As many may recall, last year the band Whirr said some truly insulting, transphobic things on their twitter in regards to the LGBTQ hardcore band, GLOSS. And, while I am honestly not a huge fan of GLOSS’s work, it frustrated me to see a band whom I enjoyed say such horrendously ignorant things, even with it being Whirr, a band known for their provocative, less than pleasant social media presence.
However, I was not only frustrated that Whirr, a band that was accepted in the larger punk scene, go against the ethos of acceptance regardless of identity that punk was founded on, but also with how it seemed others twisted the incident in order to socially profiteer. I saw numerous videos of people burning Whirr shirts and records, which is understandable in the heat of the moment when emotions are running high, but it seemed as if afterwards no one was actually willing to address the problem. Sure, the witch hunt, while extremely brief, was a success, but transphobia still ran rampant in the scene and nobody seemed willing to address it whatsoever beyond taking it on a case-to-case basis.
This is where the punk ethos mentioned before begins to become an issue, as it seems that no one is actually paying attention to them or taking them to heart, but instead using them to prove how “enlightened” they are. It’s as if it gives them a higher moral position above those who simply “cannot understand”. Outrage is a social currency in itself in the age of social media, and those who go through the motions most convincingly to prove they are angry at all the right things are rewarded with pats on the back from their peers and a comforting sense of self-righteousness.
The problem with this though is that while they are ascending the social ladder, those same members of minority groups – who are simply trying be involved in these scenes – are still being marginalized. They’re on the receiving end of acts of racism, sexism, transphobia, and homophobia that, obviously, should not exist in a scene (supposedly) built on acceptance and tolerance. The question is then, how do we address these issues in a music scene that we love so that everyone can enjoy it equally?
This question becomes much harder to answer when it’s in relation to punk, metal, and hardcore music. People often come to these scenes already with a certain outcast mentality, causing them to adopt a strong emotional attachment to the music and the communities formed around them as it allows them to feel welcome and accepted. This is not a bad thing in itself, and it definitely supports the idea that these underground music scenes, as built by those who feel out of place, should welcome all who feel the same way. However, it’s those same insular, closed-off and protectionist tendencies that makes it difficult to criticize or address any issues permeating through at least certain parts of these scenes without a large amount of backlash. People struggle to accept that in addressing bigotry within the scene, you are not simply attempting to attack the music scenes they love, defecating on their good reputations in some desperate attempt to boost your own “social standing” within the scene.
This is where addressing the issues in the underground music scenes can begin to feel a bit like being a dog chasing its own tail. It is a labor of love to try and take bigotry out of the equation in the scene, while it is also a labor of love for many to so vehemently defend the “good” reputation of the scene. Nobody on their own side believes they are doing wrong, but the other sees them as attacking the overall scene instead of a few undesirable traits, causing tension despite both sides believing in the same core ideals. And, as this tension results between two sides who care deeply about the issue, the only concrete result is seeming to agree to weed out the bigotry on a case-by-case basis. However, this slow moving, almost unrecognizable process does very little in the long run, and the core issues that continually allow them to breed remain intact and largely ignored. In many ways, it is like a bacterial infection. You can only combat the symptoms with Advil and the such for so long before you have to suck it up and get some anti-bacterial medication.
Which, once again, brings us back to the original question. In underground music, a place that is supposed to be accepting of all regardless of their identity, how do we address bigotry and grow in a productive way? The simple answer is to take a long, hard look at all aspects of the scene and work harder to be a more accepting, welcoming scene and live up to “ethos” that nobody really seems to understand completely. No longer will it work to simply burn the Whirr shirts or make brief, quickly forgotten “rant” posts about the issues surrounding bands such as Enabler or the sexual assault of Kayla of Bleed The Pigs. Instead, an always open, ever expanding dialogue must be kept in its place, always listening to those that feel on the outskirts of a subculture made up of the outskirts of a normal culture so that we can learn exactly how to address these issues.
Furthermore, it is time for those in the majority to stop shouting their “enlightened” views over those in the minority who actually face those issues. Allies to minority and marginalized people can and do play an important role in fights for minority rights and acceptance, but too often that “help” comes in the form of personal grandstanding, taking attention away from the perspectives of those directly affected. How can I as a cis, straight, white male ever hope to possibly be able to speak to the volume or depth of transphobia or sexism in the scene? Sure, I can always wag my finger and say that is wrong, but I lack the actual knowledge or depth of experience to back up and validate those sentiments, something that once again touches on the “social posturing” inherent in underground music.
In no way am I saying that underground music is all bad, or that we should stop disapproving of the actions of acts such as Whirr or Enabler. But if we are to survive as a scene, an accepting safe haven for all, we need to change how we deal with these issues. It is not enough to give the scene a slap on the wrist anymore and put those that promote these ideas into time out. We must take a long, hard look at everything going on around us and accept that, while we may love the scene and respect all it has done for us, there are still many things wrong with it that need fixing. After all, those who refuse to admit their shortcomings and mistakes almost always end up in disappointment and desperation as not even they can live up to their own narcissistic self-image.