By Brody Wood
I am such a sucker for nostalgia. I choose to not let go. It is important to me to document, display, or stay remembering what was formative for me. In many ways, I have grown out of the behaviors and ideas I enthusiastically engaged with as a teenage scene kid. And in some ways, I have instead grown up within components of the scene, and have allowed myself to develop into a critically thinking queer person, born of angst and insurrection, influenced by the patriarchal foundation of punk and resisting its claws.
Until I was 19, I identified as a girl and as a person who was socialized female. I was subject to some of the covert or explicit humility that young women experience and internalize at the hands of the heterosexual, cisgender men whom our scene thrives on the dominance of.
I took some space from the scene as the trajectory of my life rerouted me toward a more anarchist, feminist, radical, DIY punk community of smaller, hometown caliber. And now, living as a (nonbinary transmasculine) man, I’m coming back for more, interrogating my upbringing, and I’m basically going through my second puberty - at least socially. The onset brings many of the same elements of traditional puberty I experienced the first time around: sex, friendship, sexuality, and gender identity and expression, and the defense of all the that - the need to prove that identity, individuality and experience is and has been genuine.
I get a do-over. I am engaging in the scene with a second set of eyes, new power and privileges to be responsible for, a different set of disadvantages and advantages, a body which I relate to and refer to in new ways, a broken heart with which to try to fully love this process, and an active mind with which to try to figure it all out. And this time, while my roles and my priorities are different, I’m still participating in an activity that don’t match up - like, I’m spending money on tickets to shows where I might get swept up in singing along to sexist lyrics which meant something to me 10 years ago and, sequentially, still do.
Most of us in our 20s now, I think, want desperately to protect new generations of the young people who make up our scene from all that we needed to unlearn, but we also want to preserve their opportunities to be and feel autonomous - to navigate the oppressive climate of punk and learn of their own volition what’s worth calling out.
One of the reasons why I go to these ten year anniversary shows or to see bands influenced by those veteran musicians is to keep tabs - to observe, within radical and feminist consciousness, elements of the cultures of our scene that are still putting teenagers at risk and making it hard to authentically and safely grow up. I want to hear Buddy from Senses Fail apologize for “Choke On This” before performing it; I want to know what Dan from Real Friends has to say about suicide on stage; I want to stake out the bar across the street from the venue and see which Set It Off member will bring an underage fan to the bar and teach them how to take whiskey shots. What do I do with this information, though? If nothing, I am just another fan who has been fortunate enough to claw my way out from under the repressive influence of the scene but who is not saying anything.
How then, can we exemplify feminism while supporting (even just financially) bands with thoughtless and dangerous politics who have little to no interest in promoting safer space? How can we indulge in our nostalgia - nostalgia for something we understand the oppressive nature of, move past, then find ways to choose certain parts of which we may still enjoy or relate to - and be sure that a younger generations or those without particular access to resources of radical growth have the opportunity to become critical thinkers who are aware of themselves and their surroundings?
How can we attend a show for the tenth anniversary of an album whose lyrics are at worst, violently misogynistic and at best, borderline symptomatic of less-than-feminist politics and practices? How can we sing along in catharsis but communicate disdain, distrust and distance from that language? What effect would we have on the space and the experience of others - those there for nostalgia or new fans alike - if we found a way to intervene? When we choose to still frequent these spaces, do we have a responsibility, based on what we’ve come to learn as scene kids who turned out to be sensitive, analytical and queer punks, to interrogate the climate of our scene and find solutions for transformation into safer, empowering, take-no-shit, radically supportive space?
I’m saying yes, we do. And the solution is talking about power.
In talking about power, we talk about privilege. In talking about power, we talk about consent. We talk about boundaries. We talk about bodies. We talk about the force of our identities and the ways in which they interfere with and are products of influence. We talk about the space people take up at the expense of others’ sense of belonging. We talk about what behaviors in the space push those with marginalized and minority identities to the perimeter or to the bottom, reinforcing that their identities are, in fact, marginalized and minority. We’re talking about what happens when those with the most social capital and ease of access spend their time pigeonholed into what makes them feel good and others feel bad - using other people as props for success and pleasure rather than using their resources and ability to influence as a means of working in solidarity with those who feel unsafe, unwanted or unheard. We’re talking about who is abusing power and how those acts of systematic and interpersonal violence pilfer a sense of agency and self-control from minority groups in our scene. Talking about power (1) as an institutional concept which pervades our daily life, (2) as something that has an effect on our personalities and those around us - something we are responsible for working to understand - and (3) as a form of abuse, is preventative medicine so this shit won’t happen again.
What do we mean to say when we talk about power in the context of all the nuances of puberty and growing up? Let’s unpack:
We’re talking about 24 year old men sexualizing 15 year old girls. No one was telling me ten years ago that even though I wanted and earned ostensibly very real affection from the men I was sleeping with, that what they were doing was an act of coercion and violence. I couldn’t have known: each time, I was consenting insofar as I would have said “yes” if they’d asked me. I was 15 and I didn’t understand the patriarchal and gendered construction of social capital: that in his eyes, what I had to offer was worth less than what he decided to do with it. But they should have known: those existing in the world as female must earn a place in punk - it is not built in - and it is the responsibility of men ten years older to confront our own masculinity and the ways in which that upper hand has the power to influence how young women can feel powerful in the scene. It is our responsibility to choose to not perpetuate a trend of the worth of young women being determined by the desirability of her body and its access to those who should know better.
Young women talk to each other about this shit and survive - they call out Jake McElfresh for texting them and they call out Kevin Lyman for not taking it seriously. But men need to talk to each other about this shit so they stop giving young women more to survive through.
We’re talking about the perpetuation of oppressive masculinity in order for boys to feel like they fit in with one another and with what’s expected of them: since traditional, socially acceptable masculinity in America is heterosexual, cisgendered, thin, ability-typical and white, it supports the favorability of those kinds of bodies. This deems the bodies of those with marginalized identities less worthy of being seen. When not visible, these marginalized communities are subject to erasure and have reason to believe that they may only be truly seen by one another. So, since our scene is upheld by traditional masculinity, we’re talking about the inherent misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, transmisogyny (the list goes on) of brotherhood. We’re talking about the need for girl gangs. We’re talking about the reasons that queers maybe don’t want to hang out with straight people; why trans people maybe don’t want to hang out with cis people; why trans women maybe don’t want to hang out with trans men. We’re talking about a scene which purports to offer built-in camaraderie and addressing why we still need to band together like this, separate from the crowd, in order to feel safe, seen and heard. When a dominant culture does not prioritize understanding the realities of their non-dominant counterparts, it is operating on misconceptions about what it means to identify a certain way. Those with majority identities (cis, heterosexual, man) think they understand what their queer, trans and/or female counterparts go through. The result is a general distrust for the connections we have with people who have never had to consider our particular challenges (sexism, body dysphoria, etc.) first-hand.
Sexuality and Gender Identity and Expression
Experiencing that kind of othering, it’s not always easy or possible or exciting to make friends. We’re talking about the disproportionate isolation of those with minority or non-normative gender and sexuality identities. We’re talking about what happens when punks who are experimenting with identity and expression feel ashamed to be authentic in a space which masquerades as open-minded but still operates on unchecked, internalized oppression. We’re talking about the danger that that process of implicit shaming puts young people in. We’re talking about what happens to people when they feel they cannot talk about what they are going through. We’re talking about the ways in which patriarchy in the punk scene makes it impossible for some people to have someone to talk to.
Defense of Identity, Individuality, and Experience
And because our scene is inundated with the pervasive results and trends of the supremacy of masculinity, complacency with deceitful and lackluster rhetorics of inclusion and togetherness is the projected norm. Some of us feel we must make space for our own selves and people ask us why we can’t just get along. We’re talking about the ways in which those with marginalized identities must convince the people in their lives that what they’ve gone through and the oppressive lessons they have internalized have affected them tremendously and have been painful.
We can talk about this now, as role models, because these unfortunate things have happened to us or because of us. We can reflect on our adolescence knowing what we know now. We can point to what taught us what we then needed to unlearn. We can point to the lyrics which exemplify misogyny, violence and disregard for the deserved comfort of our community. We can point to the album art which appropriates cultures. We can point to the music videos which depict sexual assault. We can point to the patterns of abuse of our past romantic or sexual relationships and we can point to the parts of our environment which enabled it all. We can point to the dynamics of our home life or lackthereof which drove us to self-deprecation.
Naming our exact associations gives permission for others to recognize the faults in their own context and to call them out.
What’s more is we can talk about all of this now, as role models, with one another and with young people, because we may all speak the same language. Our scene is growing to function with language that reflects these minority identities and these problems and what we’re talking about is part of the consciousness of the scene in a way that I don’t remember being there or utilized when I was a teenage scene kid. Just as we’re inviting young people to learn from us, we can learn from them, and it can be a mutual exchange of healing and activism.
Who can talk about power? Who needs to? How can we talk about all this in meaningful ways?
We can hope desperately for those who have the ability to command an entire venue - those on stage who everyone is there to listen attentively to - we can hope that their priorities align with the radical and caring thought it will take to transform the landscape of punk. We can hope they will see an opportunity for outreach and influence and take it.
We can facilitate these conversations by writing zines or talking about this shit on the internet. We can infiltrate the space with our truths until those at fault can no longer avoid it. We can call people out at punk shows and introduce options for learning and accountability. We can stand with and advocate for those who are fighting and we can help them fight if they want us to.
But we’re not always going to be willing or able to have interpersonal, meaningful, in-depth conversations with one another at these shows. And when not engaging in verbal dialogue, we are still communicating, just by being in the room. And we must ask ourselves: How am I communicating with my body? Am I dominating the conversation? Am I occupying space appropriately?
Our bodies can arrest other bodies. We see this happen all of the time; it is routine: when consent is not achieved; when we don’t pick each other up off the floor in the mosh pit; when men move through the space, shoving through with aggression for no one in particular; when cis men take their shirts off. When bodies which reflect what is traditionally socially acceptable occupy the majority of space in our scene then our scene appears to be no less normative and obstinate than mainstream culture; as well, those with bodies continuing to be perceived as “different” or “bad” - bodies which represent identities that remain targets of discrimination, even (especially?) in punk - must determine for themselves whether or not it is more emotional work than it is worth to try to feel safe or valid here.
Our bodies can also liberate and validate other people’s bodies. Our bodies can hold space for those who are systematically made to feel without. By existing in the room as those with marginalized identities, we may demand that we deserve to be there. And those with normative and dominant identities must exist in the room with utmost intention to not take up all of the space.
When we are deliberate with our bodies in the process of interrogating whether or not the way we stand and move in the space threatens the safety or freedom of those who are disproportionately less likely to experience unchallenged comfort, we say a lot. And better yet, we can get out of the way and make room for ladies, for queers, for trans people, for young people to say more - straight people can get out of the way for queers; cis and trans men can get out of the way for cis and trans women; scene veterans can be in attendance but can facilitate a space where young people’s voices are loud with accounts of their experiences and we can learn from that; et cetera.
We are allowed to indulge in our nostalgia. We are allowed to say that what we could profoundly relate to ten years ago is actually riddled with violence, misogyny and heteronormativity and we can still be feminist for having a special place in our hearts for those lyrics and for having idolized the writers. But the most radical thing we can do with our sentimentality is unpack it and use the products of patriarchy and influence therein as tools for transforming the climate of our scene: not shaming ourselves or anyone else for having been influenced by pervasive strands of oppression that took us a while to understand why and how not to tolerate.
We can reconcile the institutional violence of our nostalgia by talking about why it is just that - nostalgia - why we’ve left what we’ve left in the past and what we needed to grow out of in order to survive authentically. We can indulge. We just need to vow that when we show up to the venue, that we will also show up for each other - that we will show up to the discourse and process of anti-oppression, and that we will show up as the role models we’d wished we’d had.
Brody Wood is a queer, injured, and sensitive poet, essayist, activist and creative writing teacher living in Maine. Besides that, when not advancing the antiassimilationist queer agenda, they can be found skateboarding with minimal effort, watching the Dallas Cowboys lose :( and watering their houseplant, Tami Taylor. Brody can also be found on the net and on Instagram at @babybro666.
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