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August 16, 2007 11:01 PM   Subscribe

I work with a couple of 'staight-edge' kids- give me some smart background questions...

I would like to know a bit more about the culture they claim to be thier own so I can know where they are coming from since I am about to be their supervisor and would like to be respectful without being judgemental (as they claim their previous employers have been). And I am legitimately curious as well...
posted by MayNicholas to Work & Money (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For those, like me, confused about what this post is about, I think it's about this lifestyle. (Perhaps the link will help MayNicholas as well.)

That's about all I can contribute, as my entire knowledge of this comes from watching Big Love (and it was only in like one episode...)
posted by SuperNova at 11:06 PM on August 16, 2007

i was straight edge. although most stance is if youre not not, you never were, but whatever.

when i was sxe. i didnt drink, smoke, or do drugs, some people include no sleeping around, but not all. when i was straightedge, i didnt want it made a big deal. i didnt do it, but i didnt care if my friends did it, to each his own.

don't bother them with why, or when they are going to break edge, that was a seriously annoying question. they are in it for life, regardless if they actually do stay it for life, if you claim edge, you believe you will be it til you die.

so dont joke about it, its not funny, and if they do stop being edge, dont make a serious deal about it, also not funny.

i dont really know what you are asking here, but if you have some sort of specific question, i was edge for 8 or 9 years, so id be happy to answer.
posted by thisisnotkatrina at 11:12 PM on August 16, 2007

Straight-edge kids don't drink/smoke/do drugs and some schools of thought expand that to abstaining from pre-maritial sex/promiscuity. Most like punk rock or metal and wear black X's on the back of their hands done either with a sharpie or black electric tape.

That's what I've gathered from people I have met that claim to be straight-edge.

What they are probably asking for is that you not pester them about not drinking at social company events or assume that they are strict religious types.
posted by idiotfactory at 11:12 PM on August 16, 2007

Response by poster: I have discussed it with one of them, but his ideals made absolute sense in one conversation but completely contradicted himself in the next- I'm not looking for a fight- but I would like to have an intellegent conversation about the matter.
posted by MayNicholas at 11:15 PM on August 16, 2007

Response by poster: And as a side note- these guys love to discuss it as it is ' who they are'- so I would like to understand it more than the typical 'don't drink, don't smoke, don't do drugs, don't sleep around' stereotype. I am curious about the culture and why it gets such a bad wrap (all I have heard about is the violence associated with the culture).
posted by MayNicholas at 11:21 PM on August 16, 2007

Don't drink, don't smoke, don't fuck. At least I can still fucking think.
posted by doublesix at 11:23 PM on August 16, 2007

Among people I've known, the ones who feel most strongly about the straight-edge lifestyle are reacting against what they feel is the mainstream culture they're in (ie, especially if their parents or schoolmates do a lot of drinking or drugs). I think idiotfactory probably has the best approach: make it totally not an issue for them to avoid alcohol/drugs (and animal products if they're vegan) in the context of your supervision. That is, avoid "lighthearted teasing" about these issues, since they probably get tons of comments about it from people who think it's abnormal. You can imagine a high school where they would constantly get hassled about not drinking, or about dressing weird or whatever -- just giving them a space where they can be free of that kind of pressure might be the best thing you can do.

They may have contradictory ideals after all. Is your goal to help them sort out the contradictions? Approach with caution. It would be bad to get into a situation where you think you're having an open, intellectually challenging conversation about their ideals -- but they think you're just one more adult hectoring them about how their ideals are dumb.

(Unless I'm misunderstanding the situation, and they are actively seeking to talk to you about it.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:33 PM on August 16, 2007

This whole thing does strike me as ridiculously uptight. So, deal with them as you would with any other ridiculously uptight people: since they are kind enough to label their buttons in 72 point bolded underlined italicized red type, don't press those buttons.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:35 PM on August 16, 2007 [6 favorites]

these guys love to discuss it

Ah - should've previewed. Carry on.
The wikipedia article linked above gives some useful starting places for web searching. My sense of it is that as with any subculture, the most extreme elements are the ones people hear about. I've known a bunch of straight-edge people, none of whom were ever violent -- or would have even tolerated violence in others -- outside of dancing at shows.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:37 PM on August 16, 2007

i think you should ask them what they mean when they say it's "who they are". it's always interesting to ask people about their beliefs, what they stand for, and why they're attracted to it.

i know with straight edge kids, there are a number of reasons to why they're sxe. i'm straight edge because i'm into personal accountability/responsibility in a weird sense of penance. my straight edge coworker does so for completely different reasons - he likes the purity of body and mind in a judeo-christian sense.

as for the bad reputation for staight edge culture, there are a bunch of reasons. a lot of people get defensive when dealing with straight edge people because either insecure around people who don't drink/smoke/whatever, or they've had run ins with straight edge gangs. then there are the crews- gangs of straight edge people. a lot of the people who join these crews do so not because they're super committed to clean living, but because they want to belong. they're the types that will say, as thisisnotkatrina noted, "if you're not now, you never were." they may not really be able to articulate why they're straight edge. they may be hardline, which is stricter and usually the sect people associate violence. (hardline also demands you're a vegan.) not all hardliners are assholes, and there are still tons of straight edge kids who are jerks about it. the asshole types are the only people i will laugh at for drinking, especially ones with straight edge tattoos.

so yeah, ask them about personal responsibility and why they chose to be straight edge. it'd be interesting to see where the line of personal belief and doctrine lies.
posted by kendrak at 11:48 PM on August 16, 2007

Response by poster: I will honestly admit that half of this question is for a better work environment and the other half is for curiosity... but when asked they are always happy to pontificate (which is cool with me because I love to learn about ways of living other than my own-unfortunately theirs is always associated negatively)
posted by MayNicholas at 11:49 PM on August 16, 2007

Response by poster: kedrak- maybe you can help me with this one- why are they so physically explosive? When on down time they are always stomping around with the same physical moves- even when not together?
posted by MayNicholas at 11:54 PM on August 16, 2007

why are they so physically explosive?

MayNicholas, might that have something to do with the fact they're hormonally ramped up teenagers?

Correlation is not causation - aggressive and violent teenagers may be drawn to straight-edge because it gives them some type of chosen self-identity to compensate for whatever they see as lacking in their life. This theory would be the contradictory to the idea of someone choosing to be straight-edge and then having explosive tendencies develop because of some aspect of the adopted ethos.
posted by dendrite at 12:20 AM on August 17, 2007

Straight edge kids almost always fall into two camps:

Friendly, tolerant, positive people who don't do drugs, drink, etc.


Militant, intolerant, gang-like thugs who don't do drugs, drink, etc and will beat you up for doing so.

The former are a joy to be around, they don't let their beliefs interfere with their interpersonal relationships, and they're generally nice people.

The latter are way too uptight for anyone's own good, they're hard to get along with, and violent. They are literally like gang members who use what they don't do to define themselves.

Well, take this as you will. As always, my experiences won't necessarily line up with yours. See what you can learn from these kids and see if they bother trying to learn anything from you.
posted by knowles at 12:24 AM on August 17, 2007

err... "one of two camps".
posted by knowles at 12:24 AM on August 17, 2007

There are many people in the world who don't do drugs, drink or smoke. Many members of both the Math Team and the Chess Team at my high school were completely substance free. However these people are not "sxe". Straight edgers go to punk/metal shows, adorn themselves with X's, buttons and wristbands, and preach their creed to others at all costs.

I think more than a personal philosophy, straight edge culture arose out of the punk ethic of bucking the mainstream no matter what and the recently cool drugs, sex and rock and roll lifestyle was an easy target. Rebelling against the rebels somehow makes you an ultra-rebel. Now it also appeals to those who see their peers involved in hip-hop, rave, goth, or other youth subculture where drugs are common, again by rebelling against the other rebels. Because the logic is admittedly convoluted, constant preaching of the cause and explanation of why they are better than the other cool kids is necessary to assert their rebellion as superior to the others.
posted by sophist at 3:36 AM on August 17, 2007

i think you should ask them what they mean when they say it's "who they are". it's always interesting to ask people about their beliefs, what they stand for, and why they're attracted to it.

I agree with this. It seems like some of the straight edge kids I know have used to to define themselves, which isn't necessarily bad, lots of people identify with popular or subcultures as a way of feeling like they belong and having the ability to know they are a certain kind of person. Saying that being straight-edge is "who they are" means it is a really big deal to them, and the fact that other people have been judgmental in the past (I wonder why?) means they probably need someone to allow them to be open about discussing their choices, how it affects their lives, etc. Basically, what kendrak said.
posted by nuclear_soup at 6:10 AM on August 17, 2007

knowles nailed it. The east coast (and DC especially) has a pretty militant sxe community. I've heard of people getting beat up for smoking a cigarette outside a sxe show and the like.

If you want some great material to listen to on it (that's not music) Henry Rollins' later spoken word stuff deals somewhat with why he doesn't drink/smoke. Its an interesting perspective, but hard to convey without Rollins saying it (plus, its Rollins, so its funny to boot).
posted by devilsbrigade at 6:13 AM on August 17, 2007

It's actually a somewhat convoluted history. There's the kids that pull it from ancient punk history circa Minor Threat, with just don't drink, don't drug, don't smoke. Then there are others who add more don'ts and are usually channeling a vein that either started in the 80s and spilled over into the 90s with bands like Earth Crisis. They would often include veganism among their tenets.

In my circle none of the kids were violent, but we would always hear of scenes where kids got stabbed for not being straightedge (supposedly Utah was really violent).
posted by drezdn at 6:38 AM on August 17, 2007

The former supervisors likely did the typical faux-interested-in-your-"thing" discussion that generally ends with the BRILLIANT point of "well, young man, my grandmother doesn't do drugs or drink or sleep around, is shhheeee straight edge?! Har har. No, really, why do you need to be "Straight. Edge." to believe these things? This is really just a fashion statement, isn't it. Because I don't think grandma would dress like you! Har har."

Sophist's got the punk connection explained. I must say that witnessing the above scenario annoyed me even when directed at decidedly self-righteous and tiresome sxe kids. I've also known straight-edge who were decidedly more on the quiet-self-reliance end of the spectrum but appreciated the community to provide solidarity. And listen to kick-ass music.

/not sxe myself, in case that's not clear
posted by desuetude at 6:39 AM on August 17, 2007

his ideals made absolute sense in one conversation but completely contradicted himself in the next

It might help if you clarified what you found "contradictory" in his ideals. But contradictions in ideals are pretty common; I know very few people whose ideals are perfectly consistent.
posted by mediareport at 6:52 AM on August 17, 2007

Hi! I'm straightedge.

Please don't listen to all the scaremongering about straightedge thugs. They exist, but in much smaller numbers than people outside of the scene would have you believe. If you were dealing with them you'd know it already. (That concept of not letting a few fundamentalist weirdos speak for a whole group applies here just as much as it does elsewhere.)

For me, straightedge isn't really about being some "ultra-rebel" so much as it is realizing that the prescribed form of cultural rebellion (smoking, drugs, alcohol) has the effect of making me less able to make the positive changes that I'd like to make, so I've decided not to do it. That's all. Most of my friends aren't edge and never have been. Some of my friends have broken edge for whatever reason and we're still cool. I have no more problem with other people drinking or doing whatever they want with their bodies than you do.

That said, to have made it to my age without having broken edge is kind of a rarity these days and it may well be that your employees are just being trendy. It's been my experience that the kind of kids who are so gung-ho about straightedge as to let their boss know about it (unless it somehow relates to the job) are more into the carrying the external trappings of straightedge and looking all edgy and anti than actually subscribing to the philosophy, because that kind of thing just isn't sustainable for the long term. If that's the case, you have my blessing to regard this as any other trend that befalls teenagers: outwardly accepting but secretly bemused. Don't hassle them about not drinking or make a big deal out of it, but don't feel as though you need to take any crap from them either. If they do turn out to be the odd douches who bug you about drinking (or whatever), a simple "I accept your lifestyle, please be accepting of mine" ought to be enough.

why are they so physically explosive?

You mean they're floorpunching on their breaks or something? Yeah, that has nothing to do with being straightedge. That's... kind of weird. And as dendrite says, it's probably more of an "energetic kid" thing. And to expand on that point, try not to pigeonhole them - they're just kids who happen not to drink, and whatever they do is more a function of who they are, not what they are.

Hope that helps - email's in profile if you have any other questions.
posted by AV at 7:01 AM on August 17, 2007 [4 favorites]

I have discussed it with one of them, but his ideals made absolute sense in one conversation but completely contradicted himself in the next- I'm not looking for a fight- but I would like to have an intellegent conversation about the matter.

Well, with young people this isn't that surprising. In fact I think if you took most people out and made them spell out what they believed in you'd find some contradictions, so I'd leave this alone, like totally alone, while you get to know the people you will be supervising.

I hung out with a lot of straight edge kids in high school and early college and the violence thing wasn't something I ever saw. It was mostly a punk ethic -- with the migration drezdn talks about -- and a lot of refusal to do a lot of the stupid teen things that other high school kids were doing (aka smoking/drinking whatever).

That said, I feel like desuetude's description matches most of my recollections of older people trying to sort of get inside the heads of my friends and me. It was a lot of "so let me understand this..." followed by a whole bunch of borderline ridicule in a somewhat "you're not so special, you just THINK you're special" vein. I htink an important part of not being judgmental of these people you'll be working with is just not spending a lot of time trying to poke holes in whatever their belief system is (think about whether you'd enjoy that, esp if you're a church-goer, vegetarian or other more "normal" belief system) and focus on how to interact at work. So things like smoking and drinking, if they intract with the worklife of these people, might matter.

The anger is a totally side issue and needs to be dealt with separately. If they're telling you they're angry because they're straight-edge and you just need to deal with it because that's "who they ar" I think it's reasonable to talk to them about appropriate workplace behavior, etc.

So, starting with lines like "theirs is always associated negatively" and "the culture they claim to be thier own" isn't really putting your best foot forward in this way. They don't claim it anymore than you might "claim" to be a Democrat. That's just who they are right now. They don't "claim" to be straight edge, they just are. Respect that it's their belief system, whether it's a long-term one, a current fancy or someplace in-between and get to know them and how their beliefs affect how they act in the workplace and how you work with them as a supervisor. The fact that straight edge is based somewhat on a culture of denial doesn't mean that it's not "for" anything it just means that when some random person asks you for the defining chanracteristics of it, those are the first that easily spring to mind.

If I were you I'd drop AV or thisisnotkatrina a line and get a little bit more in-depth on this topic with people on the inside of it to help you understand this from more of a personal perspective and less of a wikipedia one.
posted by jessamyn at 7:48 AM on August 17, 2007

also sXe here, for 20 years or so now.
for the 1st 5 or so years i knew no one else who was straight edge but a lot of friends who did every drug they could find from nitrous to robotussin to cocaine to freon, so i was around drugs and alcohol a lot. and of course there is the peer pressure to do stuff too, so i had to really be determined and resolute in my beliefs to not do it. which made me more annoyed when people asked me about it, because i knew the reasoning i gave was not that solid, basically "because i don't have a desire to do that stuff." or else i would recite the stuff i had read or heard from others, not wanting to poison my body and mind, etc.
as time went on and i become more comfortable with myself and my decisions, i was able to be more honest about my reasons, partly i really did not want to do it, a bigger part there is a lot of alcoholism in my family and even more that i like to be in control of myself. it is a personal decision though and i never felt better than anyone else because of it. i feel like that is a big part of why people get all inquisitive and slowly turn more mocking and arrogent about their own choices to drink and smoke and so on, society portrays them as "bad" and "rebelious" and so on and thus people who don't do them are goody two shoes or somehow above all of that, which is not the case.

anyway, if i were in their place, i would enjoy discussing it, as it is a big part of what makes them unique in their eyes. but i would want the other person to be respectful of my decision and not push it too too much. it can be harder to explain why you DON'T do and have never done something that most people deem enjoyable than it is to say "i do it because it is fun" or "it makes me feel good" or whatever. my reasons for not doing that "fun" stuff are not as simple as because the avoidance is fun.
i would try to get them to make you a cd or something perhaps. or inquire how they feel about people who DO drink and/or smoke, and also of sXe's violent reputation.

i am guessing that the aggression you speak of is more them practicing their moshing moves, which can be quite a thing in the sXe community. there are practically dance-offs at many hardcore shows. if you can jump high and well and swing your arms and legs in the correct manner you will be more respected in a way.

any questions or anything, feel free to contact me also.
posted by annoyance at 8:28 AM on August 17, 2007

I was straightedge/punk as a teenager. I don't self-identify that way any longer although I still live my life in what I believe to be a straightedge fashion.

In high school and early college, I didn't smoke, drink, do drugs or eat meat and I listened to a lot of straightedge and hardcore music - but those were things I was doing any way. What I needed, and what I, and perhaps these other young people have found in the label "Straightedge" was a way to codify the beliefs underlining my decision to refrain, to behave in a way that was rebelling against my peers, who thought they were rebelling against society. This is my understanding of the original intent, as envisioned by Minor Threat - to stand up against those activities that people fall into when they want to be social rebels, but that in the end control them more that "The Man" ever could.

Don't smoke,
Don't drink,
Don't f**k,
At least I can f**king think

The term "straight edge" means, at least to me, the rules of conduct that I hold myself to: treat myself and others well by not abusing my mind or body with meaningless excess. It was a way to say I actively chose not to follow the herd, and to love myself enough not to do things I don't believe in. I think at its core straightedge is a very self-positive, people-positive way to exist - to believe you have the right to make choices for your own life in a deliberate and purposeful way. I chose to not partake at all in drugs or booze during that time of my life when I felt it would overwhelm me and my sense of self. My straightedge friends, some of whom I am still close to today, had their own variations on what substances they allowed into their lives, but the focus was always on being in control, in being mentally, physically, emotional healthy.

Sometimes though people are just looking to place an "Us vs. Them" line anywhere they can, and some people find it in straightedge. Some then chose to behave disrespectfully, even violently towards those who do smoke, drink etc. which is troubling because to me because it's just trading one set of groupthink for another, which is just about as far from straightedge as you can get. However, I think other posters have given you reasonable explainatins for the physicality you see in this particular group. Just because the straightedge culture has the very unfortunate reputation of having violent members, that doesn't mean that these aren't just hormonal, active people who happen to also be straightedge.

As far as your questions regarding their beliefs and behavior, I completely agree with AV's third paragraph that some straightedgers are really in it for the look, for the trappings of a community and a place to belong. We are all so anxious to define ourselves somehow, especially as young people that when we find something we can be comfortable with we can be pretty damn screechy about it once we've latched on. That's why these young people you work with are so anxious to talk about it - they want to define themselves and get a feel for whether they'll need to make that definition include "Not my boss."

Even though I've taken some of those straightedge beliefs with me in to adulthood, I certainly don't dress the same way or listen to the same music or need to pontificate about my awesomeness to the world at large. That doesn't mean I didn't need to go through that stage of trying on different identities, of going to extremes, of crying out "This is who I am and I'm different." I think it something every one goes through, whether it's being vegetarian, or goth, or being more/less religious than our parents, etc etc.

I think both jessamyn and desuetude really capture well how I would have reacted to a person not of my generation, or at least outside my youth headspace, getting all up in my face about the identity I was clinging to at the time. Jessamyn especially gives good ideas on how you can be understanding without being condescending. Good on you for being open to others' ways of being, and wanting to interact with them in a positive way. I hope we've given you some insight!
posted by nelleish at 9:02 AM on August 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

It should be clear from the variety of responses here that being straightedge means different things to different people at different times. I've never seen any of the violence other people are talking about and I grew up in DC. My friends and I were self-consciously non-violent, as was the majority of the DC straightedge scene, which included social service organizations like Positive Force DC. For most, but not all, of my straight edge friends it also meant being being a vegan. We did listen to really loud music, though, so I guess I can understand why some folks would worry.

I'm not a straight edge now, but when people ask me about the x tattooed on the back of my hand I say something along the lines of: I grew up in DC where there was a pretty big punk scene. After a couple of people died of drug overdoses, and some confrontations with police and stuff, some folks started to think that drinking and drugs were starting to take a little too much focus from having fun. So they decided to not get involved in that stuff. They would put a black x on the back of their hands because that way they could get into bars to see bands play even if they were underage.

It's a simplistic response, but acceptably captures my motivations and those of most of my friends, without getting into internecine squabbling about who is more straight edge than who and which of your favorite bands sucks.
posted by OmieWise at 10:16 AM on August 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

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