My book, All the Cool Girls Are Anarchists, details my experience submerging myself in, then rebelling against, a progressive subculture during my time at the University of Tennessee.
I found these people fascinating. They ate out of dumpsters. They were polyamorous. They recycled and composted religiously and formed a collective for everything. Bicycles were the primary mode of transportation, and they seemed to celebrate creating things with your hands in favor of consumerism.
I desperately wanted to be part of them, feeling they held the keys to curing my suburban sickness. These were mostly young people who grew up just like me and were fighting our parents’ pathological need to keep up with the Joneses. I threw myself in with my sister and tried to become a part of their daily lives.
But always, something didn’t feel right. At first, I thought I simply wasn’t cool enough for them, but soon I began to see their world unravel at the edges. Their organizations never left the ground. Their relationships fell apart, and jealousy and social hierarchy were suppressed but ever-present.
My doubts became clearer once I began to fall in love with a graduate student—a redneck scholar who both knew how to work with his hands and philosophize with the best of them. He introduced me to his best friend, who grew up in Soviet Ukraine and experienced true hardship. They liked things like marriage, stable employment, and clean clothing. Soon enough, I was being seduced back to the “dark” side—the world of my parents.