When I first went vegan and straight edge when I was fifteen, this young woman I knew from school left me a voicemail that was supposed to be anonymous (seemingly unaware that you can find out the number that left the voicemail quite easily, and clearly having forgotten that she wrote her phone number in my yearbook, and it didn’t take a genius to connect those dots), saying that I would never REALLY be vegan straight edge, because if I ever met anyone who was “actually vegan straight edge”, they would eat me alive because I wasn’t “true to the core”. And you know, she was right.
I got involved in the punk scene (punk and hardcore overlapped a lot and I say "punk" rather than "punk and hardcore" because it's easier and because to me there really wasn't a distinction between scenes, the same people/bands existed in both) when I was fourteen, and stayed pretty attached to it until I was twenty-two. It’s where I made a lot of the friends I’ve carried into adulthood, and it’s where I first started to understand and form my political beliefs, and I am forever grateful for both of those things. While I sometimes like to imagine my life as it would be if I’d done things differently, I like the person I am today and I would not be this person if it were not for my experience in the punk scene.
When I was fifteen, I became friends with a group of young men who were all about nineteen years old, and I was friends with them for the next four or five years. I worshipped these dudes, they had the “best” taste in music, they played in bands, they were all funny and everyone liked them. I felt honored to be friends with them. It was around this time that I really started to struggle with my insecurities about myself and my appearance, and I don’t think that it was a coincidence. I wanted to be as cool as these guys I had become friends with, and as I got more involved with punk, I met more people who I idolized in a lot of ways. I was always younger than all of my friends, and always seen as inadequate.
I got fed up with feeling that way, and it seemed like all that mattered to my friends was what bands I listened to or what shows I was going to. So, I used the internet. I downloaded endless albums and listened to songs on repeat to memorize them, I wrote lyrics down because writing things down helps me remember. I lurked message boards (what’s up, Bridge Nine?) and MySpace profiles to find every cool band I could. It didn’t even matter to me if I actually liked the band or not, I just knew that I had to know all the words and go to all the shows and have all the merch if I wanted to be cool. I don’t even remember the names of a quarter of the bands that I saw or listened to in those days. In a lot of ways, my work as a poser paid off. I earned the respect of most of the people I idolized, I got to hang out with most of the people that I thought were so cool, and the legitimacy of my punk-ness was generally accepted.
But I still remember the way my heart rate would increase when I was at a show and a band started playing a cover that I didn’t know, that all of my friends knew. I remember riding in cars and my friends putting on a band I didn’t recognize, and pretending to be asleep so that nobody would notice that I had no idea what band it was. I remember the sheer panic I felt when somebody asked me about a band I didn’t know about. I remember lying, I remember dodging questions, I remember the constant fear of being outed as the poser that I was. I remember feeling ashamed for not being better at finding out about bands, for not having better taste, for not getting involved in punk sooner.
A lot of this was due to my sudden self-awareness, and with that, my sudden struggle with crippling insecurity, but a lot of it was due to the way I was treated by the people who were supposed to be my friends. There were times when these dudes I was friends with would torment me until I cried, where I physically left situations where I was made to feel uncomfortable, and then got teased for leaving. I cried myself to sleep more nights than I can count. I internalized this feeling that no matter how hard I tried, I would never be good enough. I still carry that with me, and although I do my best to purge it from my system, it never goes away.
Now, punk is clearly plagued by the same problems as mainstream culture, but the appeal of that particular scene was due to the myth that punk was for the progressive kids, the ones who didn’t fit in with the mainstream, that punk was different and that we treated each other differently. As I grew up in punk, I watched all of the horribly sexist dudes in the scene treat all of the women (myself included) like garbage. I was at a show in Boston, and I was the only woman who was singing along, and the singer of the band looked me in the eye and punched me in the face. Women who tried to “mosh” got mocked for doing so, or physically forced out by violent men. The presence of women at shows was constantly questioned and looked at with disgust. There was no place for us, and all of the dudes in punk made that clear. I cut my hair short and only wore Vans and band shirts and shorts, and at the time I said that it was because of feminism, but really I think that it was because I wanted my womanhood to be less apparent, because women were not welcome.
Despite all of this, I wanted to be in punk. I wanted it to be different. I wanted the politics to be real, and I willingly accepted my life as a poser in an attempt to be surrounded by good politics. I would pretend to like whatever bands I had to like to be able to have a ticket into this alleged political paradise, to make these dreams of what punk was supposed to be a reality. I used my incredible skills as a poser to learn every word to every song I possibly could, so that at any show I went to, I could go up front and make it so that there was one less male face in the crowd. I foolishly thought that if the problems in punk were pointed out to the people around me, that they would change. I quickly learned that that was not the case.
Fast forward a few years down the line, and I was so appalled by the behavior of the people in the community that I wanted to disassociate myself from them and the best way I could think of to do so was to start drinking, to set fire to my straight edge label and walk away while it burned. Long story short, it didn’t work. All of my friends decided that they hated me, and I felt more isolated that I ever had within straight edge. I partied pretty intensely for about six months, and then realized that partying wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, so I stopped. I worked to rebuild the friendships that I’d lost, I endured so much criticism and terrible treatment and I posed even harder to just make people like me again. Eventually, I started reclaiming straight edge, and though I got shit on for doing so, people seemed to like me more as a “reclaimer” than a “sell-out” (edit: I sold out, again). It wasn’t as hard to get friends at this point, because I’d been around for enough years that nobody ever really asked me about what music I listened to, because I was coded as punk and I’d done my time.
By this point in time, I was about nineteen or twenty, and I started to learn a lot more about politics, and I started to grow up in a lot of ways. I started hearing from other women in punk who’d had similar experiences to mine, and I started hearing a lot about the men in punk doing horrible things to women and it just being brushed off. I didn’t have many female friends at this point in time, so I didn’t hear much directly, but there were whispers in the air. This was also when all of my vegan friends started getting harassed by the FBI about their activism, and then I started getting harassed, and got hit with a grand jury subpoena. I have never been a fan of the government, and standing up for what I believed in just made sense to me. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself knowing that I’d buckled under the pressure put on me by the FBI, or knowing that my complicity in an unjust proceeding led to the imprisonment of another individual. I resisted the subpoena, because it was the only option that made sense to me. The statute of limitations was up by the time I was threatened with immunity, and I honestly just got lucky that it played out that way. Now, if there was ever something to shatter everyone’s doubts about you, it’s resisting a grand jury subpoena. People who had been awful to me in years past suddenly respected me, which seemed strange because I would’ve resisted the subpoena at fifteen, seventeen, nineteen. I didn’t feel like I was any different than I had been, but they all saw me differently which was weird because if they’d taken the time to get to know me in the years they’d been around me, they would’ve seen that I was just being myself.
I met a woman through punk around this time, and it was hard for me to be friends with her at first because she treated me like a person, which wasn’t something I’d experienced a lot in the past. With her, I learned about feminism, and I made more friends in punk who were women. I started learning that rape wasn’t something that happened to a few women here and there, it happened to a lot of women everywhere, and a lot of women that I knew and loved. I started to see these women being ostracized from punk, and I tried to find ways, ways rooted in internalized misogyny, to make them the exception (i.e. well, everyone thinks she’s crazy anyway so she was probably lying, that dude is cool so he probably didn’t rape her) instead of the rule. I wish I had never thought that way, but I was socialized to do so. I started to realize that these women weren’t the exception, they were the rule. I saw women being cut down and cut out and I tried to stand up for them, but punk never listened. Despite that, I was so convinced that if everyone around me just put in the effort to change punk, that it would change. I even wrote in a zine about it!
And then…. I got raped, and while I didn’t publicly out him (which is largely out of fear of the way he will react and the way those who are friends with him will react), I still saw all of the people I knew being friends with him, and not me, and it kind of cemented my suspicions that punk was not ever right for me. I stopped going to shows, I stopped pretending to like what I call “yelling music”, I stopped being ashamed of my favorite genres of music being hip-hop, R&B, classical, grunge and nu-metal, I stopped giving value to the opinions of people who like rapists more than women, I stopped giving value to the opinions of people with shitty politics, I stopped surrounding myself with people who made me feel inadequate. I removed myself from a situation that did more harm to me than good.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have friends in punk who are trying to make a difference and I applaud them for doing so. I see way more women involved in punk than I ever saw when I was younger. I see more bands with people who are not straight cis white males than I ever thought was possible. It gives me hope that one day there will be a generation of kids who can grow up in the punk scene without having the experience that I had; I wish that I could’ve grown up in the punk scene I see now. It still has its problems, but it’s gotten better due to the tireless efforts of people who want to see change. I respect that, and I am glad that these people are making a space for themselves. I am just not punk and I never really was.