Their sexual behavior is by no means the norm at their school; Stuyvesant has some 3,000 students, and Alair’s group numbers a couple dozen. But they’re also not the only kids at school who experiment with members of the same sex. “Other people do it, too,” said a junior who’s part of a more popular crowd. “They get drunk and want to be a sex object. But that’s different. Those people aren’t bisexual.” Alair and her friends, on the other hand, are known as the “bi clique.” In the social strata, they’re 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 they’re too promiscuous. One student-union leader told me, “It’s weird. It’s just sort of incestuous.” But others admire them. Alair in particular is seen as a kind of punk-rock queen bee. “She’s good-looking, and she does what she wants,” said a senior boy. “That’s 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, we’re all just really comfortable around each other.”
Still, among her friends, Elle’s ideas are the most traditional. Her first kiss with a girl was at Hebrew school. Since then, she’s made out with girls frequently but dated only guys.
“I’ve always been the marrying type,” she says to the table. “Not just ’cause it’s been forced on me, but ’cause it’s a good idea. I really want to have kids when I grow up.”
“Have mine,” offers Alair.
“My mom’s like, ‘I don’t understand you. I want to be a parent to you, but I have no control at all.’ ”
“I will,” Elle coos in her best sultry voice. “Anything for you, Alair.”
Jane blinks quickly, something she has a habit of doing when she’s 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 doesn’t want to birth her own child, I could.”
“I’ll 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 I’m its parent. ’Cause, I mean, that would scar a child for life. Like, the child would start convulsing.” Everyone laughs.
“You’d 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?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ And she’s 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 hasn’t told her mother that she’s 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 ‘It’s fine, as long as it’s 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 girl’s 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 girlfriend’s 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 I’m going to grow up and be ashamed of my sexuality,” she says. “But I won’t.”
To these kids, homophobia is as socially shunned as racism was to the generation before them. They say it’s practically the one thing that’s 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. “We’re a creative bunch when we hate someone,” says Nathan. Once the tormenters, now the tormented.
Alair is one of the lucky ones whose parents don’t 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 they’ve tried to raise me slightly quirky, like in a very hippie little way, and it totally backfired on them.”