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Straight Edge Interview Project- Sinead, 31, Philadelphia, She/Her

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

I’m a queer, weirdo, art witch, I love to create with a variety of mediums. I’m an aspiring makeup artist – I love all things makeup and costumes from beauty, fashion, special effects, and especially creature effects and puppetry. Before the pandemic, I was working as a vegan pastry cook and although I worked in restaurants and bakeries doing pastry for almost a decade I decided I’d like to keep my kitchen crafting as a personal hobby. I have a dog named Henry Pawlins, he’s a 10-year-old Jack Russell and is the best and most beautiful boy in the whole world.

Favorite straight edge (or non-straight edge) bands?

This question is always the most difficult to answer, but these are my go-to bands. Favorite straight edge bands: Minor Threat, Gorilla Biscuits, Limp Wrist, Gather, Unbroken, Have Heart… Favorite non-straight edge bands: Siouxsie and the Banshees, Ceremony, The Cramps, Nine Inch Nails, Candy, She Past Away…

What is your definition of straight edge?

Choosing to stay sober as a form of social rebellion against the harmful behavior that results from abusing drugs and alcohol.

Where do you see the straight edge scene today?

I don’t feel like I see it as much anymore, which may have more to do with my location than anything else. I have a good amount of straight edge friends but we live far apart so most of my interaction with straight edge folks tends to be online now. I feel like I’m a bit out of touch with the current straight edge scene, to be honest.

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?

Claiming straight edge is a deeply personal thing that has more to do with one’s commitment to self-growth and awareness than it does with any music scene. Gatekeeping is a weird thing, I don’t think it’s necessary most of the time. If someone wants to be straight edge without liking punk and hardcore I think that’s great. It should be less about social expectations and more about what is best for an individual

What are some funny/common misconceptions people have about you being straight edge?

Well, I don’t really get any weird comments anymore, but in college, I got a lot of “What do you do?” in response to me telling them. As if there’s nothing else I could possibly do to relax or blow off steam. A lot of people also have a gut reaction to someone telling them they’re straight edge like they expect me to be an asshole or preachy or militant. I was never into militancy because I don’t think it’s actually productive nor does it help anyone understand my perspective any faster. And then there’s always the “You’re a good girl” comments which are slightly annoying.

What are some challenges you have faced when interacting with other people who are also edge? If you haven’t had any challenges, tell us some challenges you’ve faced when interacting with people who are not edge?

When I was younger I saw a lot of militant behavior in our group – a bunch of us were straight edge and some of us made our way into vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. Straight edge as an idea is great, its origins are well-intentioned, and the lifestyle felt right immediately. But it comes from a lot of ignorant, patriarchal, tough guy hardcore bullshit. So that breeds control issues, gatekeeping, violence, etc. People would just be cruel if someone chose to break edge, and even worse would be having to prove you’re worth as a straight edge femme even more than the boys because you’re considered less than. For most of my 20s, I had a weird complex about telling new people I was straight edge because I didn’t want to deal with uncomfortable conversations about a choice I made for myself. I’ve had dudes say, “women can’t be straight edge because they’re all sluts,” to me multiple times. And dealing with non-sober people wasn’t any better. I’ve had smoke blown in my face multiple times by shithead punk dudes who think they’re being funny by crossing someone’s boundary (They were all smacked hard across the face immediately). Or just people commenting about how they want to be the one to serve me my first drink or smoke me up if I break. Just condescending, judgemental shit like my choices are a joke, and it all got old fast. I don’t know what young straight edge kids go through now but I hope it’s better than that shit.

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’m vegan as well, and I think both lifestyles are connected in different ways for me. I didn’t go vegan because I was straight edge, but going vegan was another choice I made because I saw the way the world really worked and decided I didn’t agree with what was socially acceptable. It just felt like the ethical thing to do, and I haven’t looked back since making these choices.

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 was 14, hanging out with my best friend at the time. She started “X’ing up, and asked me if I was straight edge. I asked her what it was and she explained it to me. At the time it was like a spiritual experience for me, though it sounds so small and simple. She had never mentioned being straight edge to me before, but I assumed she had found out about it online through someone’s LiveJournal or through a new band or something. Not too long before this moment a bunch of our friends had started drinking and partying, and I was never interested and even felt uncomfortable about it. They had offered me drinks here and there and I had tried some and could never get past the taste, let alone the absurdity of it. I had grown up around addicts and was already turned off by any substances, and after seeing my friends behave this way I had decided I would be sober for the rest of my life. So after she explained it to me I claimed edge immediately and she “X”ed me up for the first time. Then we went to the mall, haha.

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

Straight edge is choosing to abstain from alcohol and other substances, remaining sober because I don’t need to use any of those things to deal with my problems or escape them, I don’t need them to socialize and make friends. It’s about me trying to be the best version of myself possible, giving myself the attention and care I deserve in a very mindful way. I think if anything has changed over the years, it’s my understanding of straight edge and my relation to it. Its meaning has deepened for me and it continues to be a very personal journey.

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

I wouldn’t call myself an activist. I try to be socially aware and help in the ways that I can by supporting efforts to fight racism, sexism, LGBTQIA issues, animal rights issues, environmental, the awful effects of capitalism, homelessness…there are so many important things to fight for all the time it’s hard to pick just one to focus on. I think the most important thing is improving my communication skills and continuing to discuss important moral and ethical issues with people so there’s a better understanding of what’s happening in the world and hopefully, so we can move towards a better, kinder, more progressive and conscious way of living for all people. Not just the powerful few.

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

I have no desire to change that part of my life. And I pride myself in getting away from some of the things that brought a lot of harm to my family.

What is something you didn’t think you would struggle with by claiming edge?

Feeling the need to make others comfortable with my personal choice. And finding sober friends as an adult

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

I exercise, I trained in kung fu for five years so I sometimes go back to that and it has a meditative effect, I cook and bake, experiment with makeup or do a photoshoot, order food for myself, clean, take my dog for a walk or cuddle him. Looking at flowers is very soothing to me. Tips for peer pressure? It might be hard at the moment but I find it way easier to just be honest with yourself about what you really want. Trying to please anyone else around you is just going to make you miserable. It’s best, to be honest, and upfront, don’t push it off or sugar coat if you don’t need to, the longer you wait the harder it feels. And I’ve found people appreciate my directness and honesty a lot more than if I don’t speak my mind. And if they don’t, fuck ’em.

How was it being straight edge in this pandemic?

I miss eating out at restaurants because that was definitely something I always looked forward to and did as a stress-relieving treat for myself. But I don’t know, my anxiety and depression has increased a lot in the last year, I think most people have experienced this. I’ve had to monitor those feelings more closely and try different herbal teas and vitamins to see if they make a difference for me. It’s been hard but I don’t feel like it’s been particularly hard because I’m straight edge.

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 partner is not straight edge, but he very rarely drinks and smokes weed to deal with pain related to his disability. I have in the past had difficulty meeting other straight edge people and therefore tried to date non-sober people but eventually, I just realized it didn’t work for me. I have my own triggers around people drinking and smoking from my family experiences. My current partner is very aware of my triggers and is very respectful of my boundaries. He also doesn’t enjoy overindulging in either so luckily it really works for both of us.

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?

My family and friends have all been supportive of my choice over the years. In the past, it has caused tension with some of my family when I’ve tried to help them with their substance abuse issues. I think generally it’s had a positive impact and any tension is more to do with the person’s insecurities at the time.

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?

I have definitely found it difficult to relate to non-straight edge people in the past. It’s more of an issue if the other person can only socialize while drinking or something. But eventually, the subject of drugs and alcohol comes up one on one or in a group setting and it makes me feel pretty isolated because I can’t relate at all, and these talks can be long ones so I end up just getting really quiet and feeling uncomfortable. But luckily I’ve befriended people who don’t imbibe very often so it’s less of an issue than it’s been in the past.

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

Generally, I keep it pretty simple. “I’m straight edge, it means I don’t drink or do any other drugs,” and that’s usually followed with an accepting nod and an “Oh, cool.” Or the “good girl” comments or something. You either vibe with it or you don’t. I feel like not drinking and not doing drugs should be enough incentive for anyone

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 remember seeing addicts who claimed edge have to kind of be “vetted” by elder militant straight edge kids, and I don’t agree with this kind of behavior. I think straight edge can be for anyone who is committed to the lifestyle. I’ve known addicts who became straight edge. I think straight edge is more than just not drinking and doing drugs. It’s also about showing people a different way of connecting and relating to ourselves and each other. So why shouldn’t an addict be able to feel welcome? I hope that’s more the case these days.

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

I didn’t know many straight-edge femmes growing up, let alone queer ones. I sometimes would get the “women can’t be straight edge because they’re sluts” comment. This obviously dives into misogynistic and some weird puritanical territory. Originally, straight edge meant that you didn’t drink or do other drugs, and that you didn’t have promiscuous sex. This was more a reaction to how often sex in the punk and hardcore scene was used in fucked up ways to disrespect and disempower people, specifically women, and often under the influence of some substance. But straight edge gatekeepers took that and ran with it, even if they didn’t adhere to that code themselves. I personally don’t think casual sex is a bad thing when it’s done safely, with mutual respect and consent. I don’t think it should be a part of the larger straight edge code. Sex is a biological part of us, substances are not. It’s that simple. I think it’s an important distinction to make in this scene. You can abstain from casual sex if that your personal choice, but don’t push that onto others. Sexuality should be explored and everyone should have access to the education they need in this area. It’s a gender issue and honestly, it’s an intersectional issue.

The tides seem to be slowly changing and I would like to think that me being a queer femme who is straight edge helps with straight edge representation, because representation definitely matters. Being who I am and speaking out about it proudly is important for younger generations so that they feel welcomed and can be who they are in these spaces. Straight edge isn’t just for white, cis men. It’s for everyone.

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

Yea, I’ve dealt with a lot of emotional and physical abuse in the scene because of my gender.

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?

As a teenager there was always the separation in the scene between girls and boys. It was a heirarchy, girls were looked at as an accessory. Our value was in our sexuality. It took me a long time to unlearn those things. I think it’s changed but not as much as it needs to. I see more femmes, queers, and POC in bands, writing zines, booking shows. I think what needs to be improved is the effort put into making everyone feel welcome in the music scene and able to share their art and experience in these spaces. It should work like an actual community where everyone can contribute in some way and they are invited to by the gatekeepers. Those who have more social currency in these spaces need to be the ones to open these spaces further and keep learning more, getting better at communication, and sharing the wealth

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

When I was younger I was often referred to as either someone’s girlfriend or “some bitch”. We’ve always been erased, diminished, and disrespected. You have no “punk points” as a woman/girl/femme. That was what you had to deal with constantly. I would try to be “one of the boys” to separate myself from those kinds of labels but it only bought me temporary points. In my 20s I lived in Las Vegas for a few years and got involved in the punk scene there. I came into the scene as someone’s girlfriend, but when we broke up I did a lot of work to separate my identity from that label. I started a band and eventually started booking shows and organizing benefits for local non profits and other things. I learned a lot about myself, and the scene. I felt like I had finally gained some sort of respect and power within the scene, like people took me seriously as a community member and an artist with shit to say. I used my small platform to talk about tough topics, and my own personal struggles. But I think that perceived respect and power can still be conditional. I feel like as a femme I had to work way harder than a man would have to in order to be taken seriously. And even so it still comes down to who you know.

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

I think there’s always more work to do.

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’ve been a part of a few different scenes over the years, and something that still sticks out to me is how white these spaces are more often than not. And even the amount of femmes and queers is often times still low. I’m not perfect and I still have a lot to learn, but I would like to see more diversity within these scenes.

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

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