Written by Zoe
When I tell people that I’m straight edge, I get some predictable reactions: the few people who’ve heard about straight edge movement will look at me warily. After we chat a little, I’ll find out that they’ve got a stereotype of straight edgers being militant gangs of teenagers running around bashing in the heads of unsuspecting civilians who just wanted to have a little wine after dinner. After all, that’s about the only thing that ever got played up in the press when straight edge was more in the news in the 1980s. Of course I quickly explain that straight edge is not a violent movement, and that issue is quickly solved. But being a teenager, the next reaction I get is a chuckle, then some remark to the effect of, “Oh, you’ll change your mind when you get older.” Older straight edgers will say, “yeah, straight edge ‘til 21.” Apparently, everybody thinks that once we’re legally free to get alcohol and cigarettes and have more access to drugs, we’ll surely succumb to the “thrill” of those substances—or that teens just can’t keep a commitment.
When I first “claimed edge,” a lot of people disapproved, which struck me as kind of odd because aren’t teens always warned NOT to drink, take drugs, and smoke? At any rate, people seem to think it’s a bad idea to make a lifetime commitment at such a young age. To them, my disgust at drinking, drugs, and smoking is just another fad I would grow out of like the music I listen to and the clothes I wear. I’d change my mind, they assured me. Why say I’d never drink when I’ll obviously be getting drunk regularly as soon as I go to college?
This disbelief of teens claiming edge runs deep within the straight edge scene and, in a way, I can understand it. Teens are just trying to find their place in life and what is “true ‘til death” today may be forgotten a month from now. However, at what age does one become “truly” straight edge? And why do we always assume that young people are insincere in their commitments? It’s possible that for many teens, straight edge may not stay a part of their lives forever. But we have to keep ourselves open and welcoming because some straight edge teens will remain the most committed of all of us—much more committed than the guy who has been “straight edge” for 20 years but keeps sneaking in cigarettes.
Sure, there’ll be some poseurs you’ll meet in the straight edge movement, kids who’ll pick up a Minor Threat LP and draw an X on their hands and swear they’ll be edge to the death (but in reality until lunch period). But we need to fight the assumption that every teen will do that. Straight edge is all about fighting the norm, so we need to fight the norm of ageism, too. Keep an open mind to young people who are making choices about how they live their lives, and you might just find some of the most sincere straight edgers you’ll ever meet.