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Straight Edge Interview Project: Rikki Vanderpol, 33, Portland, OR. She/her

Rikki Vanderpol,  Straight Edge Woman

Tell us about you? What do you do for a living? Do you have any pets, hobbies, pet projects?

Pre-pandemic I was a hairstylist, and had been for a little over 8 years. I have 2 dogs, Farfel (7) & Poshie (12). I gave birth to my first baby, Igby, just this past June, so motherhood has been pretty much all consuming these past months. my hobbies are playing music. I front the band, Dying For It and have a vegan, straight edge project that i’ve been working on with some local friends. I also enjoy cooking and “veganizing” all of my favorite childhood Mexican dishes.

Favorite straight edge (or non-straight edge) bands? If you have links, please provide them!

A few of my favorite current straight edge bands are With War, Tomar Control, and No Right.

What is your definition of straight edge?

Choosing to live your life free of drugs, alcohol, destructive and harmful/abusive behavior.

Where do you see the straight edge scene today?

I cant speak for the straight edge scene in it’s entirety but from what I see is that its becoming somewhat more inclusive. I think that is due to BIPOC, non-binary, trans folks demanding the space and visibility that they deserve. As a Chicana, I am starting to know and see more Latinx edge people and I absolutely love that representation.

Rikki Vanderpol,  DFI Naked Lounge
Rikki Vanderpol,

There’s an ongoing debate on whether one can be straight edge without being a part of the music scene, what’s your thoughts on this?

I definitely think that the two are not mutually exclusive. Straight Edge as a concept came from the music scene, but I don’t believe that you have to be involved in the music scene for straight edge to be a part of your identity or lifestyle. For it to be exclusively a music thing, I think is gatekeeping and that needs to be done with, especially in hardcore, otherwise things don’t change and it just a cis-white male boys club.

Is your diet influenced or informed by your choice to be straight edge i.e. organic, antibiotic infused meat, genetically modified foods, vegan, vegetarian?

I was vegan before I chose to be straight edge. For me, being vegan was me actively choosing to not participate in the harming and murdering of animals. It was easier for me to choose to be empathetic towards other beings more so than it was towards myself. Choosing to be straight edge was an act of compassion towards myself.

What’s your straight edge story? Was there a key moment that made you realize straight edge is the way you want to live your life? How old were you? How did you find out about straight edge, was there someone in the community that introduced you, or were you introduced to it through people/bands, etc? What drew you to it?

I first found out about straight edge in middle school, when I was first getting into punk and hardcore. I was really fascinated by the concept of it, but knew at the time that it wasn’t for me. I grew up in a pretty chaotic household, surrounded by a lot of substance abuse. I think growing up with a lot of toxic stress and the normalcy of substance abuse and alcoholism made me feel like adopting drinking at a really young age was a pretty enticing escape from reality. It was never the escape that helped me cope with my trauma, so over the years it grew from not only being self destructive, but also led to me causing harm to a lot of people that I loved and cared about. I used substances as a band aid for all of my trauma, because it just felt like too much to face and work through my pain. My husband is straight edge and was definitely the biggest influence on me. He never pressured me to be straight edge, but just watching him live his life free of any crutches or escapes was a really influential example of what I wanted my life to be. I wanted to be free of all of my past trauma and I felt like the best way for me to do that was to face it head on, without the anesthesia that I had always relied upon with alcohol. it definitely wasn’t something that happened overnight. It was probably a few years of inching my way towards healing that finally brought me to straight edge. I wanted to be 100% sure that my choice was mine and only mine and something that I would be true to for the remainder of my life. It’s not only been one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself, but now that I’ve become a parent, its become that much more meaningful.

Define what straight edge means to you? Has this changed over the years?

Straight edge was and is a very personal choice to me. At first, choosing to become straight edge was very much a specific piece of a puzzle that I needed in my life to heal myself from trauma. It was me making an active choice to break a cycle in my family. As years have passed, it’s changed and caused me to have a more compassionate outlook towards people with addiction. I believe to be straight edge means to actively support harm reduction and support people with addiction, not by judgement but with activism and compassion.

Do you consider yourself an activist? What is/are your cause(s), and how have you been working to advance them?

There are so many forms of activism these days. As a woman of color that fronts a band, I feel a sense of responsibility to use my platform to uplift and make space for other BIPOC. Growing up being involved in punk and hardcore, I didn’t see a lot of women, and when I did, they were almost never women of color.. so I think just existing in this space and hopefully bringing some representation is a form of activism in itself. I am also actively and continually working to be anti-racist. It’s not enough to just not be racist. We all have to actively face and confront our own internalized racism and work to be outwardly and outspokenly anti-racist in all aspects of our lives. BLACK LIVES MATTER.

What, if anything, keeps you committed to the straight edge lifestyle?

For so long it was just a part of my life and I didn’t have to actively do anything to remain strong in my conviction, but I think becoming a mother has changed that for me. Remembering that I chose straight edge to consciously break a familial cycle at first, for myself, but now that conviction is even greater because I have a child, and for him to grow up not having to deal with that same trauma keeps me actively committed.

What you do for stress relief instead of drinking/drugs, tips for peer pressure?

Not much since becoming a mom, and being in a pandemic, but before that my biggest form of stress relief was traveling and playing shows. Its always been really cathartic for me. I was lucky enough to have played my last show when I was 7 months pregnant, just a week before all of the shut downs happened.

How was it being straight edge in this pandemic?

Being straight edge during the pandemic hasn’t really been any different for me than any other time. Obviously, everyday life looks extremely different, but it hasn’t had any affect on me being straight edge.

Have you ever considered breaking edge? What were the circumstances, and what changed your mind?

I have been lucky enough to not have faced any challenges or anything that has tested my commitment.

If you are in a relationship is your partner straight edge, or have you had a previous relationship with someone who was not straight edge? What, if any, challenges have you faced relating to your lifestyle/choices?

My husband is straight edge, and has always been. Having him as a partner has made my life so much better than I could have ever imagined. I’ve always admired his deep commitment to his convictions. The compassion and unconditional love that he’s given me when I was at my most self destructive is something that I’ll always be grateful for. The both of us being straight edge has only made our foundation so much stronger.

If your partner is edge do you have similar views/outlooks about straight edge? What are some examples of ideas/beliefs that you agree and/or disagree on?

Our stories and reasons for becoming straight edge are totally different, but that is something that I love about us. It just shows that straight edge is a highly personal choice, but having that in common with someone is a bond. The only thing we disagree on is calling it Straight Edge or The Straight Edge. lol

Has your family and social life been negatively or positively impacted? Have you faced or are you facing any specific challenges because of your lifestyle choices? If your family/friends are unsupportive, how do you deal?

Since relocating to Portland a little over a year ago, i’d say it’s only made my social life better. I have a pretty large group of vegan straight edge friends here, so having this community has made my quality of life a million times better, and i’m super grateful for them. My family has definitely been supportive as well.

Some straight edge women/girls I have talked to have told me that they feel isolated and that they find it difficult to relate to people outside of the straight edge scene. Is this something you can relate to?

If I had been asked that when I first claimed edge, my answer would be different, but the majority of my friend group is straight edge so I feel lucky to not feel like its been a struggle.

If you are straight edge and a parent, how has being straight edge informed how you parent and/or relate to other parents?

If anything, becoming a parent while being straight edge has only made my commitment that much stronger. I want my child’s upbringing to be entirely different from my own, and I want to set a good example. It hasn’t really had an effect on how I relate to other parents though. I don’t judge other parents for not being straight edge. I feel like being a parent is hard enough, and everyone is constantly judging you for something or another.

How do you explain your lifestyle to others outside of the scene? Do you find it difficult? What’s your elevator pitch?

Rikki Vanderpol, Straight Edge Woman
Rikki Vanderpol

I just say that I’m straight edge, and that means I choose not to participate in drugs or alcohol, and leave it at that unless someone asks more questions.

Over the past decade or so individuals in recovery have stumbled upon the straight edge lifestyle and it has really spoken to them. Do you feel that the straight edge community has been welcoming to those in recovery? Do you have mixed feelings? Strong Feelings?

I do feel like the community has been more welcoming to those in recovery as it should be. I’m here for it and love seeing straight edge becoming more inclusive.

How do you feel your straight edge commitment plays into the bigger social justice movement for gender equity?

For myself, just being a straight edge woman of color plays into that. There needs to be more representation within the straight edge community so people can see other people who look and identify like them, so they feel like this is a scene that is a welcoming and affirming community.

Have you ever had a negative experience in the scene related to your gender?

For so long straight edge just seemed like (and still does) a boy’s club. Men are usually always surprised when they meet straight edge people of other genders and a lot of times question their commitment or reason for claiming.

Straight edge and the associated music scene have long been male-dominated. What do you see as a woman/girls role in the scene? How has this role changed since you have been involved and what changes would you like to see?

I don’t think women or girls have to have any specific role. They can merely exist and be a part of a scene. I think to feel like you owe someone or something just to participate kind of furthers gender roles. Women have been fighting for so long just to take up space, sometimes it gets tiring to feel like you “owe” it to keep fighting for space or representation, just existing within it should be enough. I want to see more women, non-binary, queer, trans BIPOC straight edge folks being centered within straight edge so we don’t have to keep fighting for representation.

What if any challenges have you faced that are specifically related to being a female in a male-dominated scene?

As a female involved in hardcore the list could be endless. From guys telling me that I “don’t sound like a girl” or they “don’t usually like bands with girl singers” or when we show up to a venue and assume I’m just someone’s girlfriend/the merch girl, or assuming that I don’t play an active role in the writing process. I could go on and on, but relating specifically to straight edge, it hasn’t been so bleak.

Do you feel the straight edge community has done enough to advance gender/race/social issues?

I don’t think there will ever be a point where it’s “enough”. I think it should be an active process that is constantly happening. There will always be work to do within social justice and I think every straight edge person should recognize that.

Is the scene as inclusive as it likes to think it is? Do you think there’s work to be done? If so, what would you like to see change?

I think the scene needs a lot of work to be more inclusive. That starts with straight edge platforms making the commitment to uplift BIPOC, women, non-binary, queer, trans straight edge folks’ voices and stories and the social inequities we face. Those identities should be as normalized and centered as every cis-white, privileged dude, that I so often see.

Mother, wife, small business owner. www.justbuttons.org

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