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Straight Edge Interview Project- Veronika R. (she/her), age 35, Orange County, California

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

I graduated from UC Berkeley with a double-BA in Dance and History. My history concentration was 20th century U.S. social history, so I wrote my thesis on straight edge in the 1980s. Since then I’ve been making a living teaching Pilates and doing photography. I spent 8 years as a pharmacy technician in the Army Reserve. I write solo, acoustic, singer-songwriter music and also front a screamo band called Redwoods. When not in pandemic conditions, I spend a lot of time shooting skateboarding and concerts, competing in a women’s pinball league, and doing escape rooms with friends. I am also a character piece in the straight edge gang in the Wild in the Streets miniatures board game.

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

Zao has been my favorite band since 8th grade and is the one band I will spend stupid amounts of money on buying their merch. Verse, Have Heart, and Neil Perry are on the top of my list, as well. On a local level, Power Alone, Ursula, and Bent Blue are also favorites.

What is your definition of straight edge?

A lifelong commitment to abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drug use.

Where do you see the straight edge scene today?

At this point in time (March 2021) we’ve gone an entire year without shows, so the scene has been kept alive primarily online through new music releases and reminiscing about pre-pandemic scene life via social media.

In 2019/early 2020 we saw a lot of quick reunions of iconic straight edge bands like Have Heart, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, Judge, and the California Takeover reunion with Earth Crisis, Strife, and Snapcase. I think the straight edge scene will always be glancing backward, but as we progress forward, through a much more inclusive lens.

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

I 100% think one can be straight edge and not be part of the music scene. I was 14 when I first discovered straight edge and was just beginning to get into accessible punk bands like Anti-Flag and Dropkick Murphys. I read about the history of straight edge and tried listening to Minor Threat and some bands from Catalyst Records, but my young little ears were just not ready for that kind of sound yet.

On top of that, I discovered straight edge through the internet and had 0 straight edge friends for many years after claiming it. We did not have a hardcore scene in my hometown. I stayed connected through message board forums, but ultimately I did not feel like I was part of any kind of scene despite feeling as straight edge as they come.

A lot of other people discover straight edge through skateboarding or wrestling or a friend/sibling. While I think it’s important to understand the history of where something comes from if you’re going to start identifying with it, I don’t think it’s by any means a requirement that you must go to shows or participate in the music community to claim straight edge.

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

People have assumed that because I’m straight edge I don’t eat meat. Or that I don’t have sex at all. Or if I say I’m sober, it’s assumed that I’m a recovering alcoholic.

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?

I honestly find smoking, drinking, and drug use to be pretty repulsive, so trying to date non-edge people has been incredibly challenging.

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

Maybe in a small way. Many years ago I was dating someone who was straight edge and vegan, and up to that point, I had never thought about changing my eating habits and didn’t really know any vegans. I started eating a lot of vegan food then and discovered that I really liked vegan meat alternatives, so much so that I continued to not eat real meat well after we broke up.

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 actually made the decision very early on in life that I didn’t ever want to try drugs or alcohol because the risks seemed to heavily outweigh the benefits, and it just didn’t seem like the smartest idea. I was in 5th grade when I became conscious of this decision, and maybe it was being raised in a Mormon household, maybe it was the DARE program at school, maybe both, but that decision was validated again and again as I got older and watched my brother become a meth addict and bounce around between juvenile hall, rehab, halfway houses, and then disappearing for a while in between.

I discovered straight edge when I was 14 through a punk message board forum when someone asked what people thought about “militant straight edge.” After looking up what straight edge was, I had that same “omg that’s me!” moment many other young straight edge kids feel when finding out there was a name for the lifestyle they were already living within the punk or hardcore subculture. I spent a few days researching it and thinking about it before making the decision to actually claim it.

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

For me personally, being straight edge isn’t just simply being drug-free, but being actively against toxic drug and alcohol culture.

When I first started claiming straight edge, I think I was much more open-minded and tolerant of non-straight edge behavior. I championed individuality and recognized my decision to be drug-free as a unique, individual choice based on what made sense for me and my life, and I wanted to respect what other people decided was best for them in their lives.

As I got older, I realized that my decision to be sober was not always met with the same respect I gave to others, and that really started to bother me. In social situations, I was made fun of, made to feel bad about being straight edge, ostracized, and asked to justify why I didn’t drink or do drugs. I was told that breaking edge was inevitable once I turned 21. Parties became annoyingly predictable and uncomfortable with these types of unsolicited conversations, so I stopped going to them.

Now at 35, I do still feel that everyone has the right to live their life the way they think is best for themselves. Where I take issue is when someone’s lifestyle decisions start negatively impacting others, whether that’s peer pressuring someone into drinking when they don’t really feel like it, stealing money from family to buy drugs, causing a drunk driving accident, or being abusive to others while inebriated. I advocate for a cultural shift where “It’s OK Not to Drink” isn’t just a slogan on a T-shirt, but an actual mindset, and where turning 21 isn’t synonymous with getting shit-faced.

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

Not as much as I wish I were. I feel very strongly in support of LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, and racial equality. I’ve attended a few women’s marches, BLM protests, and anti-war protests (circa 2003), and have donated to a few causes, but otherwise, just stand firm in my beliefs and use my vote to be heard.

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

I’ve always found alcohol, tobacco, and drugs to be pretty disgusting, so there hasn’t ever been the slightest interest in trying them. I think I would still be living the same kind of drug-free life even if “straight edge” wasn’t a thing.

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

Probably deciding whether or not kombucha is an edgebreak.

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

Things that are creative or active…playing music, photography, writing lyrics, dance/exercise. If not that, then disappearing into a TV show to get my mind off of anything that’s bothering me.

Regarding tips for peer pressure, I guess I would say that it’s totally okay to be different. It’s okay to do what you feel like doing, and okay to not do what you don’t feel like doing. But you don’t need permission from anyone to go in whatever direction feels right to you.

How was it being straight edge in this pandemic?

As awesome as being straight edge any other non-pandemic day.

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

Not at all.

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. He is actually a recovering alcoholic and is sober, but still smokes cigarettes. It was incredibly challenging when we first started dating. I knew I did not want to date a smoker, and as things got more serious with us he tried quitting multiple times, but it never stuck. We ended up fighting a lot about it. But we’ve both figured out ways to compromise and are super happy we stayed together.

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?

I touched on some of the negatives in a previous question, but as far as positives go, my family is super Mormon, so they love the fact that I am so adamant about staying drug-free, even if I don’t identify as Mormon anymore. It also sets a good example for my partner’s kids to be in a household devoid of drugs and alcohol and to see adults having fun without drinking.

If you are single, have you found it difficult to date?

When I was single, yes, it was difficult finding sober people to date. I also tried dating people that weren’t sober and that was probably even more difficult for me to do.

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 think the hardcore scene in general is such a unique niche that most people outside of it don’t really understand, so having an even smaller niche within it makes it that much more obscure. Add to that being a female in a male-dominated space, and yeah, you’re definitely in the minority when it comes to people outside of that world understanding you or being able to relate to you. Or even people INSIDE that world, for that matter.

For the entirety of my 20s, I had disconnected from the straight edge and music communities entirely. On the one hand, I felt pushed out for not only being a girl but also for not looking like a “scene girl.” On the other hand, I was starting college, getting into dance, and teaching Pilates to affluent trophy wives. I lived in workout clothes and had the Coldplay Pandora station on constant rotation during my classes. I didn’t feel like my straight edge hardcore kid self could coexist with my dancer, Pilates-teacher, faux-normie self, so I had to just stick to the latter and pay my bills. Deep down I knew I was still a straight edge hardcore kid, but I didn’t show it or talk about it to my clients or fellow students because they just wouldn’t get it or they’d get turned off by it. And that’s fine. We exist in a normie world, and thankfully we get to escape it once in a while to be in our little hardcore world with others like us.

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

I usually try to avoid talking about it to people who I know won’t “get it,” but if someone asks about my X tattoo or something I have that’s straight-edge related, I’ll say something like, “That’s a straight edge symbol. Straight edge is a youth subculture that started back in the 80s in the punk scene, and it was a bunch of punk kids who decided not to drink or do drugs.”

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?

This one is hard for me to answer since I don’t know very many straight edge kids who come from an addiction recovery background (that I’m aware of). I will say that I’ve attended a few shows where the singers of straight edge bands advocate for helping out those struggling with addiction, and being a supportive friend rather than an enemy.

I personally don’t care how someone finds straight edge, and will relate to someone claiming edge the same as any other edge kid, so long as they understand that it’s a lifelong commitment to sobriety and not just being sober for the weekend.

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

The hardcore scene acts in many ways as a microcosm of mainstream society. Historically it has been predominantly white and male-dominated, and not super welcoming to women. I’ve heard it said that it’s rare to see girls who are straight edge (let alone rare to see girls who are hardcore kids), and I believe representation is intrinsic to progression. When women aren’t represented in the straight edge and hardcore communities, it’s hard for women to visualize themselves as key players in shaping those communities. By outwardly identifying as straight edge, my participation adds to the number of other straight edge women being seen in our community. And as our numbers grow, our influence grows, and our presence becomes normalized and no longer a novelty. When women’s participation in hardcore and straight edge becomes normalized, it is easier for them to feel and be treated as equal peers within the community.

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

Yeah, many times going up to a band at their merch table to tell them “great set” and talked down to dismissively as if my only goal in talking to them was to fuck them.

Going to shows with male friends and being excluded from conversations and introductory handshakes because I was female.

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?

Thankfully there was an explosion of female-fronted and female-included bands around 2018 that tipped the scales a little bit in terms of representation. I’m seeing a lot more women stage diving at shows, hardcore dancing, being upfront, and actively working behind the scenes (doing photo/video work, organizing shows, audio engineering, marketing/PR, etc).

In the past, I think a lot of women went to shows as spectators. Now that more and more women are up on stage and actively contributing alongside our male counterparts, it’s encouraging more women to get more involved beyond passive spectatorship. The scene is shifting away from the historic white male perspective and new, diverse voices are coming out with a lot to say.

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

I don’t know if this is necessarily about me being female, but I’m pretty short, so I like to be upfront where I can see and feel the band’s energy…but I don’t really enjoy having to worry about getting kicked in the face, shoved from the back, or jumped on every 30 seconds. I get that this is all part of hardcore, but I think being smaller makes the violent aspects of hardcore worse.

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

Historically, no. In recent years, I feel a larger effort has been made.

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 we’re on a positive trajectory, but there’s still lots of room for improvement. I appreciate the men who have gone out of their way to ask what they can do to make women feel more comfortable and welcomed at shows. I appreciate the men who believe women that have shared their experiences with sexual harassment and assault and have taken steps to disassociate themselves from abusers and/or call out sexist and misogynistic behavior. I appreciate the men who speak to and relate to women at shows as humans and not conquests. I appreciate the men who acknowledge women at shows and in the scene. And I appreciate the men who recognize there are things they need to unlearn and work on when it comes to relating to and speaking about women.

Mother, wife, small business owner.

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