This month’s Modernist Witch column. I was at a loss for a thing to write about and then today happened.
None of the content of this column will come as any surprise to anyone who knows me or has read anything I’ve written in this space. I am not calling out a specific band here, but it seems like it’s time once again to have The Conversation. You know The Conversation. It’s been happening in punk spaces since the beginning of punk - I have personally been having it since 1991 or so but you can trace it through the archives of this magazine and any number of oral histories.
Here is how The Conversation goes.
Band A uses a slur, makes a rape joke, or something of that nature - a deliberately provocative act, given the contexts and histories of the words and tropes they are using.
Person B, a punk, perhaps another band member or someone who books shows, or maybe not, says ‘Hey! This slur/trope negatively affects me, that’s fucked up and hurtful.’
Band A finds themselves at odds with some members of the community. Maybe someone chooses not to book Band A because they’re not into having that kind of talk/action in their space. Maybe other people call them out. Maybe all of the above.
Band A and/or Defenders of Band A get angry that the deliberately provocative thing Band A did has logical fallout. Person B and the people backing Person B become characterized as the ‘PC Police,’ and there is a lot of talk from Band A and/or Defenders of Band A about how persecuted they are and how punk is about being provocative and how oversensitive everyone who criticizes them are. Negative fallout from the provocative act becomes characterized as ‘censorship.’
Do you see the logical missteps here?
Our community is made up of individuals, and the strength of that community rests on the strength of our relationships. As I wrote in my last column, we need to be able to trust one another for any DIY scene to work. Many of us gravitated to punk because we were weirdos with difficult backgrounds, experiences with systemic oppression and abuse. I am under no illusion that punk is a place free of the same racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and transphobia that characterizes the larger media culture, but I have done my best as a musician, writer, show booker and friend to create relationships free of those things.
I don’t want to associate with anyone who is interested specifically in propping up those systems, because they are systems that personally hurt me and the people I love. If you choose to do so (and joking about those topics in such a way that minimizes the experiences that people who deal with these things in our real lives have is reifying them; there is a boatload of theory and real-life experience alike that supports that conclusion), I will not want to associate with you. Fine. Acknowledge your position and let me go, let me build my own thing. Understand that people will be put off by your button-pushing - isn’t that why you’re doing it in the first place?
The thing is that The Conversation is so boring, that these things have been said thousands of times over, and yet the same retread meathead topics keep coming up and we have to go back to square one to break it down. Think about all the fun, cool, interesting shit we could all be doing if we weren’t having The Conversation endlessly?
And we would not be having The Conversation endlessly if we dropped the idea that simplistic, ‘offensive’ replication of mainstream oppressive language and imagery was somehow a critique thereof or that it’s justified because ‘punk is about pissing people off’. The punk I signed up for is about pissing off those in power, those who make oppressive policies, not our fellow punks.
There’s this weird right-wing mythos that being sensitive to any person who is not exactly like you is somehow reflective of a weakness in character, rather than the strength in character I believe it to be. To look outside yourself is useful, thoughtful, humane.
I will leave you with an example. I wrote a zine in 1999 about my own personal experiences with sexual assault. A lot of amazing conversations came of that zine, and a lot of important friendships that I treasure today.
I also got some anonymous hate mail to my PO Box and clunky email box. Some words about how I was fat, ugly, how I deserved what had happened to me or how the person writing the anonymous screed believed I was lying because who would want to have sex with a cow like me.
The same people who send these horrific things are the same people who do not believe rape culture exists and that I am being too sensitive by speaking up about it. But if I speak up about it and that’s what happens, doesn’t that … Prove that rape culture exists?
Let’s stop eating our tails, please. Please. I am very tired.
Please send non-hateful things (disagreement is fine, gross bullshit is not) to: firstname.lastname@example.org // themodernistwitch.tumblr.com.