Millennial Generation: Interview with Lex Kahn

13 Feb

Welcome to the second interview in the series about the Millennial Generation.

Most of you know Lex Kahn as a contributor to The Solipsistic Me. His witty and poignant Wednesday’s Word of Week post I look forward to with great zest. I am grateful for Lex agreeing to be interviewed for the Millennial Generation series.  After you read his interview, you will fully understand my exuberance in having him as a regular contributor to the blog.

Lex grew up near Reading, Vermont. His life has been contained for all of his 28 years in a small geographic area, hence his great passion for literature and wanting to expand his world. Although a Reagan baby, he still qualifies as part of the early Millennial generation. His father was Jewish and his mother was raised Methodist. While Lex certainly has the cultural literacy of growing up in a Christian world, he does not identify with any particular religion.  He did both his undergraduate and graduate work in Vermont.

Politics

Outspoken leftist. I was raised by a strongly anti-war Socialist father and a wannabe hippie mother who rebelled against her fairly straight-laced parents until she realized they were traditional but not conservative. I don’t have any patience for dogma without foundation, opinions without facts, or loud voices saying nothing.

LGBT Issues

I’m proud to be an outspoken straight ally of the LGBT community. I started out in the “so-what” camp, believing that there was no reason to care about anyone’s sexual orientation. I was actually the biggest prude in my family for years, frequently embarrassed by the frankness of my farming grandparents and very open-mined and outspoken parents. As I grew a political skin in college, I began to realize that sexual orientation and sex were two different things. More importantly, I discovered that just taking acceptance for granted would never move things forward for the gay people I cared about.

My best friend from my second week of college, Drew, has been out-and-proud since he was 16. He’s also very politically active. I credit him with much of my activism and political awakening.

I truly believe in the Kinsey scale and I also believe that some people move up and down the scale (at least a little bit) throughout their lives. I’m confident and comfortable in my choice to be heterosexual J and believe everyone should be respected wherever they fall on the continuum. As long as anyone is denied rights because of who they are or who they love, all of society is tarnished.

Frame of Reference

The most pivotal moment for me was the Bush v Gore decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court appointed George W. Bush President. The November 2000 election was my very first as a voter. I was excited and energized. Al Gore wasn’t my ideal candidate (and Sen. Lamerman was worse), but the choice for America’s future was clear. W turned out to be so much worse than we could have ever imagined. As with most of my friends, this dealt a horrific blow to our faith in democracy. Why should we engage in the political process if our efforts could be swept away by judicial fiat? Some of my acquaintances were so embittered that they still don’t vote. Fortunately, many of us recovered enough to use this moment as a catalyst for action. That was not easy.

I suspect for most of my generation (and many others born in the last half of the last century), the most pivotal event would be the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. I can’t minimize this event, but its impact on me was blunted by family circumstances. My dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2001 and died on November 11. It was hard to notice the world, much less respond to such huge events in the face of that kind of personal tragedy. I don’t want to trivialize the loss of life on Sept. 11, but I also think that the Supreme Court decision indirectly had at least as much impact on America. If Gore had been President, how would the actions of the next few months have differed? What would America be without the cynical posturing and illegitimate wars that W grandstanded out of our national tragedy? It’s almost too much to ponder.

Biggest Anxiety

That history is a cycle and we’ll never actually make any progress. Grant becomes Harding becomes Bush. Wilson becomes Reagan. Dred Scot becomes Citizens United. The wage gap and the decaying education system serve the powerful so effectively that I wonder if we can break the cycle. Unfortunately, the overall standard of basic comfort – even for any but the most abjectly poor – is sufficiently good to provide distractions and numb any instinct to rebel. Why protest health care repeal when American Idol is on and the fries are still hot? I see a great deal of political conscience in my peers but not a lot of will to action. Signing online petitions feels great, but it doesn’t move things forward. I hope that as the recession really ends and more of us find our paths that we can remember to be engaged and not become complacent.

Biggest Dream

Can I have two, or is that cheating?

I want to write something that really matters. I don’t know yet if it will be fiction or history, but there’s an important story brewing in me that will emerge someday. In the meantime, I enjoy honing my craft wherever I get the chance.

Even if the writing doesn’t emerge as I hope, my dream would be that when I’m in my waning years some flock of younger people will look to me and say, “That Lex, he really helped me see things in a new way.” I’m not a teacher per se, but I want to lend my words and deeds to others in some meaningful way.

I suppose that’s a selfish dream, in a way, but if I know even a small group improved themselves and their communities because of me, that would be a success.

What do you want to be known for—your indelible mark?

I’ll go back to my answer about my biggest dream here. I want my mark to be my voice. I yearn to know that something I’ve said will matter enough to this world that it will live on long after me and inspire others.

Failing that, I’d be thrilled to write an entire paragraph that is fully alliterative, no breaks.

What do you want your generation to be known for?

Despite my cynical words when describing my Grand Anxiety, I believe this generation has the ability to push the barriers and really make a difference in how the world works. We’re reasonably well educated, we have good tools; we have the opportunity to understand how things all fit together. Statistically, we don’t care about differences as much as individuality. (Meaning, I don’t care how you differ from me – by race, class, sexual orientation, and so on – as long as you respect me as an individual.) That makes us powerful forces for change if we can harness the power of that individuality in some collective way. If we can look past our immediate toys and tribulations and work together in person, we can really make a difference.

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7 Responses to “Millennial Generation: Interview with Lex Kahn”

  1. jenny68 February 13, 2011 at 8:16 am #

    Well done Michael and Lex.
    I think I feel many parallels with your answers even though I’m of Michael’s generation. Until I became friends with Michael, I never realized the shameful and ugly garbage LGBT people have to live with everyday- how everything down to their tax forms is so complicated. I always knew I supported absolute equality- but I haven’t done anything to harness that support into a meaningful difference. Yet. But I have a new determination.. Michael and Robert inspire me to get active, but I know my children get it. I’m proud of who they’re becoming. Don’t get me started on God botherers… Thank you Lex, I hope you realize all your dreams. I think you certainly will.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 13, 2011 at 8:20 am #

      Jenny, you are such a wonderful human being. Let’s hope all of us actually get to be in the same room one day soon.

  2. Drew & John February 13, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    Great interview Lex & Michael.
    This is a great series, Michael, thanks for highlighting our generation: warts, wisdom, and all.
    Lex – proud to have you as a friend, ally, and spokesmodel.
    With love – DCJ

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 13, 2011 at 8:29 am #

      Drew and John, great and supportive comment. I’m starting to believe that your generation will have a significant impact for the better. Let’s hope it is within the next five years.

  3. jenny68 February 13, 2011 at 8:29 am #

    That would be magical- Let’s do it.

  4. webwordwarrior February 13, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    Well, I come off sounding reasonbly articulate.
    [whew]
    Thanks Jenny, Michael, DCJ for your kind words and support. No generation is monolithic, but I think we can learn a great deal from a variety of voices. I can’t wait to hear from the next member of our cohort.
    Lex

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