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You Know You’re Generation X If…

The things that connect us are about more than birth year

Collage of various images depicted in the story such as Metallica, Bugs Bunny, a CK Noir advertisement.
Sean McCabe

We weren’t supposed to get old, those of us in Generation X. Being young and innovative and angsty was kind of our whole thing. But time marches on, as surely as Winona Ryder is playing a mom on Stranger Things

We’re the last generation to remember a few important things — early adulthood in an analog world, Alf — and a few that maybe just feel important. 

You know you’re Generation X if… 

You’ve been told by your parents and by your children that your music's too loud. 

NWA, Nirvana, Metallica: Our music was loud. Which brings up an interesting question about the senior living facilities of the 2040s: Will we be doing our water aerobics to “The Chronic”?

By the time you learned what sex was, the lesson included the fact that it could kill you. 

And then, a couple of years after that, you learned something just as frightening: You still wanted to do it. 

You say “please” and “thank you” to Alexa and Siri.

Our older friends tend to avoid those digital assistants and connected speakers, while the kids who grew up connected know those devices don’t have souls. We’re old enough to remember a time before a home was expected to have a computer, so we see them for the little miracles they are, and we can’t help but treat them with a little dignity.

You got yelled at for having a condition.

Many of us who were called daydreamers in our youth are now adults who have done the testing and determined that we have ADHD. Back then, we were told to “apply ourselves,” a piece of advice about as useful as “be taller.” 

You remember when it was groundbreaking to smell nonbinary. 

Our current conversation around gender is long-overdue and healthy, and I know that because I remember people being confused by the 1994 product launch of Calvin Klein’s unisex fragrance CKOne. Were you bold enough to reject the sandalwood-to-roses scent continuum and just smell good? I was not; Drakkar Noir held its place in my medicine cabinet for far too long.

You can do an Edward G. Robinson impression, despite never having seen an Edward G. Robinson movie. 

The after-school cartoons of the ’70s and early ’80s weren’t made for us. Our friends Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry did their most significant work from the ’40s through the ’60s, in short subjects that ran before grown-up movies. They were thick with cultural references — Wagner’s “Ring” Cycle! Hermann Göring! James Cagney! — that a kid had to investigate.

A TV movie could be a topic of discussion in class. 

Even after decades of slasher films and torture horror, nothing will strike fear into the heart of a 50-year-old like a mention of 1983’s nuclear holocaust movie-of-the-week The Day After.

You’re in a family structure your family of origin doesn’t quite recognize.

Whether it’s because we were affected by our parents’ breakup in a time when divorce still carried a stigma, or because we didn’t have the right to marry until five minutes ago, many of us are turning friend groups into family units. We’re heavily involved gay uncles instead of fathers. We’re our good friends’ emergency contacts. We’re getting old together.

A young friend has offered you a White Claw, and you have politely declined. 

I’m sure they’re just fine, but I’m also sure of this: Every generation gets the Zima it deserves. 

You sort of had to squint to see yourself in popular culture. 

If you were anything but straight and white in the ’70s and ’80s, there weren’t many role models on your television or in your movies. It’s easier for the kids on the margins to recognize themselves now, and that’s good news. But I don’t think I’d trade places. Growing up gay in the ’70s and ’80s, the experience gave me a hunger to be seen and understood, to make the content that gives our younger counterparts something to look up to.