Thou Shalt Not Talk about the White Boysâ€™ Club: Challenging the Unwritten Rules of Punk
i n tr o duction t o th e sec ond edit i on I’m proud of my trophies Like my empty beer cans Stacked in rows up the wall To impress all my friends Dead Kennedys, “Terminal Preppie” (1982)
The first edition of this zine was released in October 2012 after over a years worth of work on it. I had no idea that it would be so widely-received, -read, and -critiqued to the degree that it has been. I’ve presented different iterations of it in workshop format, had it quoted with and without my consent in graduate theses and other academic works, and participated in a panel about race in gender in punk that was allegedly inspired by the zine at the Punk Symposium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in March 2015. I’ve sold it at punk shows of the feminist and queer variety, tabled it at numerous zine fests, and shipped it in countless domestic and international orders off of the product-hosting site Etsy. So many people have taken the time and care to reach out to me through letters and e-mails to express how they did and didn’t connect with the zine over the years and I have relished every second of it. Writing this zine, while originally intended to incite dialogue on the shortcomings of punk and the means in which those of us who are actively dissuaded from participating in it can better push back against those who would see us leave, ended up also fitting a selfserving purpose—it finally made me feel like I had enough of a justification to show up at punk events and in punk spaces without talking myself out of leaving because I thought I had no “real” reason to be there. Until then, I wholeheartedly believed that because I didn’t play in a band or have any punk-coded skills (like booking bands, A/V tech programming, drawing or graphic design, etc.), I wasn’t being productive enough and thus had no transferrable capital in the punk world. In the years since, being able to walk into a space with zines in my backpack has made me feel like I finally have a means to back up my punk cred—you know, just in case anyone asks. Yet while I’ve felt more empowered in my ability to participate and exists in punk scenes thanks to the zine, I’ve still felt at odds with much of what I wrote. In the initial edition, I utilized the umbrella term Gender and Sexuality Minorities (GSM) as a shorthand to mean women, femmes, queers, and trans people, as the descriptor was popularly used within feminist circles at the time and was considered to be academically sound. In more recent years, the term has fallen flat with many
readers and I myself have come to see it as a pseudo-catch-all term that lumps together a group of people that is probably too varied to summarize in one short, simple acronym. As of this updated writing, I still haven’t been familiarized with another umbrella term that accurately encompasses this community of people and am not sure that one is even capable of filling that role. In this second edition, I have eliminated the GSM acronym in favor of using language like “women, queers, and femmes” to specify the particular experiences of folks whose genders and sexualities are points of contention within the punk scene—though I fully expect this terminology to once again fall short with many readers and my future self. Along with much of the specific language in the initial edition, I also feel discomfort over its title. Centering it on critiques of the way “white boys” move around in punk does not fully encompass the other –isms besides racism and sexism that drive many modern punk scenes, nor does it account for the ways in which those of us who have overlapping yet non-identical identities to said white boys also benefit from systemic inequalities like white supremacy and misogyny. Framing it as a “white boys’ club” also insinuates that ‘Punk’ as a monolithic concept or subculture is inherently driven by white people, which erases the histories and influences of Black musicians and participants in punk as well as the presence of punk in non-Western countries, and further shows my limited scope as a white USian writer. Though I would like to specify that the themes, bands, and happenings I discuss in this essay are primarily grounded in the US and based on material in English, I should have made that clearer in my initial attempt. I have chosen not to change the title after completing this second version because I do not want to attempt to skate over the mistakes I made or otherwise distance myself from critiques of my failures. After all, doing so would be pretty hypocritical within a zine that is based on an analysis of punk’s flaws. These shortcomings, among many others present, are indicative of my personal, subjective experiences with punk and a lack of formal education on the topic. I’m not a student of Punk Studies (a real collegiate focus these days, which is awesome) and I never studied punk in an academic context whatsoever. It’s really intimidating to create and distribute a piece of writing without any kind of professionalized knowledge on the topic! Despite hesitancies about putting myself out there, I wanted to create a second edition to include a broader look at issues in punk as well as cite more primary sources (song lyrics, interviews, band statements, etc.) to back up and elaborate on what I was trying to say in my initial attempt. In a similar vein, I have chosen to only reference published works and articles throughout this zine that are freely accessible online and generally do not require the reader to have an extensive experience with dense theory in order to synthesize the material. I am excited to see more work centered around punk coming out of the halls of academia as the years go by but I believe that contemporary projects on the topic that don’t utilize complex jargon or abstract concepts are sorely lacking—
and I hope this zine can help to fill that void. Most of the bands I mention herein are ones that I liked and embraced as a teenager and young adult. My critique of their material comes from both familiarities with their music and the realization that the kinds of punk I was expected to (and mostly did) enjoy were overwhelmingly wrought with sexism, racism, homophobia, and the like. It’s honestly been tough to fully work through how complicit I’ve been in supporting fucked up punk bands, but it’s also been a completely necessary and important unlearning process. Though this zine and my included analyses are still very far from perfect, I am hoping that this second edition will continue to spark important conversations and critiques for readers and their friends, community members, and fellow punks. Below is the introduction to the first edition, updated to reflect the changes in time and my identities. 696 In 2002, while driving around aimlessly with my 18-year-old pseudo-boyfriend, I heard a song that changed my life. Fast, annoying, slamming together drums and horns, screeching about class-privileged assholes, Dead Kennedy’s “Terminal Preppie” was the most ridiculous thing my 15-year-old ears had ever come across. I was simultaneously fascinated and grated by Jello Biafra’s whiny vocals and searing lyrics and quickly became hooked on the band’s political messages and speedy drum beats. Already having been involved in my local punk scene, the Dead Kennedys peeled my eyes open to punk music that aimed to teach its fan base about broad social issues (instead of boasting about sipping beers, skipping class, and ‘skank dancing’ around) while calling out apolitical punks and yuppies alike. Over time, I became less and less excited to participate in my local punk scene in the rural area of Lancaster, Pennsylvania (often referred to as “Amish Country”). I had come into punk thinking it would give me a sense of community and belonging that I couldn’t find elsewhere, but I ended up feeling like I was consistently being barred from some secret society. I kept showing up, meeting others who felt similarly, and waiting patiently until the day would come when I would feel welcomed by a punk community—but it never happened. And 14 years later, it still hasn’t. Instead of wishing for a change, I wanted to try to start one, however small. This zine is my attempt to assess some invisible yet tangible barriers, particularly for marginalized folks (queers, people of color, trans folks, women, and femmes especially), we experience when it comes to the punk scene. I have identified 7 hidden commandments for access into this punk syndicate and try to deconstruct them by creating a dialogue about many often-undiscussed themes that I’ve witnessed. Openended questions are included at the end of each section for you to ask yourself and/ or those around you in the hopes that being more conscious of punk goings-on will empower us to change its injustices and imbalances, more so than we already have. I would like to ask that while reading this zine, my intersecting identities (white,
working class to college educated, assigned-female at birth (AFAB), queer, nonbinary/trans, USian, physically abled, femme-of-center, sober, anxious, depressed, survivor) be kept in mind. These statuses have lead me to be intensely aware of sexism, misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia in punk but I am way less adept at fully recognizing and assessing the white supremacy, racism, xenophobia, and ableism in the punk scenes I’ve been witness to. In an attempt to assemble a more well-rounded critique of punk and related subcultures, I’ve included a list of recommended resources at the back of the zine. Additionally, I welcome any and all feedback, critiques, and discussions about what I have raised herein. 696 This zine features quoted material and discussions about topics such as racism, white supremacy, trans/misogyny, sexual and physical assault, and mental illness. Please take care of yourself while reading! sari // april 2016 email@example.com // firstname.lastname@example.org
table of contents
Pages 5-13: Thou Shalt Not Get Dressed Without A Mirror raced and gendered expectations for dress and behavior Pages 14-22: Thou Shalt Fear The Feminine perpetuating misogyny, girl hate, and “special snowflake” syndrome Pages 23-38: Thou Shalt Not Talk About The White Boys’ Club accessibility, faux unity, and ironic perpetuation of racism in punk Pages 39-46: Thou Shalt Play In A Band (Or Try Like Hell To Do So) influence, creative participation, and going behind the music Pages 47-58: Thou Shalt Not Take Mercy Upon The Weak mosh pits, white masculinity, and normalized aggression and anger Pages 59-67: Thou Shalt Be Pure purity in politics, behaviors, and interests Pages 68-72: Thou Shalt Not Shake Shit Up trying to incite positive change in the scene Page 73: End Note & Recommended Resources
I. THOU SHALT NOT GET DRESSED WITHOUT A MIRROR raced and gendered expectations for dress and behavior Wears Fred Perry’s and flight patches too Doc Marten boots instead of her old trendy shoes Kisses ass to hang with the girls at the shows All the Oi music she thinks she knows The Devotchkas, “Oi! Toy” (1998)
As someone who lives outside of the gender binary, I constantly find myself feeling pressured to ‘pick a side’ depending on the social settings I’m in. I am consistently internally asking: Are people going to read me as a man or a woman? Am I coming off like a butch or a femme? Which one will they react better to? React worse to? Which reading will keep me safer? In the punk scene, my sense of dysphoria and gender discomfort often hits a high peak: the lines between men and women are simultaneously sharply drawn and confusingly fluid. I feel I have less of a “punk look” since coming out as non-binary all those years ago, as I generally make no attempt to fit into those either/or categories. While I now identify as being on the femme spectrum, I still get read as a variety of genders and sexualities depending on where I am, what I’m doing, and who is watching me. The pressure I feel to be more gender-normative absolutely transfers over into the punk community, which completely holds up a rigid and inflexible gender binary. Punk is also another space that centers its standards for physical appearance on white bodies, especially those of
white men, and expects those who desire to be included in the subculture to pull inspiration for their behaviors and embodiments directly from those particular bodies. When it comes to clothing, the most recognized and legitimized options for looking punk are to either dress exactly like white men, or to take their typified style and “feminize” it by swapping out pants for a skirt and adding some makeup and other body work signifiers. Reading the 1999-released book Pretty in Punk: Girls’ Gender Resistance in a Boy’s Subculture by Lauraine Leblanc was a formative step for me as a teen in being able to recognize the ways in which my desires related to dress and behavior were codified and modified by an unspoken standard in the punk scene along with a delicate balancing act between “masculine” and “feminine” that I never seemed to get right. As I came into adolescence and explored my interest in punk, I became intensely aware of the way I presented myself in public and since it seemed that I myself was somehow “too masculine” as an assigned female at birth (AFAB) person, I tried to balance things out
by becoming invested in feminine clothing and makeup to the degree of what I now recognize and embrace as hard femme. My girlfriend at the time read feminist texts and told me about a piece of writing she liked in which the author described preferring to wear “a fuck-me dress with don’tfuck-with-me boots.” That description of a general aesthetic of tough punk women and femmes immediately clicked with me—particularly because I saw how already limited my clothing choices were and how much pressure we put on each other to “look the part” in the punk scene. Even by a young age, I was intensely aware of the fact that my
of free time, disposable income, and emotional and physical labor— expectations that are traditionally linked to class and wealth, topics that punk heavily codes in negative ways. I strongly believe that the stress of properly adhering to the gender binary was exponentially pushed upon me, beyond typical cultural standards, because I was a part of a subculture that saw male bodies and maleness and masculinity as the norm. Past general claims of misogyny and entrenched sexism, I don’t know if punk men’s consistent assertion against punk women that they “aren’t punk enough” is rooted in their belief that putting so much time and effort into one’s
To some, the concept of “punk femininity” might come across like an oxymoron— both punk and masculinity are expected to be effortless and pure, while femininity is expected to be an artificial caricature that needs constant upkeep. body and its presentation was treated as the most important facet of my existence. I was supposed to always be focusing on ways to clean, fix, improve, and otherwise make it look appealing for everyone around me, per my expectations of fulfilling a very specific version of womanhood (whether or not I identified as a woman). What is valued in the aesthetics of women and femmes tends to necessitate large amounts
appearance is somehow emblematic of class privilege markers. Femininity has traditionally been accused of being linked to consumer culture and reinforcement of capitalism, due to the amount of products and self-directed labor required for successfully performing its related gender expectations. To some, the concept of “punk femininity” might come across like an oxymoron—both punk and masculinity are expected to be
effortless and pure, while femininity is expected to be an artificial caricature that needs constant upkeep. Being a teen punk femme meant walking on shaky ground, eternally concerned over whether or not I was coming off like a “poser” to the men in my scene. Eventually, I learned to use the position I was put in to my advantage. I couldn’t change the pressures to conform to a very surveilled form of femininity but I could at least make the practice mean something else to me: connecting with other femmes, women, and queers. I might not have been able to obtain full membership in the boys’ club, but I could sure gain respect by having the most beautiful shade of pink in my hair or accentuating my heavilypatched sweatshirts and vests with neon green leopard print fabric. My main motivation to continue putting
out where and how I didn’t fit in. Of course, the downside to buying into the importance of both my and other women and femmes’ appearance and body work meant that we were just as at risk for singling each other out for not embracing the same kinds of embodiments we ourselves valued. The all-woman US street punk band The Devotchkas inadvertently touch upon this dress code standard in their song “Oi! Toy,” while talking about girls who buy certain clothes to posture as punk instead of actually being punk. The chorus of the song states, “She’s an Oi! Toy, Oi! Toy, Never knew shit / Oi! Toy, Oi! Toy, When you gonna quit? / Oi! Toy, Oi! Toy, Never knew shit / Better wise up or you’re gonna get hit.” According to the singer in this quote and the one at the beginning of this section, it was easy to spot a poser—and she thus
so much effort into my looks was to make friends and de-center men in my life. Telling a girl that I liked her shoes or asking her how she did her eyeliner was a great way to start a conversation in a casual, non-competitive way. Having an icebreaker to kick off an exchange with those who I was often intimidated by and attracted to helped to alleviate my social anxiety and make me feel less isolated in a scene that seemed determined to point
should be punished for it. Binaristic gender expectations added to general punk expectations and compulsory heterosexuality combine to form a uniquely potent form of girl hate in the punk scene (more on this in Section II on page 15). Even though many of us would like to think that punk is a place from which we can escape from the claws of dominant USian culture for a period of time, mainstream beauty standards are still very much in place.
My main motivation to continue putting so much effort into my looks was to make friends and de-center men in my life.
Getting involved in a majority-white punk scene meant that, no matter who thought differently, the same kinds of European beauty standards that dominated mainstream white culture also dominated punk’s white subculture. Women, gender nonconforming individuals, and POCs
has historically been known to pull from and mix styles from groups and countercultures that punks claim to be against—namely, the military (and, by extension, Nazis). A full assessment of just why a group of people who subscribe to leftist/radical politics and often call for the end of governmental
Women, gender non-conforming individuals, and POCs still face harsh judgments for our bodies and modes of dress while white punk men’s fashion is simultaneously viewed as less important and more open to interpretation. still face harsh judgments for our bodies and modes of dress while white punk men’s fashion is simultaneously viewed as less important and more open to interpretation. Centering dress styles on men serves to keep them in a dominant social position while making it easier to spot those who fail to embody the punk uniform, namely women, femmes, and queers. Even though certain accessories have waxed and waned in popularity over the years, several symbols continue to be present and just about all of us can recognize a typical punk uniform when we see it. Plaid print, unnaturally-colored hair, ripped and tattered clothing, Doc Martens boots, leather jackets, and black band t-shirts have consistently acted as markers of recognition for those who identify as punk or wish to fit in within punk spaces. Punk fashion
control and systemic violence would choose to adopt the look of those they speak out against is outside of my capacity, but factors such as these point to punk fashion often being hard to rationalize or justify. It is probably not a coincidence that many bodily adornments popular in Western punk scenes, such as tattoos, piercings, and Mohawk hairstyles, have been directly pulled from Indigenous communities and cultures. There has been very little conscious investigation by white punks into the fact that these markers mean different things on different bodies. On white bodies we generally take these to mean social deviance, a rejection of mainstream culture, and “alternative” political stances, while on Black and Brown bodies they can mark the wearer as unprofessional or
Throughout the whole time I colored my hair as a teen and young adult, I never faced any overt ramifications for doing so—such as having my employability affected or facing social sanctions—because I am white. aggressive.1 This is just as prevalent with white women as it is white men— oftentimes, white women are found to be “quirky” or “unique” for dyeing their hair bright colors or artistically styling it, while Black women are slammed for being “ghetto” or “classless” for doing the same thing. Throughout the whole time I colored my hair as a teen and young adult, I never faced any overt ramifications for doing so—such as having my employability affected or facing social sanctions—because I am white. My hairstyles and piercings have never barred me from participating in professional atmospheres or otherwise made my presence in them suspect. At age 18, I showed up for jury duty with teal and hot pink hair and wasn’t asked to leave court to “professionalize 1 I recommend checking out “To Body Mod Away From Brownness And Back” by Alok Vaid-Menon for a view into the ways that masculinity and embodiments affect brown men differently than they do white men. Vaid-Menon discusses his experience with growing out his facial hair as a brown man living in Brooklyn, a choice that has gotten him labeled as cool and stylish by bearded white hipsters, and how this is a stark contrast from being taunted by white boys throughout his childhood and teen years for having what they perceived as excess body hair. He questions what it means for white men with beards to be seen as “beautiful” while bearded brown men are associated with words like “terrorism.”
my appearance.” With the exception of being accurately read as queer or gender non-conforming and facing homophobia and cissexism by classmates and professors, my punk-coded body markers have not impacted others’ assumptions about my capabilities in academia. Even now, I have the ability to openly wear several facial piercings at my job as a domestic violence services advocate without having them negatively affect my clients’ or coworkers’ perceptions of my job performance. While my personal experiences might speak to how body modifications are becoming more accepted in modern USian culture, there still deserves to be critical thought lent to just why they’re becoming normalized now—and my guess is that it’s because white people are forcing this change. As much as we typically don’t think about it or don’t want to think about it, mainstream culture imposes standards and forces shifts within punk’s subculture, and vice versa. When we begin to consider the particulars of the raced and gendered expectations within punk and how they are not born or executed within a vacuum, we are able to see more connections between seemingly
small-scale things like punk styles and embodiments and large-scale variables such as representation, white supremacy, and cultural appropriation, along with how these factors affect different people in different ways. My favorite example of how white men in punk have low appearance expectations is the character Mike, played by Jason Segel, from the US film SLC Punk (1998). In the movie, Mike is a brainy guy who looks like a nerd, complete with collared shirts, a slicked back haircut, and thickrimmed glasses. When talking about the prospect of leaving Salt Lake City, Utah, a place the characters simultaneously revere and hate, Mike notes that he plans to attend college to study botany because he “wants to save the rainforests.” Yet despite
Mike gets accidentally bumped into at a house party, he slams the guy’s head into a nearby wall without warning and has his behavior immediately affirmed by the main character, Stevo (Matthew Lillard), who yells, “PUNK ROCK!” Mike challenges the ideas that there needs to be a link between dress and behavior, that being punk means being visibly notable as such, and that being academic isn’t punk; all because he’s a tough white guy. Mike is able to gain legitimacy in the SLC punk scene due to being willing to physically assault strangers at his own discretion and performing actions that are coded as punk, and it’s no coincidence that these traits are viewed as masculine. He’s the exception to the rule and a striking case in point about how white male bodies and actions directly influence concepts of what punk is
In many ways, punk is viewed as an utopia for white and male carelessness, ignorance, and self-centered desires. his boring looks and academic (read: Not Punk) mindset, Mike is heralded as “really hardcore” and one of the truest punks in the scene—because he’s aggressive and violent. When Mike gets arrested, he kicks out the back window of a cop car he’s thrown into and escapes on foot while still handcuffed. When Mike goes to a big punk show, he gets in the mosh pit and uses his large stature and physical strength to throw people around. When
and vice versa. In many ways, punk is viewed as an utopia for white and male carelessness, ignorance, and selfcentered desires. Countless white men are drawn to punk for its reputation as a place where they can break shit, intentionally overlook the boundaries and wishes of others, and then explain away that they’re only doing what is already deemed socially acceptable. Much like fashion styles mentioned
previously, specific behaviors have a cyclical relationship with white men’s influence on punk. So many actions that we view as punk in and of themselves are supposedly radical and dangerous—these tend to be based not only on the general privilege that being white and male affords them, but on individualistic notions of cause and
DIY music venue after you get ~way too into the music~? Who are you really hurting when you make a mess in your own community or neighborhood? This blatant ignorance and disrespect for the nuances of responsibility and care is also extended to a general accepted means of treating others. To many punks, “punk” means not only
Who are you really hurting when you make a mess in your own community or neighborhood? effect as well. Activities like senseless and apolitical property damage performed by gender-conforming white men are celebrated for their perilous qualities, without any kind of analyses of power or safety behind them. Is it a coincidence that nonstate-sanctioned forms of violence that we collectively code as punk are less risky for white folks than it is for Black folks, who are incarcerated in the US at a rate of over six times more than white people and are murdered by police at astronomical rates simply for being Black? Who is relatively safe to host shows in their basements because they either have established rapport with local law enforcement or they know cops won’t harass them as much for noise violations? Who cleans up the graffiti you leave on the stalls in the VFW hall bathroom?2 Who foots the bill when you trash the 2 “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” (1981) by Dead Kennedys references this distinction between violence directed at community spaces versus state-supported spaces with its lines, “Stab our backs when you trash our halls / Trash a bank if you’ve got real balls!”
a rejection of the conventional, but a rejection of human decency and respect as well. The popularized stereotype of a punk attitude is one that is selfserving, hostile, and offensive for the sake of being offensive—and you can probably guess who benefits the most from this. Straight white men in punk consistently attempt to blame “politically correct (PC) culture” when their behaviors are critiqued. Most of the time when we call out white punk dudes for saying fucked up shit, they seem to have three well-prepared excuses for why their behavior is Not Oppressive but is Actually Totally Punk: they were either just 1) joking around, 2) utilizing their right to free speech, or 3) misunderstood by their accuser(s). US band Quincy Punx stated in their 1993 song, “Fuck You (If You Can’t Take a Joke),” “Do you really think I want you to when I say suck my cock / If you do then maybe you shouldn’t listen to punk rock.” The singer takes the focus off of himself
for saying something derogatory by twisting the situation around to be centered on the facts that he was ~just kidding~ and that punk equates to jokes about sexual harassment that can only be avoided by not participating in punk at all. Over a decade later, a shock rock band from Canada wrote a song with the exact same theme and a nearly-identical title. Dayglo Abortions’ 2004 “Fuck The World (If It Can’t Take a Joke)”3 says, “I’d like to think that we hate no one / And all our songs are just for fun / But you know that’s not really true / Cuz if you hate us then we hate you!” Later on in the
logical to set up an “us” vs. “them” mentality and shift the blame back onto marginalized folks in punk who air out grievances against them instead of using such responses to take a look at how their actions come off to others. These dudes truly value their ability to scream about free speech while whining about how mass backlash against their suddenly light-hearted and fun comments is what is truly damaging punk. It’s pretty funny4 how straight white men hype up the idea that they are the tastemakers, trendsetters, and kings of punk when things work
These dudes truly value their ability to scream about free speech while whining about how mass backlash against their suddenly light-hearted and fun comments is what is truly damaging punk. song, the singer uses the line, “I swim against the tide, fighting every inch of the way,” referencing his belief that he is going “against the tide” by being an ignorant egomaniac who refuses to listen to how his actions affect those around him. This reactive, pseudodefense is commonly used by white men in response to criticism they face—they see it as easier and more
out for them, but are blazingly quick to point fingers elsewhere when the pervasiveness of their fucked up behavior is subject to questioning. In late 2012/early 2013, shitty US punk band Church Whip intended to tour the East Coast of their home country before getting a bunch of their shows cancelled due to backlash over their tour name: “Raping The East.” With no conscious thought over a variety of reasons why the name is creepy and disgusting (i.e. evokes imagery of white colonialism and the history of genocide against First Nations peoples; likens playing punk shows
3 The album this song was released on, Holy Shiite (referencing the religious division of Islam), also features songs that mock child sexual abuse, slam drug addicts who engage in sex work, call women who attend their shows “hostages” who are only valued for their ability to flash the band, describe how they’re true punks because they get drunk and watch TV, and describe wanting Bin Laden to murder fat people and those they believe are too reliant on technology. 4
By “funny,” I mean “soul-crushing.”
and attending them with sexual violence; intentionally alienates rape survivors and populations who face high rates of rape victimization), the band basically blamed feminists and an overly-sensitive internet punk culture for blowing shit out of proportion. Church Whip skipped out on numerous rejected tour stops as well as a formal apology for the effect they had and went on to play a handful of shows they lauded as truly punk for being supportive in the face of their so-called unjust scrutiny. Three years later, another US band faced repercussions for their hateful actions despite actually making a flimsy attempt at apologizing. Shoegaze band Whirr made a series of transmisogynistic tweets about the US trans-feminist punk band G.L.O.S.S. in October 2015 and hastily backtracked after Run For Cover Records, a label they had several releases with, immediately dropped them.5 The next morning the band blamed the series of tweets on a friend who they routinely let have “free reign” over their Twitter account because they “thought it was funny.” Guitarist Nick Bassett claimed the band supported trans folks and said he would be the only one controlling that social media page from then on. It’s worth mentioning that Bassett, in a past interview with Noisey, 5 Whirr called G.L.O.S.S. “boys in panties,” likened them to the character Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs, openly laughed at folks who attempted to call Whirr out for being violent, and then advocated for trans folks killing themselves by saying, “My mom committed suicide why can’t all these trans kids get it right?”
stated that fans getting upset about material they posted on Facebook was a form of “weeding out the pussies” and called those who critiqued them for being sexist and ableist in their posts “absolute morons.” It seems really fucking hard to believe that their backpedaling was done for truly remorseful reasons and not because they suffered financial repercussions for their asshole behavior. I guess critiques are a lot easier to hear and take seriously when your social connections and income are on the line.
• Binaristic gender coding on top of general punk aesthetic expectations can make for very limited accepted embodiment options. Do you think a non-gendered punk appearance is possible? • While we’d like to think otherwise, punk is just as susceptible to “beauty contests” and appearance-based judgements of one another as mainstream culture is. What clothing items do you think are specifically coded as punk? What about a person’s appearance or behavior communicates that they’re into punk? • For many white punks, “looking alternative” is a means of marking our bodies as “Other,” since our whiteness is viewed as a blank slate, a standard to be deviated from. What embodiment standards do you think get reinforced in punk? How do you think these enact themselves on white people differently than they do on POCs (ex: body modifications, hair styles, clothing choices)?
Ii. THOU SHALT Fear the feminine p er p et u at i n g mis ogy n y , gir l h a t e , and “special snowflake” syndrome Every time I see him he’s with she Gonna make her legs all wobbly I can’t wait to punch her in the teeth Then that boy will be all for me The Donnas, “Get Rid of That Girl” (1997) For a long time, I didn’t analyze my own personal legacy of not talking to girls in the punk scene out of thinking they intrinsically had less of a right to be there. My own internalized misogyny coupled with the entrenched devaluation of women in the subculture manifested itself as girl hate, which is a function of the misogyny espoused by folks overall in punk. I was intimately aware that women were treated like shit in my local scene, but instead of trying to challenge the structure that perpetuated such behaviors, I took the easy way out and did everything I could to set myself apart and prove that I wasn’t one of those other, typical girls. I looked for ways to silently prove to myself that I was different, that I was better, and that I was truly deserving of being included in capital-p Punk while they weren’t. I kept the handful of punk women friends I had close to me, romanticizing our platonic relationships as transgressive and radical in the face of a scene that centralized one’s relationship to men as a form of social capital—all the while talking shit about other punk women, calling them posers, and spitting out half-giggled insults about their
clothing, hair, and makeup into my friends’ ears. In my eyes, there were two classes of women in punk: True Girl Punks and Fake Girl Punks. I saw myself and my friends as the former and everyone else as the latter. This belief enabled me to justify every fucked up thing I did under the guise of fairly retaliating against those who I believed sullied the name of punk women and femmes. While I mostly just gossiped and shot dirty looks, I did take my internalized misogyny too far in a few instances. The meanest thing I ever did in the name of retaliation against another teen girl punk for giving us a bad name happened when I was 17.1 One of the girls in my local scene, who I had identified as a poser for wearing upscale brand clothing and claiming to be a vegetarian but eating beef burritos when she was “super hungry,” was named Brit. I hated her for buying her punk patches 1 This story was initially told in the third issue of my now-defunct perzine series, You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania, released in July 2010. I wrote about the incident from the perspective of my 17-year old self with the intention of being transparent about my horrible past actions as well as showing how girl hate can manifest within the punk scene.
at Hot Topic, flirting with our punk guy friends in order to bum cigarettes off of them, listening to bands I thought weren’t punk enough, and most of all, being a total pushover. One afternoon she had left her car parked at a friends’
different we were from Brit. I remember feeling like she constantly let me down or betrayed me because she was such an easy target for our punk guy friends. Instead of wondering why they treated her like shit, I wondered why she let
Internally, I was terrified that she was setting the standard for the way girl punks should be treated—if the punk boys could walk all over her like a doormat, what would stop them from doing it to me next? apartment I was hanging out at and a couple of the white punk boys who were essentially the most popular guys in our local scene called her and said they were going to beat up her car because they were bored. I watched with a sick feeling as one dude repeatedly kicked her rear view mirror until it snapped off in one metallic chunk as he howled with laughter. I didn’t completely understand why at the time, but the sight of it made me furious—both at him and at Brit. Later in the evening one of my friends (another True Girl Punk) showed up and I told her about what happened while expressing that I felt something needed to be done. My friend ended up going into the bathroom with an empty Gatorade bottle and coming out with it half-full of piss. We walked down to Brit’s car, double checked that the driver’s side window was still cracked open, and dumped the bottle all over the inside of her door and seat. We never heard anything about Brit noticing something was up, likely due in large part to the fact that we didn’t tell any of our punk guy friends what we had done. It was our secret, our way of strengthening ties with one another by showing how
them. Internally, I was terrified that she was setting the standard for the way girl punks should be treated—if the punk boys could walk all over her like a doormat, what would stop them from doing it to me next? Because of my fear, I ended up treating her exactly like the punk guys did, but with much more force and intention. I wanted to shove her so hard she got implanted into the ground, to punch in the faces of all the dudes who laughed as they destroyed her property and our chance for equality with them, and most of all, to end the belief that we were somehow connected to each other just because we were girls. I felt so different from her, so much better, but yet I was treated the same as she was: like my property and emotions and body and beliefs could be crushed at any moment. Though I was constantly wary of white punk men’s treatment of me and fed up with trying to cater to what their ideals of a punk girl or femme should look like, I still obsessed over how they viewed me and other punk girls. I used to get upset when a more notable punk boy dated or brought a non-punklooking girl to shows, even though I
was completely uninterested in the guys myself. As a female-socialized punk, I felt degraded and as if they were saying that being punk was great if you were a cis guy but if you weren’t, you were undesirable (read: too masculine/ unfeminine and thus in the purgatory of not hot enough to hang out with, not dudely enough to be a real music fan). I couldn’t understand why so many guys were so quick to loudly exclaim their love of punk in all its forms while traitorously saying punk girls weren’t good enough for them—and it wasn’t that I was jealous or wanted to date those asshole guys instead, I was just pissed at what looked like hypocrisy to me. In US punk rock band The Donna’s “Get
being threatened by non-punk outsiders (like gender-normative women and femmes) added to girl hate formulates itself in cutthroat competition among women for status and potential sexual partners to men and masculine folks. In some circles, “true” identification is seen as fleeting and when it comes to dating, “quality” folks are treated as a scarce resource. The straight white punk boys—and even the queer white butch and trans masculine punks—who successfully embody punk masculinity are often free to sit back and let women and femmes subtly fight each other for their attention—proof positive that men are the only ones who benefit from this competition.3
The straight white punk boys—and even the queer white butch and trans masculine punks—who successfully embody punk masculinity are often free to sit back and let women and femmes subtly fight each other for their attention—proof positive that men are the only ones who benefit from this competition. Rid of That Girl,” the singer explains her plans to assault, injure, and even kill a conventionally attractive girl in order for the singer to have the boy she likes all to herself.2 Such feelings of 2 This song is truly tumultuous for me. Stylistically and rhythmically, it’s one of the best punk songs I’ve ever heard, but lyrically, it’s saturated with competitive heterosexuality and girl hate. I feel similarly about The Donnas as a punk entity, since so much of their content focuses on a desire for men, but not in a way that actively challenges or destabilizes any heterosexist notions—it’s more of a replication of the male gaze turned against men themselves in a non-satirical manner. Their self-titled album (which features this song) is one of my all-time punk favorites and I’ve been known to claim having an interest in forming a Donnas cover band and gender-swapping all of the pronouns in their
Another issue akin to the desirability politics within punk that I haven’t seen addressed in any writings or discussions is the potential for the songs, especially “Get Rid of That Girl.” 3 The only song I’ve ever heard about a punk dude criticizing the dating choices of other punk dudes is the 1986 track “Letter to a Fanzine” by US garage punk band Great Plains. In a whiny nasal voice, the singer belts out, “Why do punk rock guys go out with new wave girls?” numerous times before going on to point out which record labels the couple he’s referencing enjoy: “He likes everything that comes out on 4AD / She likes everything that comes out on SST.” The song was the band’s biggest hit, heralded as a satirical jab at new wave kids—not as a serious inquiry or judgement about punk men dating outside of their immediate subculture, like The Donnas’ song referenced previously.
music to condone domestic and dating violence. Since punk so often cloaks its lyrical content in defenses of either not actually being serious (as discussed in Section I on page 13) or just blowing off some steam, fans of misogynistic and oppressive punk that perpetuates violence against women can simultaneously hear their hatred of women popularized and reaffirmed back to them as well as pass off their own violence as normal and not-that-bad. One of the most remarkable instances of a dating violence theme in punk I’ve come across spans both across the world and across generations: US thrash metal band Wehrmacht and Swedish hardcore band Panzerschrek basically wrote the same horrendous girlfriendbeating anthem, “You Broke My Heart... So I Broke(/Break) Your Face” (1989 and 2007, respectively).4 Though the lyrics and specific titles differ, both songs are responses to an ex-girlfriend who embarrassed and disrespected the male singer and thus deserved to be
assaulted because of it. Wehrmacht’s lyrics in particular are more descriptive as well as intentional in its violence and misogyny: the gross line, “I’m not gonna be your emotional tampon,” is shortly followed by, “Don’t ignore me, listen up and hear / Or do I have to carve it on your forehead with an X-Acto knife?” Aside from the singer’s usage of “emotional tampon” as a specifically gendered term (used by his assumedcisgender girlfriend), his intention of resorting to physical mutilation if his partner does not invest emotional labor in listening to and paying attention to him shows a very tangible form of and threat of gendered violence. The takeaway from these songs—that a man feeling emotionally hurt by a woman is balanced by and somehow equal to that man beating her up in retaliation—does nothing but strengthen and reinforce tired stereotypes of both women and men. The fact that a song with such a similar theme can pop up in different countries and time periods shows that
4 So, “Wehrmacht” was the name of the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935-1946, and “Panzerschreck” was the name of an anti-tank rocket launcher developed by—you guessed it—Nazi Germany. I cannot make this shit up, nor can I ignore how unironic it is that bands that reappropriate and align themselves with Nazi mythology and terminology are always fucking disgusting.
the same heterosexist, cissexist, and misogynistic mindsets in punk haven’t changed in 30ish years. Of course, not all punks are heterosexual and/or concerned about the related trappings of heterosexuality, but traditional notions of gender and
...fans of misogynistic and oppressive punk that perpetuates violence against women can simultaneously hear their hatred of women popularized and reaffirmed back to them as well as pass off their own violence as normal and not-that-bad.
sexuality get propped up just as hard, if not more so, in punk scenes as they do in general USian culture. This leads to feminine people of all genders and queer kids feeling unwelcome in punk on the basis of their genders and sexualities,
(1984) is a shining example of punk men not taking sexism seriously until other men talk about it and not taking a whole topic seriously until it can be captured in a catchy sing-along punk anthem.6 The chorus includes two lines
The belief that straight white men are the ones who truly understand punk is another function of misogyny and racism in the scene. often while oppressive punks themselves think they’re open-minded for simply not being intentional and active queer bashers. A queer male friend once told me about an experience of his at a punk show in the Washington, DC area where he was gay bashed and called a fag for holding another guy’s hand—by a dude who was wearing a fucking Limp Wrist t-shirt.5 This recollection shows how straight homophobic men not only feel the need to police punk spaces for behavior they themselves don’t participate in (thus getting labeled unpunk) but also have the ability to blatantly divorce a band’s message from the type of music they play while simultaneously seeing themselves as true fans of such bands by virtue of their maleness. The belief that straight white men are the ones who truly understand punk is another function of misogyny and racism in the scene. There are even instances when white men are treated as the experts on what does and does not classify as sexism. US hardcore punk band 7 Seconds’ “Not Just Boys Fun”
that I heavily appreciated and identified with as a teen: “You feel so fucking threatened when they stand out in front / A stupid, passive piece of meat is all you really want.” Yet, it’s interesting to note that this song, often lionized as “pro-feminist,” features gang vocals of the band members singing, “Not just boys fun!” in intentionally highpitched voices. You’d think if a band were so passionate about proving that punk isn’t just for men, they’d invite, you know, actual women to participate in a song about gender equity in their scene instead of mocking them. With so much stacked against women, queers, and trans folks in punk from the straight white boys who try to call the shots, it’s important for us to be able to pinpoint ourselves historically and currently in punk. C.L.I.T. (Combating Latent Inequality Together) Fest is hosted in a different US city each year to showcase music made by women and trans people in an atmosphere advertised as attempting
6 Unfortunately, 7 Seconds didn’t have a consistent 5 Limp Wrist is a wildly popular US queer hardcore anti-sexist ethos throughout their music. In 1995’s “This (or queercore) band with song titles like, “I Love Hardcore Is My Life,” they grouped parents and girls together as Boys / I Love Boys Hardcore,” “Recruiting Time,” and forces trying to unfairly control them: “Parents wanna “Cruisin’ at the Show.” run my life / Some girls act like my fuckin wife.”
to challenge patriarchy and genderrelated oppression in the punk scene. When I attended Washington, DC’s C.L.I.T. Fest in 2011, I was ecstatic to see musical performances accompanied by several workshops inciting dialogue about social inequalities, activism, and racial issues—so much so that I became a volunteer and workshop leader at their next iteration in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 2012. Since its inception in 2014, I have also attended and been a workshop host at Fed Up Fest, a yearly queer punk fest organized and held in Chicago, Illinois that books bands whose material directly engages with queerness and its related complexities. Never before have I been surrounded by kind and positive people at such shows, and attending fests that are constructed around identity politics are very bittersweet experiences for me—I simultaneously relish being in spaces that are adamant about combating punk’s internalized hierarchies and wish that we didn’t need to create them in the first place. It seems like the only other spaces in which I feel confident enough to interact with others and valued in my own opinions and histories are online. Thanks to the intricacies of the internet, I’m able to interact with other queer, trans, and femme punks and find music with subject matter that I am more likely to relate to. Many blogs have informally compiled historical data about women of color, queers, and trans folks in the punk scene and have created access to their music through free downloads.7 Specifically focusing
on these contributions attempts to make up for the lack of opportunities, resources, and support we’ve gotten in the past, and these kinds of efforts are sorely needed to help us feel attached to and appreciated by a genre that often makes us feel like we aren’t wanted or needed. Yet despite so many more efforts springing up that claim to be centered on hyping up our contributions or ‘taking punk back’ from straight white men, the people who stand to benefit from these events, fests, and undertakings are almost always straight white women. In November 2015, I attended the one-day punk fest Not Just a Boy’s Club in central New Jersey that featured numerous bands and tablers “who have at least one member who identifies as either female, genderqueer, non binary, trans, etc.” and purported to be “here to prove that the hardcore/punk scene... is ours just as much as it is theirs!” according to the promotional information about the fest. Hosted in an American Legion post in a rural/suburban area of NJ, I was excited to attend a punk show in the kind of environment I had grown up seeing bands play at as well as to not have to travel across state lines to see the kind of live music I enjoy.8 Walking in, I immediately noticed that nearly
These feature a wide variety of sub-genres within punk and metal as well as bands from all over the world, but heads up: their only requirement for a band’s inclusion on each list is the gender of their singers, not because they are socially progressive or otherwise concerned about resisting sexism in punk and metal. 8 American Legions are centers throughout the US that serve as local community spaces for combat 7 I recommend checking out “A Reference of Female veterans. They are known to rent out their spaces for Fronted Punk Rock 1977-89” (12 albums) and “Female events such as wedding receptions, picnics, and family Fronted Heavy Metal, 1976 – 1989” (15 albums so far). reunions.
everyone in the space was white and only about a third of the crowd were women and/or femme-of-center folks. While I was unsurprised to be at a majoritywhite punk show in a majority-white part of NJ, I was pretty struck by the
to his band mates, he was basically the perfect human. He filled in when their old drummer left. He lived in another state. He practiced drums for the band based on tapes of theirs that they sent him. He had never played live before.
Thanks to the intricacies of the internet, I’m able to interact with other queer, trans, and femme punks and find music with subject matter that I am more likely to relate to. gender ratio. Even more so, I was thrown off by seeing countless white men with open containers and plastic cups of draft beer in their hands. It turned out that there was a full bar in the basement of the space that was serving up beer, wine, and a variety of mixed drinks and shots—but the presence of the bar wasn’t noted in any circulated info about the show. Having been sober for close to 4 years at that point, I was fortunately in a good enough place emotionally that I did not feel like I needed to immediately leave for my own safety concerns, but I was instantly pushed into an internal crisis management mode that happens whenever I am around men who are drinking. Having walked in during a lull between sets, I uneasily nudged my way closer to the front of the room just as the next band, a dual vocal punk band from the East Coast, was about to play. The man and woman singers talked for a bit about what kinds of songs they sang, how long it took them to get to the fest, and how much they loved their drummer, Dylan. I cannot for the life of me remember what the band’s name was or where they were from exactly, but I will never forget that their fucking drummer was named Dylan. According
They played two or three songs before taking a break and talking even more about how goddamn wonderful Dylan was. The irony of a band literally taking more time to talk up and idolize their white dude member than actually playing music during a show that was supposed to be centered on the presence of women therein was simultaneously laughable and frustrating—and it turned out that I wasn’t the only person who thought so. Mere seconds after I rolled my eyes at having to hear more about how awesome Dylan was, a woman’s voice several feet behind me called out, “It’s not just a Dylan’s club!” My half of the room rang out in laughter and scattered clapping, finally shutting the singers up and getting them back to playing music. After a few more bands played, a white woman with several-feet-long dreadlocks came up to the mic and talked about her efforts in organizing the fest, how important community was to the NJ punk and hardcore scene, and thanked all of the (mostly dude) friends she had in the bands playing that day. It all made sense—a white cis woman with a disgusting culturally appropriative hairstyle organized a fest with an all-white, almost-all-non-trans band lineup in an overwhelmingly-
white punk scene thanks to her straight white guy friends who were kind enough to support and humble her. From what I was seeing, the fest was attempting to “prove that the hardcore/ punk scene... is ours just as much as it is theirs” when the collective “ours” meant straight white women, but not when it meant any broader categories. It wasn’t aiming to alter the status quo or to actually threaten the patriarchal standards in punk—it was a fest simply
sexism by simply showing up. While it might have found success in its role as a fundraiser for local groups serving abuse victims (an aim that was treated as secondary), it ended up failing to address any larger issues within the NJ punk scene or even punk as a whole. The trappings of identity-based organizing within punk are well-documented and despite our intentions, we can even end up exploiting our differences instead of celebrating them.
So much of the time, being able to participate in punk as a marginalized person necessitates that you compartmentalize yourself to the point of being disassociated from your own experiences, knowledges, and feelings. created under the tenants of White Feminism.9 Having a lineup based on the social connections between those involved, it seemed like a way for the target audience to celebrate themselves for their good intentions. The organizer got to feel like she was making herself and other white cis women more welcome in the scene and the white guy friends of hers got to feel like they were proving their commitment to combating 9 White Feminism is a specific version or brand of feminism that concerns itself solely with issues faced by white cis women. While not all white cis women who identify as feminists necessarily subscribe or reinforce White Feminism, the usage of the term is meant to apply to prescriptions of feminism that lack intersectionality. My application of this label to the fest was cemented after finding out that a friend I went with was asked by several people she met that day how she knew the organizer and was treated like she must have only been present due to having a direct social relationship with her.
So much of the time, being able to participate in punk as a marginalized person necessitates that you compartmentalize yourself to the point of being disassociated from your own experiences, knowledges, and feelings. One of the biggest fallacies I’ve subscribed to during my time in punk has been the Not About Me phenomenon: bearing witness to microaggressions, oppressive and hegemonic attitudes, and harmful stereotypes about identity groups one belongs to—and instead of resisting them, simply responding, “Well, that’s not about me.” This rationalization is used as a survival tactic and means of allowing oneself to still participate in a subculture and space that often sends very tangible messages that you are not welcome there. As I mentioned previously in this section, I used the Not About Me fallacy to justify
my abhorrent actions towards other punk girls who I believed to be at fault for the shitty mindsets about women in punk instead of thinking critically about why those mindsets existed in the first place. By leaning upon this fallacy, I also fell victim to Special Snowflake Syndrome: feeling as though you are too much of an outlier to be subjected to any kind of negative prejudices against you based on your marginalized status and thus are the exception to the rule. This active and purposeful inattentiveness to your own victimhood is an extension of internalized hatreds such as misogyny, racism, homophobia, and victim blaming. Utilizing it is a delicate balancing act: it seems like there is a fine line between keeping yourself safe from further harm and stress, and strengthening the force that puts you and your community at risk for victimblaming. The “I’m not like those other ____ people!” belief also manifests in other self-destructive and –exploiting ways. Nicknames were popular in my local scene, both to help discern between folks with similar names and to make men stand out in even more unique ways. White boys were called things like “Heavy Metal John,” “Creepy Alex,” and “Emo Mike” to set them apart from other white men with the same first names, while punks of color were faced with and/or took on nicknames that were explicitly in reference to their race. Two first generation East Asian men who were involved in various iterations of my high school punk scene went by the names “Ping” and “Asian” and were reportedly fine with being called such things. One even went so far as to actively dissuade people from
knowing or calling him by his legal first name, insisting that he preferred his nickname. As a white person, I can only speculate about the complexities of these men making these decisions and the related connections to Orientalism and anti-Asian racism, as well as the tendency for punks of color in majoritywhite scenes to be viewed as “tokens.” Thinking back, I don’t remember any of my white friends having a problem using these nicknames. They all just thought they were funny. This instance, along with others I’ve witnessed, raises questions about where and when we are celebrating facets of our identities that deviate from the norm and when we are engaging in self-annihilation.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS • Other than traveling / niche punk fests focused on identity politics, what efforts have you heard of or participated in that aim to actively include queers and POCs in punk/DIY scenes? • The bands we have access to and relate with tend to shape our feelings about punk. How many punk bands that consist of women / queer / trans people can you name? How many of these members or bands are primarily- or all-white? • Many women and queers move through punk spaces ingrained with the idea that we need to compete for limited and conditional acceptance therein, since meeting standards for punk are typically so focused on men and heteros. What are some microaggressions you’ve seen or experienced that reinforce trans/misogyny and sexism in the punk scene?
I i i . T H O U S H A LT N O T TA L K A B O U T T H E W H I T E B OYS ’ C L U B a cces s i bi li t y , f a u x u n it y , a n d i roni c p er p et u a t ion of r a c is m in p u n k Hey fuckhead weekend party jock You’re just a piece of shit that talks Hey rich sorority goldilocks Out getting raped or sucking cock... A Global Threat, “Get in the Coffin” (2003) As someone who tries to recognize, assess, and change inequalities, it’s not very hard to take notice of the gender, race, age, and class uniformity in the punk scene. When I attend shows, the treatment I witness of other femmes, queers, and women present reinforces how alienated I feel from masculinity and how fucking problematic homogeneity is in the punk scene, particularly since punk paints itself as a space for those who are rejected from mainstream society while underhandedly reinforcing oppression. US street punk band A Global Threat was one of my favorites for years, until I was able to accurately identify the victim-blaming, rape apologist, misogynistic message in “Get in the Coffin” shown above.1 As a rape survivor who encounters bands that casually discuss rape or make light of it, I’m subtly told to leave my baggage 1 The song lists several types of people the singer wishes would kill themselves, continuing with the verse, “Hey high school homie gangster snot / Hope you’re stabbed, hope you’re shot… / Hey clever jerk just ring it up / Cause any jerk could work your job,” and eventually ending with descriptive ways to commit suicide while background singers chant, “Kill yourself!” between ideas.
at the door if I want to listen to their music. Punk feeds off of marginalized folks disassociating from our own experiences in favor of generalized perspectives of white/straight/cis men. Punk, as a group or community, needs certain requirements met for inclusion and identification, and not discussing them or actively questioning them means we often fall prey to standards we don’t agree with or align ourselves with, thus continuing the cycle of alienation and disconnection. As a subculture, knowledge of and inclusion in punk gets passed on through informal networks, setting itself up to be accessed via social groups that are primarily uniform in their structures around demographics of race, class, and so on. Punk is vulnerable to succumbing to herd mentality, and the people who are the most prevalent in each individual scene are likely the ones who are the most adamant about defining punk on their terms. Since punk is somewhat separated from mainstream society, finding out about its existence is hinged upon someone else telling you about it
and where to find it. Demographics in punk are cyclical because we are often homogenous in our social circles and socialization groups. As I mentioned in
you make up the majority of a space or a subgenre of music—especially when they take it to mean they are therefore entitled above all to be in
White punks tend to operate of f of the notion that punk is solely created by and for us, thus allowing us to claim that we aren’t participating in systematic oppression while actively enacting it in our music. the opening of this zine, I was introduced to punk through my older straight white boyfriend, along with friends I met over the years, and I’m not sure I would have come in contact with it if I didn’t have connections with straight white men as a teen. The punk friends of color that I had routinely expressed to me that the majority of their friends and family asked why they were interested in a “white thing.”2 I and other white punks were majorly oblivious to race relations in the scene, especially of the fact that punk’s roots are from a direct linage of musical genres created by people of color in the US, particularly Black musicians. Considering this fact, one must wonder how we came to suffer from such heinous cultural amnesia to the point where white punks blatantly ask punks of color at shows what they’re doing in the space to begin with. Most white boys don’t realize the power of seeing people similar to 2 Upon meeting my first girlfriend’s grandmother, I noticed she openly ignored my presence and even seemed a little scared of me. My girlfriend later told me it was because she assumed all white punks were racist skinheads who supported fascism. She also routinely chastised my girlfriend’s appearance because it “wasn’t how a proper Puerto Rican woman should be dressing,” since she believed a punk style was something that clashed with her race.
a certain territory. Viewing punk music as representing your life, your experiences, your perceptions, and your concerns therefore incites feeling like “others” have no place sharing turf with you and when criticisms arise, simple defenses easily consist of “That’s not what punk is about!” White punks tend to operate off of the notion that punk is solely created by and for us, thus allowing us to claim that we aren’t participating in systematic oppression while actively enacting it in our music. This is especially endemic with white punk bands when it comes to resisting white supremacy terrorist groups such as Nazis and the KKK as a means of separating themselves from “actual” racism. While white punks, and white people in general, are in a unique place of power that could be utilized to directly engage with, teach, and hold accountable fellow white folks who are embodying racist beliefs, basically all of the punk music and efforts I’ve witnessed are spectacular failures to make any lasting changes to white supremacist organizations, formal or informal. These hate groups are veritable low-hanging fruit when it comes to targeting inequalities without actually having to engage with daily
manifestations of racism: by focusing on very public or blatant acts of racism, white bands and punks are excused from feeling like they need to investigate more insidious forms of white supremacy, especially ones that they themselves are perpetuating. As a teen, I definitely thought I was embodying an anti-racist ethos by singing along to songs like “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” (1981) by Dead Kennedys and “Fucking Racist Maggots” (2000) by A Global Threat because they fit so perfectly into the idea of what I was told being an ally looked like: not being a card-carrying member
anti-racist efforts and get punk cred and respect for being “super politically aware” and “amazing activists” is a function of white supremacy in itself. Much like white punks’ ability to be given praise easily, we are also able to walk away from criticism easily as well. Countless white punk bands that claim to be anti-racist by virtue of resisting hate groups actually end up perpetuating racist ideologies in their music in less overt ways. Antidote,4 a Dutch street punk band, was blatantly racist in their music despite resisting Nazis being a reoccurring theme in
I had no conscious awareness of the fact that this ability to sing about lackluster anti-racist efforts and get punk cred and respect for being “super politically aware” and “amazing activists” is a function of white supremacy in itself. of a terrorist organization. I genuinely thought mostly- or all-white bands who chose to sing about beating up Nazis were worthy of praise for not only making the distinction that not all white punks were racist, but also for “calling in” white punks who might be tempted to join modern white supremacy groups.3 I had no conscious awareness of the fact that this ability to sing about lackluster 3 This was an actual issue for many young white boys in southern Pennsylvania, who were promised that joining local white power groups meant belonging to a brotherhood and gaining friends who would step in as your new family. This was especially effective for boys who came from homes impacted by issues such as poverty, addiction, and mental illness. In the mid-2000s, during a break between bands at the ASW, a short-lived DIY show space in Lancaster, PA, I remember a group of white punk 16-to-20-year-old boys circled around a 13 or so year-old white boy who had confessed that he was being vetted by a hate group. The older boys took turns chastising him for being so easily swayed before telling him that he should be hanging around with them instead.
their songs (such as their 1998 track, “Anti-Nazi Youth”). In 1997’s, “Who’s The Racist,” the singer laments about starting a fight because he was called “a racist cunt,” then describes his white friend getting into another one: “They stabbed him 16 times / Just for no reason / All they want is a fight.” The song then ends with repeated chants of, “Who’s the racist?! / Who’s the racist now?!” which are made to insinuate that someone who finds it okay for a racist white person to face retaliatory violence, enacted by a person of color in self-defense, is a racist themselves. 7 Seconds, a band that often gets a reputation of being 4 This band isn’t to be confused with another Antidote who, ironically enough, focused much of their musical content on resisting social and political oppression. That UK-based band’s Destroy Fascism EP was released in 1986 and contained songs with titles such as, “We Support All Forms Of Resistance Against This Racist System.”
the good kind of straight white dudes, make similar mistakes. For 7 Seconds really fucked up in their 1982 track, in particular, it looks like the band is “Racism Sucks.” It states, “Some Black resistant to racism only when it shows folks call the white race scum, cos they itself to be inconvenient to them, most think we are the only ones / Who only likely in situations that would result live in prejudice, while a lot of Blacks in feeling more white guilt. Saying live just the same.” On the same album, “I wanna have the right to choose my their song “Antifriends” insinuates Klan” similarly that both the white made concessions singer should have for how they are the freedom to somehow not surround himself included in the with whomever group of Bad White he likes (with People: “Prejudice an emphasis throughout the on himself as a land, don’t look at valuable friend us, we’re anti-Klan to have) and that / Black hates white, broader issues like white hates Black racist policies or / Tell me why, I segregated schools don’t understand” are what would then, “I don’t want keep Black people a fuckin’ race war from being socially / I don’t want no invested in him and segregated schools not his personality / I wanna have the or his, you know, Here’s the back of my first punk vest, made in 2005, right to choose indirectly racist featuring lyrics from an Antidote song of the same my friends.” Both name (released in 2000). While Nazi punks were an attitude. Antidote and 7 actual presence in my local scene, I literally cloaked The ironic myself in anti-Nazi rhetoric to set myself apart from Seconds based perpetuation of them and show that I was The Good Kind of white their personal punk. I share this photo to drive the point home that white supremacy concepts of racism even white punks who stake their reputations on is also enacted on a rhetoric of being politically and socially aware are in dire need through songs and false equivalences: of anti-racist education and unlearning strategies. lyrics that utilize racism against Black people is wrong harmful language under the guise of and harmful, but so-called racism creating a realistic representation of the against white people (which doesn’t person, group, or systemic mindset they actually exist) holds the same amount are supposedly critiquing. US hardcore of personal damage. Even though they punk band MDC (typically referred each have different ways of breaching to as Millions of Dead Cops, though the topic and varying levels of what they’ve changed this meaning to several seems to be political literacy, they both different things over the years) went
down this road with their 1981 song, “John Wayne Was A Nazi.” A mix of imitating the language used in Wayne’s movies and commentary on how the actor is a “pawn for the capitalist whore,” the song uses racial slurs like “gooks” in the same breath as it condemns Wayne for espousing racist themes in his films. The penultimate verse, “John Wayne wore an army uniform / Didn’t like us reds and fags that didn’t conform / Great white hero had so much nerve / Lived much longer than he deserved” was followed by the final verse, “Late show Indian or Mexican dies / Klan propaganda legitimized / Hypocrite coward never fought a real fight / When I see John I’m ashamed to be white...” Including himself in the group of “reds and fags” that Wayne disliked, the singer, Dave Dictor, appears to be just as upset about Wayne’s role as an actively racist figure as he is about being excluded from the group of white
steps taken to address the root causes of white supremacy and absence of leg work put in to begin creating a systemic change—Dictor (along with other bands mentioned in this section) appears to be solely focusing on condemning individuals or groups who essentially give white people a bad name, yet utilizes the same linguistics that he identifies as problematic. Another influential white punk band that, in my opinion, has very little analyses of their content on whiteness is The Clash. Openly proclaimed by many to be the most important and skilled punk band to ever exist, The Clash is commonly referred to as a politically aware band who used their material to incite vital dialogue within punk scenes in the UK and beyond. Kieran James, then-lecturer at the School of Accounting, Economics, and Finance at the University of South Queensland in Australia, reinforced this belief in
Dictor (along with other bands mentioned in this section) appears to be solely focusing on condemning individuals or groups who essentially give white people a bad name, yet utilizes the same linguistics that he identifies as problematic. people Wayne assumingly approves of. By expressing that he feels badly about his whiteness due to being of the same race as Wayne, I believe that Dictor is motivated in his disdain for the actor because Wayne situates whiteness in a negative, visible way. With this song, and others by MDC, it can be hard to reconcile their reputation of being “powerful radical political hardcore,” as countless sources have categorized them. I question the use of “radical” as a descriptor because of the lack of
his 2010 article, ““Who am I? Where are we? Where do we go from here?”: Marxism, Voice, Representation, and Synthesis.” Utilizing Marxist and Foucauldian theoretical frameworks as a critical foundation, James attempts to deconstruct the lyrics of several popular Clash songs that were, in his opinion, ““racialized” in a way that was more acceptable in 1977 than it is in the veryPC 2009.” Their 1977 song “White Riot” included the verses, “Black people gotta lot of problems / But they don’t mind
throwing a brick / White people go to school / Where they teach you how to be thick” and “All the power’s in the hands / Of people rich enough to buy it / While we walk the street / Too chicken to even try it.” Precluded by a chorus in which singer Joe Strummer claimed he wanted a “white riot, a riot of [his] own,” the song attempts to blame an unfair
of these stereotypes,” I find it necessary to question the value and real-world impacts of this imitation.5 What are the actual effects of utilizing this language, even in a mocking manner? Whose ideals are challenged and whose are made more comfortable? What happens when the audience is unable to discern between genuine usage of slurs and
Again and again, we witness songs by white dude punk bands condemning Nazis and other organized hate groups as a means of setting up boundaries of who are Good White People and Bad White People and consistently putting themselves on the Good side. economic system for being ultimately responsible for social hierarchies while subtly reinforcing racist tropes of Black people as naturally prone to rioting and white people (the “we” used in the second verse) as cowards who are actively taught not to embrace collective activism. The essentialism of the former claim is a stark contrast to the latter, which James defends as Strummer’s attempt to “exhort whites to become more revolutionary and less compliant and to urge blacks to calm down and to adopt a more methodical and strategic approach in their systematic opposition to capitalism and injustice.” The language of white people simply needing to be “less compliant” while Black people being urged to “calm down” adds yet another layer of biological determinism (dualities of good/bad, passive/active, relaxed/ aggressive) to racist claims therein. While James argues “that Strummer used racial stereotypes skilfully [sic] on occasion in order to challenge and exhort people to reflexively examine their own values and actions in the light
ironic usage of them? I am reminded of the saying on imitation: You can wear a cowboy hat to make fun of people who wear cowboy hats, but in the end you’re just going to look like a person wearing a cowboy hat. Logically, this form of debasement-by-mockery is pretty flawed and ineffectual, but the practice is still utilized. In my opinion, it seems like numerous white dude punk bands who are heralded as culturally significant are able to utilize the strategy of racist mockery without facing critique because they are consistently given the benefit of the doubt. Again and again, we witness songs by white dude punk bands condemning Nazis and other 5 Another questionable song by The Clash is their 1977 track, “Hate and War.” The final chorus states, “I hate all the English / They’re just as bad as wops / I hate all the politeness / I hate all the cops” and is closely followed by the last verse: “I wanna walk down any street / Looking like a creep / I don’t care if I get beat up / By any Kebab Greek.” Though this is an unrelated note, I think it’s interesting to share that in his article, James also stated, “The Clash’s “The Guns of Brixton” (1979) and “The Magnificent Seven” (1980) were among the first ever hip-hop songs performed by “white” musicians.”
organized hate groups as a means of setting up boundaries of who are Good White People and Bad White People and consistently putting themselves on the Good side (just like I attempted to do with my punk vest on page 27). This practice of positioning oneself as a Good White Person also extends to white punk bands’ commentary on and reactions to police. Resisting and hating cops is a central theme that has been covered in punk songs for decades, as evidenced by the list of ones I am most familiar with: “I Hate Cops” by Authorities (USA, 1982), “Cracked Cop Skulls” by Shitlickers (Sweden, 1982), “Cops for Fertilizer” by Crucifucks (USA, 1982), “Police Bastard” by Doom (UK, 1989), “Lobotomize a Cop” by Man Is The Bastard (USA, 1995), “Police Harassment” by The Oi! Scouts (USA, 1999), “Cop on Fire” by Severed Head of State (USA, 2001), No More Cops” by Deünga (Sweden, 2004), and “Police Funeral” by Nuclear Death Terror (Denmark, 2006). Though there are a variety of ways of saying ‘fuck cops,’ I am interested in the motivations that white punks and bands have in speaking
/ They beat me up and that’s how it goes / Don’t blame us for it.” Though the line “blame me for everything that I do” is a bit questionable (as it seems to insinuate that the singer is not at fault for his own actions) and its overall message of not deserving blame is convoluted (where does the singer think this blame should be placed instead?), the takeaway of the song seems to be that they get bothered and beaten up by cops solely because they are punk—not because of anything in particular that they are doing. As it is one of many songs of its kind to specifically mention dress as a militating factor for white punks dealing with the police, this pattern is worth investigating. By correlating dressing punk with punk as a stable and immutable identity, white punks conceive of their treatment by cops as a form of profiling. I wholeheartedly resist the notion of anyone facing police brutality or mistreatment due to being targeted for their embodiments (and of cops existing at all) yet the fact of the matter is that white punks are equating a personal choice that they have in their appearance with an
By correlating dressing punk with punk as a stable and immutable identity, white punks conceive of their treatment by cops as a form of profiling. out against the police. UK white punk band The Partisans touched upon their disdain for cops based on being treated poorly for their choice of clothing in their 1983 song, “Don’t Blame Us”: “The police give us a rough time / They pick us up at any time / Blame me for everything that I do / For every crime that’s old and new / Because I wear my scruffy clothes
ascribed status—and in the process, we show our internalized white supremacy. This police harassment clashes with our worldview as white people that we don’t intrinsically “deserve” to be treated as such by cops, that any kind of blame aimed towards us should be put elsewhere. I am always in favor of people hating cops but I question
the motivations we each have in doing targeting systems of power or those in so. I am genuinely concerned that as positions of authority relative to you white punks, our resistance of police while “punching down” means telling
This consistency of white punk bands having such a narrow focus on what constitutes racism or discrimination showcases a myriad of missed opportunities to create a lasting and vital dialogue among and between white people about white supremacy. is grounded in our own secretly-held beliefs that our possession of a white identity should somehow make us immune to their persecution, no matter what other statuses we may hold or what we are wearing. And it seems like these popularized narratives in punk about why cops suck only strengthens that notion for us. This consistency of white punk bands having such a narrow focus on what constitutes racism or discrimination showcases a myriad of missed opportunities to create a lasting and vital dialogue among and between white people about white supremacy. Besides attempts to sing about anti-racism or police violence that are total failures, there are also countless straight white men in punk bands who try to make light of racism by enacting another strategy: satire. In writing this section, I’ve been truly stumped about how to proceed. I’ve wondered for years now about what exactly the function of satire is in punk and I’m still not quite sure what the answer is. According to a popular saying about satire that I’ve heard many times, successful satire should “punch up” and not “punch down.”6 “Punching up” refers to
a joke at the expense of powerless or otherwise undeserving persons. Most of the time, USian culture views “punching down” as satirical even though it is not— and punk tends to fall in this same trap. As was mentioned in Section II, punk songs by white men have the ability to toe the line between seriousness and satire, both within their own content and in what the audience chooses to derive from them. One white dude punk band that I thought was satirical for most of my teen and young adult years was the US hardcore punk band Reagan Youth. For those unfamiliar, Reagan Youth based their material and band persona around the attempt to make satirical parallels between Hitler Youth, a real group of teens and young adults active during Hitler’s regime in Germany, and the Republican US president at the time, Ronald Reagan (in office from 1981-1989).7 Their premier album, Youth Anthems for the
who is really wonderful and you should check him out! 7 Many punk bands over the years have specifically created content in retaliation of right-wing, conservative political leaders, like UK punk band Crass with Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister of the UK from 1979-1990) and Anti-Flag with George W. Bush (President of the US from 2001-2009). With the election of Democrat Illinois 6 Even after spending a lot of time trying to find Senator Barack Obama to the US Presidency in 2008, this saying’s origins, I was not able to find a credible I remember a running joke among punks being that source for it. I’ll admit that I am most familiar with it contemporary punk music was about to lose a major being used by US stand-up comedian Hari Kondabolu, source of inspiration for material.
New Order (1984), featured Nazi and KKK imagery and tracks such as “New Aryans” and “I Hate Hate.” The cover of their 1994-released discography, A Collection of Pop Classics, was an illustration of four hooded KKK members posing with instruments, a small text box reading, “Sponsored by
and Western punk bands have also covered their records, tapes, and other merchandise with photographs taken in third world countries in times of armed conflict: Black and Brown bodies that have been mutilated, guerrilla fighters, crying women and children, and bloodsoaked military men are common
In these scenarios, who is the vanquisher and who is the vanquished? For whose sake are they invoking these images? Whose bodies do we see as “naturally” oppressed? the David Duke Appreciation Society” placed next to them. I was introduced to the band at age 18 via a burned version of this album my then-boyfriend made for me, accompanied by an in-depth explanation that their lyrics about Hitler were satirical but their songs about anarchy were not. Months later I saw the vinyl pressing of Pop Classics at my local punk record store and was immediately put off by the imagery— though I enjoyed their music, I knew right away that if I had come across the album in its original state and without someone ‘in the know’ telling me about the band’s “actual” meanings, I never would have given them a chance. I would have thought that the album’s art was serious and wondered why the hell the shop was selling it. And even if I got the band name reference, I still would have questioned why those dudes thought making such a joke was funny. I continue to consider the implications of this kind of humor for many white punk bands that either invoke the argument that what they say is satire and/or utilize politically charged imagery. Besides co-opting racist symbols, numerous white
images used. In most cases, there is no accompanying information about the political struggles of or wars waged against the victims and massacred peoples that are depicted. With a conscious omission of any backstory or reasoning for using these photographs, they morph into a form of war porn— pictures with disjointed meanings, shot from a dominant and leering gaze that exploits and objectifies those in the pictures, with no critical thought lent to the process that took place for those images to be created or distributed. I believe that punk bands like to decorate their albums with these pictures as a way of portraying shock value, a concept that is seen as central to the purpose of punk, and I wonder: In these scenarios, who is the vanquisher and who is the vanquished? For whose sake are they invoking these images? Whose bodies do we see as “naturally” oppressed? Would it also be socially acceptable to utilize photos of white people in those positions? Yet again, it’s hard to tease out whether this type of focus created by punks is a tool for political motivation or moral appeasement. This kind of satire and mimicry, that mirrors the
forms of discrimination and oppression you apparently are making fun of or attempting to call attention to, only really works if your audience has the same working, insider knowledge and cultural references as you do. One band that seemed to not really care whether or not their audience was on the same page as their satirical content was Dayglo Abortions. Their 1991 track “W.A.S.P” makes parallels between wealthy whites and, without exactly saying it, the KKK. After opening the song with the lines, “I always figured that I’d be free / I come from a middle class family,” the singer, Murray Acton, who uses the stage name The Cretin, correlates himself as a direct descendant of capitalistic power and interest in the second verse: “I was born to my place in society / I won’t let no nigger replace me / I sit at the head of corporations / I am the government and
beads and trinkets / And read them passages from the bible / While raping their land and enslaving their people.” Acton’s change of tone and focus seems to address the notion that acts of settler colonialism are directly linked with class-privileged whites, terrorist organizations, and big corporations. Class was a topic that Dayglo Abortions focused much of their content on, especially in the satirical accounts of what Acton seemed to believe that living a class-privileged life is like. Their 1995 song “Homophobic Sexist Cokeheads” showcased the bands’ distain for those who do cocaine. With verses like, “Bring that bitch over here / If she’s not willing, let’s fill her gut with beer / And oh, by the way, remind me that / I have to beat my wife and kids today,” the singer attempts again to make links between varying socioeconomic statuses and how class privilege is enacted in negative
The statements made by Dayglo Abortions in their socalled satirical songs seem a lot harder to consider as cultural commentary when pretty much all the rest of their music has the same general message anyway. the labor unions.” Initially discussing himself as the subject, Acton switches up the point of view from first person to third person as the song goes on. The premier chorus is: “I’m White Anglo Saxon and Protestant / And I ride through the night / Concealed in white by the crosses’ light,” yet the “I’m” changes to “we’re” and eventually “they’re” by the song’s closing. Indeed, the third verse includes, “...So that we can stuff our faces / With food we take from third world countries / And we will give them
ways. A repeated theme in their music, Dayglo Abortions saw cocaine users as upper class and wealthy, therefore in direct opposition to their working class ideals. While the song’s focus on domestic violence as an issue related to the entitlement that wealthy men feel is not necessarily a stretch, I find it interesting to consider why a band who has song titles like “Stupid Fuckin’ Drunk Cunt” (1999), “Punker Bitches” (1991), and “My Mother Was a Man” (1999) would suddenly seek to slam
wealthy men as sexist and homophobic. The statements made by Dayglo Abortions in their so-called satirical songs seem a lot harder to consider as cultural commentary when pretty much all the rest of their music has the same general message anyway. With so many straight white dude punk bands hiding behind satire as a means of circulating hateful and discriminatory treatment of marginalized folks in punk, it can get really hard to continue finding the energy to engage with punk as a whole. In addition to lyrical content that makes many of us feel disenfranchised,
the bands). Unfortunately, keeping shows secret from cops also serves to keep them hidden from women, queers, and POC, and not only because we’re not typically assumed to be That Punk that most people would try to ask. Since punks are coded as white men, men play in a majority of the bands, men have the social capital and working knowledge of show organizing, and men actively feel integrated into the punk scene, women, queers, and POC are less likely to know or be told where these locations are unless they have close relationships with white men in the scene. These types of scenarios serve to keep race
Since punks are coded as white men, men play in a majority of the bands, men have the social capital and working knowledge of show organizing, and men actively feel integrated into the punk scene, women, queers, and POC are less likely to know or be told where these locations are unless they have close relationships with white men in the scene. exploited, or left out, there are several real-world barriers that keep many of us from showing up to physical spaces to celebrate our alliance with punk. To combat getting ejected from squatted places or accidentally tipping off the cops to locations, shows are often booked in non-advertised spaces. Over the years I’ve seen hundreds of flyers telling interested parties to “ASK A PUNK” in lieu of a physical address, and events on Facebook are increasingly telling interested show-goers similar things or to message specific organizers (who are almost always white folks and men who exclusively own the spaces and/or book
and gender lines drawn thickly when it comes to the punk label: if a girl and/or POC were to want to ask someone where a show was going to be held, doing so would mean that she therefore wasn’t a punk. And who the fuck wants to admit that? These types of concerns—active and daunting barriers to gaining physical access to punk shows—are what I’ve heard people in punk communities all over the US lament about. It’s not an issue that simply affects rural punk scenes like the one I grew up in; it’s also happening in mid-sized towns and big cities. I’m continually disappointed
that the internet is still failing to be an equalizer for marginalized folks in the scene, no matter where our geographic locations are. Even our online event postings are featuring less and less helpful information while paper flyers, a serious historically important aspect of punk, are a rare breed, something I’ve noticed has changed drastically just in the past 5-10 years. In theory, the internet should be a really effective way of allowing marginalized folks to participate in punk—by giving us eased access to information about punk shows and bands from around the world—but it hasn’t made life easier for all of us. While many modern punks can check a major venue’s events list on their smart phones at any given time, Facebook
who can’t drink legally are seen as a waste of profit-making potential. (As an aside, I don’t think it’s coincidental that these spaces are also the ones in which I’ve experienced the most physical assault and sexual harassment.) On the other side of the spectrum are all-ages shows in public venues like VFWs, fire halls, and recreation and community centers. These spaces tend to have better relationships with their immediate communities, understand the desire for teens to see live music, and provide more assistance to booking agents such as equipment usage, negotiation with and buffers from local police, and lesser rental fees. Occupying a weird middle ground are house or basement shows— individual houses have their own rules
I want to participate in shows where I can see punk’s outsiders steadily chipping away at ideals of what punks should look or act like. events for house shows can often be set to an invite-only basis, literally. Even when we are able to find out about and get to the show, there is a whole different set of obstacles to consider once we get in. After thinking a lot about the differentiating quality of shows I’ve attended in assorted venues, I’m realizing that age stipulations are pretty decent indicators of whether I’ll have an okay time or a great time. I’m more likely to have fun at an all-ages show instead of one that is 21+; and not just because I currently don’t drink. Shows that are 21+ are typically held in bigger venues with in-house bars that thrive off of alcohol sales and therefore punks
for attendance and conduct and are therefore the biggest toss-ups for me. These shows are the ones in which I’ve felt the most pressured to fall in line as far as punk posturing goes due to the lax drinking stipulations and likelihood of intense social cliques present. House shows have also been the backdrop to the most damaging cases of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia I’ve been privy to—because the setting is generally a personalized and relaxed atmosphere, it seems like harmful stereotypes and prejudicial actions are more likely to surface. White dudes who do things like use gay as a pejorative or call every woman he talks about a bitch do so because they’re in a space
that feels safe to them and they feel in charge within, and tend to respond to open call-outs for such behavior with statements that the person needs to chill out and not take things so seriously or with further slanderous terminology. Because of this complex web of issues that keep punk hierarchies intact, I’ve made a commitment to myself and marginalized punk musicians to only attend shows in which bands consist of ladies, queers, and/or members of color. I want to participate in shows where I can see punk’s outsiders steadily chipping away at ideals of what punks should look or act like. It may sound like nit-picking, but every small interaction I have, show I go to, or space I enter adds up and contributes to my overall experience and I want the odds to be in my favor. Along with attempting to be more aware of the atmosphere of shows in which women, queers, and POC are present in the bands playing, I’ve tried to direct the attention of myself and others towards the demographics of those who make those shows possible. A series of questions that I feel we’re sorely lacking in punk are: Who owns the record stores and therefore controls the albums, zines, and merch we have access to in
and funding to put out records? Who is in control of Punk Studies? Who has the ability to write about punk for a living in books, magazines, and other media outlets? Who possesses skills that we code as punk? More often than not, the people who play in bands, set up shows, network with countless other punks, and have solid friendships with in-town and touring bands are fairly uniform in their demographics. Having the social, cultural, and economic capital to gain access to positions of power from which to influence local punk scenes are generally people who are, by no coincidence, straight, white, and cis men. These dudes heavily influence basic standards for our scenes by being in direct control of which bands play, what kinds of behaviors are okay in the spaces they run, and what mindsets are appropriate. Along with semi-hidden privileges, there are other rarelytalked about social statuses that have big impacts on how we experience various punk settings. I’m personally guilty of finding it odd to see someone who looks to be in their late 30s or older at shows, even though people who are decades older than me are the ones who set the stage (pun intended) for punk today. Also often in this
Who owns and operates venues and show houses? Who has the ability and funding to put out records? Who is in control of Punk Studies? Who has the ability to write about punk for a living in books, magazines, and other media outlets? Who possesses skills that we code as punk? our neighborhoods? Who runs punk group are punk parents, who are quite distros? Who owns and operates venues unapologetically pushed out of punk and show houses? Who has the ability because they don’t fit a narrow mold
of participation ability and tend to be certain skills, it begs the question of seen as taking up valuable organizing just who exactly a punk community efforts when childcare is asked for (the is tailored for. While most punks
With so many kinds of punks being left out due to coming off as needing “special considerations” or not having certain skills, it begs the question of just who exactly a punk community is tailored for. only childcare I’ve seen at shows have been weekend-long fests with a network of volunteers versus short, late-night shows). On a positive note, physical access to shows is a consideration that many venues—ranging from punk houses to professional rock clubs—seem to be steadily taking more seriously. Disabled folks and people with mobility issues are now seeing explanations of what the physical layout of a space is like in online show listings along with details such as how many steps are outside or inside the venue and whether the bathroom is large enough for wheelchair access. Though I am impressed that this tendency is becoming more commonplace, I am concerned that preemptively mentioning a space’s narrow hallways or lack of ramps will become a means of those who run the spaces exempting themselves from doing more work to make their venues accessible. In my personal experience, punk’s relentless focus on brotherhood and solidarity carries a lot less weight considering the standards and expectations many of us feel we need to meet in order to take part in it. With so many kinds of punks being left out due to coming off as needing “special considerations” or not having
would like to think of themselves as accepting, tolerant, and committed to equality, the punk scene is mired in social stratifications that lead to competitions over “true” punk qualities and heated disagreements over the purpose of identifying with punk in the first place. US punk band Whorehouse of Representatives called attention to the issue of punk’s in-fighting in their 1997 song, “Society’s Trap.” The track mentioned the punk scene’s problem with unity—calling it “a fucking joke”— and identified actions like drinking and using cocaine as reasons why it isn’t a priority. The chorus, “We all say that we’re fighting the system / But we can’t when we’re fighting each other” singles out intracommunity conflicts as energy that could be better used to collectively resist macro-level issues. Yet on the other hand, the singer mentions having an inherent resistance to a form of punk unity that would erase the past hurts she experienced in the punk scene in the last verse: “You say that you would watch my back / What makes you think that I would trust that? / You want respect and you demand it / You’re taking your life for fucking granted.”8 8 Whorehouse of Representatives also wrote songs about domestic violence, addiction, suicidal ideation, mental illness, and countless other social problems. In
Another song focused on the same topic also discusses scene unity from a rosecolored-lenses type of perspective. UK hardcore/grindcore band Extreme Noise Terror’s “Punk: Fact or Faction?” (1989) featured the verse, “It doesn´t matter who you are, what you say or what you do / You´ll always get people who will criticize you / Forget the backstabbing, build on the things that we agree / Lets work together for a more united scene.” This song was intended to ask for more
since those who are marginalized in punk are often the ones used as a scapegoat in this argument. In many instances, women, queers, and POC are accused of being divisive or petty when they bring up issues within the punk scene, which could have been the motivation behind Whorehouse of Representatives’ response of distrust when told that sharing a punk identity automatically means looking out for one another. I also have concerns about
Who do you see as your community members? Who is responsible for improving the punk populace you are familiar with? How can we make lasting changes within a scene that might not feel like a tangible community to us? Are you ever a participant in issues that abound in your punk community or are you always a bystander? unity in the punk scene, but who is being asked to acquiesce to the terms of this unity? Who started this critiquing and fighting? Though it isn’t explicitly mentioned, I would be interested to hear what the singer thinks is the true source of resistance against a “united scene,” their song, “Blinded by Darkness” (1997) singer Michele suggested that animals no longer be used as subjects for scientific experiments and that rapists should take their places instead. Their official website (preserved in its heyday, though the band broke up in 1999) states, “We have zero tolerence [sic] for sexism, racism, homophobia, ignorance, and stupidity.” With such strong stances against rapists, wife beaters, and other sources of oppression and abuse, you might be tempted to label the singer a feminist, but not so fast! In their 1998 song “Educate Your Mind,” Michele slammed women who actively sought gender equality: “You say you’re better off being a girl / Thinking that you rule the world… Sexism switching roles / Too much pride keeps your mind closed / Feminists on power trips / Female Nazi’s hate is sick.” Disappointing and ironic, isn’t it?
the nuances between accommodation and acceptance as they relate to ideals of punk unity–to me, the former signifies the punk scene allowing you a little more breathing room and marginal respect, and the later insinuates forcing an overall shift in the dynamics of punk that effects more people than just you yourself. Which one would bring about more cohesive and lasting unity? And while we’re inquiring about the potential interpretations of punk unity, we should also be questioning the way our local punk scenes are set up in and of themselves: Who do you see as your community members? Who is responsible for improving the punk populace you are familiar with? How can we make lasting changes within a scene that might not feel like a tangible community to us? Are you ever
a participant in issues that abound in your punk community or are you always a bystander? In some cases, being able to think critically about the “us” vs. “them” setup in punk ends being so reductive and static that it does more harm than good. In March 2015, I participated in the panel, “Dismantling The White Boys’ Club: Talking Race and Gender in Punk” held at the Philadelphia Punk Symposium (mentioned in the introduction of this zine (page 2)). After the discussion portion of the panel ended, the facilitator opened the floor to questions from the audience. One of the final questions was asked by a fellow white AFAB non-binary person who came forward to briefly talk about ways in which they felt excluded from the punk scene due to being queer and trans and asked about ways that they could “infiltrate punk spaces.” This comment stuck with me, both because I myself had thought the same thing before and because it clicked with me that talking about the issue with that kind of language was part of the problem. It’s all too tempting for us white queer and trans folks to flatten the issue of accessibility in the punk scene by having a hyper-selective focus on what its most pressing problems are. Instead of taking a dynamic view of punk that encompasses a variety of perspectives and knowledges, we decide to anchor our attention on the parts of punk that aren’t perfectly kind to us individually. Using terminology like “infiltrate” allows the user to disregard the ways in which they are already accepted in punk while erroneously positing themselves as a total outsider. Simply
put, white punks who are also women, queers, and trans folks ignore the ways in which punk is a welcoming space for white people and warp the vocabulary of inclusion to position ourselves as perpetual victims of exclusion. Being white means coming from a place where you are already used to being accommodated, so when one’s status as a white person intersects with other marginalized identities, it becomes easy to overlook the acceptance you are automatically afforded based on your race.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS • What “rules” do you think punk tries to reinforce, whether subtly or otherwise? • What exactly do you believe the label “punk” means? What kinds of things can or should it be applied to? • For many of us, finding out about punk happened through close informal networks like friends and family members. Who introduced you to punk? What gave you an interest in it? What are the demographics of the scenes you’ve been involved in like? • It is a very common mindset among white queers that we “infiltrate” straight cis male-dominated punk spaces just by virtue of showing up, with little to no active cognizance of how we are already welcomed there for being white. What kinds of things make you feel comfortable / uncomfortable participating in punk? What identities or behaviors are these connected to for you?
I V . T H O U S H A LT p lay in a band ( or try like hell to do so ) influ en ce, cre a t iv e p a r t ic ip a t ion , an d g o i n g b e h in d t h e mu s ic I sing this song for you This one goes out to my band and to our crew No better thing to do I give it up to my band and to our crew 7 Seconds, “My Band, Our Crew” (2005) Punk was my first and primary means of education on political struggles, social issues, and systematic oppression in my teen years. Most of the kinds of punk bands I liked were active in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s and had anti-war messages that revolved around resisting nuclear war and Western imperialism. I got radicalized at age 17 (2004-ish) by doing counter-military recruitment work within a local grassroots peace and justice organization alongside other teens and young adults. At the time, the American military invasion of and presence in Iraq had moderately high approval ratings in the US and enrolling in the Army was viewed as a heroic, albeit risky, act. Having just graduated from high school, where military recruiters were given free reign to talk to students in the common areas year-round and I was required to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)1 as a senior
to determine my potential usefulness as a soldier, the issue was particularly present around me. Many young men had the economic aspects of joining hyped up to them, hearing promises that they would gain invaluable job training and education they wouldn’t get elsewhere and the pay scale in return would mean that their families wouldn’t have to worry about paying bills or making ends meet. With the targeting of poor and lower-middle-class men in the rural area I lived in along with the many recruitment centers that were present throughout the county, it seemed like
and mechanics – its layout (as of 2005, at least) is very similar to the SATs administered in the US. About two weeks after I took it, I was being called at home by Army recruiters based on my test scores and if I ever let them get a few words in, they promised my enrollment meant being stationed in “fun” parts of the world where I could do touristy things during my down time. One recruiter in particular stands out for his assertion that I could be stationed near the French Alps and go skiing whenever I wanted (I made no references to wanting to ski whatsoever). To get him to stop calling, I told him 1 The ASVAB is a standardized multiple-choice about my participation in local anti-war rallies and said test broken down into several sections to test one’s that I was too in love with neon pink leopard print fabric working knowledge of things like mathematics, science, to wear anything but (this part was only half true).
military enrollment via coercive and exploitative tactics was one of the most pressing issues to young adults in my geographic area. I felt a sense of things coming together – like I was able to take the political stances I was hearing about on punk records and bring them to life. I didn’t lend any critical thought at the time to the fact that military recruitment was predominantly an issue for men and that nearly all the punk bands I listened to were composed of men who had a personal investment in resisting war due to their fear of being drafted.2 Instead of questioning which issues were made out to be the most pressing
subculture, I needed to be taking the things that straight white punk men sang about to heart. It felt like even though punk claimed to be this radical force based on overturning all that was assimilatory and uniform, there was still an expectation that being a punk meant being influenced and driven by the directives passed down by punk bands from several decades ago. Though this also feels true to me in the present, I’m still appreciative of the education I was able to access through punk music and really doubt I would have been able to get informed by more mainstream channels at the time. Going to public school in a radically
I projected the themes and concerns I heard on old punk records onto the kinds of activist work I was doing because I was so preoccupied with the notion that if I wanted to call myself a punk and be included in the subculture, I needed to be taking the things that straight white punk men sang about to heart. in the music I was hearing, I assumed that the constant repetition of a similar message throughout so many different bands meant it was all the more important. I projected the themes and concerns I heard on old punk records onto the kinds of activist work I was doing because I was so preoccupied with the notion that if I wanted to call myself a punk and be included in the 2 It may or may not be worth mentioning that “the possibility of being drafted” is one of the most common complaints espoused by Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) over why they believe women are supposedly treated better than they are in society. Other items on their typically short lists tend to include “women I am friends with won’t have sex with me even though I’m a Nice Guy” and “I’m expected to pay child support when I get divorced.”
conservative, geographically isolated area meant not having very many options for alternative viewpoints. I liked punk because it showed me that it was not only okay but cool to question the atmosphere I had been brought up in. I always appreciated the tangible link between punk music and leftist political struggles. This ever-present symbiotic relationship has meant that punk grows and changes as the political climate does. Oftentimes, a political or social issue gains traction within radical scenes by popping up in the lyrics of punk bands, who are able to have their political motivations taken seriously through their music.
And since music has such a big impact on those struggles, part of the reason why representation is so important within the scene is due to knowing that having the platform of being in a band means you are listened to. It’s been an unspoken standard in punk that to have any real kind of creative participation or claim to punk status, you have to be in a band. Having no musical talent means simply being an onlooker, a plebe who has no hopes of transcending the punk hierarchy. Yet even for women and queers in the punk scene, playing in a band still does not grant one full legitimacy. I’ve been to countless shows where all of the bands but one are all-dudes, and the band with one or more women members totally gets critiqued harder than the others. In 2005 I went to a basement show at The Stahl in Harrisburg, PA, in a house where some of the members of an allwhite dude local thrash/hardcore
to the Cult Classics, he simply said, “Yeah, and thanks to the band with the chick drummer! Weren’t they just great?” This asshole simultaneously glossed over the band’s name in favor of pointing out the gender of one of the members and implied that they did a surprisingly great job despite their drummer not being a dude. Along with having their gender consistently at the center of discussions about their ability to play instruments, women and trans folks in bands are often, if not always, put on a pedestal built of expectations about what they should be writing music about—both by people who do and don’t align themselves with similar communities or identities. They are pressured to only focus on issues that can somehow promote gender equality or ‘further the cause,’ and any woman or queer person talking about partying or having fun (like dude punks do)
Correlating the identities of band members and the types of topics they cover in their music is also a double-edged sword—creating music that speaks to your experiences as a marginalized person is a powerful phenomenon for musicians and fans, but doing so often is interpreted as ironically exclusionary. band, Last Sunset, were living. The Cult Classics, a band from Baltimore, MD, played alongside Last Sunset and some other bands from Harrisburg and the nearby town, Lemoyne, punk scenes. As the last band was setting up, one of the housemates took the mic and began trying to get the crowd cheering for all the bands that had already went on. Finally, when he came
risks being seen as somehow wasting the spotlight. As another outcome of internalized misogyny and girl hate, this puts more elusive standards of proper musical participation on women and further ties them to a rigid essentialism of how punk is male at its core. Correlating the identities of band members and the types of topics they cover in their music is also a
double-edged sword—creating music that speaks to your experiences as a marginalized person is a powerful phenomenon for musicians and fans, but doing so often is interpreted as ironically exclusionary. White men
called “girl bands” and struggle with being taken seriously as artists. Black punk bands often do not receive accolades for their work until they’ve been creating material for decades— like US Black punk bands Bad Brains
Mediocrity is not an option for non-white and non-dude bands—it is only acceptable for straight white bands. This expectation for automatic perfection is a serious demotivator for many who aspire to create music. in punk exploit the fact that women, queers, and POC create material relevant to their own lives by labeling it as distracting or too off-base to be considered punk. Because white masculinity (and its related values / experiences) is the overwhelming norm in many USian punk scenes, bands or styles that don’t explicitly center it or discuss it are often written off as “special interest” and are heedlessly categorized to show that qualifiers are needed for any type of punk that straight white men don’t identify with (while they just get to be plain old punk bands). A band with most or all marginalized members that exist within any subsect of punk gets labeled as a niche group and is often treated like their music is too obscure to be relatable. Punk subgenres like riot grrrl and queercore were formed in response to narrow ideas of what punk music constitutes and were often pushed to the back of the proverbial room for being “too PC” or “too angry,” among other things. All-women bands are infantilized and mocked by being
and Death, who had to pretty much restructure the way punk was viewed in their respective cities of Washington, DC and Detroit, Michigan for them to be counted amongst even the most boring and repetitive-sounding white punk bands. Women, queers, and POC have to be twice as good as straight white men at just about anything to get half of the recognition and this absolutely carries over into punk. Mediocrity is not an option for non-white and nondude bands—it is only acceptable for straight white bands. This expectation for automatic perfection is a serious de-motivator for many who aspire to create music. Luckily, efforts like the Girls Rock Camp and Queer Rock Camp are trying to motivate girls, queers, and gender variant folks to create the kind of music they want to listen to while helping alleviate fears of not being good enough musicians. Unfortunately, most of the time when straight white men actually mention groups like queer or lesbian women in their material, it is done to sexualize or vilify them. One band that
especially stuck out to me as a teen was Quincy Punx3, who have actively described their music as “no apologies punk rock” (ugh). They were basically a throwaway garage punk band who really liked to sing about camping, drinking beer, and hating people who weren’t also straight white men. They excellently modeled how straight punk men enact homophobia against gay men while fetishizing lesbians: In the 1992 song “Fuck PC,” singer Dave DePriest states, “I don’t like queers, I like to shoot deers,” yet on another album released the same year, they featured the song “I Wanna Be A Dyke,” which included the verse, “I wish I had a virgin pussy untouched by a man / And a luscious leggy lover, that would be my plan / We’d lube our fingers up real slick and slam each other’s slits / Then we’d do the sixty-nine and
like, the dude (read: Bad) kind of gay apparently?)), cissexism (assuming that lesbian sex is only possible between two people with vaginas), and gender normativity (categorizing his ideal lesbian as a “luscious leggy lover”). In a culture that consistently frames lesbianism as a consumable fetish for straight men, it is neither radical nor surprising that punk bands reinforce these notions. On the other side of the spectrum, there are men who see lesbianism as a threat to heterosexism as well as to their belief that women’s bodies should always be theoretically accessible to them. USian thrash metal band Nuclear Assault released their track, “Lesbians,” in 1986. The song consisted of the verse, “Women ain’t supposed to do that / Why don’t you stop do that / Women ain’t supposed to do that / There’s
Considering that lesbians have historically been at high risk for corrective rape, violence, and homicide at the hands of straight men in places all over the world, it is absolutely worth questioning the implications of a subcultural band reinforcing this horrific trend. lick each other’s clits.” Besides being sexually explicit, DePriest reinforces heterosexism (wanting “virgin” genitals that have been “untouched by a man” (I guess being touched by a man in his fantasy scenario would be, 3 I don’t mention Quincy Punx several times in this zine because I was ever a fan, but because they are truly horrible and their lyrics are a veritable goldmine of illustrations as to why white punk dudes are the absolute worst.
something wrong with that” followed by a chanting chorus of, “Lesbians, lesbians, lesbians must die.” Utilizing essentialist claims of right and wrong, the singer, John Connelly, espouses the belief that the only way to eradicate a practice that he finds offensive is by killing off the offenders. Considering that lesbians have historically been at high risk for corrective rape, violence,
and homicide at the hands of straight men in places all over the world, it is absolutely worth questioning the implications of a subcultural band reinforcing this horrific trend. This is honestly the most explicit antilesbian song I’ve come across and challenges the common cultural myth that lesbians are somehow more socially accepted than gay men (which they aren’t—they’re just more sexualized). A close cousin of straight men’s voyeurism of lesbians is the
song titles like “Fagtown” (1996), “Homo” (2002), and “Gayboy” (1990), I find it hard to envision how the band is “actually satirical,” as many have told me.5 For a genre of music that’s supposedly all about challenging the status quo, there sure are a lot of bands and mindsets that end up reinforcing it. Yet, if punk paints itself as an alternative space / counterculture, shouldn’t there be more to it than music? In the age of blogging,
For many, punk has been a means to share ‘alternative’ political beliefs and has become synonymous with subversive mindsets and underground education efforts. overall rejection of gay male sexuality. Anti-gay sentiments by punk bands like The Descendents are consistently upheld as satire, jest, or somehow not actually serious.4 The Queers, a straight dude punk band from the US, directly appropriated a term that has been utilized against gay people for decades. I’ve been witness to countless straight men defending the name of the band as “a joke,” to which I would respond: What part of it is funny? With 4 The Descendents’ “I’m Not a Loser” track, from their ultra-acclaimed 1983 album Milo Goes To College, discusses the singer being labeled as a loser and a slob by rich kids who spend their time doing drugs, driving around in expensive cars, and hooking up. Lamenting the attitudes of such kids, the final verse is, “You are a fucking son-of-a-bitch, you arrogant assholes / Your pants are too tight, you fucking homos / You suck, Mr. Buttfuck, you don’t belong here / Go away, you fucking gay, I’m not a loser!” I’m finding it really fucking hard to be open-minded to the multitude of claims that The Descendents “aren’t a homophobic band” after reading the several anti-gay slurs utilized just in one song alone.
continuing to make zines—a medium that has strong links to the punk subculture—creates a challenge to sustain DIY efforts while adapting to the automatic-call-and-response culture we’ve come to expect. For many, punk has been a means to share ‘alternative’ political beliefs and has become synonymous with subversive 5 The Queers, for all of their hemming and hawing about how much they enjoyed women (I was able to count at least 11 of their songs that feature the word “girl” in the title—it’s like, we get it! You’re straight! Stop trying to push your lifestyle on us!), were pretty disgustingly misogynistic as well. Their song “My Cunt’s A Cunt” (off of a 2000-released album entitled Beyond The Valley Of The Assfuckers) portrays a woman who the singer used to be sexually infatuated with, started dating, and is now tired of. After describing her as having “the face of a Pitbull,” wanting to give her “a head massage with a steel bar,” and saying that she’s a “little jiz jar” who should be hit by a car, the singer chants the chorus, “My cunt’s a cunt!” The final verse is: “I guess by now you know I really hate that bitch / I’d love to see her full of holes in a ditch / They’d do the world a favor by shuttin’ her up / The loud mouth whore with a little C-cup.”
mindsets and underground education efforts. In my own personal journey through the badlands of punk, making zines has been the most legitimizing force in being able to make me feel included, as if I, for the first time in over a decade, finally have a good enough excuse to be at a punk show or in a DIY space. Unable to play music and not living in (or ever wanting to live in) a punk house, being a zinester has been a really important way for me
framed it so blatantly to me before— considering his tone and attitude, he might as well have said, “Wait, you paid to get in here like some kind of peasant?” Other than musical prowess, there are easily recognizable abilities that get coded as punk. In congress with skills that are useful in setting up shows, such as designing posters, flyering, coordinating schedules, keeping track of funds, networking,
...a f riend playing that night introduced me to a white male band member of hers who, when I responded to his inquiry saying that I wasn’t in a band, immediately blurted out, “Oh, so you’re just a spectator then?” to feel like I’m actively contributing to punk/DIY culture and a lifeline with other marginalized folks in these spaces. But even though I have the ability to bring along zines I’ve made to punk shows, I still constantly get asked to define and defend my participation in such spaces. I’ve lost count of the amount of times white men have asked me if I am in a band and/or have commented on my lack of musical ability. Most recently, at the Not Just a Boys Club show in central New Jersey in November 2015, a friend playing that night introduced me to a white male band member of hers who, when I responded to his inquiry saying that I wasn’t in a band, immediately blurted out, “Oh, so you’re just a spectator then?” No one had ever
and sound and lighting knowledge, these abilities are steadily gaining respect on equal footing with playing in a band. A semi-recent occurrence I’m noticing is punks gaining notoriety through their build-up of experiences running workshops or booking shows— it’s as if we’re in awe of not only the rock stars but their tour managers, lighting technicians, sound mixers, and show promoters as well. Previously deemed thankless jobs, literal back stage efforts like these are slowly opening up opportunities for nonmusical folks to contribute to punk and DIY culture. Yet we can’t be too quick to praise this change as one that is leveling the playing field: The fact of the matter is that these skills, just like any other facet of punk culture,
are passed on via intimate social networks. It can also be argued that being ‘famous by proximity’ is just as subject to the stratification of social capital as being in a band is. In many cases, our focus on the importance of being in or listening to bands for their social influence can extend to the people that expose us to them in the first place. I’ve been really saddened and angry about the trend of blogs hosting unofficial female-fronted punk compilations of obscure or unknown punk bands that are created by middle-aged white and classprivileged men. Composed of records and LPs they were financially stable enough to purchase and then hoarded in their basements for decades, these men are treated like punk historians and receive endless praise for digitizing their personal collections. While I am always thankful for the opportunity to hear bands that I likely wouldn’t come across through other means, I am also always critical of the practice of men receiving accolades for “discovering” or popularizing punk material created by women as well as whether this heightened awareness of women’s historical participation in punk translates to more widespread recognition for past and present female punk bands or just more personal exposure for the men who are acting as digital DJs. This begs the questions: Is the means in which we learn about the presence of marginalized folks in punk music just as important as the music itself? Should all of our focus be on the musical content and not the
avenues in which it was accessed? These are pretty complex questions and don’t seem to have easy answers. I believe that we, as consumers of punk music, should nonetheless be encouraging and supportive of people who aren’t solely straight white men learning skills like blogging and website creation in tandem with backstage efforts mentioned above. In order to begin to fundamentally alter the inequalities in punk, taking small steps towards helping marginalized folks gain knowledge of punk activities—both musical and nonmusical—will help change notions of who or what is punk in the long run.
• Is punk just about music? Or is it additionally a mindset or a way of life? • What kinds of different standards exist for straight white dude musicians versus queer, women, and POC musicians? • For many of us, it is hard not to feel like we need concrete examples of our value as productive and active community members to “prove” that we belong in punk spaces. What makes you feel involved in the scene? What are some skills you think would help you feel more valued? • Folks in bands, people who live in house show spaces, and people who have enough disposable income to buy and own sound equipment are just a couple examples of general groups of people who tend to be treated like they are the forerunners in punk spaces. Other than playing in a band, what skills are valued in punk? Do you notice any specific demographics in who is likely to possess these skills (ex: networking, booking shows, sound, event planning, art/silkscreening)?
V. THOU SHALT NOT TAKE MERCY UPON THE WEAK mosh pits, white masculinity, and normalized aggression and anger
Now is not the time for loving and that sissy shit Cause baby, I just want to circle pit You don’t need to sit and pout Because there isn’t a single doubt That circle pitting is what it’s all about And it’s not the time for making out Crucial Unit, “Baby, I Don’t Want to Make Out, I Just Want to Circle Pit” (2002) I’ve always been acutely aware of a sort of disconnect between messages I heard on punk records and the ways that I was treated in the punk communities I tried to be a part of. Punk music was fun and exciting when I was alone in my bedroom, belting out songs about smashing the state or rebelling against authority, but celebrating my alignment with punk in a social setting seemed like putting myself on the defensive instead of participating in a fun and safe environment. Even now, before I attend a show, I have to psych myself up to attend because the law of the land is that people are going to mosh and bump into you, stage dive and kick you in the face, and if you don’t like it, you should stand in the back of the fucking room or better yet, just leave. I’ve wondered: Is it a coincidence that the people who don’t want to get hit/punched/slammed into at a punk show are literally pushed towards the back of the room? Do those who successfully express anger, dominance, and militant masculinity in a physical manner earn the right to be able to see the bands in the most desirable locations within a space?
Why do those of us who are survivors/ allies when it comes to abuse and assault seem to accept these limitations within punk while theorizing on street harassment that the things that should change are the catcallers and society in itself? Why has there not been a mass call for the punk scene to change its attitude and recognize that forcefully putting your body against someone else’s in an unwanted, nonconsensual, unexpected manner is basically the textbook definition of physical assault? Why is it that we accept these terms and how can we change them? Many of the answers to these questions seem pretty obvious while many will need a lot of time and effort to dissect. Ultimately, the standard that mosh pits allow show-goers to express their unification with the music and release tension simultaneously is, in actuality, a heavily guarded and defended expression of male dominance at punk shows. In the summer of 2011, I traveled to Washington, DC to see three badass female-fronted bands (Sick Fix, Deathrats, and Despise You) at St. Stephen’s Church alongside
the all-dude US powerviolence band Magrudergrind. Always energetic and entertaining, Magrudergrind is one of my favorite PV bands—but their fans are some of my least fucking favorite people. Once they plugged in, dudes all of a sudden started stomping around, running and jumping back and forth across the not-that-big floor space. I finally caved and moved to the back of the room, feeling shitty for assimilating to exactly what patriarchy in the punk scene wants me to do. There, I bumped into a queer woman acquaintance and together we complained about the mosh bros and shared our wishes that more women, queers, and femmes were present in the scene. I then realized that our conversation, as subversive as we thought it may have been, was once again reinforcing the expectation that the actions of men in the scene should always be at the center of punk and, by extension, discussions of it.1 I gave myself a headache realizing that even my conversations at punk shows couldn’t pass the goddamn BechdelWallace test.2 Because of my status as a survivor coupled with the prevalence of physical assault at punk shows, it’s been increasingly harder for me to continue 1 The blatant irony of this statement within a zine that has a focal point of blowing apart straight white dude’s actions in punk is not lost on me. 2 The Bechdel-Wallace Test was popularized by Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes To Watch Out For. According to the original interpretation circa 1985, a film passes this test based on three points: if it 1) features two or more women 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than a man. The test has since been extrapolated to gauge the visibility and prevalence of women, POC, and LGBTQ+ folks in various forms of media through its many manifestations and spinoff tests, despite its flaws concerning intersectionality.
being a participant. I’ve had male friends ask me to justify changing my mind at the last minute, deciding not to go to a show after expressing my plans to attend, and I’ve failed miserably at explaining the myriad of emotions that go along with being present at punk shows. I can hardly put words to how horrible it is to have to constantly be thinking about shitty things that could happen to you at any moment; how worthless and unimportant you feel when you realize for the millionth time that you’re going to be judged on what you’re wearing and the body you have; that you don’t have the privilege of walking into a space without worrying about the actions of others towards you; that you feel like making a single connection with someone is almost like finding a diamond in the rough; doing the math in your head, taking count all of the shows you’ve been to that turned out fun and all of the shows you’ve been to that left you feeling objectified, othered, and angry as hell, and realizing that sitting at home and feeling sorry for your anti-social self has better odds of being worth your time; or having your disinterest in being treated like shit in punk spaces be interpreted as proof that people who share your marginalized identities don’t know what punk is. It’s hard to partake in something that toes the line between making you feel horrible and great. Places like punk shows that reinforce militant white masculinity also go hand in hand with things like gay bashing, which causes many of us to see them as hostile and unsafe environments. One thing I haven’t seen discussed or questioned in punk is exactly where
the white masculinity and aggression promulgated in the subculture gets aimed at and enacted upon. In 2005 or 2006,3 I attended an all-day indie
punk. Towards the middle of the song, as I was taking in the scene around me, I was struck hard by the visual of a mob of predominantly white men
I suddenly felt sick and scared, like I was in a pack of wild dogs who would rip me apart if I didn’t watch out. I stood back for a moment and thought, “Wait, what does this mean to them? Do they think of this as satire?” It was like I was living in a world parallel to theirs, layered one on top of the other yet not quite touching. and punk showcase in Lancaster, PA called The Great Big Snowman Orgy (yes seriously) that was hosted semiannually in a small arts studio which was immensely supportive to local punk and social justice events. Towards the end of the evening, when I was pretty done with being shoved around, sweated on, and overheated, one of the final bands did a cover of Dead Kennedy’s 1987-released “Police Truck.” The song is mired in satire of the attitudes and power abuses of cops, with lyrics like, “The left newspapers might whine a bit / But the guys at the station they don’t give a shit / Dispatch calls, “Are you doin’ something wicked?” / “No siree, Jack, we’re just givin’ tickets”.” I was initially ecstatic that a cover of theirs was happening, since Dead Kennedys was one of the most imposing bands on me as I started gravitating to
absolutely screaming the line, “DON’T MOVE CHILD, GOT A BIG BLACK STICK / THERE’S SIX OF US BITCH, SO SUCK ON MY DICK”4 and looking completely pleased with themselves. I had this moment of tunnel vision, looking around and seeing all these angrylooking white men howling along with a song I had previously appreciated for exposing police brutality. I suddenly felt sick and scared, like I was in a pack of wild dogs who would rip me apart if I didn’t watch out. I stood back for a moment and thought, “Wait, what does this mean to them? Do they think of this as satire?” It was like I was living in a world parallel to theirs, layered one on top of the other yet not quite touching. They didn’t think of those lyrics as problematic or terrifying because they likely hadn’t and wouldn’t face having that kind of thing said to them in person. What registered as a real world threat to me, as a survivor and person who constantly got street harassed by that kind of talk, seemed to register to them as just another fun song to beat each other up to—or yet another so-called satirical punk song that allowed them to belt out misogynistic lyrics using a
3 Hopefully you’ll forgive my inability to pinpoint the exact year, considering the fact that I mostly was able to figure out which iteration of the fest this was by remembering that at that same show that day, I was sexually assaulted by the guy working the door on my way in—in front of my then-boyfriend and several other bystanders who all did and said nothing. After taking some time to process what happened, I pulled the guy aside, explained to him as calmly as I could that his drunkenness and job as bouncer were not excuses for 4 This is a line intended to reference police sexual him publicly groping me, and punched him in the face. assault and rape of sex workers.
get-out-of-being-labeled-sexist card.5 That was one of many overt instances in which listening to a punk song by myself and hearing it played live gave me two very stark and eye-opening experiences. And showed me how straight white men, even singing along with and embracing the lyrical content of other straight white men, can have punk music mean something so completely different to
like he is unable to succeed at things he attempts, turning down the help and advice of others, and wanting to figure things out on his own time. It then goes on to depict his mother accusing him of being on drugs because of his inattentiveness, him asking her for a Pepsi, and then his parents explaining their concern that he will hurt himself and wanting him to enter a mental
What registered as a real world threat to me, as a survivor and person who constantly got street harassed by that kind of talk, seemed to register to them as just another fun song to beat each other up to—or yet another so-called satirical punk song that allowed them to belt out misogynistic lyrics using a get-out-of-being-labeled-sexist card. them than the rest of us. One band that rocketed to an almost overnight popularity in my local scene that gave me questionable feelings was the US skate/thrash punk band Suicidal Tendencies. I heard their 1983 hit, “Institutionalized” thumping out of car stereos, played between sets at local punk shows, and drunkenly recited in parking lots and house parties. The song starts by describing the singer’s frustration with feeling
health inpatient program. While the song calls attention to important issues like the medical industrial complex as a tool for forcing mentally ill people to abide by neurotypical standards and expectations, I really don’t believe this is what the vast majority of the straight white guy audience who embrace the song sees as its central message. Whenever I heard the song lauded as a relatable and realistic track, punk men chanted the line, “All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one 6 5 Though many would probably try to argue that Pepsi / And she wouldn’t give it to me!” punk men are somehow more socially conscious or and talked about how they also had to respectful of women than average dudes, it should be known that street harassment is still promulgated by them. While visiting Chicago, IL in May 2015 for the Chicago Zine Fest, I was street harassed by two crusty trainhopper punk white dudes who yelled, “Hey sweetie, what’s your favorite band?” at me as I got out of a car. Intentionally targeted because I was read as a punk woman, the question is directly tied into conceptions of women as inherently Not Actually Punk and I’ve been asked it many times in my life. After I turned around and shouted back, “Don’t fucking call me sweetie, asshole,” they proceeded to tell me I “didn’t have to be a such fucking cunt about it” and that I was probably a poser anyway.
6 My favorite pop culture reference to this line is US white boy rap rock band Limp Bizkit’s “Stuck.” The 1997 song details a “psycho female” who calls the singer, Fred Durst, too often, is a “greedy bitch” who is “fucked up in the head” for trying to get his money (it’s not explained how or for what purpose), and bugs him about... stuff. One of the final choruses asks, “Why, why, why you gotta dig in my business you fucking whore / Stuck on yourself, you are.” Not so surprising that “Institutionalized” is referenced in another song that depicts women as irritating bitches who won’t leave men alone.
deal with living in the suburbs with mothers who were just too obsessed with their lives—it wasn’t about being seen as mentally ill or facing involuntary commitment to a hospital (the chorus yells, “I’m not crazy! / You’re the one who’s crazy!”). Overwhelmingly, I’ve witnessed “Institutionalized” used as a rallying cry for young white men coming from middle class homes who feel like having a parent, specifically a mother, who is concerned about them and their potential drug use is somehow a form of oppression. While I myself came from a single-parent home and had what I felt like was an overbearing mother who asked me too many questions,
collection is “Guilty of Being White” by US straight-edge hardcore band Minor Threat. Released in 1981, the track mostly comprises of the refrain, “I’m sorry for something I didn’t do / Lynched somebody but I don’t know who / You blame me for slavery a hundred years before I was born” repeated three times between singer Ian MacKaye screaming, “GUILY OF BEING WHITE” over and over again.7 To be completely honest, I did not listen to this song in its entirety or look up its lyrics until writing this second edition. I’ve spent the last decade under the variety of impressions that I was given by fellow white punks about the song: I was told that it was either
Due to the number of white punks I consistently saw wearing Minor Threat t-shirts or talking about how important the band was to hardcore as a genre, I was inclined to believe them. Now that I’ve actually heard it for myself, I don’t know how one could defend it as anything but a bid at claiming “reverse racism” is a real thing. I recognized immediately that the annoyance I felt was coming from a different place than the annoyance they felt. I was tired of having a parent treat me like I wasn’t capable of making my own decisions, while these dudes were typically just aggressive over a woman not letting them do whatever they want and not getting back into the kitchen to get them something to drink. In addition to music by straight white men being capable of multiple interpretations or meanings, there is also a wealth of punk that is openly privilege-denying and aggressive about white supremacy and other social perks afforded to white people. One of the most glaring instances of this
totally satirical, or realistic about the experiences of white punks but just got a bad rep from people who misinterpreted it. Due to the number of white punks I consistently saw wearing Minor Threat t-shirts or talking about how important 7 For those who would like to continue to give MacKaye the benefit of the doubt, either due to his so-called importance in the ‘80s DC punk scene or his young age at the time of the song coming out (he was 19, which he references therein), it should be known that he has no regrets about the lyrics and even still embraces them so many years later. In the 2006 documentary American Hardcore, MacKaye states, “I grew up in Washington, DC, which is a Black-majority city. I went to the public schools here. And I know that when I wrote that song, I was writing an anti-racist song, because I was singing about being in a minority… I was saying that I was only guilty of being white, don’t judge me for the color of my skin. Its anti-racist! So clear!”
the band was to hardcore as a genre, I was inclined to believe them. Now that I’ve actually heard it for myself, I don’t know how one could defend it as anything but a bid at claiming “reverse racism” is a real thing. I feel similarly about the privilege-denying theme of “Not the One” (1994) by US alt rock band The Offspring. Predicated on the notion that the straight white male singer,
nuclear bombs that threaten our lives / We’re not the ones who let the children starve in faraway lands / We’re not the ones who made the streets unsafe to walk at night”—the framing does not account for the ways in which capitalism makes each and every one of us a participant in systems of exploitation, without necessitating our direct involvement. It correlates the impact and direct
Ironically enough, it seems that straight white men see themselves just as likely to be nuclear physicists as they would be cat callers, queer bashers, and the like—and demographically, they already overwhelmingly resemble each of these categories. Dexter Holland, is not directly at fault for a number of social injustices and quality of life issues, the song backs up the belief that these forces are enacted in a vacuum with no connections to the actions of individuals. Switching from I-statements to we-statements as the song progresses, Holland seemingly tries to include others of his similar demographic with him. The lines, “We’re not the ones who leave the homeless in the streets at night / We’re not the ones who’ve kept minorities and women down” pop up shortly before the chorus of, “We’re innocent / But the weight of the world is on our shoulders / We’re innocent / But the battles left us are far from over.” Much like “Guilty of Being White,” “Not the One” centers around a white cis man trying to explain how he personally is not to blame for a legacy of violence promulgated by white supremacy and patriarchy. The song initially stuck out to me for the lines, “We’re not the ones who made the
involvement of things like building weapons and street harassment in a way that simultaneously erases the complexity and intentionality of each, thus attempting to make such statements harder to refute individually. Ironically enough, it seems that straight white men see themselves just as likely to be nuclear physicists as they would be cat callers, queer bashers, and the like— and demographically, they already overwhelmingly resemble each of these categories. Though these songs were each released several decades ago, the struggle to get individual men to recognize their complicity in systems of power is still very much present today. I’m reminded of the semi-recent rise of the hashtag #YesAllMen in attempting to showcase how interlocking hegemonic structures affect even those who think of themselves as allies or Nice GuysTM. Male aggression and its intersection with white masculinity enacts itself in
the punk scene in ways which mirror the “survival of the fittest” mentality: straight white men who successfully display aggressive and violent characteristics are rewarded with tangible perks, such as social capital (friends and acquaintances thinking you’re cool, etc.) and more personal space (from which to watch bands, as mentioned above). This overvaluing of masculine-coded traits also applies to folks of other genders. I personally have benefitted from being physically abled, standing at 5’8 (172 cm tall), having a large frame, and being what is considered naturally strong. I definitely see my ability to physically move, shove, and push those who are larger than me as a privilege in punk spaces, and one that I utilize to both my own and others’ advantages. Over the years I’ve gone back and forth over whether
or admit anxiety, in print or in person, over having a concern for the physical safety of women and femmes in mosh pits. I still don’t know if this reaction is typical or over-analytical. But either way, my default mindset at punk shows is that by virtue of my body and politics, I have to be defensive and ready to beat up some dudes as soon as I enter the space. When an aggressive white man is being especially annoying or violent at a show, I have no reservations about latching myself onto him and physically forcing him out of the immediate space of those he seems to be targeting or hurting the most. I have dragged men of all sizes across the floor and away from a mosh pit to show them that they need to calm down—and if they don’t, I’ll be back to make them. I have even resorted to being petty as hell and tripping, scratching, elbowing, or kicking men that don’t
I have dragged men of all sizes across the floor and away from a mosh pit to show them that they need to calm down—and if they don’t, I’ll be back to make them. my defensiveness about how women and femmes are physically treated in mosh pits and my desire to step in when men are pushing them around is me being either unwelcomingly overprotective or justifiably concerned. In the initial printing of this zine, I avoided the topic altogether because I still wasn’t sure how my actions could be categorized: jerk who thinks women can’t stand up for themselves, or active bystander who is just doing what no one else will. Likely due in large part to the “everyone for themselves” mentality that comes along with moshing, I’ve never witnessed another person discuss
get the message: there is a difference between creatively releasing energy you feel while listening to music, and just straight up being a violent asshole. One of my most poignant experiences with an excessivelyaggressive mosher came in the form of a skinny teenage boy at a show in the basement of a public library in 2004.8 8 Punk shows in public buildings and community spaces like libraries are not uncommon for rural areas, due to the lack of music venues or clubs. I’ve also seen shows in fitness centers and gymnasiums, fire department buildings (colloquially called “fire halls”), Jewish community centers, VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) posts, now-defunct industrial centers, and even in the back of a convenience store.
A dry all-day event out in farm country of central Pennsylvania, the fest didn’t have a great turn out. During one band’s set, I stood at the front of the crowd with my arms around my 5’1 (155 cm tall) girlfriend, enjoying the free space that came along with only 25 or so people occupying the room. One white teen boy deliberately ran in giant circles behind us, pushing into me at almost a clockwork rate. Every so often I would jerk forward into my girlfriend, who would then jerk forward into the stage space. After a handful of times culminated in my girlfriend’s head narrowly missing the neck of the bassist’s guitar, I snapped. I turned around, posed to strike, and
both her and her friend, I commented that if the boy didn’t want me to push him in retaliation, he should have stayed with her in the rear of the space. Yet again I saw that kids who mosh are ingrained with a sense of entitlement to the physical space of others and just how defensive people get when this fall-inline-or-get-out mentality is challenged by mosh enthusiasts and moshers themselves—even when all I did was reflect this dude’s actions right back at him. I now wonder if I was targeted because I had my hands on another girl in a non-violent (read: gay) way and if I was expected to not do anything about being touched without my consent due
I’d counter that the biggest mosh assholes are the ones who have always and will always ignore this sentiment, whether it be in the form of an announcement before a band plays or a social expectation in general, and I heartily doubt that a gentle reminder is gonna get the point across. exploded an open hand at chest level, my response to annoying and disrespectful moshers. Due to my height, I usually catch dudes in the mid-section, an effective place to punch or jab. The teen boy was shorter than I had expected and I ended up shoving him full-force in the upper chest, knocking him clean off his feet and sending him skidding across the linoleum floor. Dejected and scared, he retreated to the back of the room for the remainder of the set. On my way out afterwards, one of his teen girl friends chastised me for pushing him and told me that if I didn’t want to get knocked into, I should have stood in the back of the room where she herself was stationed the whole time. After a few choice words about what I thought about
to my assumed gender and sexuality, but regardless of that boy’s motivation, he got the message loud and clear as soon as I struck back. In recent years at punk fests, queer shows, and other spaces that fancy themselves radical or progressive, I’ve heard bands and organizers encouraging people to “be conscious of the space you take up and your presence while moshing,” which, to be honest, seems like a moot point to me. I’d counter that the biggest mosh assholes are the ones who have always and will always ignore this sentiment, whether it be in the form of an announcement before a band plays or a social expectation in general, and I heartily doubt that a gentle reminder is gonna get the point
across. I also think it’s a bit dubious to assume that one’s presence in a socially conscious space automatically means that you share the same experiences, boundaries, and working knowledge of what a descriptor like “the space you take up” means with other folks there. I feel jaded about the capability of these kinds of efforts to rein in certain actions within punk because I don’t necessarily see them as radical solutions due to the lack of accompanying education or active and open dialogue about what we’re trying to see instead. Is having a “most pit etiquette” effective? Do we want a slightly-nicer mosh pit? Do we want a place where no physical movement should be happening? Are we attempting to alter a practice that is so entrenched in punk culture that its seen as central to its existence? I don’t
to the (assumed) lesser likelihood of facing further violence. The times I have resorted to these tactics (like tripping or pinching) have been the times when I have been genuinely fearful that being more direct about confronting an aggressive and destructive white man will get me beaten up. While I may be critiqued for utilizing further violence, I personally see these actions as a means of relatively safe resistance and, to some degree, part of my survival skills for being present in aggressive punk spaces. Another issue that I did not cover in the initial edition of this zine is the consideration of whose aggression and anger gets celebrated in punk and whose gets sanctioned. While anger is a natural human emotion, there are arguably few constructive and healthy
All I know is that I’m really fucking tired of straight white men thinking they are entitled to touch or hit me, no matter what the context is or where my body is placed. have answers to these questions, and I honestly don���t even have an ideal picture of what I would want to experience at a punk show. All I know is that I’m really fucking tired of straight white men thinking they are entitled to touch or hit me, no matter what the context is or where my body is placed. For now, my most pressing concern is being able to defend myself and others when the need arises—and I will continue to use any method at my disposal to do so, even if they are labeled as “underhanded.” Retaliatory actions are more commonly used by women, queers, and femmes due
avenues to express it in. Many of us are drawn to punk as an outlet for our anger that we may not identify as viable for us to release or discuss elsewhere, since it can feel like a place that is supportive of displaying emotions that are generally coded as negative or harmful. As singer Taina Asili noted in US punk band Anti-Product’s “Modern Day F Word,” (1999) “Anger is just an inherent reaction to the pain that we have suffered.” While anger might be seen as common and understandable in punk, it is not equitably displayed nor accepted. Just like mainstream
society, straight white men in punk are valorized for brandishing their rage in bands, at shows, and within other activities coded as punk. These men’s anger is naturalized and unquestioned, as it is believed to be an extension of their masculinity. One of the first
with such a narrow focus on what kinds of experiences women in punk were having, riot grrrl ended up predominantly focusing on music made by and listened to by white cis women. Just like white men who make claims to being truly punk by virtue of their
But by not engaging with what terms like “woman” and “feminist” can or should mean, along with such a narrow focus on what kinds of experiences women in punk were having, riot grrrl ended up predominantly focusing on music made by and listened to by white cis women. large-scale challenges within the US to the notion that only straight white men could have access to rage in punk started in the 1990s. For USian women who also wanted to be able to embrace it themselves, there was a growing niche movement aimed at making their anger more palpable and visible: riot grrrl. Though the histories and significance of riot grrrl are beyond the scope of this zine and my capabilities as a punk participant (I was born in 1987, thus too young to experience the heyday of the genre), the successes and failings of the genre are still felt in feminist punk spaces today. As a genre, riot grrrl aimed to categorize women’s anger as subversive and radical, yet a natural progression from the oppression, misogyny, and violence they faced simply for being women. It helped motivate and popularize bands who focused their material on bringing topics relevant to women’s lives into the punk scene by perpetuating the notion that all women’s struggles are innately connected. But by not engaging with what terms like “woman” and “feminist” can or should mean, along
gender, white cis women in riot grrrl seemed to believe that their whiteness was an entrenched qualification for their interests and experiences being viewed as universally relatable. The genre was concerned with normalizing and embracing the anger of white cis women but not of any other women who deviated from that set of identities, as it flattened the category of “women” into a specified set of concerns. This setup actively dissuaded Black women from participating in riot grrrl, as it saw the nuances of their lives at the marginalized intersections of race and gender as mostly irrelevant. In her 2014 article “Why I was Never a Riot Grrrl”, Canadian journalist and writer Laina Dawes discusses her reactions to the 2013 documentary The Punk Singer, which showcased the life and impact of Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hannah. Thoroughly disappointed yet unsurprised about the film’s lack of analyses of Black women’s participation within riot grrrl, Dawes reflected upon her own personal experiences with erasure and oppression at the hands of white feminists: “The white women
within the punk scene were capable of being just as exclusionary and bigoted as the men were, and among the white women I knew who identified as feminists, there was a strong sense that there was little to no concern as to how ethnicity made my experiences as a woman different from theirs. There was no knowledge, and more importantly, no interest to know... If my ideas differed from theirs, guess who was wrong and who was right?” Dawes
other women-fronted or –centered bands in punk, definitely made me feel like expressing my anger over the misogyny I faced was an okay and cool thing to do. My progression from punk to leftist political efforts evolved further into my interest in synthesizing my personal experiences through listening to punk made by women who declared their opposition to systems of patriarchy and male dominance. Through (white cis) punk women’s narratives, I got to
Through (white cis) punk women’s narratives, I got to position myself as a victim and utilize my righteous anger to defame any men who had harmed me. I had no conscious thoughts as to whether or not I was actively fitting into a punk hierarchy that tried to put white cis women’s anger on the same pedestal as white cis men’s... highlights the lack of concern that many white feminists in punk had for a more complex view of other women’s experiences, which ultimately would have led to a more inclusive and diverse scene. Instead, Black women, trans women, and other women pushed to the sides of riot grrrl were expected to see the genre as influential and important for its fixation on white cis women— even though it didn’t accurately reflect their own lives. Though I admittedly do not have an involved backstory with riot grrrl like many white feminists in punk of my generation, I did see the few riot grrrl bands I knew about as a teen and young adult (Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear) as representative of my frustration at straight white men over their treatment of me. These bands, and eventually
position myself as a victim and utilize my righteous anger to defame any men who had harmed me. I had no conscious thoughts as to whether or not I was actively fitting into a punk hierarchy that tried to put white cis women’s anger on the same pedestal as white cis men’s—because there was such a strong pattern of messages put out by those who I was taught to regard as the forerunners of riot grrrl and/or feminist punk, I thought I was merely adopting the concerns that essentialized one’s interest in the genre. Truly supporting the variety of manifestations of anger in punk necessitates that we take a more dynamic view of ourselves as potential sources of oppression. Embracing the anger of women in feminist punk and riot grrrl means not only supporting efforts that showcase
women’s anger at men over patriarchal concerns but those that admit anger between women as well. In June 1981, Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde gave the keynote presentation, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference. In the keynote, Lorde discussed the failings of feminist consciousness raising (CR) groups that were popularized in the US feminist movement in the late 1970s, in which women gathered to discuss their personal experiences with sexism in order to unearth the political connections in their individual lives (where the saying, “The personal is political” picked up traction). “Most women have not developed tools for facing anger constructively. CR groups in the past, largely white, dealt with how to express anger, usually at the world of men. And these groups were made up of white women who shared the terms of their oppressions. There was usually little attempt to articulate the genuine differences between women, such as those of race, color, age, class, and sexual identity. There was no apparent need at that time to examine the contradictions of self, woman as oppressor. There was work on expressing anger, but very little on anger directed against each other. No tools were developed to deal with other women’s anger except to avoid it, deflect it, or flee from it under a blanket of guilt.” To me, this issue, named in 1981, sounded a hell of a lot like the kinds of problems that arose within the riot grrrl movement of the earlyand mid-1990s. With a legacy such as this built into the structure of feminist punk efforts, we must be critical of
the ways in which anger is portrayed, expressed, and sanctioned in the scenes that we are currently active in. We also must be more willing to investigate ourselves as sources causing the anger that is expressed in punk and be more accountable to our fellow women and femmes. In particular, white cis women must be responsible for the space they occupy in feminist punk and be prepared to step back, listen, and engage with their feelings of guilt whenever asked to do so.
How can we deal with arguments against women- and queer-centered punk efforts when they’re called “reactive,” “reverse sexist,” or “unfairly exclusive”? • White male aggression is celebrated in punk, with actions like moshing and forcefully pushing each other around being treated like they are acceptable forms of expressing appreciation for music being played. Which kinds of bodies do you see most active in mosh pits and would you label those types of people as inherently violent? Why or why not? • Can a mosh pit ever be functionally consensual? What other ways can we collectively enjoy music without invading others’ personal space or forcing others to move around us? • Are statements like “POC / girls / queers / femmes to the front” an effective means of offsetting the tendency for straight white men to physically dominate mosh pits? If you’ve participated in an identity-based mosh pit, did it feel different than “normal” ones? How so?
V I . T H O U S H A LT B E P U R E
p uri ty i n p o l i t i cs , b e h a v ior s , a n d in t e rests “X” on your hand to show where you stand You have fear for my drugs and beer You built up a wall, want to be in control But you’re no punk if you don’t get drunk Antidote, “Swastika on Your Hand” (1997) When it comes to music, punks get fucking defensive about their interests. I can’t count the amount of conversations I’ve heard centered around how long someone has been punk, how true they are to some abstract “punk lifestyle,” and, the annoying icing on the cake, which specific types of punk they’re into. The expression “Punk Points” sums up this mathematical game of macho posturing that aims to assess just how loyal to punk one really is, like some kind of fucked up nationalism. Sub-sects of punk are splintered farther and farther into microscopic labels. Are you into ‘90s Northwestern posthardcore? Technical death metal? Melodic crust? ‘77-‘86 British Oi!? Japanese digi-grind? Punks create and sustain these linguistic tongue twisters to check each other on their dedication to music snobbery. Any bids at crossing genre borders and taking interest in non-approved mini-labels puts one at risk for losing Punk Points and true purity. This focus on musical immaculateness makes for hard times when calling out the oppressive themes in punk and related alternative music scenes. Many of the same punks and metalheads who are into tyrannical
and hateful punk music shame hip hop and rap for being inherently misogynistic, but won’t accept criticisms of the music that they’re into.1 Genres like “gore grind” and “porno grind” overwhelmingly focus on dehumanizing, raping, dismembering, and murdering women, and even popular spooky-themed punk bands like The Misfits (US) seem to have found it pretty hard not to write a song about cutting up or stabbing girls and women, or to not have rape be a general undertone in their music.2 I would go so far as to say that just about all pop punk done by 1 Startling examples of disdain for hip hop, which can be argued to have racist undertones, are the songs “Eazy-E’s Fucking Dead and I Think It’s Funny” (1999) by US power violence band Charles Bronson and “Hip Hop Kids” (2000) by The Devotchkas. Despite the singer of Charles Bronson calling the rapper Eazy-E out for being a rapist, he expresses joy that his death means there is “one less banger in the hood.” The Devotchka’s song has a chorus that includes the lines “I hate hip hop kids / I hate hip hop noise” and goes on to state, “Who fucking cares if Tupac died / I don’t care, white or Black / This song is not a racial attack” before evoking stereotypes of lower-class welfare recipients who “have never heard of” working a regular job. 2 Seriously, look up the lyrics for basically anything The Misfits have written. They have two primary topics: being a non-human entity (monster, alien, robot, zombie, etc.) and killing women. The only redeemable Misfits song is “London Dungeon” (1986).
straight white guys is preoccupied with expressing their heartbrokenness over their ex-girlfriends being ball-busting bitches or sluts who cheated on them, or because women won’t date them at all. US band Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends (2002) was a vital bonding experience between punks and emo kids in my local scene upon its release (it is generally regarded as somewhere between pop punk and emocore) and is one of my favorite albums. It is also completely riddled with whiny complaints about women who are awful heartbreakers. In “The Blue Channel,” singer Adam Lazzara slut-shames and patronizes a woman he’s upset with because she is sleeping with another man instead of him: “And you’re so guilty it’s disgusting / He’s been sneakin underneath your sheets / And your hands have been in places that they probably shouldn’t go / But don’t worry sweetie, cause I already know.” A central focus in this album, as well as in other material put out by countless other pop punk and emocore bands, is the weaponization of jealousy as a retaliatory act to what straight white men view as the unfair emotional strain they experience from women. USian bands like Blink-182, Brand New, All Time Low, Fall Out Boy3, and MXPX are just a few that come to mind when thinking about this trend in the more sensitive and emotional subgenres in punk. New Found Glory’s (US) 2000-released self-titled album has been one of my most guilty pleasures since I first heard it in high school,
despite its constant focus on how women are manipulative. “Boy Crazy” is an especially damning song lyrically, starting out with, “Some girls are crazy, just listen to what I have to say about it / You’ve gotta watch out for the beautiful ones / They’ll twist your head right off your neck and laugh about it with their friends / That’s just one night for them” and has the chorus, “This song goes out to girls that we haven’t met just yet / This song is for stupid girls who think that every boy is all about them.” At this point I would much rather have straight white men in pop punk just come right out and say, “girls were mean to me in high school and therefore I believe that I’m allowed to make misogynistic music under the guise of being a Very Sensitive Guy,” than continue having to hear a bastion of material that blames women for not being at the complete emotional and sexual disposal of cishet men. If there were any genre of music that would fit as the official soundtrack to The FriendzoneTM, my vote would be pop punk. In addition to propping up various social hierarchies, punk bands often support hegemony and strict lines of division within and around the punk scene itself. Songs like Quincy Punx’s “Punker than You” (1992), Municipal Waste’s “Poser Disposer” (US, 2002), Magrudergrind’s “Emo Holocaust” (2006), Spazz’s “Backpack Bonfire” (US, 1997), The Exploited’s “Fuck A Mod” (UK, 2001), and Crucial Unit’s “Punx N’ Skinz, Let’s Unite Them, Put Them On A Boat, Send Them Off To Sea, and Sink I think that this is an important place to note Those Fuckers” (US, 2001)4, just a few of
3 that Fall Out Boy’s bassist, Pete Wentz, has openly been accused of sexual assault and has a reputation for 4 My favorite lines from this Crucial Unit song preying on teenage girls specifically. are: “Homoerotic tendencies masked by macho bullshit
many examples, draw thick lines of “us” and “them” in the punk community and even blatantly discuss violence against who they deem posers or into what they view as the lesser arenas of punk.5 In my hometown’s punk and alternative scenes, I often felt immensely pressured to stay stagnant in my musical taste and often outwardly confessed my interest in subgenres like emo and new wave as “guilty pleasures” instead of blatantly admitting that I enjoyed certain bands. My local scene was wrought with infighting between punks and a newer variety of hardcore kids that split off of us seemingly overnight. This group, which was identified as “scene kids,” consisted of tuff guy hardcore bros who modified punk-coded aesthetics like piercings and tattoos (they were easily spotted with our area code, 717, branded on them). The sceneswitchings of many former punks were met with open hostility of their fauxpunkhood and Against Me!’s (US) nowinfamous “The Politics of Starving” (2002) lyric, “If it doesn’t matter now / Then it never really did.” SLC Punk, a film I’ve discussed earlier in this zine (Section I (page 11)), did a great job of portraying the issue of “selling out” of punk in its final scene. The main / Cute suspenders and pants tightly fit / You can’t even fucking circle pit!” Both hilarious and insightful about the ways in which straight white men construct masculinity narratives in punk. 5 Another noteworthy example that is less overtly violent is “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance To Anything)” by US punk band The Dead Milkmen, which was released in 1987 and took issue with goth and new wave fans who embraced non-normative gender presentations and sexualities: “You wear black clothes, say you’re poetic / The sad truth is you’re just pathetic… / Don’t try to tell me that you’re an intellectual / ‘Cause you’re just another boring bisexual.”
character, Stevo, appears at his best friend’s funeral without his trademark spiky blue hair and is dressed in a very proper suit and tie. Upon reflection of the ideals he used to hold, he states that he “was nothing more than a goddamn trendy-ass poser” because he currently didn’t identify with punk like he used to. Essentialized concepts of punk keep us in a state of worry that our posturing will be seen by our peers for what it really is—a ritualized performance. The tendency for punks to correlate appearance with a specific punk ethos or mindset is certainly part of the reason embodiment-based judgements are made, motivating those who want to identify with punk to try to look the part (as discussed in Section I as well (page 9)). Oftentimes, punks are so preoccupied with weeding out posers that they ironically accuse those who look too punk to be impostors. US punk band Anti-Flag touched upon this concern in their 1996 song, “Punk By The Book”: “Covered in leather, or plaid patches, or metal studs / Your hair is dyed or spiked with glue / You only talk to those who look and act the way you do / Cause you think you’re so fuckin’ cool.” An interesting complement to punk’s focus on consistency and commitment is the prevalence of bands that stick to a particular niche. On one hand, certain bands strive to magnify specific activities labeled as punk. A major example of this is the stillprevalent popularity of skate punk bands like JFA (Jodie Foster’s Army) (US) and Bones Brigade (US) that have close historical ties to thrash punk, a subsect of the crossover style with primary focus
on skate boarding, pounding beers, and destroying suburbanite living rooms during house parties (indicative of their primarily middle-class upbringings). On the other hand, some bands attempt to challenge overall punk dynamics with their unique lyrics and hybrid of styles. The US straight-edge thrash/ powerviolence band Scholastic Deth wrote many songs about being sober, a status they sarcastically called themselves “losers” for, and reading books for their predominant means of fun. Unfortunately, the band fell prey to writing songs against former and current punks who held different ideals, such as wearing expensive clothes and listening to non-punk music. Their song “Xtreme = Mainstream” (2004) laments, “Fuck switch crooks and $80 jeans / Cuz
utilized this avenue in their 1989 song, “Cruelty to Carnivores.” After describing several ways of killing animals in gory and explicit details, the singer focuses on his disdain for those who continue to have an omnivorous diet: “Sick to death of lies, excuses, and dumb pretense / If you’re still eating meat now you’re nothing more than a selfish, ignorant, uncaring shit.” By framing veganism (or even vegetarianism) as such, this attempts to turns the topic from a political issue into a moralistic one, utilizing essentialist claims to perpetuate the belief that there is a direct link between going vegan and putting a dent in macro-level structures like the factory farming industry. The argument shifts from “eating meat makes you a bad punk” to “eating meat
The argument shifts from “eating meat makes you a bad punk” to “eating meat makes you a bad person.” I still remember what this means to me.” Scholastic Deth seems like a pretty good example of a band that attempts to capitalize off of just how out-of-thepunk-norm they are while winding up reinforcing the standard anyway. Many bands also centralized their content around veganism and animal rights in tandem with straight-edge politics that focused on the importance of individual choice. Bands such as Conflict (UK) and Disrupt (US) wrote a wealth of songs that criticized animal testing, the meat industry, and other ways that humans exploit animals for profit or personal benefit—and some even took their own listeners to task for not being more mindful of such issues. UK hardcore/ grindcore band Extreme Noise Terror
makes you a bad person.” Much like straight-edge punk’s laundry list of related beliefs that overlook systemic issues such as racism, mental illness, and poverty in tandem with substance use, militant vegan bands are also pretty notorious for having a narrow scope when it comes to the cultural importance of certain foods, global food justice and access, and underpaid labor within the farming industry in the Western world. The most common means I’ve seen these bands use to attempt to convert people into fellow vegans is the fear of shame and social stigma.6 US vegan hardcore/PV band 6 Full disclosure: I’ve been a vegetarian for 13 years and a vegan for 6 years. I went vegetarian because I didn’t like meat and had additional humanitarian
Dropdead focuses most of their lyrics on animal rights, writing songs with titles like “Unjustified Murder” and “At The Cost of an Animal” (both released in 1992). I got the opportunity to see them play in Washington, DC back in 2010ish and was pretty stoked, since they’re one
In addition to dietary choices, one of the biggest dividing issues in punk communities has consistently been the use of drugs and alcohol. Fear (US), Leftover Crack (US), and other punk bands have touted excessive drinking and drug use as a means to have fun
While sobriety is out of the norm of both mainstream culture and subculture, moderate drinking is only found to fit well into overall societal values. of my favorite US hardcore bands. They played for a few minutes before the singer, Bob Otis, started talking between songs to explain what their lyrics were about and share what his political motivations for the band were. He then spotted a fellow white punk man in the crowd who was wearing a leather jacket and started calling him out directly, asking why someone who wanted to see his band would wear such a thing. While Otis did state that wearing leather was openly in opposition to vegan politics, he seemed to be more preoccupied with expressing offense that an attendee at their show wasn’t familiar enough with their music to comply with a secret dress code, thus focusing just as much on the jacket-wearer as an untrue fan of their music as him being a poor activist. reasons for opting out of eating it, and then made the jump to being a vegan because I realized I am super lactose-intolerant and that I physically feel better when I don’t eat dairy or other animal by-products. While punk music didn’t jump-start my decision to make a dietary change like it did with my political motivations (discussed in Section IV (page 40)), I definitely have felt like my food choices are at least found to be “cool” within punk as a whole. Though I feel like my personal dietary decisions are supported by punk, I still find the practice of using shame or disdain to motivate people into going vegan really questionable and logically ineffectual.
and release tension in life while others like 7 Seconds and Minor Threat (both mentioned previously for their racist content) saw substance use as giving into ridiculous social pressure and distracting from living well. This duality—the poles of irresponsible excess or conscious abstinence—in and of itself is created and reinforced by popularized notions of what punk is as well as USian culture’s perspectives on substance consumption. While sobriety is out of the norm of both mainstream culture and subculture, moderate drinking is only found to fit well into overall societal values. Casual and responsible drinking is not viewed as punk—excessive and risky drinking is. There are a variety of punk songs that reinforce this statement that I could mention herein, but a few stand out. I was highly motivated to use the lyrics of Antidote at the beginning of this section due to the facts that they often compared straight edge or sober kids (and those who disapproved of their reckless drinking) to fascists and Nazis and openly suggest that getting drunk is an essential aspect of being a punk. AntiFlag’s 1996 “Drink, Drank, Punk” is a fast-paced song that makes a connection
between punk and drinking culture. Its first verse is, “I’m so cool, I can drink so much / I can drink more than you!” After a chorus of “Drink drank punk!” yelled repeatedly, the song mentions a drunken hookup: “Met a girl at the bar / She was a 10 at 2:00, I gave her four stars / I took her home she spent the night / At 10:00 am she was a fright!” Though it initially comes off like an exaggeration or over-the-top account of the social value of drinking within punk, it’s not openly satirical like other songs. US hardcore band Black Flag’s 1985 “Drinking and Driving” satirized the act of driving while intoxicated. Starting out with singer Henry Rollins chanting, “Drink! Drink! Drink! Drink! Don’t think! Drink! Drive! Kill!,” the song continues on with background clips of tires screeching, the sounds of metal and glass colliding, and Rollins sneering, “Make sure to tell yourself that this is cool / And make sure to tell yourself that you have no choice / And make sure to tell your friends that they drive you to it / And that you can quit anytime that you want.” Besides tackling the topic of drinking through satire, it can be additionally covered by outright mockery. US ska/indie punk band Bomb The Music Industry! is notorious for its hatred of punks and a generalized punk culture. In their 2009 track, “(Shut) Up The Punx!!!,” singer Jeff Rosenstock offers an expansive and valuable critique of the uniformity and forced conformity that often plagues punk scenes, but ends up reinforcing the same “us” vs. “them” duality that is a typical theme in punk anyway. Similar to Scholastic Deth, Rosenstock
stakes himself as essentially different than other punks based on aspects of punk culture he doesn’t embrace: “If you really think that you and I are on the same page you can go ahead and fuck yourself / Because you’ve got coke and good looks, I’ve got overdue library books...” He then takes punk houses to task for having house rules centered on what is acceptable in the space: “Vegans only! No meat allowed! / Straight-edge only! No drinking allowed! / Fixed gears only! No three-speeds allowed! / Me! Me! Me! I’m smart! I’m right! I’m smart!” The belief that asking participants to abstain from drinking in a space is somehow as ridiculous as judging someone’s bike choice is a pretty asinine one to me, as is the message that not having alcohol present at a show is indicative of a selfinvolved or -righteous attitude. Of all of the songs I’ve heard that attempt to cover the topic, it seems that they all fall victim to regurgitating the same tired binary. No matter which side of the drinking/sober split you may find yourself on, I believe it can be agreed upon that punk absolutely fails the task of complicating the duality of excessive consumption (and, it can be argued, addiction) and sobriety. As someone who has been both a drunk punk and a sober one, I can say with confidence that in each instance, I felt like punks who held an oppositional relationship to alcohol as mine at the time were judgmental and shitty towards me. As an 18 year-old sneaking out to the dark depths of graveled parking lots to take swigs of rum or Yuengling stashed in car trunks, I was pissed at straight-edge kids for looking down their noses at me. As a 28-year-old who has been sober for
over 4 years as of this writing, I feel panicked, unwelcome, and singled out at bars and parties, which are the majority of social functions I’m invited to. I do
described feeling depressed, furious, and tired of being treated like shit on both an interpersonal and societal level but my main issues weren’t overbearing
As someone who has been both a drunk punk and a sober one, I can say with confidence that in each instance, I felt like punks who held an oppositional relationship to alcohol as mine at the time were judgmental and shitty towards me. admit to having a complex relationship with alcohol due to my sober status and I feel like this only gets more tangled and messy when I decide to go to punk events. These changes in perspective over the course of my teen and adult life, from drinking to excess to being sober, have each given me insight into the ways in which a practice, issue, or concern in punk can mean multiple things to multiple people. I’ve come to believe that one of the most insidious ways that the unwritten purity rule plays itself out in the punk scene is by punks judging or shaming one another for each taking away different things from its music or activities. While it totally makes sense that the wide variety of people who associate themselves with punk have divergent reactions from it, the hierarchy of takeaways that are “real” or “genuine” enough to be considered punk is what I see as the issue. In many ways, I’ve felt like the things I’ve embraced about punk don’t exactly line up with what straight white men typically get emphatic about. I openly identified with the messages perpetuated by angry white men until I realized that our anger was being motivated by and directed at different places: I was thankful for lyrics that
girlfriends or parents, not being able to skateboard whenever I wanted, cops breaking up house parties that I wanted to attend in the suburbs, or a slew of other common themes in punk. The straight white men I was supposed to be idolizing and mimicking in punk looked and sounded an awful lot like the kinds of men who had directly and systemically abused, mistreated, enacted violence upon, and hated me. For every dude I heard on a punk album laying out what was cool in punk, there was one present in my local scene ready to police my behavior and point out where I was sucking at being punk. In many cases, when straight white men critique the rest of us for not being “punk enough,” they’re actually expressing upset that we aren’t deriving the same meanings from it as they are. This is rooted in their belief that they know exactly what punk values and is centered on, as they are accustomed to having a large part of its music cater directly towards them. When punk music or fellow punks don’t reinforce that unspoken standard, it scares them. Straight white punk men feel defensive when the rest of us utilize the “reject what rejects you” mindset in punk when creating material or setting up spaces within punk that openly identify them as oppressors
instead of as comrades. To them, punk is an extension of mainstream society’s notion that they always are and should be in control, in power. Positioning yourself as the definition of punk means anyone who disagrees with you or otherwise embraces different values than you is automatically Not Punk. Yet again, it’s not only straight white men who bolster this attitude—I myself have also gotten upset and angry when others didn’t value the same things as I did about a particular band or facet of punk. In 2006, I saw one of my then-favorite punk bands, A Global Threat, play at the DIY venue The Championship in Lemoyne, PA. In my first year of college and studying
a few of my questions before saying he had to get back to setting up the band’s equipment. Not two minutes later, I saw a younger-than-me, thin, conventionally attractive (read: Not Punk) white girl grab Lothian’s arm, whisper something in his ear, and hand him a folded piece of paper. He looked down at the paper and back down at her, as she flashed a coy but telling smile. Lothian then turned to a bandmate, showed him the paper, and pointed at the girl as all three of them smiled and playfully laughed to one another. Though I didn’t know what the mystery girl had said or written down for Lothian, and never found out for sure, I assumed that it was an invitation to hook up with her—and I
For every dude I heard on a punk album laying out what was cool in punk, there was one present in my local scene ready to police my behavior and point out where I was sucking at being punk. political science at the time, I was particularly excited about the prospect of meeting the band in person and asking about their political motivations behind their content. After US rock band Strike Anywhere played and while AGT was setting up, I spotted singer Bryan Lothian moving around cables onstage and approached him. I asked him about his thoughts on libertarianism, Marxism, the arms race, and whether he believed USian politics would only ever be motivated by conflict (please remember that I was 18 at the time). I was shaking slightly due to meeting my own personal version of a rock star, nervous and anxious about portraying myself as a politically educated fan of his music. He humbled me by answering
was pissed. I had wanted more time with Lothian to discuss my theories and bond over the kinds of political messages in his music that I loved so much, but I knew that I would never talk to him again. I was no match for the mystery girl in terms of physical appearance or what I was interested in sharing with him. Dredging up my own internalized misogyny and feelings of inadequacy, I rolled my eyes at what I saw as yet another girl attending a punk show because of a cute guy instead of being there because she was a ‘true’ punk. As a person who conceptualized their participation in punk as conditional and based on their appearance, I simultaneously felt like a winner and a failure. By virtue of desiring time
with a white male band member to talk he kissed one after another, making politics, I was a true punk—but because a similar goofy wide-eyed expression I was not embodying an ideal of what with each girl, all inspired by my spursaid man was of-the-moment interested in, I decision. If I had was not worthy of to guess why I interacting with thought asking a further. Of course, strange old man for this is all still a kiss was a good based on a 10-yearidea at the time, old memory which I would say that I may or may not was exploiting my actually be an position as a thenaccurate depiction girl in punk. The of what really Photographic evidence that the author is a ridiculous boys in my local and awful hypocrite. happened, but the scene could act situation points to a confusing position snobbish about meeting punk superstars that many of us can find ourselves or knowing all of their lyrics by heart— in when trying to figure out if we are but I got to say that I kissed one. How’s committed enough to call ourselves that for punk bragging rights? punks in the face of this unwritten purity rule. It’s also an example of the uneasy position women and femmes typically have within punk by virtue of our proximity to straight men. Later • Can non-sober spaces be respectful of that same year, I traveled to Allentown, sober folks? What about sober spaces being PA to see aging punk bands The Misfits respectful of folks with substance use or addiction issues? and The Adicts (UK) play a huge sold-out • “Punk points” is an expression used to show at a fairgrounds and when I got demarcate actions that get one labeled punk, a chance to meet Monkey, The Adicts’ with the underlying assumption that the lead singer, I asked if I could have my more points you have, the more punk you are. What are some actions you can name that are picture taken while kissing him. I can’t viewed as “pure” in punk (ex: music genre remember why I made this request—I preference)? Which choices/levels of purity do didn’t find him attractive, he was easily you think are respected/touted more? • In alternative scenes like punk, it 35 years older than me, and I had never is often believed that you can prove your been so cavalier as to ask a stranger political stances through personal choices and to kiss me before, especially not for practices. What are some behaviors that are to have political / radical undertones? a photo. But he was kind enough to assumed How do these link into larger social issues indulge me and actually seemed pretty surrounding resource allocation and access into it. After our picture, he ended up (ex: addiction and sobriety, food justice, using getting bombarded with the exact same public transport)? • How can we be respectful and aware of request from dozens of other teen girls. (and advocate for) our health and safety needs I watched from the side of the room as while respecting those of others?
VII. THOU SHALT NOT SHAKE SHIT UP t ryi ng t o i n ci t e p o s it iv e c h a n ge in t h e scene Just because I can’t change everything Doesn’t mean I can’t change anything - 1905, “Can’t Change Everything” (2004) Despite our feelings of alienation in physical spaces like punk shows, the internet has given us the opportunity to experience punk music and culture in our own homes as well as allow marginalized folks in bands the chance to reach a fan base that won’t necessarily automatically contrast their race or gender with their ability to play instruments. Past the days of snail mail (mix)tape trading and other insular efforts to keep punk knowledge on a person-to-person basis, message boards, blogs, and free music upload and streaming websites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud allow women, queers, and trans folks to network with one another, learn about bands with similarly-identified members from all over the world past and present, swap stories about local punk scenes, and gain insight into various punk communities without having to navigate the thrown elbows, stage divers, and other markers of militant masculinity at our notso-advertised local punk shows. The internet has aided those of us who have felt literally pushed out of punk areas to gain some stable footing. Along with zines, it has aided us to discover music, to have conversations uninterrupted and positively focused, and gives us the ability to choose how involved we do or don’t want to be. Though I am still
very optimistic about the internet’s capability to become a great equalizer for punk’s past, present, and future, I have many concerns about the ways that offline patterns manifest themselves online. This is one of many reasons why constant reevaluation of our practices and involvements are necessary to ensure that punk keeps evolving in a way that is inclusive, accepting, and emblematic of its ethos of challenging the norm. I’ve been engaging with this zine and its contents for over five years now and I’m honestly still not completely sure about what exactly our possibilities are when it comes to changing punk. All I really know for the time being is that for people to feel empowered in what they’re doing, they have to have choices—and it’s hard to pinpoint what those are or can be for us. As I hope I’ve shown thus far, punk’s got a lot of oppressive mindsets and actions ingrained within it and it’s going to take a lot of people struggling together for quite a while before we’ll be able to make some lasting change. Even though I know we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, staying positive (or at least idealistic) about our aims can surely help the burden feel lighter. I’ve been asked over the years why I continue to involve myself in punk and care about
its survival if I have so many complaints about it, by both privileged punks and disapproving outsiders. Similarly, nearly all of the ladies, queers, and Black and Brown folks I’ve met in the punk scene over the years have also had a tough time putting to words just why punk continues to be a home away from home, albeit a shabby one. Even though our tough love for punk isn’t always translatable to ourselves or to others, it’s safe to say that our feelings towards its continued existence are strong. In thinking about this, I’ve come up with a short list of ideas on how we can get the ball rolling towards creating lasting change in the scene.
Recognize the past and present efforts of marginalized folks. While punk is saturated with fucked up mindsets and ideals, there are countless marginalized punks who bust their asses to contribute to their local scenes while battling blatant oppression and pressure from their peers to give up trying. Yet their efforts can be easily skated over when we treat punk as a monolithic group and make blanket critiques that are one-size-fitsall. In order to ensure that punk expands its horizons and discontinues being a white boys’ club in many places, we have to make sure that people previously labeled as outsiders are fully supported for their actions and projects. Seek out and appreciate bands and individuals working hard to improve, challenge, and reshape the state of punk!
Set up skill-shares and
workshops aimed at teaching marginalized folks valuable skills. Since so many abilities and activities that are labeled punk are overwhelmingly performed by cis / straight / white men, they tend to pass them onto one another informally, thus keeping certain knowledge “in the family.” By intentionally creating safer spaces in which marginalized folks can acquire skills without having to, if you’ll allow me to borrow the phrase here, “Ask A Punk,” we alleviate pressure from these groups to put in twice as much effort as white boys just to get half the recognition. If you have a skill that has gotten you accolades or respect within the punk scene, consider sharing it with others! Being able to talk about and utilize an ability you have with other folks who don’t exactly feel comfortable in the punk scene can probably be a very rewarding and emotionally important experience for everyone involved.
Be aware of your inclusion of others. It’s probably safe to say that most, if not all, people who turn to punk do so out of a desire to find a supportive place that aligns with their nontraditional politics, life experiences, home lives, and so on. Since so many of us were outcasts in other social scenes, finding a place to belong is a really reassuring and important experience. But unfortunately, our in-group feelings can quickly turn into cliques that further exclude others, and it’s definitely not just white boys who are
complicit in this. Building up an insular network of friends or acquaintances might feel nice for us, yet we should always be considering whether or not our actions are excluding others, even tangentially or accidentally. After all, the closed-off and exclusionary practices that abound in punk are often cited as major motivations for people to leave the scene altogether.
Intentionally reach out to marginalized folks in punk spaces. Strike up a conversation with someone who particularly looks isolated or lonely; find excuses to talk to new people, and not just about the shitty dudes who are in attendance! So much of the time women, queers, and POC attend punk shows in hopes that they’ll feel welcomed and even the smallest of gestures can make a really huge difference. Keep in mind that marginalized folks’ family members and non-punk friends often look down on them for their interest in the subculture and they might be lacking an adequate social circle to turn to, and not just about issues directly relating to punk. This could also mean simply showing up and hanging out with your punk friends! In my experience, punk shows are always way more enjoyable and tolerable when I am in attendance with even just one friendly face by my side.
similar hang ups about punk but just haven’t expressed them to you. Simply initiating open conversations can lead to a lot of really great outcomes. If you feel confident in your voice and writing skills, bring up these topics in zines or songs you write and circulate and seek out related resources for yourself and others who might really need them. Women, femmes, and queers are often slammed for speaking up about hardships we face in punk by having our truths labeled as “gossip” or “call-out culture.” Our overwhelming focus on punk’s musical messages also props up the notion that being able to critique punk necessitates that you be creating new material yourself. In a scene obsessed with ideals of unity and perfection necessary for validated inclusion, we generally believe that criticism must always be constructive or at least created with pure intent. I personally care much more about what kinds of conversations get started than I do about the credentials of the person who sparks them in the first place.
Become an active bystander.
Our most heinous and fucked up experiences with punk often happen in intimate show spaces with countless witnesses around who don’t seem to care about what is going on. It’s totally valid to not want to intervene when a person is making rape jokes, visibly drunk and aggressive, being combative or threatening to others, and/or engaging in any other number of instances in Talk about issues which we don’t feel safe as observers. relating to the scene. There’s also no completely right or Without knowing it, you might perfect way to respond in such situations have a number of friends who have anyway. Being able to simultaneously
gauge what is happening around you and what you feel able / willing to do in response is a skill that will take time. I personally like to interrupt men making racist or rape jokes by saying, “Explain to me why that’s funny.” I’ve gotten a drunk straight white man to leave women at a punk show alone by forcing him to sit down, giving him some water to drink, and telling him that I’ll be watching him while he’s on a time out. Due to my physical size, there honestly are some cases when I do feel safe enough to place myself directly in front of someone being a jerk, so I jump in and tell them to back off—but this definitely is not a realistic practice for most people or even myself in many cases. The most important parts of being an active bystander are using your best judgment and doing what is safe for you.
Work on your media literacy skills as they apply to punk and elsewhere.
tended to regurgitate the same narrow set of experiences and mindsets over the past several decades. Each of us are responsible for our own unlearning processes as they relate to unpacking and critically examining just what exactly is being projected upon us. Being skilled at this process in punk will help us to better evaluate the patterns that appear in more mainstream media outlets as well.
Don’t let yourself off the hook. Though it can be really tempting to only focus on the ways in which our identities negatively impact our experiences in punk, it’s also important to think critically about how our identities and lived experiences give us more space in punk, or even might not be as important as our actions in certain contexts. As I hope I’ve demonstrated in this zine, even those of us who count ourselves as politically aware or mindful of our actions still end up listening to fucked up bands and participating in systems of exclusion and oppression inside and outside of punk. People who are vocal or overt about displaying their violent mindsets are not the only ones who need to work on self-improvement, as much as we would like to believe otherwise sometimes. Being open to hearing criticisms and analyses of our actions can be really hard to do but its work worth doing, both for ourselves and for others.
According to the Media Literacy Project, media literacy is “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media.” For punk in particular, this means being able to examine and determine the messages that we hear in the music. We should strive to be conscious consumers of punk— questioning why we see certain themes emerge, who tends to make the music and related media we have access to, and how we can utilize our awareness of all of this information to create our own projects. The visibility and Support ways to get out of representation of diverse narratives is punk entirely. of vital importance in a scene that has A common trend for those who have
been involved in punk for a long time and/or have been witness to a plethora of fucked up happenings in their local scenes is to “quit” punk. Burnout is an understandable and valid feeling that can arise after putting up with a continual stream of bullshit despite all of the emotional energy you are expending. For many of us, it might not seem worth it to keep trying to improve our local scenes when the folks who are supposed to be our community members are often are the biggest sources of microaggressions and headaches. Those of us who are marginalized in punk are especially pressured to stick with punk and bend over backwards to improve it, no matter how hard it gets for us. Creating avenues for getting away from punk will make our involvement feel less like it’s a form of proving that we care and more like it’s something we can come back to later if we want to. Strive for understanding and empathy for those who decide that breaking off their contact with punk is the best option for them. Don’t shame people who can’t engage with it in the same way or to the same degree that you can. I continue to write this critique of the punk scene I have an intense love/ hate relationship with in an attempt to incite critical dialogue about what we can collectively do to improve marginalized groups’ feelings of alienation, infighting, perpetuation of hierarchal values, and in-group competition. As fucked up as it is, punk has been a life force for me and I point out the flaws I see with the intention of improving them, particularly by way of putting my theories out into the world
and hoping that those who read it will be inspired enough to do the same. I invite you to reject my ideas, critique them, build upon them, or whatever other responses might arise. Make your own lists of the small- and largescale changes you’d like to see happen. There are no one size fits all solutions to entrenched problems in punk or any other (sub)culture for that matter— come up with your own based on what works for you! Be critical of revisionist histories of punk’s influences that attempt to whitewash and flatten them. Take accountability for your actions, both past and present. Be responsible for getting educated on the ways in which you are actively or passively complicit in systems of exploitation both in and out of punk. Utilize your mistakes as learning opportunities that can teach you valuable lessons you might not have received otherwise. Punch up, not down. Piss off the right people. Keep punk subversive, or weird, or radical, or whatever else it means to you.
• What exactly do you believe the label “punk” means? What kinds of things can or should it be applied to? • Do you think it would be possible to change the definition of “punk” itself? If so, would this be a way of forcing positive change upon the scene? • What are some other rules you think punk tries to reinforce, whether subtly or otherwise? • What are some steps we can take as individuals to improve the experiences of fellow queers and POC in punk?
en d note A working version of this zine was published as an essay in Hoax 6: Feminisms and Communication in November 2011 and the first edition was printed as a standalone zine in October 2012. Workshops based on the zine have been presented at Combating Latent Inequality Together Fest 2012 (same title as this zine) and at Fed Up Fest 2015 (“Our Problem, Our Responsibility: Talking about being White Queers in Punk”). I am endlessly thankful for all of the friends, pen pals, and total strangers that gave me invaluable feedback on the first drafts of this zine as well as those who have lent me a variety of new perspectives on this material in the years since!
REC OM M ENDED RESOUR CES “A Band Called Death” documentary (2012) “Afro-Punk” documentary (2003) Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities edited by Victoria Law and China Martens (2012) “Evolution of a Race Riot” and “Slander” by Mimi Thi Nguyen “The First 7-inch Was Better: How I Became an Ex-Punk” by Nia King “For Colored Girls Who Considered Black Feminism When Riot Grrrl Wasn’t Enough” by e-feminist ““Freakin’ Out”: Remaking Masculinity through Punk Rock in Detroit” by Katherine E. Wadkins (2012)
The Future Generation: The Zine-book for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends and Others by China Martens (2007) “The Future of “No Future”: Punk Rock and Postmodern Theory” by Jude Davies (2004) “I Wasn’t Brought Here, I Was Born: Surviving Punk Rock Long Enough To Find Afropunk” by Hanif Abdurraqib No Shame Distro: A people of color collective interested in promoting other zine writers and artists of color while using an anti-oppression framework “Shotgun Seamstress” by Osa Atoe What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal by Laina Dawes (2012) “Women in L.A. Punk” - A compilation of interviews by Alice Bag with women active in the 70s punk scene in Los Angeles, California
a b out t he autho r sari is the editor of the long-running queer feminist compilation zine Hoax and has written several other zines, including “Neither Doll Houses nor Tree Houses: On Living Outside of the Gender Binary” and the 10-Issue perzine series You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania. They still consider themselves punk and still have a love/hate relationship with it. this zine is anti-copyright, but please keep in mind the hundreds of unpaid hours that were spent by myself and others to make this a reality - if you wanna buy a physical copy, you can get one here! Cover art by Steven!