“There is no need to go on multiplying examples of an impulse that can produce no adequate examples- of a capacity that can’t be objectified without falsification. I’ve written in its defense, and in defense of our denunciation of it, because that is the dialectic of a vocation no less essential for being impossible. All I ask the haters- and I, too, am one- is that they strive to perfect their contempt, even consider bringing it to bear on poems, where it will be deepened, not dispelled, and where, by creating a place for possibility and present absences (like unheard melodies), it might come to resemble love.” Ben Lerner, The Hatred of Poetry
There was a night in the middle of what I consider winter but everyone else probably gleefully describes as spring, when I was in Montreal and thankfully in a very comfortable room, when I felt fully warm and not just warm but excited, really, still so innocently excited about my life, the people in it, and punk. The night before I had seen Omegas, Torment, Mueco, Pox, and Sex Face at Katacombes and it had been a fucking insane, fantastic show. All the bands were great, none of my friends blacked out, and despite the language barrier I made some new friends (somehow still possible at thirty, a miracle unto itself). My boyfriend Kirk and I were sitting at our friend Mood’s house with my best friend Nikki, who had flown up from Miami to spend the weekend there. All of us have different backgrounds: Mood from a Muslim family in Canada, Kirk black and Jewish from LA, Nikki (Catholic-ish) and Columbian, and me (white atheist born in South Africa to communist parents). Despite being from different parts of the world and raised by very different people, here we were, sitting in a room drinking wine because we were friends, and we had become friends because of our interest in punk, or at least our interest in not being a part of the “rest of the world” and its interests. This sounds pedantic right? But it’s not, because I think as we get older and cynical, or as we get into punk and learn how to be critical, we forget the things that brought us here. We sat together in Mood’s room and drank wine and talked about healthy relationships, both sexual and emotional, and eventually left to the bar. Nothing too exciting, nothing wild, nothing scandalous...just three grown ups talking in a warm room.
I was incredibly thankful for that night, mostly just because it felt good to still have that thrill of intimacy with my friends. I think most of my close platonic relationships have been formed through playing music (when I say “punk” let’s extend that definition to mean DIY everything, playing music, setting up shows, touring, etc). To say nothing of the nuanced, incredibly complicated relationships I still maintain with people I’ve been intimate with (there’s some other posts about that) I think the things that I am most thankful about punk are my friends all over the country that I’ve made, some of them turning into life-long lasting friendships. There’s friends of mine who I see every year but we’ve never even lived on the same coast. That’s important to me. A lot of those relationships are with amazing, strong women, but a lot are also with men. Again, this sounds annoyingly chorus-to-choir right? But I read something on the internet the other day (I know…) that said that men didn’t belong in punk, and it made me consider my experiences with men. I thought about that night in Montreal, and about touring in bands with men, and about growing up before I got into punk. It’s a lot to consider.
First, I suppose I should say that as a woman I think we all understand the violence of adolescent. Growing up my dad and I were very close, but he moved far away when I was 13 and then we didn’t see much of each other. All my relationships with men from then on were sexual after that, and were neither fun nor probably healthy. Men scared me, they leered at me, and boys in school were worse. I was an awkward kid, I liked Lord of the Rings and had braces, but I also had boobs. None of those years were particularly fun for me (I’ve written about that before…) but I remember vividly when I started being happy, and finally having friends. It’s when I got into punk and had friends looking out for me (we looked out for each other) and people to hang out with (and avoid the Nazi skin heads together with!) and watch movies in bed and drink beer on the beach with...we weren’t dating, we didn’t date, we were just...friends. I ended up playing music and touring in bands with some of the people I met at 15. We made it through those terrible years together and began other terrible years but at least every year we could still talk together. When I went through a terrible break up almost a decade later at 25 I remember walking down the street in a town hours away from where we grew up and laying on my friends floor, my old bandmate, and both of us listening to the Radioactivity record and crying together. Platonic, lifelong friendships aren’t always sugar and spice, but having friends who you can count on to cry on their floor at 4am is meaningful to me. I doubt any of our parents still have friends like that, if they managed to keep their friends at all.
Without punk, I doubt I would have as many relationships with men as I do. I would even argue that there aren’t many aspects of modern American life where men and women interact outside of dating or work (unless you play sports or have like, normal hobbies, which we fucking don’t ok?). Playing in bands with men helped me have positive relationships with men. We would cook dinner at each other’s houses before practice, we would support each other during good shows and bad, and we would laugh (but not too much) at the things we might end up doing after the shows. I have had plenty of terrible experiences with men in the punk scene, because there’s always going to be men that aren’t willing to learn from their behavior or learn about anything other than what they want. But after I was assaulted it wasn’t just my female friends that had my back, but a lot of my close male friends and former bandmates.
These weren't jocks, they were also awkward teenagers that didn’t want to be apart of mainstream America, so instead they got into music. I think it should go without saying that punk provides not just an alternative lifestyle choice for women (I highly doubt I would be getting an MFA in poetry at 30 if I never got into punk...but I sometimes wonder if I would have been a doctor by now) it also provides a space for boys to experiment with gender and sexuality. This, to me, is what makes punk a safe space. But I can’t speak for other people’s experiences, and I don’t want to. I just want to publicly thank all my close friends who have been such a positive force in my life. I can’t imagine where I would be if none of my male friends hadn’t asked me to be in bands with them, or if when I asked them to start one they had blown me off. I also can’t imagine that my boyfriend would be such an emotionally smart, considerate, wonderful partner to me had he never played in bands and had platonic relationships with other women. I still don’t fucking like my dad, but I have plenty of amazing male friends who I see being good partners and good dads and it makes me happy. It’s possible for all of us to be healthy and emotionally and socially responsible, if not always happy.Some of my best memories continue to be driving somewhere in a van, usually with strangers, on our way to a show or a party. Men are scary...other people are scary...but I have been so lucky to have the privilege of trust with most of the people I meet through punk. I can’t imagine under any circumstance that I would get into a van with six people I don’t know, but with punks, there is an element of trust that the average person would never have. This makes it especially saddening when that trust is violated, as it too often is. And yes, it’s fucking annoying when you’re on tour as a woman and some good looking punk dude asks if you’re the merch girl. There is violence and shitty people and shitty attitudes (especially on the internet, hi). However, like the quote above, it’s possible to criticize something, or stand up for it, or push against its boundaries while still loving it. So let all our criticism be exact, and well worded, and fair, in order to make it better.