kissed Alair and Alairs kissed Elle. And then from time to time Elle hooks up with Nathan, but really only at parties, and only when Bethany isnt around, because Nathan really likes Bethany, who doesnt have a thing for girls but doesnt have a problem with girls who do, either. Alairs hooking up with Jason (who kind of went out with Jane once), even though she sort of also has a thing for Hector, who Jane likes, toothough Jane thinks its totally boring when people date people of the same gender. Ilia has a serious girlfriend, but girls were hooking up at his last party, which was awesome. Molly has kissed Alair, and Janes ex-girlfriend first decided she was bi while staying at Mollys beach house on Fire Island. Sarah sometimes kisses Elle, although she has a boyfriendhe doesnt care if she hooks up with other girls, since shes straight anyway. And so on.
Some of the boys hook up with each other, too, although in far fewer numbers than the girls. One of Alairs male friends explained that this is because for guys, anything beyond same-sex kissing requires more of a physical commitment. If a guy does hook up with other guys it certainly doesnt make the girls less likely to hook up with him; and the converse is obviously true.
Of course, the definition of hooking up is as nebulous as the definition of heteroflexible. A catchall phrase for anything from like, exchanging of saliva to intercourse, its often a euphemism for oral sex. But rules are hazy when youre talking about physical encounters between two girls. As Alair puts it, How do you define female sex? Its difficult. I dont know what the bases are. Everyone keeps trying to explain the bases to me, but theres so many things that just dont fit into the base system. I usually leave it up to the other girl.
Elle elaborates by using herself as an example. At a recent party, she says, she kissed five people and, like, hooked up with two going beyond kissing. One of them was a boy and one of them was a girl. The reason I started hooking up with the guy is because he was making out with this other guy and he came back and was like, I have to prove that Im straight. And I was standing right there. Thats how it all began. The guy in question became her boyfriend that night; even though the relationship is all of a week old, she calls it her second serious relationship. At least Im intending for it to be serious. (It lasted eleven days.)
The cuddle puddle may be where a flirtation begins, but parties, not surprisingly, are where most of the real action takes place. In parentless apartments, the kids are free to make the rounds, as they call it, and move their more-than-kissing hookups with both genders behind locked bathroom doors or onto coat-laden beds. Even for bisexual girls there is, admittedly, a Girls Gone Wild aspect to these evenings. Some girls do hook up with other girls solely to please the guys who watch, and it can be difficult to distinguish between the behavior of someone who is legitimately sexually interested and someone who wants to impress the boy across the room. Alair is quick to disparage this behaviorIt kinda grosses me out. It cant be like, this could be fun . . . is anyone watching my chest heave?but Jane sees it as empowering. I take advantage of it because manipulating boys is fun as hell. Boys make out with boys for our benefit as well. So its not just one way. Its very fair.
Shes not just making excuses. These girls have obliterated the damned if you do, damned if you dont stranglehold that has traditionally plagued high-school females. They set the sexual agenda for their group. And they expect reciprocation. Ive made it my own personal policy that if Im going to give oral sex, Im going to receive oral sex, says Jane. Jane wears the pants in any relationship, Ilia says with a grin. She wears the pants in my relationship, even though shes not part of it.
When the girls talk about other girls they sound like football players in a locker room (The Boobie Goddesses of our grade are Natalie and Annette, or Have you seen the Asian girl who wears that tiny red dress and those high red sneakers?, or Carol is so hot! Why is she straight? I dont get it), but theres little gossip about same-sex hookupspartly because the novelty has by now worn off, and partly because, as Alair puts it, its not assumed that a relationship will stem from it. It seems that even with all the same-sex activity going on, its still hard for the girls to find other girls to actually date. Jane says this is because the girls who like girls generally like boys more, at least for dating. A lot of girls are scared about trying to make a lesbian relationship work, she says. Theres this fear that there has to be the presence of a man or it wont work.
But dating gay girls isnt really an option either, because the cuddle-puddle kids are not considered part of the gay community. One of the great things about bisexuality is that mainstream gay culture doesnt affect us as much, says Jane, so its not like bi boys feel that they have to talk with a lisp and walk around all fairylike, and its not like girls feel like they have to dress like boys. The downside, she says, is that gays feel that bis will cheat on them in a straight manner. In fact, theres a general impression of promiscuity that bisexual girls cant seem to shake. The image of people who are bi is that they are sluts, says Jane. One of the reasons straight boys have this bi-girls fantasy is that they are under the impression that bisexual girls will sleep with anything that moves and thats why they like both genders, because they are so sex-obsessed. Which isnt true.
If you ask the girls why they think theres more teenage bisexual experimentation happening today, Alair is quick with an explanation. I blame television, she says. I blame the media. Shes partly joking, giving the stock answer. But theres obviously some truth to it. Shes too young to remember a time when she couldnt turn on Showtime or even MTV and regularly see girls kissing girls. Its not simply that theyre imitating what theyve seen, its that the stigma has been erased, maybe even transformed into cachet. Its in the realm of possibilities now, as Ritch Savin-Williams puts it. When you dont think of it as being a possibility, you dont do it. But now that its out there, its like, Oh, yeah, that could be fun. Of course, sexy TV shows would have no impact at all if they werent tapping into something more innate. Perhaps, as research suggests, sexuality is more fluid for women than it is for men. Perhaps natural female intimacy opens the door to sexual experimentation at an age when male partners can be particularly unsatisfying. As one mother of a cuddle-puddle kid puts it, Emotionally its saferits difficult in this age group to hold onto your body. Youre changing. Theres a safety factor in a girl being with a girl. Then, laughing, she asked that her name be withheld. My mother might read this.
Its true that girls have always experimented, but its typically been furtive, kept quiet. The difference now is how these girls are flaunting it. Its become a form of exhibitionism, a way to get noticed at an age when getting noticed is what its all about. And as rebellions go, its pretty safe. Hooking up with girls wont get them pregnant. It wont hurt their GPA. It wont keep them out of honor societies, social groups, the Ivy League.
In the end, the Stuyvesant cuddle puddle might just be a trickle-down version of the collegiate gay until graduation. On the other hand, these girls are experimenting at an earlier age, when their identities and their ideas about what they want in a partner are still being formed. Will it affect the way they choose to live their adult lives? Elle is determined to marry a man, but Alair and Jane are not so sure. Maybe they wont get married at all, they say, keep their options open. I have no idea, says Alair. Im just 16.
Afew weeks later, the guys are hanging out in Nathans room. Jason is stretched out on the bed and Ilia is leaning back in a chair by the desk, and its pretty clear that nothing much is happening this afternoon. Just some guitar playing, some laying about. Then the girls show up and things get more interesting. Alair and Jane have brought a couple of friends, Molly and Nikki. Molly doesnt know for sure if shes bisexual, but I have my suspicions, she says; shes hooked up with Alair before. Nikki is with her friend Jared, who shes sort of but not really dating. He makes out with boys but considers Nikki his soul mate; shes totally straight but kisses girls. I kiss anything pretty, anything beautiful, anything worthwhile, she says.
Nikki runs her hands through Janes hair. You look awesome! I love this shirt. I love your hair. Jane crosses the room to sit in Alairs lap, and Alair wraps her arms around her. That reminds Nikki of something.
Wait! Let me show you guys the next painting Im doing, she says, pulling from her backpack a photograph of Alair asleep on the beach in a striped bikini. Its a sexy picture, and Nikki knows it.
Chinese food is ordered, guitars strummed, an ice cube is passed around and for no apparent reason everyone is required to put it down their pants. Its just another afternoon of casual flirtation. The boys showing off for the girls, the girls showing off for everyone. No strings attached. In theory, anyway. Most of the kids say they hate relationships, that they dont want to be tied down, that they want to be open to different possibilities and different genders from minute to minute, but there is a natural tendencyas natural perhaps as the tendency to experimentto try to find connection. Like it or not, emotions get involved. If you look closer, you can see the hint of longing, the momentary pouting, the tiny jealousies. Jared cant take his eyes off Nikki, but Nikki seems interested mainly in Alair. Jason, too, is angling for Alairs attention, but Alair is once again focused on Jane. And Jane, well, Jane might actually be in love.
She is in a particularly good mood today, quick to smile, and even more quick to drop into conversation the name of the boy she recently started dating, a tall, good-looking senior and one of the most popular kids at Stuyvesant. Later, while rummaging for silverware, she casually mentions that they may start dating exclusively.
Ugh! Alair exclaims, grabbing her by the hips and pulling her away from the drawer. What about me?
Lets put it this way, Jane counters, grinning and snatching up a fork. Im not interested in any other guys.
Still, its clear that Jane really likes this guy. And Alair seems a little rattled. Her fortune cookie reads, You are the master of every situation. Except perhaps this one.
Later, after the lamps have been switched on and the takeout eaten, both girls are on a love seat in the living room, leaning into each other, boys and dirty dishes strewn about. Jane starts showing off what she can do with her tongue, touching her nose with it, twisting it around, doing rolls. Everyone is impressed.
My tongue gets a lot of practice, she says.
Why dont you practice on me? Alair demands. Ill hook up with you. Its clear that she means more than kissing.
Jane blinks a few times. Im scared Im going to be bad at it, she finally says. Shes being coy, just putting her off, but theres a bit of sincerity to her nervousness.
You wont be bad at it, Alair reassures her. She pulls Jane between her legs and starts giving her a massage, running her hands up and down her back, pushing her hair aside to rub her neck. When the massage is over, Jason comes over to Alair, grabs her hand, kisses it. For the rest of the evening, he stays close to her side, but she stays close to Jane.
The next day when I meet up with Alair on her way to choir practice, she tells me that nothing ever happened with Jane that night. Shes decided to give up on her. Janes with someone else, its official, and theres no room in the relationship for her. But you know what, she says, mustering a smile. Theyre, like, monogamous together, and Im really happy for them. And being their friend and seeing them so happy together totally beats a fling. She pauses. It really does.
I fear our civilization will hit bottom so hard that there will be no putting it back together again.
We are raising a society of good little slaves, and the masses are too stupid to see it coming. Whatever, girlie, I don't care anymore.
I just assume it's girls vying for boys' attention.
Oh, goody. All my fears about the future of western civilization have been put to rest.
Miss Morford would fit right in with this crowd.
Agenda-driven media obsession. In reality, it's a bunch of really shallow kids who like to pretend they are all grown-up.
The Democrat incubator.
It's like, ah, puke.
Sad but not surprising. Brokeback Brooklyn...
Yessiree...my state's [Florida] SC justices are social engineers, no doubt, for outlawing school vouchers,
thus forcing parents to lose more money trying to get private education for their children.
..."You'll have to excuse me now, my herpes is flaring up again."
I couldn't finish this article. How sick/sad is this?
What's really sad is that Stuy is a Magnet School like Bronx Science....you have to qualify through testing to get in.
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