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My High School’s Secret Fantasy Slut League

Our wealthy California school had a hookup game where boys “drafted” girls, then tracked their sex acts. A decade later, my classmates still debate whether “FSL” was harmless teenage hijinks or a symptom of toxic rot in our elite enclave.

My High School’s Secret Fantasy Slut League

It was a Saturday night in early spring 2011, and Charlotte was cold. She wasn’t yet drunk enough not to be. The zipper on her North Face kissed her stomach, and she shivered. Under their jackets, she and her friends were wearing nothing but thin tube tops and leopard-print spandex skirts, matching uniforms purchased from Wet Seal that afternoon to reflect the party’s theme: “Welcome to the Jungle.” This was the weekend ritual in high school: Coordinate outfits, plan the pregame, secure the booze, put on the costumes, drink the booze, take pictures, then trek 20 minutes into the hills to whatever house was hosting that week’s big “DP” (short for “Dance Party”). Above Highland Avenue in the wealthy enclave of Piedmont, California, the land sloped sharply toward the sky, as did the property values. Walls of windows looked out over the San Francisco Bay. The body of water was a black morass in the dark, the city a scintillating constellation beyond it. 

Charlotte and her friends double-checked the address and walked around the side of the mansion, where a few upperclassman boys — “bouncers” — had set up a card table in the driveway. The girls made a pretty cavalry: Thin and striking with natural flaxen threads in their hair, which hung in varying stages of unruliness. An illuminated window in the main house told them that the host’s parents were not just home but awake, though they knew little about what went on in the barn where the party was taking place, and they probably didn’t care to know. One by one, Charlotte and her friends gave their names. Normally, their humor was lewd and sarcastic, but now they quieted, waiting for a boy to run his pointer finger down the guest list, fighting the urge to tell him, “It will be there, I swear.”

Meanwhile, in the basement of a house nearby, James and a group of about 15 boys — many of them his football teammates — were getting loud. James was friendly but reserved, and he remembers enjoying this aspect of their pregame party ritual: the sheer commotion of it. The boys roared over music that made the objects on the counters shudder. Someone had bought a few 30-racks of Bud Light, and crushed cans glinted in the corners of the room. James ran a hand through his hair, although he didn’t need to; it always seemed to soar up and away from his forehead of its own accord. The fabric of his parachute pants whispered like torn paper. Not that anyone could hear it.

Over at the high school auditorium, Audrey was backstage, running late for the party. (“Audrey,” like “James,” “Charlotte” and the other students interviewed for this article, agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, to mitigate any personal or professional ramifications that might come from talking openly about these experiences.) She narrowed her eyes at her elfin features in the mirror and attempted to scrub off some of the orange rouge she’d daubed onto her cheeks to mimic the symptoms of tuberculosis. The show was Les Misérables, and she was supposed to be a ravaged lady of the night in torn fishnets and a wide-brimmed hat. It felt good to be chosen for the role, especially as a freshman. She didn’t have to fake the exuberance in her voice when she sang alongside a coterie of corseted upperclassman girls: See them with their trousers off, they’re never quite as grand. But tonight, her mind was elsewhere. During the finale, she ducked into the changing room and shimmied into the miniskirt and neon bandeau she had stashed in a string backpack, then escaped out the back door.

I was on that stage, too, as the “lovely lady” in the orange corset. But I didn’t go to the party that night. I hadn’t been invited. Instead, I went to Jean Valjean’s house, where we drank bad vodka and played a bridled game of spin the bottle. I knew why I hadn’t scored an invitation, or rather, I knew all the possible reasons why, including but not limited to: (1) my lingering status as a new kid, (2) my ardent shyness and (3) my nonexistent boobs. Most of those impediments would resolve themselves within the year, but until then, I flitted on the outskirts of the party scene with wary curiosity. Like everyone else, I examined the photo albums posted on Facebook, which would memorialize the sexual circus playing out over at the mansion. Sometimes you could even see whose hands went where.

From the driveway, Charlotte and her friends could hear faint music pulsing from a dark structure at the end of a winding path through the garden. Charlotte hopped from one concrete lily pad to another, then paused before the barn door. She rolled down the waistband on her skirt one last time and took a deep breath. And then: Bodies, so many bodies that she slicked herself with their sweat when she took a step. The lights were off. There was no furniture. A girl crouched in the middle of the floor, peeing. Couples lined the walls, gyrating in the cold white flashes of a digital camera. 

Charlotte would make out with eight people that night; Charlotte’s friend with 11 — or was it 12, or 17? — the alcohol and adrenaline made it hard to remember. The next day, and for years afterward, they would laugh and try to name them all.

But someone was keeping score. In the morning, still bleary-eyed, several of the boys would open their laptops. They would enter a secret Facebook group, and there, conjuring what they’d seen and done in that dark room, they would tally the girls’ scores on their respective brackets of the Fantasy Slut League. 

Fantasy Slut League, affectionately known as FSL, was tradition at Piedmont High, one that had been handed down by the varsity football players for about six years. In teams of two, the participants started by “drafting” their classmates — girls, always — onto their personal rosters. Like any fantasy football draft, FSL was based on players’ performance in real life: Girls scored points for their teams by engaging in sexual activity, which the boys traded information about through ongoing posts in their secret Facebook group. Points corresponded to the duration and degree of intimacy of said sex acts. Kissing earned you five points, 10 for making out “for an extended period of time,” 15 (give or take) for fingering. Penetrative sex might garner 25 or 50. 

There may have been a league champion named at some point, but FSL was more about the journey than the destination. Rumor had it that at the end of the “season” — in other words, the school year — the girl who scored the most points earned the title of “MVP” and was presented with a cupcake at school, though no one I spoke to remembers a cupcake ceremony actually taking place.

As a senior, in the fall of 2012, James stepped into the role of commissioner of the FSL, which required him to help facilitate the annual draft, in addition to running his own roster. At the start of the school year, 20 boys — mostly juniors and seniors — gathered in a large basement room, perching on couches and chairs before a large whiteboard. Some leaned forward in anticipation. Others joked around or strategized with a teammate under their breath. After drawing the first team out of a hat, the selection process proceeded down the jagged line of boys in a “snake” formation, across the room and back again. Shouting erupted whenever a highly sought-after name was snatched up, followed by a scramble to reprioritize as the commissioner called in vain for order. Rosters filled up at roughly five girls, and once a team drafted someone, she was off the table. Unless you could convince the owners to trade with you.

The final rosters were then typed up and posted to the secret Facebook group, where boys would self-report and fact-check the points their players earned. James helped keep things in check. “Administrative duties,” he says with a pained chuckle. Occasionally, he “resolved disputes” and answered questions. Someone might suspect that another boy was manufacturing points for their team, for instance, or they might wonder about what “counts” as making out, and the number of points they were owed.

Piedmont High’s teachers and parents remained oblivious to the league’s existence for most of its life span. Then, on October 19, 2012, shortly after James took the helm, the high school principal sent a letter informing parents of several “troubling incidents involving our students.” The letter outlined the tenets of the Fantasy Slut League as they knew it: Girls were drafted “unbeknownst to most of them,” though “many students (male and female) were aware of it and participated.” The sex acts girls engaged in had often been encouraged by “manipulation by older students that included alcohol to impair judgment” and “social demands to be popular.” An investigation had been conducted. The letter urged parents to “Please be bold in your conversations with your child.”

As the letter described, many of the girls, including Charlotte and Audrey, already knew the league existed. Audrey had heard about it as a freshman from her athlete friends, although they refused to divulge a key detail: “For the longest time, I had no idea whether I was drafted or not, and I was really cut up about it,” she says. 

Charlotte discovered both simultaneously: During her sophomore year, she was approached at a party by a couple of older boys, who told her they had some people who were “underperforming” on their team and asked if she’d like to join up. “Me, who had just kissed a boy for the first time, like, six months before,” she says with a scoff. “So, I said sure.”

Years before he became commissioner, James had heard about the FSL from a friend’s older brother, and he was excited to get involved. “Gossip about people hooking up was inherently interesting to me,” he says. But the attraction involved more than just what the league entailed. “It was this exciting club I knew I would get to be a part of.” In other words, an inheritance.

Piedmont’s culture of drinking, partying and clandestine cliques stretches back to long before the existence of the FSL. Until the 1960s, Piedmont High — the main public high school in Piedmont, a small charter city in the middle of Oakland — had school-sanctioned “social clubs,” divided by gender, which threw themed parties and weekly keggers on Friday afternoons. After the clubs were outlawed for unseemly behavior, they continued operating under the table until the 1990s, when they lost steam. Audrey heard about the social clubs from her mother, who was a student at Piedmont High before the clubs disbanded. When her mom got upset with her for drinking or staying out too late, Audrey would narrow her eyes and remind her that technically, she’d started it. Meanwhile, when Audrey threw parties at her dad’s place, he took “celeb shots” at the beer pong table, as a whole room full of underage high schoolers cheered.

James and Audrey both remember being inducted into the party scene by friends’ older siblings. “There are these dynasty families,” Audrey says, “families with old money and a bunch of kids in different grades. When you go to their house, it’s like you’re going to their estate.” Everyone recognized these families’ surnames, and some even had sandwiches named after them at Mulberry’s Market — one of Piedmont’s only commercial businesses, a posh update to a building from the 1940s — where high schoolers queued up for meatball subs, Peet’s lattes and craft sodas during off-campus lunch.

Piedmont’s history dates to the late 19th century, when it quickly grew from a sparsely populated patch of farmland to a resort town, and later, a haven for millionaires and San Franciscans displaced by the 1906 earthquake. Oakland, too, was booming, and it had begun swallowing up surrounding communities. In 1907, an Australian settler named Hugh Craig, along with another resident named James Ballentine, rallied Piedmont’s population to incorporate their idyll as its own city, rather than allow it to be annexed by Oakland. According to an interview with his great-great-grandson, a former Piedmont High School football coach, Craig hoped to preserve “two key facets of the city’s character”: its elite citizenry and its small-town charm. 

Piedmont became an island with a serrated edge. Because the founders, in their haste, used the existing map of the town’s sewer lines, today there are 136 houses along the perimeter that lie half in Piedmont, half in Oakland, and some streets are divided along the yellow centerline.

The enclave was considered by many to be a “model community.” In a 1929 issue of the San Francisco Examiner, a journalist named Gillette Lane deemed it the paragon of good taste, a “fairyland” with “beautifully contoured streets, broad and tree-arched.” With regards to the city’s “highly restricted” nature, Lane found it “ideal.” Predictably, Piedmont was very white. Redlining was still legal (and common), and in the 1920s, a race riot of more than 500 people — led by Piedmont’s police chief, a prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan — rallied to expel Sidney Dearing, the city’s only Black homeowner. 

While Piedmont has diversified somewhat since then, the city remains 70 percent white —twice the percentage of Oakland, according to the 2020 census — and the median household income clocks in at more than $220,000, three times Oakland’s. 

As in most urban landscapes, diversity within Piedmont is far from evenly distributed. To us, there were really two Piedmonts, “Upper” and “Lower,” roughly demarcated by the street that abutted the high school and the 15-acre park. “There were plenty of ‘normal’ people with normal careers living there in the early 2000s,” Charlotte says, “but go into the hills, and then you started to see the high-up mucky-mucks at McKinsey.” None of my friends who lived in Oakland or Berkeley or San Francisco cared to distinguish between degrees of Piedmont-ness, unsurprisingly. Except maybe the ones who lived in houses with plaster cherubs in the cornices. This was one of the sicknesses of living in a place like Piedmont, Charlotte agrees, or perhaps just a symptom of capitalism itself — next to such excess, it was easy to wonder if you had enough.

Like any small town, Piedmont has suffered the occasional scandal. In 2009, for example, an elderly woman was found mummified in her mansion, propped upright in an armchair. Her daughter —who later ran for city council — had been making excuses about her mother’s absence for years. The city also has its fair share of quirky traditions, like the annual bird-calling contest, which used to earn its winners a slot on David Letterman’s show every year, and the Fourth of July parade, which featured a troupe of white-haired men jouncing down the street with inner tubes under their crisp white pants. 

Many of the less wholesome traditions evolved from sanctioned events into clandestine activities. Piedmont’s version of the annual “Powderpuff” football game between junior and senior girls, a popular spectacle in the United States and Canada since the 1970s, had originated on campus but been kicked off for encouraging violence and heavy drinking. A former student, Caroline, who graduated in 2007, says that much like FSL, Powderpuff was organized by boys but played by girls. After school, students caravanned to a field at the base of the Berkeley Hills. Seniors wore black, juniors white; everyone sported eye black, spandex shorts and knee-high socks. The rebellious kids had started drinking during class. Crouching in the grass, the girls with vendettas eyed their prey; once the whistle sounded, they attacked, and the actual football game was immediately forgotten. “It was like the movie 300,” Caroline says. “Broken noses, chipped teeth. Hospital visits. I remember after the cops showed up, people were running toward their cars, and someone pulled a girl out of a car window and started beating the shit out of her.” 

By the time the class of 2013 reached high school, Powderpuff had largely been squashed. Football had returned to its rightful place: The million-dollar field whose lights glowed white through the trees in my backyard.

It was the third game of the season, and Piedmont was down. They had lost their first two games — this one would make them zero for three. James watched the linemen hunker into position. On his left came a whir of support from the bleachers, which were swarming with students and parents wearing the school’s colors, purple and white. A smattering of girls in the crowd had been invited to wear the boys’ extra jerseys, which they’d tugged over their T-shirts, tucking the hem into their low-rise skinny jeans. I was not in the stands that night. I had stopped attending regularly after my sophomore year, when I’d gotten sick of loitering with the other new kids by the chain-link fence, close enough to the fray to feel included but far enough away to pretend I didn’t want to be.

James gives me the play-by-play: As the clock ticked down, the opposing team hiked the ball, the punter drew back his cleats, and suddenly James was sprinting, his palms turned toward the sky as the ball landed on his chest. He pivoted and found himself charging forward, weaving around outstretched hands and stone shoulders toward the end zone — 60 yards of pure adrenaline. 

James had been playing football since the fourth grade. And basketball. And soccer. On the junior varsity football team, he’d had to fight to get noticed, but he was a fighter. He hit the weight room, and soon he saw results. He had never excelled in academics, in contrast to many of his peers. By the time James was a senior, Piedmont High was ranked third in the state for test scores. “The ceiling is so high,” he says of the expectation to excel. “And the amount of resources some folks have — the college counselors or tutors or whatever. A lot of money and time.” Varsity sports was a different path, but a path nonetheless.

After a fateful game that had resulted in several injuries, leaving holes in the varsity roster, James and a few other boys had been moved up from junior varsity. That meant different coaches, older teammates, higher expectations. Before the games, the boys sometimes waved smelling salts under their noses to jolt themselves awake. “It was a little intimidating,” says another boy on the team at the time, Lucas. “But you just worked even harder to try to fit in.” 

Several of the students I talked to feel that this hypermasculine environment was at least in part what led to the creation of the Fantasy Slut League. Scholarship suggests that segregation by gender in social institutions can perpetuate what sociologist Raewyn Connell famously termed “hegemonic masculinity,” defined as “the maintenance of practices that institutionalize men’s dominance over women.” According to scholar Sharon R. Bird, men encourage each other in hypermasculine environments to engage in three central behaviors: emotional detachment, competitiveness and the sexual objectification of women. In 2019, a five-year USA Today Network Investigation concluded that college athletes were three times more likely than nonathletes to be disciplined for sexual offenses, and football players were eight times more likely. 

“There’s a broader culture of quantifying everything and making everything a competition,” James says. “Even the people you go to school with can be gamified and given a hierarchical structure.”

One day, while Charlotte was walking home from school, an older boy flagged her down and asked her point-blank why she wasn’t scoring more points for their FSL team. She stared at him. 

“It made me feel like a fucking loser,” she says. At the same time, like Audrey, Charlotte felt it was imperative to be included, and she was glad to be in on the game. “Had I not known I was already in it, I would have been like, what the fuck am I, chopped liver?”

Charlotte was a little bit of everything: She stood out in the school’s reputable acting class, but she wasn’t quite a theater kid. She’d played sports her whole life, but she didn’t consider herself a capital-A Athlete. Outside of school, she and her friends smoked weed and drank and kissed boys and secured invites to parties. To my friends and me, Charlotte seemed brash and confident and clever. Now, she tells me that, inside, she felt she was not quite smart enough, not quite pretty enough. Not quite enough.

Audrey also played sports, which had allowed her to form some close friendships with male athletes. One morning before class, a player approached her in the open-air breezeway where students congregated between classes. “Who’s the sluttiest girl in your grade?” he asked her. The draft was coming up, and he needed help with his wish list. She glanced around at the throng of kids jostling to get to class and told him she would need to think about it. But inside, she was glowing. 

After school later that week, she found herself in a small gaggle of senior athletes, including the boy from the breezeway and a few of his friends. “What about her?” he asked, hopscotching down a list of names. “Or her?” The mood was jovial, and she nodded or shook her head or pondered her response to each one, laughing. 

Although Audrey knew she wasn’t the only girl in her grade who was aware of FSL, she kept the details close to her chest. The boys had trusted her enough to let her peek around the curtain; she would try to keep that trust. And as to how the draft turned out that year, she never followed up. Did the boys secure their first choices, on her recommendation? How many points did they earn? She understood that beyond a certain point, there was no trespassing. 

As time passed, word of the league spread as certain boys grew more flagrant. “I’d walk into history class and someone would just say, straight-up, ‘I drafted you on my FSL team, we’re the Philadelphia Spread-Eagles!’” Charlotte tells me. Audrey, meanwhile, started to feel peeved by FSL’s no-girls-allowed rule, and she enlisted a few friends to start a “Fantasy Bro League” with the same hookup-based points system. 

One afternoon on the bleachers, goofing off among the ragtag group of kids that often coagulated after last period, a girl in the Bro League taunted the boys that she and Audrey couldn’t wait to give them a taste of their own medicine. Their faces broke into wide grins. High-fiving ensued. Audrey remembers thinking, “Hey now, you aren’t supposed to like it.” 

The Bro League fell apart almost as soon as it formed. Audrey couldn’t put her finger on it, but something had shifted after that moment, like a shoulder slipping out of its socket and back in again, leaving behind a phantom pain. Revenge only works without permission.

When it came to their general opinion of FSL, “I remember all the girls being like, ‘It’s fine. It’s just high school gossip,’” Audrey says. Girls might roll their eyes at the boys’ antics, but the league was harmless, according to many of them, of negligible importance. “The main sticking point was that none of the guys were allowed to do anything with the girls that they’d drafted. They couldn’t interfere at all.” To many of the girls, this made it feel safer.

However, not everything that was considered common knowledge was indeed accurate. How would Audrey have felt if she’d known the truth? “Hooking up with someone on your team was actually incentivized,” James tells me. “There were more points attached to it.”

James thinks the boys felt reassured by FSL’s status as an “open secret,” even if the girls didn’t know the full truth. “If people at school know about it and no one’s saying anything, then it can’t be that bad,” he says, “because someone would have stopped it by now. But someone has to be courageous enough to do that.”

The party in the empty barn would go down in history as one of the messiest and most epic parties of our high school tenure. At school on Monday, the “body count” for most attendees — the number of kids they’d kissed — was twice as many as usual. My group of shy artist friends and I traded gossip from the weekend at our usual lunch spot, in a secluded corner behind the cafeteria. I felt a stinging sensation at the base of my throat, as if I’d swallowed an ice cube, when I thought about what it meant that I hadn’t been there. Never mind that I hardly knew the host — every party you weren’t present for told people you probably wouldn’t be at the next one, and so on. I felt ashamed, and in a limp, helpless way, I felt impatient.

A few months later, my prayers were answered: Someone in my orbit threw a party. The theme was “Boats and Hoes.” (All of the parties had themes and corresponding titles that followed roughly the same formula: “CEOs and Office Hoes,” “Cowboy Bros and Country Hoes.”) On a leather couch in the basement, I kissed a boy in public for the first time, straddling him while my knees sank into the cracks between the cushions. I wondered if the whole room could see my skirt riding up above my spandex. I remember feeling — no, knowing with absolute certainty — that I had unlocked a door. Audrey agrees. “The purpose of having parties and going to parties was to hook up, so in order to get invited to parties, you had to hook up. If you didn’t make out with at least three people normally, you had a bad night.”  

“There’s a funny version of this that’s like, Piedmont High School, sex positive!” Charlotte says with a small fist-pump. “It was the same going to a college with Greek life. What’s cool is being a slut. People weren’t interested in mythologizing virginity. They wanted to suck and fuck.” She punctuates the words with three emphatic nods. 

That said, Charlotte admits that there were limits to her peers’ generosity. “If your sexual behavior was somehow judged too sexual, then rumors start getting cooked up.” Caroline describes watching a girl get Eiffel towered — what Urban Dictionary describes as “a threesome with two guys and a girl, where one guy is hitting it from behind, and the other guy is getting a blow job” — in the middle of a guest bedroom at a party, as a thin crowd of boys looked on and laughed. “I don’t remember at the time being like, ‘Go girl,’” Caroline says. 

James recalls feeling as though the usual rules of engagement didn’t apply in these spaces, while the girls saw many of those same rules accentuated. It was as if the volume of girlhood’s contradictions — the tug of war between respectability and desirability, passivity and initiative — had been turned up along with the music. Caroline, who graduated before I was at Piedmont High, remembers the same competition and even thirst for revenge that had once incentivized the violence at the Powderpuff football games. “When social capital is the motivation,” Caroline says, “of course you’re going to go after the people you’re competing against.” 

When Tara began her junior year at Piedmont after moving up the coast from Los Angeles, she walked to her parents’ new house every day for lunch, rather than sitting in the quad alone. “It’s a really intense, tight-knit group of people,” she says. “So much gossip.” Awareness of FSL had already begun to spread among the student body, and Tara remembers finding out about it right away.

At her previous school, students numbered a thousand per grade, which was more than all of Piedmont High combined. It had been easy to get lost in the shuffle, but not in a bad way: “There were a lot of other Iranians, a lot of immigrants. There was none of that in Piedmont,” Tara says. At the time, she says, she lacked the language to understand or describe Piedmont’s overwhelming whiteness: “I remember thinking I stuck out more because I was tall than because I was brown.”

After a couple of weeks, a girl in her grade took Tara under her wing, lest she commit “social suicide” by hanging with the wrong people. The girl uncapped a pen and drew a map of the quad, scrawling the names of each clique in their corresponding lunch spot: Mega Group congregated on the red-tiled patio by the theater, the Pack on the steps into the cafeteria, and so on. “It was just like Mean Girls,” Tara says with awe. 

Rather than hanging out with Piedmont’s version of Gretchen Wieners, however, Tara fell in with a different group of popular girls in her grade, most of whom ended up being drafted in the Fantasy Slut League. “I was in a group of people that valued assimilation more than others, and were considered conventionally attractive,” she says. But she was reminded again and again that she didn’t fit the mold. When Tara came to school on Halloween dressed up as a kitty communist, Meow Zedong, the rest of her friends secretly organized a group costume without her: a corps de ballet in matching leotards and tights. 

Tara switched into survival mode: She swallowed her anger and quickly acclimated to the school’s expectations, including the emphasis on casual hookups while drunk at parties. “There were boys that I would make out with and boys I had crushes on, and boys I would make out with who I didn’t have crushes on and then feel bad about doing that,” she says. She would see the boys at school afterward, but she rarely heard from them again. 

While she recalls feeling scrutinized for being new, unfamiliar, “exotic,” she may also have skirted some of the gossip for the same reason. She never felt particularly bothered by Fantasy Slut League, and she and her friends never discussed it at length. They didn’t seem to care, so neither did she.

Tara never went all the way at Piedmont, nor did she date anyone seriously. “I probably would have lost my virginity in high school if someone I liked wanted to have sex with me,” she laughs. “Certain people hooked up with certain people. That was just the way things were. And Piedmont wasn’t a place where you did unexpected things.”

The league’s status as an “open secret” only lasted for a few weeks after Tara’s first day at Piedmont High in August 2012. It all started to unravel at the school’s so-called “date rape assembly.”

At the start of every school year since the early 2000s, when a student had been drugged and raped at a party, the high school organized two performances of consent-related monologues: one for incoming freshmen, and one for Parents Night. In October, the night before the “date rape assembly,” a concerned parent reached out to the director, acting teacher Kim Taylor. 

The email was vague, but certain key words leapt out: football, harmful, FSL. FSL? Taylor had no idea what the parent was talking about, but she knew someone who would: the varsity football player who was set to perform the part of the “composite asshole” in the assembly the very next day.

After the assault, Taylor had become a fervent advocate of consent education. With her blunt blonde bob, unwavering gaze and knowing smile, she exuded intuition, effectiveness, power. She confronted the boy. He lied. According to James, the boys had met before practice and decided that it was in their best interest to admit that FSL had existed, but to stick to the story that when the league had been passed down to them, they’d let it die.

Taylor took what she knew to the principal, Rich Kitchens. They had a big problem: A San Francisco Chronicle reporter was scheduled to attend the assembly on Parents Night, to profile it as an exemplar of the new frontier of consent education. After the performance, there were usually more than a few questions from the audience, and if the reporter caught wind of this so-called FSL, Taylor told Kitchens, “You’re gonna want to be there.”

On stage, three shafts of light illuminated three girls dressed in black. Charlotte and Audrey were among them. “He was my first boyfriend,” said one. “I’d never been drunk before,” said a second. And the third: “At that age, I wanted to dress, talk and act older than I was.” You could have heard a pin drop in the theater as their monologues began to bob and weave and intertwine. During the actors’ debriefing after the show, Audrey felt fine, but her teeth wouldn’t stop chattering.

The assembly went off without a hitch, and a few days later, on October 10, the piece in the Chronicle was published — without any mention of the brewing scandal. But behind the scenes, the teachers were on the hunt. 

Taylor had known James for years by then. He had joined her acting class as a freshman, simply to fulfill an art credit, but he’d found that he liked memorizing lines, and he enjoyed the range of emotion he could show on stage. Taylor pulled him aside and asked him point-blank to share what he knew. “At that point,” he says, “I had the sense to tell the truth.”

Since the first email to Kim Taylor, both the administration and the football team had gotten organized: “Folks agreed that it was in everybody’s best interest to not talk about it,” James says. Though James was likely one of the first to ultimately admit that the league was alive and well, it was hard to know which revelations came from where, and from whom.

Just eight days after the consent assembly, Principal Kitchens sent a detailed email to all of the Piedmont parents that shocked everyone. 

The letter enumerated what the administration’s investigation had turned up: FSL belonged to the varsity athletes, it served as a form of team bonding, and participation in it involved “pressure” and “manipulation” by older students, including using “alcohol to impair judgment” and “social demands to be popular … and attractive to upper classmen.” 

Principal Kitchens reminded parents that this concept “was not unique to Piedmont High,” while reassuring them that it should not “deter our responsibilities as an educational community to address it.” 

The names of individual students who participated — or “student victims” — remained unknown, Kitchens said. And besides, the fact that FSL was an “off-campus activity” made it exempt from school discipline. 

Within the week, white vans with satellites sprouting from their hoods like tulips began pulling up at the breezeway. Reporters in dark suits stood with their backs to us and spoke into microphones with their mouths set in grim lines. ABC7 News, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post. At least one article cited the 2010 coverage of a similar draft at Landon, an elite private school in a wealthy suburb of Washington, D.C. In the Landon case, the boys had planned to wager money, to be collected at the end of the “season.” 

Kim Taylor shook her head. “Somebody sent that letter to the news, it went everywhere, and from then on, nobody on the football team ever spoke up again.”

James tells me that the letter caused temporary rifts among the teammates. An older boy — a former FSL participant, already graduated — lambasted him over text for “fucking everything up.” James had been elected commissioner because he was trustworthy and reliable. And he had failed. 

James read the text with consternation, but also with a newfound clarity. He didn’t feel deserving of this boy’s scorn. Besides, he had no energy to care about him. He pictured instead his parents’ faces, their surprise and disappointment rising to the surface like oil. 

At school, FSL instantly became all anyone talked about. Rumors swirled about who had and had not been drafted, who was and was not in cahoots. How much you knew depended, as always, on who you knew and who knew you (meaning that, at the time, I knew very little). I remember having conversations with girls who seemed taken aback by the league’s existence, only to discover later that they had known along. Most of the conversations Charlotte and Audrey and Tara remember were tinged not with disbelief that the league existed, but with disbelief at how surprised everyone else seemed to be. 

Parents’ reactions concentrated around two poles. Some demanded consequences for the boys involved, whoever they were, while others — a few of them the parents of “dynasty” kids or varsity athletes — wanted the school to squash the media frenzy and move on. Of the parents who called for discipline, most wanted the students responsible to be identified. One mother suggested banning the varsity football players from sports for a year. These suggestions were most often made through op-eds submitted to Patch, a local news forum similar to Nextdoor. 

But as the days dragged on with no news one way or the other — and no individual students named — the discourse began to eat itself for fuel. “The accusations, moralizing, minimizing, finger wagging, and fist slamming have damaged the reputations of children, their parents and our educational community,” wrote one mother on Patch. “It is incredibly SAD that PHS students are most concerned about how this might affect their college applications and NOT that they regret harming another child,” countered another.

On his bed, James hunched over his laptop and scrolled, keeping tabs on the news coverage and public outrage. Before school, after school. As the sun began its descent and flooded the little porch outside his window with warm yellow light. He remembers feeling curious. He remembers not feeling much at all. The threat of losing out on college, which had always felt distant and implausible anyway, suddenly seemed like small potatoes. He read, and he thought. “You’re aware of the fact that something is not OK, and you can probably describe why it’s not OK, but you’re missing some emotional connection to why it’s not OK,” he tells me. “Which is probably what helps you continue to do it. When FSL broke, I felt this growing awareness that it would be something I’d process for a long time.”

Charlotte didn’t feel numb. She felt angry, but not at the boys behind FSL. When her parents showed her the administration’s letter, she was “floored.” She stewed for a while, then sat down to compose her own op-ed, published anonymously on Patch. 

Charlotte’s letter took issue with two central features of the administration’s response: First, that their missive was “rife with factual errors,” including the implication that boys coerced girls into hooking up, and second, that the school failed to reach out to the “so-called ‘victims’” before they decided to “speak for, act for, and represent them.” 

Charlotte pushed back against the principal’s statement that boys earned points for engaging in sexual activity. She emphasized girls’ agency in hookup culture: “Female students score the points for their ‘team’ … which, through gossip, comes to be known by the boys,” she wrote. “I know that my name has been mentioned on the FSL page. It makes me uncomfortable, but it does not make me a ‘victim.’

She also chided the administration for situating FSL in the context of the date rape assembly. “FSL and other forms of gossip do not encourage rape. Rape is unconscionable, vile, and terrible. It is not the product of immature boys who partake in a glorified gossip group. … [T]he Administration has incited a needless firestorm of outraged parents.”

Finally, she took issue with what she viewed as the administration’s attempt to take the easy way out. “This is a larger issue than just FSL,” she declared. “These boys do not deserve to be vilified with factual fallacy for an environment of which they are merely a small product.”

In many ways, Charlotte still feels affection for — and allegiance with — her younger self. “Looking back, of course there are ways we’re all stripped of our agency,” she says. “But even when you’re on the side of less power, you can have agency within that. You’re not automatically a victim, you’re just more likely to be one.”

She acknowledges that the lines are blurrier when you factor in alcohol and the social pressure to hook up, especially with older boys. But she’s grateful for having had the space to experiment, in a community whose insularity kept kids somewhat accountable to each other. “Looking back at high school, it all seems kind of sweet,” she says, stepping lightly over the word like it might break. “And anyway, in the grand scheme of things, I can’t be a victim. I am an upper-class white woman. I’ve had every fucking opportunity handed to me.”

Charlotte still wishes the school had considered the league in its social context, especially regarding issues of class. “There are no alternative ways of being presented at Piedmont. What’s modeled for you is a very conventional image of success.” Power and affluence beget power and affluence, and Charlotte sees now that the pressure to succeed in a “conventional” way — to reproduce the same systems that gave students the opportunity to benefit from them in the first place — extended to the social sphere. “Part of the status quo is these limited gender roles, these limited ways to express yourself. There is one mode of being attractive, being desired, being part of something.”

James agrees. “There’s an inherited culture of treating people poorly. It’s a rite of passage to do this sort of thing.”

And as the tech bubble continues to price Bay Area natives out of their homes and whiten the racial and ethnic makeup of the city, the status quo is changing — or not changing so much as spreading. “The types of people moving to the Bay Area are affluent, white-collar professionals, and the microcosm of Piedmont could be the new makeup of Oakland and Berkeley,” Caroline says. “This could become more pervasive, what happens with too much money and entitlement.”

After Charlotte’s op-ed made the rounds in the community and on public radio, students began referencing the piece as evidence that the boys involved in FSL should be let off the hook. Charlotte recalls feeling surprised by this interpretation. She had called their actions “infantile, immature, and insulting.” But by resisting the notion that the boys should be punished — or the notion that their punishment would somehow signal the end of the forces that created FSL — “It became a way for the guys involved to exonerate themselves,” she tells me. 

As it turned out, they didn’t need exonerating. The administration ultimately left the question of discipline up to the parents, as its letter had promised, and the issue slowly faded away.

Kim Taylor fought to keep the conversation going. She tapped Charlotte and James to perform in a “respect assembly,” where actors read aloud from crowdsourced testimonials. James agreed right away. “I felt responsible for having been involved and for helping it happen,” he says, “so this felt like the first thing I could do.”

Charlotte, by contrast, ended up feeling like a “shill” for the administration after agreeing to perform alongside James. “Ultimately, people got concerned about our image. Like, you want your kid to get into a good school, right? It turned into damage control.” While Charlotte did not necessarily feel used by the boys running FSL, she felt used by the school’s administrators.

Once the news cycle moved on, daily life at Piedmont High proceeded much as it had before the scandal. We kept drinking raspberry Smirnoff mixed with Simply pink lemonade and going to parties. We memorized the prologue to The Canterbury Tales in Middle English. The students of the class of 2013 submitted their college applications. There were rumblings that some teachers had withdrawn football players’ letters of recommendation, but those were just rumors. Just like the rumor that a junior boy was attempting to start FSL back up again. 

James was in disbelief when he heard about it. Really, dude? he remembers thinking. It was the same when he went off to college. “When I played football the next year, I heard some shitty language, people referring to other people as sluts or commenting on their behavior. Obviously these guys weren’t there at Piedmont, but I found myself wondering, did we not learn this already?”

But learn what, exactly? “Sex shaming to me is the idea that women having a lot of sexual encounters is wrong,” Audrey says. “But that wasn’t the case with FSL. The boys were excited when girls had a lot of sex, but not for the right reasons. Not for women’s empowerment, not for bodily autonomy — but so they could win at a game. So, it’s not necessarily slut-shaming, but it’s certainly not sex-positive either.”

Now when Audrey recalls how she glowed at finding out she’d been drafted, she thinks: Internalized misogyny. “I don’t think there was ever a time in high school where I hooked up with someone because I wanted to,” she says, citing Melissa Febos’s concept of “empty consent.” “I just felt like I should want to.” 

After Audrey got to college, she had a lot of sex while blackout drunk. “Every time I woke up next to someone who I didn’t recognize and would have to ask them what we’d done, I never felt weird about it.” But now that she’s had sex in loving relationships, she says, “If I woke up next to someone after blacking out, I would feel deeply, deeply violated. And I don’t know what to make of that.”

I’m surprised no one has talked much about FSL since it happened,” James says. Almost 10 years have elapsed since the news broke. “The fact that it got brushed aside makes me wonder if folks learned lessons from what happened, or if the lesson is: Here’s how to effectively move on from something you want to leave behind.”

I had wondered the same thing. In those 10 years, while studying writing and cultural studies in college and graduate school — and, in my spare time, watching shows like Sex Education and Euphoria, about teens figuring out things like desire and sex and shame — I mused about our high school experience and its impact, psychologically as well as on our sexual identities. Like Audrey, I initially told myself I was a person who enjoyed casual sex. Then I bounced to the other extreme and became a serial monogamist. But no matter my relationship status, I felt the echoes of the same gnawing desire to be desired that my friends and I had worn so nakedly, the same tingle that comes from constant surveillance, the same competing fear and lust for it.

Meanwhile, I watched our graduating class go on to careers in everything from theater to social work to nursing to aviation. I moved away and stayed away; I became a server, then a writer, which felt like the nail in the coffin for my future in the Bay Area, assuming I’d wanted one. Still, all the while, I kept in touch with a surprisingly large contingent of Piedmont friends. We reminisced about high school occasionally, and when we did, FSL came up in conversation just often enough to make me suspect that, like me, others still wondered what it meant, what it told us about who we had been to each other and who we were now. We said things like, “Can you believe it?” and shook our heads, laughing. “Ridiculous. Just absurd.”

Then, in July of 2020, a few years after most of the class of 2013 had finished college, an anonymous Instagram account began posting crowdsourced accounts of rape, sexual assault and harassment at Piedmont High, sometimes calling out the perpetrators by name. Boys leapt to each other’s defense in the comments — which, paradoxically, succeeded in identifying some of them. Parents threatened lawsuits. Many students, however, expressed heartfelt messages of support and thanked the owners of the account for starting a long overdue conversation. A group of students also rallied to form Piedmont for Consent, an advocacy and support group “committed to creating consent education for everyone in the Piedmont community.” They continue to provide educational resources, plan consent workshops, and host survivor and allyship support groups over Zoom.

Kim Taylor hopes efforts like these will expand students’ definitions of consent and shift the school’s values. “If we’re not having discussions about what other things we can value — kindness or being a loyal friend — if those aren’t the things that are that are revered in the community, then the social plateau will always be built on what it’s built on now.” 

This “social plateau” has fascinated me since I first squinted into the glare of the Friday Night Lights, or perhaps even earlier — since, like Tara, I first surveyed the gaggles of cliques on the lawn during lunch and wondered where I fit. Charlotte agrees: “FSL is the lede. It’s so ridiculous that it draws people in, but then they want to focus on it. But the real question is, what type of environment creates this? No one wanted to talk about that.” 

Caroline places the blame on Piedmont’s adults. “Parents bullied the administration if their kids got in trouble,” Caroline tells me. As a PTA member, her mother was a fixture in the Piedmont parents’ gossip circle. “They were the masters in not creating accountability or consequences for their kids.” If cops “rolled” a party, the parents might be fined $1,000 or so, which they could easily afford. But several of the police officers were Piedmont parents themselves. “The cops knew me,” Caroline says. “They knew I was a responsible kid. They’d be like, ‘Hey Carol, can you make sure everyone starts heading out?’”

The point is not that partying and underage drinking and experimenting with sex are morally wrong and merit punishment. The point is that the sense of impunity modeled from above taught the impugned that they could play by their own rules. “On some level, the kids did really fucked-up things,” Caroline says, “but that’s because there were no boundaries.”

Charlotte zooms out even further. “We live in a society that idealizes youth, idealizes beauty. The norm is that women are objectified, and even beyond that, there’s a lizard brain part of all of us where to be wanted hits harder than anything else. I can’t put it all on the specific conditions in Piedmont.”

For Audrey, though, the ultimate blame rests with the boys. “They didn’t start the culture, they were just a part of it, but they are autonomous human beings who made the choice to create this and, later, to continue it.” 

“We never thought it was wrong, or demeaning women,” says Lucas, James’ football teammate. “Just horsing around, being dudes. But knowing what I know now, I would never have participated.” Still, he’s adamant that the conflation of FSL with rape culture is false. “Piedmont wasn’t the type of school … ” His eyes widen in concern. “No one would have supported anything even close to an unwanted hookup.” 

“As far as I know, FSL didn’t lead to any sexual assault,” James says, “but that doesn’t mean it didn’t lead to sexual assault or hadn’t in the past.” Because the boys were rewarded for hooking up with girls on their team, he sees how it might have created a culture of conquest. The boys had skin in the game, meaning it wasn’t just about what the girls did of their own accord. None of the girls I interviewed seemed to know that.

Within three days of going live in 2020, the Instagram account had collected more than 90 anonymous reports. A post from August 2020 describes a rumored “bro code” among athletes in which they all “agree to cover for each other if one of them does anything bad (specially with girls), and if they are confronted, they all agree to deny any allegations.” In the comments, one student wrote, “This sounds too much like a slippery slope into another Fantasy Slut League.”

“I think I could spot something like this now and label it for what it is,” James says of the dynamics between boys that helped create and facilitate FSL. “And I think I would feel responsible to prevent it.”

James is in a new relationship, and he had been wanting to discuss FSL with his partner for a while. After I reached out, he knew it was time. “I was worried they would tell me, ‘You’re not who I thought you were,’” he says. Instead, they ended up discussing things like hookup culture and complicity. “It felt good to explain — to come clean, a little bit.”

Charlotte is still close with the girls in the leopard-print skirts, and she tells me they still laugh about their exploits sometimes. “Sexuality when you’re young is incredibly embarrassing,” she says. “Teens are ignorant. And horny.” 

She still finds it hard to take FSL seriously, or to think of it as harmful. This is despite the fact that the culture of competition behind FSL often made her question her worth — made her feel, in her words, “never pretty enough, never smart enough, never quite enough.” Perhaps it’s just the passage of time. She shrugs. “All I know is, I had a lot of fun with my friends doing dumb shit and being stupid…and picking up one of them with scars on both their knees from giving head on the tennis court,” Charlotte says, adding: “Scars they still have.”