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Straightedge Interview Project: Heather, 39,Suburbs of Seattle, she/her

Instagram: heathery117

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

I’m a teacher, mostly in primary grades and currently in Kindergarten. I spent a lot of time outside of work reading and researching for my work. Right now I’m focused on social justice work and trauma-informed practices in the classroom. I love reading and spend a lot of time in middle grades and young adult genres.

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

I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, my favorite straight edge band is Minor Threat. They are the ones who opened up this lifestyle for me. I’m also a fan of more pop-punk bands like AFI, MxPx, and New Found Glory. Being from the Pacific Northwest, I will always (stereotypically) love alternative and grunge. I love local hip hop like Blue Scholars, Common Market, and Gabriel Teodros. I also love singer-songwriters like LP and Noah Kahan.

What is your definition of straight edge?

For me, straight edge is a commitment to avoid drugs and alcohol to escape. It’s a movement and a group of people who push against ideas that are widely accepted, as our culture’s dependence on alcohol culture.

Where do you see the straight edge scene today?

From my position, I see strong straight edge people online but I don’t interact with any in person. The people I’ve met and interacted with online are these amazing, intelligent, fierce, and inspiring humans that constantly question the status quo.

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?

Obviously, I’m biased with this question because…I’m not part of the music scene and still, I still identify as straight edge. When I was a young woman the scene felt full of gatekeeping, it felt very male-centered and I often didn’t feel comfortable in those spaces. It was very hard for me to find a place, and I often felt like I wasn’t cool enough to be there. I feel like people should learn the history and roots of the movement but also recognize that for some people actually being in the scene has always been a difficult space to get into.

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

These days when I tell people I’m straight edge, it’s pretty common to hear “uh, what’s that?” When I explain to people in my circles, it’s usually followed by an awkward silence and an assumption that I must have had a problem with substances in my past to hold these ideals. When I was younger, there were a lot of misconceptions about me just not knowing what I wanted in life and that I’d just grow out of it. When I was 19, I got the three x’s tattooed on my back and when my dad saw it he said, “you’ll have to draw a bottle around that in a few years.” A really harmful misconception I faced for much of my early 20’s was people who thought that if they put enough pressure on me, I would break and it was almost a joke or a game to them.

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?

Some of the biggest challenges I have faced when interacting with other straight edge people came when I was trying to date. I dated a few straight edge men who weren’t interested in the same kind of relationships I was. When I pushed on one man about being in a more committed relationship, he turned angry and asked if I was questioning how straight edge he was. Another challenge for me was the heartbreak when friends decided that straight edge wasn’t for them anymore. Everyone needs to do what’s best for them, but I feel like there is just a way of relating to other straight edge friends and losing that connection with the few straight edge friends I had was always hard for me. In my early 20’s it was really difficult to be the “sober friend” and I’d often get invited to events because I could drive people home. While I wanted to help keep people safe, there were times when the people I came with ditched me at the beginning of the event we went to and I didn’t see them again until it was time to go home. I grew to hate being the default designated driver and it made me question my friendships. In my life now, I mostly interact with people who aren’t edge…and even after all these years, social situations and parties can be VERY challenging for me and I either tend to not show up or hang out in the corner with a dog.

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

My diet hasn’t been significantly informed by my choice to be straight edge, but there’s always room for improvement for me.

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 found straight edge on the Internet in the mid 1990’s. I didn’t fit in with the kids in high school and I could never quite put my finger on it. I was so uncomfortable when I was invited to house parties and tried to leave as soon as I could. As I started reading about the movement, I listened to Minor Threat and realized that this fit me. I found an Internet message board in the mid-late 90’s and spent a lot of time reading threads and building friendships with people who thought like me. I felt like the people on the board got me and I’m still friends with a few of them today! In 2019 I went to New York City for work and got to have dinner with a friend from the straight edge message board.

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

Straight edge is my commitment to live life drug and alcohol-free and to push against the cultural norms. Writer Ryan O’Connell wrote in 2020 that “our culture worships at the altar of booze” and I try to push on that idea with people who are willing to listen. When I was younger I only saw straight edge through my own lens of survival. I clung on to it like a life raft in my teens and early ’20s, I was constantly uncomfortable but it was okay because I had my beliefs. Now, in my 30’s, I tend to be a bit more vocal when I push back on things that are just sort of normal in our world. For example, as a teacher I let people know that I don’t think comments like “boy, you just need a drink after being in a room with kids all day” are funny or promote a healthy way of coping with stress. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to bring anyone into straight edge, but as an older person, I’m more aware of how my voice may influence someone or make them see something a little bit differently.

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

I’m still learning where I fit in as an activist, but being in a classroom every day it’s very important that I make sure the systems and policies in my spaces support my students in humanizing ways. I am constantly planning, reading and building spaces in my work that move school towards a place of liberation and not just learning skills. It’s a work in progress!

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

I’ve been straight edge for over 20 years now and it’s really deeply woven into my identity and who I am. I’m committed to myself and the 16-year-old who learned to be okay being uncomfortable with what the world was telling me was normal.

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

I really didn’t think that I would still encounter peer pressure into adulthood. I’m never tempted by it but to be in my 30’s and hear someone say something like “I wish you would drink with us so we could connect on that different level” (which happened!) and that I still sometimes have to push on people to respect my values.

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

I’m not the best at stress relief, working in a profession with a lot of stress, but I try to drink a lot of water, get enough sleep and spending time doing things I really enjoy-like getting lost in a book. In terms of peer pressure, having any kind of network or people you can connect with and process those feelings is helpful (even today, I still often turn to people in digital ways, people I haven’t met in person yet).

How was it being straight edge in this pandemic?

The pandemic gave me time to be at home and there weren’t expectations for me to go out and attend events that might make me uncomfortable.

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 relationships with straight edge men never went very well or were maintained for very long. My spouse is not straight edge. My spouse met me 16 years before we got married, I would often go out with that friend group and be the friend who wasn’t drinking. Going into a relationship with him was easy because he already knew where I stood. One of the biggest challenges in dating someone who isn’t straight edge is being on the same page about comfort and boundaries. For example, I’m really uncomfortable around very drunk people and that’s a boundary I’ve had to set in my own spaces (with roommates too!). In building a strong relationship, my partner has been very respectful and caring about those things that are difficult for me. A few years ago we went to a camping wedding and he was very respectful when I left the party and went to bed when I knew the heavy drinking was going to start.

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 social life has always been a little bit difficult because of my lifestyle choices. I purposefully don’t attend events where I know people will heavily use substances or alcohol.At this point, most of my friends know that and won’t invite me anyway! At this point in my life, most of my family and friends are respectful and supportive of my lifestyle.

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 felt that isolation. Female friendships can get especially hard when there is such a stereotype or expectation that you go get “drinks with the girls!” I can’t really relate to that way to build friendships or way of being. I also sometimes don’t think I’m cool enough to hang out with people in the straight edge scene because I never really found my place in a physical space growing up.

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

I don’t know that it’s difficult, but sometimes it’s still awkward because people assume that if you’re over 21 you have a drink with dinner. I usually tell people I don’t drink or use substances, sometimes I’ll also tell them I identify as straight edge if I feel comfortable with a longer conversation

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?

It’s hard for me to gauge this because I watch it play out in Internet spaces, which don’t always offer safe and inclusive spaces and…sometimes the straight edge police come out and judge in comment threads. I feel like the straight edge community should embrace anyone who wants to be involved in this lifestyle. I think we also have to accept people where they are now and recognize that while I’ve picked this lifestyle “forever” other people might grow a different way. Drug and alcohol culture is everywhere and it sucks people in, I feel like the straight edge community should be a safe place for people pushing against those norms.

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?

Honestly, I sometimes feel like I’m not cool enough to be associated with the AMAZING women who are in the straight edge scene. I’m in awe of so many people I follow on social media platforms. Women are amazing forces of change, fantastic musicians and artists and are so brilliant in how they build relationships and friendships with people. I see so many more women “in front” now and I just really hope it continues to be that way.

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 would love to see more of the online discourse centered around getting to know people and rooting for them in the straight edge community over policing how straight edge they are (or aren’t).

Mother, wife, small business owner.

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