Thursday, June 23, 2011

Out come the wolves.

A few days ago I was dutifully skimming through my Facebook feed when I came across what might be the most important thing I've ever seen on the site. It was a post from the much beloved Slingshot Dakota, which is easily one of my favorite bands of all time, and whose LP I listen to regularly.

Slingshot Dakota at a recent show. Sweet photo jacked from Lauren Matulis

Slingshot Dakota's music is beautifully written, and they and their work are, in my humble estimation, radically positive. That's probably why their post shocked and even momentarily confused me: it was about a guy who's been accused of attacking women at shows on multiple occasions.


I couldn't believe what I was looking at when I first saw it. I had to read the post several times before it sank in -- that this guy has hurt people, that he might be a danger, and that this band is doing their part to warn people about him -- and even then, I didn't believe it. For a second, I wondered if it might be some sort of prank, but I'm pretty sure that the members of Slingshot Dakota wouldn't joke about something like this. They've talked about sexual assault and supporting survivors before; I've even written about it.

And yet, I still found myself kind of questioning the post, if not the band. I found myself having all sorts of messed up, Stockholm Syndrome, rape culture reactions. I thought how scary and dangerous it seems to call a guy out like that, especially in such a public forum. I thought how even if Slingshot Dakota meant well, maybe the original poster was misinformed, or lying, and that maybe I shouldn't judge this guy because I don't really know him myself, or anything like that. Unbelievably enough, I found myself worrying about his privacy.

Since I sort of started to go there myself, despite being a sex positive and radical postcolonial queer feminist, I'm sure that some people would see this as 'unfairly targeting' a guy. But if you think about it, you know what seems way more unfair? When rape survivors are called sluts, whores, liars and much worse after they come forward, and then have to put up with people questioning and judging their sexual histories, wardrobes, drinking habits, and other personal choices.

Because they were brave enough to make that post, Slingshot Dakota really got me thinking about assault, rape culture, and how it affects us all, and I feel like I owe them for it. It got me to thinking that I trust them, and that it's actually kind of really important to make sure you know something about a band's politics if you're going to support their work. I can say unequivocally that I trust them, and take their effort to warn their community about a potential danger seriously.

I've trusted them and taken them seriously since that first time I saw them, that first time that I heard drummer Tom Patterson speak at length about the impact that sexual assault has on both individuals and communities. I don't think I'll ever forget hearing him say, "…there are a lot of wolves in sheep's clothing" in our local scene, because when he said it I knew that he was right.

A video of the song SD usually introduces by talking about assault, from the very show where Tom used the expression "wolves in sheeps' clothing"!!! No introduction on this video, but I still can't believe I found this! Huzzah!

When he talked about how there are tons of punk guys parroting progressive beliefs and using them to find and close in on victims (I'm paraphrasing here), it validated a lot of unarticulated and sometimes subconscious fears and discomforts that I've felt at shows. Tom Patterson validated a lot of 'bad vibes' I've gotten from various guys over the years, and made me feel like maybe I wasn't just being a judgmental jerk. So I owe Tom for that too, then.

Slingshot Dakota's post reminded me that I was totally entitled to all those bad vibes I got, both the ones that I forced myself forget about, and also the ones that I've written about on this blog. We are all entitled, if not obligated, to recognize potential or actual wolves in sheep's clothing. We have the power to call them out -- and to protect each other and demand accountability, safety, and better treatment for everyone in our scenes.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Exile in Lon Guyland.

When I wrote this blog regularly, my posts typically focused on events and musicians based in Brooklyn, and I do sort of still end up there a lot. But as part of my 'quest to heal' or whatever and figure out what to do with my life, I've been visiting my friend Cary a lot out in Long Island.

Cary and I while away the hours watching Daria, talking about sports and philosophy, going through his record collection, and taking the occasional derive. Most of the time, his housemates are there, so I end up getting to hang out with them as well.

A couple weeks ago we were in Cary's living room when he started telling me about the recent RVIVR/Iron Chic show out there. Apparently the crowd got very unruly and violent during Iron Chic's set and the band was unable to calm things down, which bummed Cary out. But RVIVR's Matt Cannino wasn't having it: during their set, it seems that he chastised the crowd, and also called out the Long Island scene's culture of sexist exclusion. He referenced the song "Killing Me Softly", and asked everyone in the crowd to consider the song's themes of appropriation, and he referred explicitly to this coming weekend's Long Island Fest, and the lack of female musicians on the bill.

A great live video of RVIVR, in case you've never had the pleasure.

According to one of Cary's housemates, who was in one of the other bands on the bill that night, Cannino's comments drew the ire of the organizers of Long Island Fest. If I understand correctly, there was a heated confrontation after the show between Cannino and one of the offended parties.

While this whole story kind of sucks, I feel like it's pretty awesome that Cary and his housemates -- both male and female -- and also Matt Cannino were unafraid to critique something that they thought needed calling out. I listened in Cary's living room as he and his housemates expressed their appreciation of Matt's onstage and off-stage comments, and further criticisms of the scene, Long Island Fest, and male defensiveness. It made me feel lucky to know them.

I felt even more lucky later that week when I went to a show in Hempstead, and Cary and his friend Dave joined me in discussing the matter with a Defensive Male. Well, actually -- it's more like Dave tried to have the conversation with this guy, and Cary and I joined him. The first thing I heard was this Long Islander saying "I don't understand why you're making it about there not being girls in the bands. Isn't that putting that before the music? Isn't it supposed to be about the music?"

Dave and Cary were gracious enough to let me respond, even though this guy wasn't really talking to me. I told him that it's not just about Long Island Fest, but that it's about the larger, structural issues that prevent girls from participating fully in their local arts communities. Bro said "Okay, fine, I understand that," and I said "I don't really think that you do," and he said, "Okay, fine." I told him that bands and artists have a responsibility to their audience and community, and he said "Okay, fine," to that, too. He was civil, but just barely, and though I don't even know this person, it felt to me like he was pointedly refusing to listen to me or consider anything that any of us said.

I feel grateful that Cary and Dave let me speak, and that they supported me. I feel grateful that they made their own arguments, and that they challenged him. They didn't try to shut me up, and they didn't try to shield me, either. They held to their critiques, and they didn't back off when this guy said he felt they were 'ganging up' on him.

I might have been most grateful for Dave's final comment though. He said something to the effect of, "Three days and not a SINGLE girl in the lineup? What kind of message does that send?" This question cuts straight to what I believe is the crux of the matter. Both Cary and Dave asked why there aren't any bands with female musicians playing Long Island Fest when the island definitely has its share of talented female performers. Defensive Male claimed that it just happened that way, that it's just a coincidence, that it's not his fault that none of these bands have girls in them -- but we know that that isn't entirely true.

Three days of bands comprised entirely of dudes is absolutely NOT an accurate representation of Long Island's scene. Worse, that complete lack of representation of female musicians actively discourages would-be and aspiring Long Island girl musicians from getting involved, whether or not Defensive Male gets that. (I'm still pretty sure that he doesn't.)

Remember those larger, structural issues I mentioned earlier? Well, this is one of them: the disproportionately low numbers of girls involved in music aren't given the credit they deserve, they aren't represented, and it keeps other girls from trying to participate. If you're already disadvantaged, if you lack support, and then you don't see other girls managing to get onstage and makes themselves heard, why would you think it's possible? Why would you keep trying?

It's because of this myth that punk and hardcore is only for straight white male middle class audiences, and the continuing limited visibility for female artists in the genre, that I really want to continue writing here despite how absurdly complicated my life is right now. I'm certainly not the only person talking about these issues, but there is strength in numbers, and I want to contribute my voice.

But in case I can't: I want to use this space to encourage any one who might be reading who feels like they are being marginalized in their scene to say something about it. Because trust me, you are not alone. If you see something that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable or disempowered, say something about it, somehow. Because that's how you'll find other people who feel the same way and who will support you. My experience is that that's how you stop being and/or feeling like an exile, wherever you are.

Monday, June 6, 2011

DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK…because I'm not sure if I can come back at this point.

So, I decided that I needed to take a break from blogging back in November. I really didn't expect for that 'break' to last seven months though.

Initially I stopped blogging because I wasn't able to enjoy it anymore. My posts felt forced, and reading them back was painful and slightly embarrassing. But after a certain point I wasn't able to write anymore. It started early last winter, I think in December. I wasn't able to concentrate enough to write or read, especially the dense, theoretical literature that I was supposed to be reading for school. I would look at a blank page, put a pen to it, and then no thoughts or words would come to mind. Or I would look at a printed page, and the letters would run together and swim in front of my eyes. It was terrifying.

My powers of concentration were destroyed by an emotional trauma that I am still dealing with right now, and that I will be dealing with for a really long time. It's been difficult for me to accept this: both to deal with the loss, and to attempt to move on and be and feel 'normal' again. For a very long time, I couldn't really think about anything else, even organizing and publishing new content here.

After a few weeks of being 'on leave' I read a blog post that Jessica Valenti wrote about the traumatic and nearly fatal birth of her first child, Layla. In it Jessica mostly describes the birth and how she and her family have been affected, but she does briefly mention her experiences in relation to her occupation as a writer: "It feels strange not to write something so life changing. Because truly, I am not the same person that I was before Layla was born…I think there's something about trauma that just shifts your consciousness."

After reading this piece I realized that I do want to write about what I've been through. Even if it doesn't have anything to do with punk and gender. Even if it's really personal and it's scary to even think about sharing it with other people. Even if it seems like a dangerous blurring of the private/professional line.

But it's a lot harder than I thought it would be. I just haven't been able to find the words to describe how I've felt for the past six months, and I get frustrated every time I try. So I've kind of been putting it off. The frustration makes me nervous; It makes me worry that even if I want to, maybe I shouldn't be writing here, or anywhere. Maybe I don't have anything to contribute anymore, or at this point.

But the problem certainly is not a lack of material. A lot of stuff is happening, both in my local community, and on a national, if not international level. In the past six months there has been a proliferation of punk feminist activity on the internet, on the printed page, and in 'real life': the release of the International Girl Gang Underground zine and launch of the accompanying website, the ongoing I Live Sweat blog series, the emergence of Permanent Wave, Girl Gang Gig Volume, and yet another Anti-Valentine's Day Riot Grrrl Cover Band Show are just some of the ones that I've been following or involved with. I know that there's a lot more out there; that doesn't even begin to cover actual bands or releases.

This is important, not only for its own sake, but also because it helps me to relax a little bit about all of this. There are other girls and young women paying attention to issues of female participation in punk and arts communities, and they continue to do something about it and also to invent new ways of facing these issues. There are other people documenting these phenomena, and the dialogues that I was interesting in opening up are happening in various places. As I sit here, struggling against a blank page and a cluttered brain, the scene thrives, and will continue to do so. Whether I come back or not.