Molly Ringwald Mornings: Queer Fantasies of Overcoming High School Trauma

I love cute opening credits; they are like the funfetti in the cupcake batter of a beginning. I especially love 80s and 90s teen movie montages, hand-mixed into sugar sweet pop beats, what I refer to as “Molly Ringwald mornings”. Hodgepodges of high school ritual, they make me weirdly nostalgic for something I never had. Alarm clocks blaring, a baby blue manicure reaches from some squiggle art comforter fumbling for the snooze. Outstretched arms and monster yawns, the background track is littered with sounds of steamy showers, toaster dings, stair stomps, squabbling siblings. A suburban sundae of sunrise decorated with blow dryers, shoelaces, school books crammed into Technicolor backpacks as bed-headed youth congregate on The Big Cheese or if you’re lucky you catch a ride in Lloyd Dobler's blue Chevy Malibu.

It’s not until the bell rings we get a full view of the main character’s face. Beforehand we witness a stream of characters crowding into buildings made for public education (a.k.a. social humiliation). A dweeb with high watered pants is stuffed into a trashcan, feet up, the only trash accrued being crumpled papers and a harmless banana peel. Sulking ratted hair ghouls suck cigarettes by the diamond patterned fence. A calculator finger exercised, glossy lipped chicks passing scribbled notes under school desks, now replaced by text message, digital whispers. And then there is Molly Ringwald amongst the teen movie tropes, though I don’t know how to typecast her. Plagued by insecurities, not quite fitting in, not the “popular girl” (sans Breakfast Club) and always harassed by a plethora of annoying people, wishing she was somewhere else, someone else. 

Where director John Hughes glorified struggling youth and concocted romance out of common everyday (hetero) pubescent puzzles, he was dead on about that common cliche of “creative” and especially “quiet” types despising high school. Such is the appeal of the Brat Pack films:  the characters always have dreams for oneself in the face of adversity (usually class struggle and bullies) and they go thru a series of hardships to come out on top. The main characters (usually outcasts) find confidence or, at the very least, redemption. 

As an openly bisexual, outspoken 14 year old, I might as well have had a target on my forehead that said FUCK WITH ME. Even if I had my own Duckie Dales in the form of Latinx goth effeminates and shy Smiths shirt hunks, my surrounding allies never negated the anxiety I received from being a source of ridicule, debate and disgust for my “peers”. Half fetishized and half threatened (sometimes at the very same time), I was fifteen years old when I cut myself out of a typical teen education, favoring “correspondence homeschool” in my room over fist fights and school functions. I chose self care over social interaction. I remember resenting those who said whatever happened in high school wouldn’t matter in the future. If I didn’t give weight to the cobwebs of chaos in my head, would I not suffer still from the anxiety I assumed would disappear in adulthood? Would the disassociation I faced on a day to day basis (and the extreme dysphoria that followed me into newfound agoraphobia) give me this lifelong sentence of feeling forever confused? 

For many queer kids, isolation and avoidance were a safe space from the teenage lobotomy that was high school. I remember the reasons I left, how scary it felt to exist in the Southern fried racism and misogyny of suburban ATL. Even the worst of follies in John Hughes teen movies are nothing compared to the dark shit I witnessed in the short time I spent in high school. Regardless a piece of me yearns to astral project back into those silver Doc Martens that this time wouldn’t let oneself lose. I missed out on the trivial things, pettiness and harassment, and yet still I had this feeling I “missed out”. This even motivated me to go to my ex-high school’s prom via a gay boy who could not go with his boyfriend. We make-shifted prom partners and in the arrangement, I went and saw and decided I wasn’t missing out on anything. It wasn’t a triumph. It wasn’t Molly Ringwald walking into prom alone in her DIY pink dress, her very presence saying fuck the haters. Just because I was there, it didn’t erase the fact that in my mind I was still perpetuating the stigma that thru in choosing an alternative based in inability “to deal” there was something “wrong” with me. 

To be called a “fag” or a “dyke” or a “freak”, some lucky to have not come out until college/big city migration, even the sheer idea of living in fear of these assholes blocked so many of us from living our truths. We can not start over per say, but we can at least decide what has happened will not define us. It is a part of a larger journey for anyone who has existed within difficult social environments. There is no one right way to navigate our younger struggles. It’s funny to have some weird roundabout regret offset by the silly nostalgia of teen movies, that within me exists this tiny fantasy of not falling apart as a teen. I still have to remind myself that I am not forever committed to the ways that high school damaged me. I have a feeling a lot of other queers have to remind themselves of this, too.

There is something about fall, the smell in the air, that directly ties me with “back to school” feels, that even in a non-academic structure, I have a sense of “starting over” as if autumns mark the true New Year. And weirdly enough I yearn for my 80s soundtrack, my New Order “Thieves Like Us”, my porkpie hats and boots. I can question all day if I missed out on the most important aspects via avoiding high school, wondering if my emotional growth, finding strength, not backing down, standing my ground suffered. I got there somehow and that’s all that matters. Maybe it takes a safe space to find your voice, maybe it takes building a community and respecting your comfort levels to be a happier version of yourself. Fuck the trauma from high school. Let’s dance.