What do I remember from my first middle school dance? I remember the fairy lights perfunctorily strung up around the St. Elizabeth’s gymnasium, and the crowds of sweating, rowdy Catholic school kids, ferried in from all corners of Montgomery County, Maryland to grind indiscriminately with each other. I remember an eighth grade boy from Mater Dei, an all-boys Catholic middle school in our area, walking up to me and asking me to give him a blowjob. And I distinctly remember telling him to go fuck himself. I remember the adrenaline rush of standing up for myself, and the concurrent swell of queasiness I felt when I thought about this random boy, with his adolescent swagger, feeling entitled enough to ask me for something that I didn’t even fully understand yet. I remember feeling small and ridiculed, despite my big, confident refusal. I was 12.
Recently, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a graduate of Mater Dei and Georgetown Prep High School, was accused by a California professor, Christine Ford, of a pretty egregious incident of physical assault and sexual molestation. Ford went to Holton Arms, one of the all-girls schools in the suburban DC area where I grew up.
The alleged attack occurred in high school, in the 1980s, at one of the suburban basement parties with which I am intimately familiar. I went to those basement parties! If there is one social scene that I know all too well, it’s the complicated, fraught relationship between boys and girls educated at single-sex, Catholic high schools, released on the weekends into Potomac basements and plied with alcohol. I’ve been in closets at those parties with strange, sweaty boys, brainstorming ways to leave without seeming weird or alarmist. I’ve seen the pressuring, the cajoling, the straight-up coercing.
Many of my friends in high school went to Georgetown Prep. The majority of the boys I knew who attended all-boys Catholic high schools – my own two brothers included – are thoughtful, intelligent, service-oriented young men, whose high school educations provided them with a space to develop their faith and intellect. But that dark underbelly exists, too, as I know all too well.
Catholic schools, as a general rule, teach very limited sexual education courses, with the assumption being that, since premarital sex is against Church teachings, none of their students are having sex. There’s no need to talk about consent or how to determine personal boundaries if no one is, ostensibly, having sexual contact with anyone to begin with.