I was twelve years old the first time I went to a local punk show, and I fell in love. I remember watching the kids on stage and being blown away by the simplicity of it - these kids were only a few years older than I was, and they were playing fun music with their friends. I thought to myself, “I could do this.”
So I did.
I began attending shows, and in a few years was playing and booking them regularly. I became invested in the local scene and discovered something wonderful: I was making friends with people who were just like me. Some of these kids were misfits, or they came from broken homes like I had. They, like me, wanted a place where they felt included - somewhere they felt that they belonged.
But even with the common ground I shared with so many of the people in the scene, I began to notice patterns of bad behavior. It was never outward or obvious, but I began seeing microaggressions spring up: fans and bands calling each other “homos” (or worse) and laughing; people looking visibly uncomfortable when the local gender-nonconforming kid struck up a conversation; macho dudes being condescending to the young women who would show up for shows.
I found myself arguing with people who I thought I shared a moral center with about why it’s not okay to use slurs, or to call something you don’t like “gay,” and I almost always heard the same responses:
“It was just a joke.”
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
“Why are you being so PC?”
Many of my friends and fellow show-goers stuck to the mindset that as long as you weren’t being purposefully offensive, language and behavior didn’t really matter. But they do. And it’s about more than “being PC.” It’s even about more than respect for a fellow human (though it is very much about that too).
The fact of the matter is that punk has always been a place where people stood up to authority. Even before the music sounded recognizably “punk,” the mindset has been around for decades: Bob Dylan and company standing up against war (and more recently, bands participating in the Rock Against Bush campaign); The Clash and others fighting racism; influential punk bands citing capitalism as “organized crime.”
As society becomes more understanding about gender and sexuality issues (and as more trans and queer musicians come out), it’s important that the scene takes this anti-authority mindset and applies it to help people within the LGBTQ population. If punk is definitively about going against the norm, then shouldn’t the queer community be celebrated for defying “traditional” notions of gender and sexuality? For me, the punk scene was always about having a place where I felt like I fit in, especially when I didn’t anywhere else. But it can never truly be a safe and inclusive place for everyone until the scene as a whole recognizes and accepts the entire LGBTQ community and helps fight for our rights. After all, it’s more or less the same societal structures holding the queer community down that’s marginalizing women, people of color and lower-class citizens - the same societal structures punk has fought against for decades.
Simply put, the scene needs to continue its collective effort toward being inclusive by changing its language, behavior, and expectations about what’s “normal.” Punk should be a safe space for everyone, where people can feel like they belong, just like it was for me nearly 10 years ago. Everybody deserves a platform to fight back against opposition in life - and here, in the punk community, isn’t that sort of the point?
James Jaskolka is a college student and writer from Wilkes-Barre, PA. In their free time, they enjoy playing music and spending time with their cat, Gandalf.
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