A Punk Show In A College Town and Reconciling Gender With Presentation
A year and 9 days ago I took a road trip by myself to see The Carolyn for Bean Day (my friend’s, who sometimes goes by Beans, birthday celebration) in Milledgeville that was life changing. This was the first time I had gone to an unfamiliar place without my partner or a band mate wearing makeup or anything femme. Outside of a show with my bands, it was also one of the first times I was looking “visibly queer” in an ostensibly cishet majority space. For me at the time, it was a big risk, even though I knew people who were going to be there.
I went to the show at whoever’s house it was, and had a great time! Beans and The Carolyn made me feel so incredibly welcome and safe. The people there didn’t give me a hard time and I actually got a lot of compliments.
The Carolyn, Beans, and the group of people we were all in wanted me to come to the after-party at a local redneck bar. Side note — I love redneck bars. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because the first one I ever went to had a bunch of queer folx hanging out in it. But *I* had never been at a redneck bar in makeup and a fishnet women’s top. So I was nervous and asked the group if they thought it would be okay. They reassured me that it was a college town and super progressive, so it would be fine. I was also worried about getting drunk and driving home. One of the guys in the group was letting one of the members of The Carolyn sleep at his place, so he also offered me a couch. I was sold.
For the most part, it was fine. I mostly stuck to our group, and even random patrons of the bar were nice and talked to me about my top or my tattoos. Except one group of guys. I was on my way back to the bar to get another drink and passed by a group of drunk guys. “What is that thing?! What is going on?!” one guy said as they all stared at me. I was stunned but also drunk so my reaction was to say “Hi!” They cackled and walked off. I went back to my group where I was safe and just kind of brushed it off. When you see the words and think about random drunk probably-frat-bros, it doesn’t seem unexpected or *that* bad right? I shouldn’t have been upset right?
It was an exaggerated version of a reaction I’ve gotten from people throughout my life, just being myself. People who don’t know me find the person that I am amusing and are pretty open about expressing it for some reason. I’m something new for them to both marvel and poke at, just to see what I’ll do. For a period of my life, I embraced being the joke and the weird thing because I thought that’s what would make me fit in. It didn’t. It made people take me less seriously and encouraged *more* people to see me that way. So I got quiet and tried to be less noticeable, aside from performing, which I was NOT about to give up. Hello introverted-ness! The poking and just general other-ing continued but less often, so long as I kept to my group of friends that has known me since forever (and, by the way, are allowed to joke about me because they know when to stop and we’re always laughing together).
All this to say, I thought this was just more of that same thing. And it wasn’t totally unrelated but in the year since it happened, I’ve realized that that moment created a fear that I internalized about my gender presentation. That there will *always* be someone to stare and laugh and make me feel like a spectacle when I look how I feel comfortable as a gender nonconforming person. Ironically, I came to terms with that this past weekend and then my band played a show with The Carolyn.
Yes, there will always be people who make me feel horrible about who I am. But there will also always be people like The Carolyn who always affirm me at their shows no matter how I look, or the guy who let me, a stranger in a fishnet top and makeup, sleep on his couch when I was getting drunk and hours away from home, or the older southern fellow at our show last night who talked about religion with me while I was wearing heels and full face of makeup and by the end of the night was referring to me with they/them pronouns. And I can’t let my fear dictate where I put on my full self. It may still be an ongoing process but I want to reconcile who I am with who I let the world see.