Straight Edge Interview Project- Nicole- 34 San Pedro, CA

IG: @xmidwest_nicolex

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

I’m a high school teacher, currently working in alternative education at a community day school – students who fall under at-risk categories like habitually truant, more than 2 school years behind in credits, expelled from the general high school for egregious behavior issues. I’ve taught in just about every kind of school setting: from traditional big public high school on the Southside of Chicago, to charter middle and college-prep high schools on the Northside of Milwaukee. Most of my work back in the Midwest has been in the Black community. Now I’m teaching in a more affluent/predominantly white district and learning quickly that everyone’s got their own struggles/issues/hurdles.

I have an 11 year old pitbull mix named Emma who is my rock that has been with me through many apartments/homes/boyfriends/moves. She beat cancer earlier this year, so hoping to keep her around for at least a couple more because I’m selfish and can’t imagine how the house would feel without her around.

Hobbies are a loaded question because I feel like there were all the things I was interested PRE-COVID and now I’m like, “I love walking around the neighborhood dressed like a cat burglar!” Prior to COVID, I was a member at an MMA gym and really enjoyed boxing and was just starting to get into jiu-jitsu before moving across town, leaving me to put a hold on my membership. Who knows if rolling around in leg locks with strangers will ever be allowed again. Since 2014 I’m down almost 100 pounds from my heaviest. I’ve been trying to make healthy eating/meal prep/regular exercise a 100% lifestyle change and I think I’ve been doing a pretty decent job at that. Quarantine has actually helped me build in new habits/routines like daily morning yoga and long walks to hit those Fitbit goals.

Otherwise, I signed up for community college AGAIN to take some Spanish courses. I started teaching myself Spanish a couple of years ago after meeting an amazing group of Colombians at Rev Fest here in SoCal. The Edge is strong in Bogota and I’ve enjoyed a couple of trips to now visit peeps who quickly became like family. Started taking classes to bridge the obvious gaps apps like Duolingo leave in terms of grammar. I’ll be retaking a class this fall to brush up on some basics before continuing onward. I love learning new languages and also speak Croatian (mostly with my mom) and Italian (albeit badly since I rarely use it since college).

Favorite straight edge (or non-straight edge) bands? If you have links, please provide them!

Raw Brigade (Bogota, Colombia); Less Than Jake (Gainesville, FL and not being funny… favorite band since I was in 6th grade); been listening to a lot of Hayley Williams’ from Paramore’s solo project, Petals for Armor; otherwise I get a healthy mix of anything from Gorilla Biscuits to Frank Turner to Hepcat on my iTunes. I’m all over the place and have been forever.

What is your definition of straight edge?

No alcohol; no drugs; no bullshit.

Where do you see the straight edge scene today?

I’m not really sure. Honestly, as I get older I’m less involved in general. I don’t go to shows much; not sure what the xxx youth are up to today. I do know that working with teenagers I feel like there’s definitely space for it to counter all the other bs and peer pressures facing teens right now. One of my old students met the terms of his expulsion and went back to the regular high school before COVID hit last spring. One day he randomly sent me a pic of a kid in the lunch room wearing an X Swatch. I was dying laughing. I text read along the lines of, “don’t worry, you nerds are still out here representing.”

There’s an ongoing debate on whether one can be straight edge without being a part of the music scene, what’s your thoughts on this?

I answered these questions backwards, so I addressed it a bit below. I consider straight edge as rooted in a subculture. With that said, culture is wider than just music. Do I like some edge bands? Yes. Do I like some other hardcore bands? Yes. If you catch me speeding down the freeway, am I probably bumping some Hepcat instead? Absolutely. So I don’t think it should be a prerequisite, but I know people who definitely see it that way.

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

I think my current boyfriend definitely had to Google it, which brings up a wide variety of questionable finds – Am I gang member? Is it a cult? Who is my leader? Do I have to marry my boyfriend before we hook up? Can I kiss? Am I super religious? Some assume you’re sober because of a former addiction. Others talk to you like you’ve been living in a bubble just because you’ve not personally tried things (ie: someone explaining to me once that you can smoke weed OR bake it into things… wooooowwww… I had no idea!)

What are some challenges you have faced when interacting with other people who are also edging? If you haven’t had any challenges, tell us some challenges you’ve faced when interacting with people who are not edge?

With people who are edge – fortunately this has decreased significantly since high school/college, but I’ve never been a fan of pissing contests. When I was younger I got lumped with hardcore kids because of straight edge, but I had friends active in all kinds of scenes and probably would have considered myself more of a pop-punk and even a ska kid before claiming hardcore as my scene. But then again, that’s where my closest friends were. So then it’d be like, “oh you’re straight edge, but can you name who played on the original Earth Crisis record?” and like… no, because I’m not a dork. If that’s you, okay. But some people really will have you feeling like you don’t belong somewhere because you can’t write a dissertation on the matter. And that applies to tons of things I was interested in growing up – skateboarding, etc.

With people who are not edge – The funniest moments came about when I moved to Cali and started signing up for the swipey dating apps. In LA I was like a Sober Steven magnet. A decent percentage of my matches were dudes who were scared to go into a bar to look for chicks because they used to have/currently battling some kind of addiction. I get it. I respect it. But like… I’m not your sponsor bro. Also, everyone assumes that you’ve had some sort of soul-crushing issue in your past to make you straight edge. I’ve never drank in my whole life. These are just my choices. It’s really hard for social drinkers to wrap their heads around sometimes.

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

I’ve been vegetarian since I was 16. Even though I was already “claiming edge” at that point, I think it was more directly linked to ALL my friends across genres exploring cruelty free diets. I remember actually doing it as a new years resolution, convinced that I would NEVER make it a full year without meat. I like weird challenges like that and I’m very “all or nothing” when it comes to them, so I stayed strong and in the meantime developed the consciousness around not eating meat and just never went back.

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 grew up with a functioning alcoholic for a father. He never missed work; he never compromised the wellbeing of our family (at least not financially); he never physically abused us; but it still sucked growing up and seeing my mom have to deal with his bullshit day in, day out. I promised myself I’d never drink the shit. I was maybe… 9? When I was 15 I met someone at a show that was explaining a tattoo he had. It was actually Hatebreed lyrics, but he was going on to my girlfriend about how they symbolized his pledge to himself to stay drug free and was going on about “Straight Edge”. I have never heard the expression before, asked a few more follow up questions, and basically was like, “oh shit… I’m already a bonified member of this club I didn’t even know existed.” I had a pretty rad friend group already, with people who did stuff/people who didn’t. And I was fortunate enough to not really deal with too much peer pressure in situations where there was alcohol and I expressed disinterest. But it was nice to have these peers of a wide age range who very much normalized the idea that “it’s okay not to drink” and that in and of itself was cool; I didn’t need to make excuses. I just don’t. It’s my choice.

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

It’s a personal choice to me. A personal choice that fortunately comes with a great community of people who are liked-minded in a lot more ways than just our choice not to drink/smoke. I think I had a very brief militant-esque phase in high school. A “straight edge means I’m better than you” mentality, maybe for a hot second when I was younger. But that’s definitely developed to a “to each their own” outlook, and my work has really helped force me to not hold judgement against those struggling with even more severe situations of substance abuse.

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

I think some aspects of my work require activism inherently – educational (in)equity. Working with a more affluent/resourceful demographic has been a stark contrast to working in schools with limited resources/technology/funding. I’m still very passionate about it, but I’m not as outspoken about it as I had been in my 20’s. At this point, I’m more like, “let your work do the talking for you.”

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

Myself. All these years and I’ve still never been interested in trying anything. People ask me all the time, “aren’t you the LEAST bit curious?!” No. People eat horse in some countries. Some people deep sea spearfish. Some people free solo climb mountains. Some people exclusively drink Coors Light. I don’t really give a shit what any of those people are doing. Good for them. None of those scenarios have intrigued me to try any of them. This is the life I chose and I think I’m a better person because of it, personally.

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

Having to defend it. It shouldn’t surprise me that people can’t just mind their damn business about things that don’t affect them whatsoever. But evidently people are so insecure that when you say you don’t do something, and don’t have a “legitimate” excuse (in recovery, DD, pregnant) they’ve got issues. Ultimate facepalm

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

Stress: exercise – running, yoga, meditation, some weight training, boxing, MMA, riding bikes; venting to the homies – thank you IG for keeping me connected to other crazy people who need to bitch and whine sometimes Peer

Pressure: Fuck ’em. I love being 30+. People are worried about understanding their 401(k) and making sure they don’t raise degenerate children. For the most part they’ve given up on trying to convince me to have a cocktail with my dinner. If anything, they are starting to look at me and ask for tips on cutting more alcohol OUT of their lifestyle for whatever reason.

How was it being straight edge in this pandemic?

I can compare my experience to my boyfriend. Because of the nature of his job, he can only drink when he’s not “on shift” – so 2 weeks working, 2 weeks off. And all his off time he would start with an old-fashioned. And quickly he realized he’d spend most of his limited off time feeling like shit because he’d feel obligated to like… keep a buzz most nights since there wasn’t much else do to. So he’d spend this off time getting buzzed and then feeling shitty coming down. Eventually he just decided to “play straight edge” for most of his shift because it wasn’t worth it. Also, in trying to keep up with his brothers early on… we were like, DAMN these dudes are spending a lot of money to be consistently partying. So I came up in that regard too!

Have you ever considered breaking edge? What were the circumstances, and what changed your mind?

No

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?

I’ve had mixed experiences. My current partner drinks socially and it hasn’t been an issue. He loves talking about his fancy whiskeys and I pretend to care. I do the same for Formula 1 racing and other interests that we don’t share LOL It’s not been a problem at all. In fact, early on he was pretty stoked about what a cheap date a non-meateating non-drinking girl could be!

If your partner is edge do you have similar views/outlooks about straight edge? What are some examples of ideas/beliefs that you agree and/or disagree on?

My ex and I were pretty on par with a lot of our ideologies and that worked for us up through the time when our relationship ended. I honestly don’t even think we gave straight edge much of a second thought at all. Root beer keggers for all major life events and all of our friends were stoked (drinkers and non).

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?

I think sometimes people feel like NOT inviting me to certain things because they think my lack of participation in the drinking component will make ME uncomfortable somehow. I still think that stems from a misunderstanding of my motivations for being straight edge. I’m not in recovery or anything, so it really doesn’t bother me. But when I’m not teaching, I’m a waitress and the service industry is bustling with drug and alcohol abuse. So honestly sometimes I’m not sure if they just feel self conscious, or if they think I will. But to be completely honest, I have no idea how these fools rally after a shift and are still able to party. Must be a cocaine. I can’t hang just because I need a nap!

If you are single, have you found it difficult to date?

When I was in swipe-land (Tinder/Bumble) I really was shocked by how many people were TOTALLY turned off by the fact that I didn’t drink (or eat meat). Like, damn… cheap date over here. Lifetime DD. I still work in the service industry and could make you any basic mixed drink. What a catch?! But alas, some people apparently need their girls loose and liquored and that served as a much more efficient red flag for me than dozens of terrible first dates.

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 think growing out of this comes with time, developing interests, careers, building families, etc. I had restored a historic Victorian mansion with my ex and had made countless friends with senior citizens at the stained glass class I was taking. I go out to happy hours with my teacher friends. I hike around with dirty hippies. I have monthly dates to eat Indian food with my skater friends. I think the key is just staying open minded. MOST people’s social lives DON’T revolve around alcohol consumption. At least, not where that’s the most pivotal, important aspect of their free time. You just have to find those people.

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

I remember one time I interviewed for a serving job with a restaurant that specialized in a huge selection of Belgium beers… like, 50 tappers. And the first question in the interview was “what’s your favorite beer?” and I said “root”. At first she was like, “haha” and when I told her I don’t actually drink, you could tell she was ready to end the interview right there. So quickly I said it was because of my religion because I knew they couldn’t just deny me on that point alone! HA! But the rest of the interview went great, and honestly sales is 90% bullshit so I learned all the damn beers and sounded like I knew exactly what I was talking about without taking so much as a sip. Point being, different situations call for different responses. If it’s a weirdly pressured scenario, I’ll say I’m driving or still hungover from yesterday or whatever cop out excuse comes to mind first. If I’m looking to make people feel awkward because it’s funny, I’ll say I just got out of treatment that morning and that this is my first test or something equally as cringey for the recipient. But for the most part, at this age it’s, “I don’t drink. I just don’t.”

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?

HAS the community been welcoming? I’m not entirely sure. I assume not. I know I’ve personally known a couple people who were “straight edge by way of judge’s court order” and I have chuckled at that. But I can’t really be mad at someone who is trying to better themselves. Likewise, when people are the reverse and say they “used to be straight edge”, I’ll give them a little more shit for that – aren’t now, never was. But I’m not resentful about it.

How do you feel your straight edge commitment plays into the bigger social justice movement for gender equity?

I think all subcultures (particularly those that are inherently male-dominated) are microcosms of society as a whole. I can chuckle at memes for days because some of the same dudes I see getting all #metoo #westandbywomen type nonsense on their socials were also the same ones who were 25 and trying to talk to my 16 year old girlfriends. People change. We’re all in a constant flux. I think for me personally, when I go to shows now I see a lot more girls than I did when I was 16. But I also feel like I keep seeing the same handful of bands do reunion shows and we’re still the same girls who were around at 16 and we just show up in more concentrated events now LOL so I’m not really sure.

Have you ever had a negative experience in the scene related to your gender?

I think if I had paid more attention, probably. At hardcore shows growing up I always felt very “alone in a crowd” even if the crowd was 1/3 comprised of people I loved and hung out with outside of the show setting. It just never quite felt like where I belonged, which is why I think musically I gravitated towards other scenes. But I don’t know how much of those feelings or general isolation in those situations were a result of how other people perceived me being girl.

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?

I see a lot more girls in bands, and I’m always excited about it. There’s more for girls to do than sell merch. But also, I like sitting through shows these days so… I’m not opposed to that role either LOL I don’t think I’ve been involved enough over the last decade to make a fair assessment.

What if any challenges have you faced that are specifically related to being a female in a male-dominated scene?

Feeling like I don’t belong. Hearing dumb questions. Having to pass some kind of weak ass trivia test just to get baseline respect. Whether this has been music, skateboarding, MMA… it always happens. Sometimes the feeling is innate (like the not belonging aspect). You have to fake it ’til you make it, so to speak. If you walk in like you belong there, and you stand up like you belong there and you assert yourself like you belong – whether or not YOU believe it, the people around you will be more likely and it’s easier to convince yourself otherwise. I am always sure that “all eyes are on me” and sometimes that’s true, but sometimes it’s also just my skewed perception. I also find myself doing a lot of things alone. Guy shows up to a show alone and stands around, no one gives it a second thought. Girl does the same thing and you know people are just wondering “who did she come here with? where’s her sidekick?” and it’s like, “no dude. We’re all just chillin. Stop lookin at me.”

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 think there is ALWAYS work to be done.

Please add anything else you think we should know or you would like to share!

I think my biggest perspective shift has been in the classroom. When I started at my new placement last year, I really was… BOOMER-level floored by some of the crazy shit the kids would disclose to me about their drug use. I didn’t roll with these crowds and now because I’m serving a specialized population, it really does feel like “OMG ALL teenagers are so fucked out here with these pills and whatever else.” This August I lost a 14 year old student to a drug overdose. 14. I didn’t even know what straight edge was yet at 14, and this sweet boy OVERDOSES. Unbelievable, really. And I know my kids think I’m a total cornball (straight edge or not); but I love eventually disclosing to them that I’ve never done any drugs. Most of them will claim to be products of their environments, which is true. But now, they have a school environment where their weird tattooed teacher is a maniac and has NEVER even had a SIP of alcohol. And I’m hoping that just seeing the OTHER extreme is as possible as some of the wild shit they’re exposed to, they could maybe be happy just smoking weed occasionally and being SAFE in whatever choices they make.

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Written by kellysisterhood
Mother, wife, small business owner. www.justbuttons.org
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