Shining a light on the joys and heartaches that lie at the intersection of the LGBTQIA community and the world of alternative music…
Raine Mara Hopper – frontwoman of the Austin-based emo-punk bangers MeanGirls – decided to get super meta and really real in her installment of Fear Of A Queer Planet, so allow me to follow suit: the shorter I make this intro, the more room is left for her brilliantly candid words.
Support them on their fall tour and party with them at FEST 17 in October.
In the meantime, read on.
Punk Rock Gave Me Herpes
I’m so screwed. I agreed to what I, at first, thought was an interview, only to realize I’m basically writing my own little piece in a special column for queer punks in a magazine I’ve read a couple issues of. So, I tried several times to come up with something worth saying. I wrote two versions of this before this one, and at this moment, it’s 1:53 a.m., technically now into the second day post-deadline. I’m going to do my best effort in delivering the eloquent and thoughtful piece probably no one’s expecting me to write. Who even let me do this? Apparently, the qualifications are as follows: one, be in a band, and two, be a queer, and those two things you can be sure I am.
As a child, my older cousins had this closet full of old toys at my grandmother’s house, and mixed in with all the random plastic figures and whatnot were these cheap army-men-style figures made from hot-pink plastic. They had mohawks, totally sick vests with spikes sticking out, and I would pretend the bases that helped them stand upright and connected their feet were surfboards—and that was my first exposure to punk rockers. I didn’t really have any notion of what punk music sounded like. I was probably 5 years old and hadn’t developed much of an appreciation for music yet. But I did know one thing: those pink plastic figurines were a hell of a lot cooler than some shitty green army men.
Punk rock is a lot of dumb shit to a lot of people. Whatever you want to call this indefinable community of sound-lovers, we are a part of this in spite of a lot of bullshit. Because, in it, we found a home the rest of the world couldn’t provide. I don’t recall the first time I considered I felt “different.” I’m sure, as most kids do, I didn’t necessarily want to be. In junior high, I was starting to struggle to find a place for myself in the realm of masculinity. I was afraid of being thought of as weak, but I had no interest in pretending to be into pro sports and wrestling and whatever else the boys at school were into. I’m not sure exactly who I was trying to be, but it was never what felt right. And then, I heard some music that connected with me in a way that gave me a sense that the self I hoped to find was out there.
It was blink-182 and Green Day and NOFX, Bad Religion, MxPx, The Ataris, Sum 41, and so on. It was the early ’00s, and pop punk was blowing up. I had found somewhere to place my soul and shroud it in this veil of immature, boyish masculinity. It was fun and playful, emotional, snotty, angry—it rejected the seriousness and brutality of manhood, squirted it with a Super Soaker full of urine and laughed at it. At the time, I was completely unaware of all the ways it also upheld the institutions of misogyny, but that’s for another time. The point I’m trying to make is my entire sense of who I am as a person is based on a foundation formed by a bunch of mostly white, immature, cisgender, heterosexual dudes.
And occasionally, when I think about that, it gives me weird feels. Because about 14 years after I thought I had subverted my inevitable crash with a repressed identity of girlhood, I finally broke down and admitted it to myself. I am a woman.
I don’t feel like telling my coming out story, really. I started to write it, and it got really boring. What I want to talk about is where things stand now.
The music journalist Dan Ozzi—whom I mostly just read his tweets—wrote a piece a while back about the death of rock music. And yeah, the mainstream music listener is pretty over it. The rest of us gather in sweaty basements, garages, and dingy clubs for worship and fellowship. The scene here in Austin, the shows and venues I frequent, are to me what church is for my parents. It’s my community of likeminded friends. It’s a sanctuary from a hostile world. It’s the only place they allow us to openly worship the punk gods. But you guys, there are some evil forces among us. There are abusers, there is misogyny, there is racism, and oh my fuck, there’s every bit of the self-righteousness and hypocrisy among this scene that drove me from the church and the religion of my parents I mentioned before.
Over the years, I’ve seen scumbags get 86’d, others given a pass, and very few people held accountable. There is rampant virtue signaling, louder-than-necessary white voices, and rarely opportunities for rehabilitation. I’m not an authority in social justice. I don’t know what the right thing to do is all the time, but I do want to have a scene that can be enjoyed by all. So, over and again, the scene is ripped apart by accusations, denials, and some heated exchanges—and I try to remember what brought me here.
On a bad day, I know what can cheer me up. My musical landscape has broadened quite a bit since my early days of pop punk, but still, it can bring me back to a time of joy, youth, and innocence. A time when I got to experience the outward world with the unfathomable privilege of a carefree cis-straight-white-male-teenager. I remember the life I dreamed of living. Doing essentially what I do now, only in my vision, I was a lot less jaded. We all were. I’ve entered my 30s. I watched Laura Jane Grace come out publicly, a plethora of Jesse Laceys and other frontmen be taken down over abusive pasts and sexual misconduct. I watched us allow Donald Trump to take the presidency, Nazis march with torches in Charlottesville, children torn from their parents’ arms and kept in cages by our government, and communist friends abstain from voting as a form of protest. That’s not necessarily a dig at my communist friends, I’m just making a point that this shit is crazy, and between my moral compass and the overwhelming mass of information, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I didn’t sign up for this.
I wonder how many non-queer folks read this page—my guess, like, maybe five. Well, I’m not really writing this for you. I’m assuming there’s a bunch of queer punks coming to this looking for others like them who know their struggle. And some of them will be disappointed. I read a tweet about how the world doesn’t need another autobiography by a white trans woman. I couldn’t agree more. I struggled with how to write this and make it not about me but also use my perspective and say something. I’m going to tell one last anecdote before I close this up and make my point.
At first, I was very stoked to be offered writing for Fear Of A Queer Planet. It seemed like a fun idea and a chance to share my perspective as a trans woman in the punk scene.
I’ve been asked on several occasions in interviews or conversation about that experience, and to be honest, I’ve always drawn a blank. The truth is I don’t think about it too much. I definitely don’t dwell on the few instances where I did face some transmisogyny. Like the first MeanGirls show when, after our first song, I announced, “Hey, what’s up? We’re MeanGirls,” and before blasting into our next track, someone screamed, “You’re not a girl.” Afterwards, I learned someone tried to fight that guy. He was probably kicked out of the show. Honestly, I don’t remember, because even though we played terribly—we didn’t even have a bassist!—people were really excited, and afterwards, a lot of queer people came up to tell us. After coming out, it didn’t take long to find my people and be surrounded by people who are able to support and understand.
I’ve got thick skin. I’m the frontwoman for a band that has—at least a little—notoriety in our city. I’ve become confident, strong, and supported. Nobody fucks with me, or anyone who has gets taken down pretty quick. Oh yeah, and I’m white. Do you know one Black trans woman who benefits from these privileges in the punk scene? (I actually super hope you do; please fill me in.)
Protect trans women of color, protect women of color. Lift up their voices. Check your fucking privilege and shut the fuck up. Yeah, yeah, I know, I just took up a lot of space here to talk about not taking up space. But I was given an opportunity to say something, and we’re all so fucking tired. I made some comparisons of our greater scene of independent music to a religion. My heaven is a pop punk wonderland where everyone wears Dickies and skateboards and eats pizza and burritos. Everyone’s making adolescent jokes and everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. The refuge we want our scene to be must be for all of us.
It’s easy to feel jaded. We’re all so tired. But I’m still doing this, and if you’re as big a loser as me, we both will be well into our middle-age complete loss of hearing before it’s over. Don’t stop creating inclusive spaces. Our numbers are dwindling, but there are still lost kids who stumble upon and find identity in a long-outdated genre of music. Plus, they are total nerds and have no social skills, and they need our guidance. Remember what brought you to this music. Remember how you felt like you had found a home?
The scene will be ripped apart again. It will be painful. You will lose friends and respect for those you looked up to. But it will be rebuilt with our undying stupidity and love for rocking out and self-expression. And for every person who fled our grimy church of sweaty power chords, there will be space for lost little punks looking for acceptance.