What the heck is straight edge?

Picture this. Stood in the middle of the room, there’s a poor boy or girl frozen stiff while a circle of drunks are asking them “Hey, why aren’t you drinking?” What do they offer as an explanation? There’s the classic “uh, I just don’t want to, I don’t drink”, which is then followed by more protestation from the others, or if they’re so inclined, “I’m straight edge.” This is definitely the more complicated one. Because a good majority of the time, a resounding chorus of “What the fuck is that?” comes up.

So, what the heck is straight edge?

By definition, it’s a movement which originated in Washington DC in the glorious scene that was the hardcore scene. At the time, clubs didn’t originally allow under-21’s into gigs. The Teen Idles, Ian McKaye’s first prominent band, were due to play a gig, but the entire band was under the drinking age. Therefore, the club marked their hands with an ‘x’ to make sure that they weren’t served alcohol. When the band returned to DC, they suggested the same thing, and soon, some clubs began using the same practise to let underage fans in. Meanwhile, an idea was spreading throughout the punk scene of a clean lifestyle. The band who would be Minor Threat adopted this lifestyle of no drinking, no smoking and no drugs, and defined the term in their song ‘Straight Edge’. The straight edge movement then became a thriving subculture, with several hardcore punk bands (including the notable Youth Crew movement) devoting their lyrics and their lives to it.

But if we’re being perfectly honest, how many people are going to take that in?

Not to mention, so much more has been added over the years, and it’s difficult to define exactly what straight edge is. If you’re really straight edge, then you have to be vegan, abstain from promiscuity, abstain from caffeine, be completely drug free and not take any medication at all, be atheist, campaign actively for animal/human/vegetable rights…

It’s hard to know where to draw the line and determine what is straight edge and what isn’t. One issue is whether you’re straight edge if you follow the lifestyle under the legal drinking age. Some say yes, some say no. However, take a look at society. We are living in a society where teenage drinking is higher than it has been in a long time and the number of underage smokers and teenage drug users is rising. Therefore, it makes more sense for people to take on the straight edge lifestyle (if they so choose) earlier. Of course, it’s more of a challenge to resist peer pressure at a younger age, but if a strong enough will and self-confidence is in place, there’s no reason why being under the drinking age should discount someone from becoming straight edge.

Of course, then the boundaries must be chosen. Should straight edge just be the three core rules, as demonstrated in the 80s? Or should straight edgers also be vegetarian? Anti-promiscuity? Atheist? The truth is that any one of these is right. The heart of straight edge lies in the core three beliefs – no drinking alcohol, no smoking and no drugs (presumably the illegal variety) – and thus, these rules must be followed. However, anything else can be optional, even though many are taken to be just as important as the main three. It merely depends on the individual and their beliefs. It must be said though that anti-promiscuity has been accepted as a core belief by many of the straight edge community, more so than any of the other beliefs often attributed to straight edge.

Then there comes the age old question – should straight edgers be proud of their lifestyle? There’s being subtle, and then there’s being hardline. Nobody likes a hardliner. Hardliners are the extremists of straight edge – militant about their beliefs and can be violent to those who don’t follow straight edge. On the one hand, hardliners are extremely proud of what they believe, and hey, shouldn’t everyone be? On the other hand, they’re more likely to punch you if you say you think straight edge is a ton of shit. Due to hardliners (amongst other things), a lot of stigma has been associated with straight edge, and a lot of the time, straight edgers are afraid to talk about their lifestyle. Again, it’s all down to choice. Do you risk being alienated or do you just keep your mouth shut? Then again, isn’t straight edge some kind of crazy stand against peer pressure? Although our generation has no idea about what it was like in the 80s, it’s been said that a lot of straight edgers back then took it up as a way of standing up against peer pressure to do things they didn’t want to do. This is even more relevant now, living in the ‘binge drinking’ culture that we seem to be at the moment.

So, stood at that party, poor boy/girl is wondering what to say… what is straight edge? Straight edge is a subculture. Straight edge is a term created by Minor Threat. Straight edge is a punk thing. But above all else, straight edge is a choice.

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