Not Good Men

In the 1970s, when I was a teenager, girl world and boy world were separate universes, with their only obvious meeting place in the Not-at-all DeMilitarized Zone of fizzing, popping, zapping, overactive hormones. I never liked that place. It seemed unnecessarily fraught. It was irrational. I didn't like girl world either. (Same reasons.) So I spent a lot of my time in boy world, and also, mostly during school lunches, in a place I helped build with a boy who didn't like the NDMZ any better than I did and who also didn't like boy world any better than I liked girl world.

His name was Greg.

He was tall and beautiful and bookish and brilliant. We went to school "banquets" together a few times. (At our little evangelical Christian school, we did not dance. We banqueted.) We were not really a couple, but we almost were. We sort of were. I sort of wished we were. We had a mutual friend named Tim, and it may be that Greg and Tim liked each other more than either of them liked me, but we never talked as if that might be true. (At our little evangelical Christian school, we did not have sexually ambiguous relationships. We banqueted heterosexually.) And besides, one of the main reasons Greg and I wanted to be in the same room was because he hated the NDMZ as much as I did, and neither of us wanted to be in it, so we weren't.

Instead, we argued.

In high school, back then, there were fights and cliques and spats and grudges. Of course there were. We were teenagers. But when I tell you that Greg and I argued, I mean that our school did not have a debate team and so Greg and I had no other choice than to avoid the classrooms already full of students (at our little evangelical Christian high school, we didn't have a lunch room, so we ate in the classrooms), and find an empty room into which to carry our brown paper sacks of sandwiches and Cheetos, our cans of pop, and our readiness to battle it out in a contest of intellects. We lunched on white bread and ferocity.

We didn't care what the topic was either. We just wanted to be free from interference so we could oppose each other without holding back. We were peers in that room. We were equals standing on a level playing field. Neither young or old. Neither from parents and siblings and privilege in a middle class house in a middle class neighborhood, nor the only child of a single mom who paid the rent on the space in the trailer park. In that room during lunch, we were not even representatives of boy world and girl world. We were just Greg and Stephanie, arguing. And nobody interrupted us because nobody wanted to get caught in the crossfire. (Or maybe they just thought we were impossibly dorky.)

But then we had a real fight.

I don't remember what it was about. Probably I said something out of line. Something personal. Mean. Something straight out of girl world. Something I hated girl world for in the first place, but, probably, I used it as a weapon because I knew those weapons work.

Whatever I did to piss him off -- to hurt him on purpose -- he retaliated.

He wrote me a note. (I wasn't stupid enough to write down my meanness. It's evidence. That's something you learn if you spend enough time in boy world, and like I said, I might have spent more time in boy world than he'd spent there.) The note was excoriating. A folded up piece of filler paper, sizzling with jagged, black, ballpoint ink. A few paragraphs. Not long. I remembered it this morning, and I do not remember one word or phrase, but only that it was very angry and as articulate as any lunchtime argument had ever been. He was furious with me. He wanted to hurt me back.

I showed that note to my mother.

And that day, the day my mother saw the note Greg wrote, was the only day of my entire youth when my mother said to me, "Do not let your father see this." This might be most of the reason I remember the episode at all, actually. Greg had scared me, but my mother shook the very foundation under my feet. We all knew that in our family there were absolutely no secrets between our parents. None. Ever. (Which, of course, with the passage of time and the awareness of maturity is a pretty silly thing to "know," but I knew it then as surely as I knew my own surname and my mother's maiden name and the fact that eventually I'd change mine like she changed hers and for the same reason.)

I think Greg must've scared her too. Some primal fear of hers woke up. Something suddenly made her know for sure and all at once that my dad was dangerous -- just by virtue of the fact that he was my dad and therefore a man, and the fact that Greg was a boy who was becoming a man, and the fact that all boys are from boy world even if they do spend their lunch hours arguing with girls, and that all boys are dangerous and become more so as they get closer to being men. I might have misinterpreted her reaction. I might have read into it. But it looked to me like she'd been thrown back into her place in her own girl world. It looked like she thought Greg would not be safe from my dad if my dad saw the note Greg had written.

In boy world, violence is normal and sometimes unstoppable.

Today, in the news, a popular evangelical "Christian" preacher, the son of an even more popular evangelical "Christian" preacher from back in the decades when there were fewer of them, has defended and championed the cause of Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh stands accused of being a particularly disgusting emissary from boy world when he was a boy and when he was young man. Franklin Graham now defends the loathsome, aggressive, girl-world-conquering behavior of a youthful Kavanaugh by saying that such behavior is "not relevant."

In Franklin Graham's world, where men like Kavanaugh and Trump and all the rest of the triumphant boys from boy world live, this is true. Such behavior is not relevant. It's so ordinary that Kavanaugh probably really doesn't remember it any more than he remembers tying his shoes that day or whether he had white or wheat bread at lunch.

But you know what I'd bet anything Brett Michael Kavanaugh never ever ever did? I bet he never spent his lunch hour debating whatever subjects were at hand with a girl. A chalkboard and some desks don't provide enough applause and back slapping for boys like that. A level playing field doesn't provide enough of an advantage for such men. Violence in boy world is what success is made of, and girls, to the members of boy world, are one tool men use for gauging success. They're not human people. Their intellect is not relevant.

Back in the 1970s, when my mother was suddenly afraid for the safety of a high school boy who had been mean to me, the assumption of good men and the women married to them was that the girls in girl world needed protection. Brett Kavanaugh and his Yale frat buddies in the same era assumed that women needed conquering. And now the son of Billy Graham, a popular evangelical "Christian" preacher and his buddies, one of whom is the President of the United States, have told us everything we need to know about what kind of men they turned into. They tell us that the violence in boy world is beside the point. They tell us that's the part they kept when they graduated.

They are not telling us that they are good men.