“i am going to be a blemish on your ugly society.”
This is the way that someone i used to know described his personal draw to a punk/metal presentation. At the time, i was a 21 year old punk activist. The statement resonated with me immediately as a truth of my being that had not yet been put in words so accurate or succinct as “i am going to be a blemish on your ugly society.”
Holy Jesus fuck. How powerful?!
When i shaved my first mohawk i said something to the effect of “This will make people not want to talk to me, and i don’t want to talk to those people anyway.” This was before punk became incredibly accessible and the advent of bro-hawks. At 14 i was aware, on a relatively conscious level, of social processes of Othering.
i’d been an Other before i became a punk. i was a sissy. i was a nerd. People told me i was a faggot, and maybe they were right. But punk was the first time that i was able to own my Otherness; it was the first time i got to construct it for myself, the first time that i got to utilize it.
i knew that this would add another degree of separation between myself and the broader group of people who either harassed me, or didn’t interest me at all. If they didn’t want to talk about anything other than popular comedy movies, we probably weren’t going to be all that close anyway.
So i patched the holes in my jeans with flannel and embraced a newfound cultural dissonance. i embraced it completely because it did more than just create a buffer between myself and mainstream culture. It was more active than that; punk, for me, was directly resistant of cultural standards that i would never quite meet anyway. i was a skinny boy, and this was in the era of bulky guys in Hanes commercials, not the heroin-sheik hipster masculinity that is cast as ideal these days. i wasn’t everyone else, nor was i what i was told to be.
It allowed me to not give a damn about what people thought, to be myself… not be really, that’s not quite right. It allowed me to create a self. i painted my nails and learned to self-advocate. It felt so incredibly empowering to give people a pink-polished middle finger in response to their homophobic hate. Here was a homo-punk response to spin their hate back around; i had found a way to stop internalizing others’ cultural violence. i didn’t need to worry about their norms, because i was different. i could fight back.
Then i learned to turn that fight into one that was broader. i became active. My newfound consciousness of my outsider status gave me perspective. Not only could i actively separate myself from a poisonous culture, i could turn around and push it back, try to shape it into something healthier. i learned from punk culture. Punks created their own media, their own communities, the “culture” in “counter-culture” was vibrant (albeit, admittedly, not perfect).
DIY cultural construction became useful to me as organizational tools. A show could be a fundraiser. A zine could introduce people to an issue. With some speed ball, some old nylons, and a picture frame i could screen-print slogans onto patches. i was trying to push people to reconsider normativity in everyday moments. They’d see a patch, or disgustingly beautiful photocopied poster, and they’d have to confront something within themselves. Maybe they’d walk away thinking whatever fucked-up thing they thought before, maybe they already tacitly agreed, maybe they actually reevaluated an issue or two, but they were made to be aware… of a blemish.
Later on, i changed my name and started living in a different gender. Initially i tried to embrace a relatively binary femininity. i should have known better than to think that anything “normal” would fit, but i would be lying if i pretended my femininity had always been explicitly resistant (besides the inherent resistance of transness, that is).
The day i stopped attempting to fit into a binary was much like the day i got my first mohawk, albeit a bit more consciously this time around. i realized that i had begun to internalize our society’s poisonous feminine beauty standards. i had taken as truth, despite my explicit radicalism and feminism that I needed to be a certain way to be beautiful. Skinny. Pore-free. Makeup caked. Appropriately dressed.
None of that was going to work for me. So, i made a choice to commit myself to deconstructing femininity and rebuilding it. i sealed that commitment with a new mohawk, one that would eventually turn into dreadlocks. i began presenting in a way that made me hyper-visible.
This hasn’t been easy. Not only do i take a lot of shit from folks for my non-binary presentation, i also fight myself. There are still deep pangs of wanting to look like women on magazine covers. But i don’t actually want that and am working to de-internalize those feelings. They were implanted by a society that dead-set on continuing a centuries-long legacy of Western patriarchal dominance in the form of rigid beauty standards.
i want to resist that. i am committed to cultivating that resistance within myself. My resistant form of transness draws on my prior understanding of a punk aesthetic to reevaluate what is or isn’t beautiful. The process has been difficult, but it’s been incredibly cleansing, even liberating. Hopefully it continues on this path. i am trying to be truly holistic in separating myself from social expectations that are built on poisonous cisgender standards. Most days i look in the mirror and like what i see.
i am my own form of beauty and am a blemish on an ugly society.