TIRED AND ANGRY, AND TIRED OF BEING ANGRY
15th August, 2020
Words by Maddie Rogers · Artwork by Daniela Loza
Going to and hosting shows has been a very life-giving experience, but it has also taken a lot from me
Note: This article will contain mentions of sexual assault, rape, and other forms of sexual abuse, so proceed with caution. I will use the term non-men to refer to non-cis men, to honor that trans and non-binary folks of all genders can experience the same abuse as cis-women at the hands of men / the patriarchy. This article references my experiences, as well as five interviews with non-male members of the Chicago DIY/music scene; many of them wished to remain anonymous.
This time last year, my roommates and I were in our first season of running shows at our apartment, a DIY venue in Chicago called The Litterbox. From May to October of 2019, we threw 14 shows, and hosted 49 bands, poets, and visual artists. A DIY venue ranges wildly in quality, taking place in someone’s garage, basement, living room, or in our case a backyard. At The Litterbox, attendees have to walk through our apartment to reach the outdoor show, so there is an intimacy and trust that arises between us and the attendees from the moment we open our doors. We work hard to make it feel closer to a venue then a DIY spot, with a myriad of talented sound engineers, bartenders and security. When we first started hosting shows, we dreamed a lot about what we wanted from the space. Obviously we wanted people to have fun, but more than that, we wanted to create a place where people felt respected, safe and represented. We wanted to create the kind of space we had never been able to attend before.
I don’t really know when it hit me that going to shows as a woman was inherently dangerous; I think I always felt it. There was always a sense that I was an uninvited guest in the boys’ club, and that the abusive behavior I witnessed from men was to be expected. A local musician I interviewed had similar feelings about their place in music: “Seeing live music/playing music has felt like my church but the actual structure of how these things come to be is what I’ve never felt compatible with. It’s always been distressing...There has always been something not right about the perception and treatment of non-men in these spaces. So, I can’t pinpoint really when I started calling it what it was: a deep sense of danger constantly bubbling below any feeling of bliss or enjoyment. The possibility of harm lingers in all situations.”
By now, you might have heard about Burger Records shutting down, due to allegations of abuse committed by both the management at Burger and the artists signed under the label. The label created a culture of institutionalized abuse, and Instagram emerged as a platform for accountability because it allowed for allegations of abuse to be raised, oftentimes anonymously. That, along with quarantine, has offered many survivors the chance to think about their traumas, mobilize together, and demand accountability. The brave people that came forward about Burger Records laid their traumas bare to the public not for a publicity stunt, but to point at something that feels so obvious: That abuse towards non-men in the music industry has always been there. For another member of the community, these revelations were not a surprise. “Hearing of a terrible thing that someone has done will almost never be hard for me to believe. I think it’s more of a feat to not let money, fame and power corrupt you than it is to allow oneself to succumb to it.” While we have made small steps to combat abuse in the music industry, we have not yet figured out how to make it stop. Trying to fight this kind of abuse by seeking retribution against individual perpetrators has not worked; it is not just Burger, or your rapist, or my rapist. It feels like fighting that monster from Hercules, Hydra: As a community, we continuously cut off heads only to find new ones growing in their place. It feels like we have spent so much time with the head-slicing thing in the hope that if we cut out as many abusers as possible, the abuse will stop. And while calling out and deplatforming is essential, I have been disheartened to see that the removal of abusive people does not solve the problem. I have been disheartened to realize that abusive people are made from abusive systems, and until we address the abusive systems, we will never live in a world without abuse.
I have been at the mercy of this culture for the last nine years. Going to and hosting shows has been a very life-giving experience, but it has also taken a lot from me. It feels wrong in some ways to write about abuse without proving to you that I have experienced the abuse I want to talk about (look, I have abuse cards! I can prove it!), but I decided that I did not want to fill pages with my experiences. Ultimately, I do not owe them to you, just as others do not owe them to me, and I do not believe this piece will benefit from me opening a very dark place in my heart where my most potent hurts, shames, fears and doubts live. All I can do is hope that you will trust me when I say I have been raped, gaslit, coerced, pressured, and othered by men in this industry and scene. All I can do is trust that you will consider how these experiences, many of which happened at a young and impressionable age, shaped the rest of my life.
This chapter of quarantine that involves calling out, accountability and social reform is a very different world than where we started in March. Back then, digital concerts and Facetime calls seemed to take the place of a whole host of social interactions that I had initially believed could only be carried out in person. I’m often anxious around others, so some parts of this came as a relief: Therapy became a phone call instead of a nervous ride to an office that makes me fidget and has unexplained photos of donuts on the wall (I’ve never asked and would like to keep it a mystery, thank you). No one was going out, so my FOMO levels were greatly diminished, and my social interactions felt like they were in my control in a way they never had before. And when I think of how anxiety-inducing it was to talk in person to the multiple men who abused me in the music scene, it seems only natural that many people did not come forward before our current format of online accountability, namely posting on Instagram. Conversations like that are traumatic, difficult, and rarely leave a survivor feeling fulfilled. But with the anonymity of Instagram, and the way the pandemic has given us a government-mandated distance that allows survivors space from the people that have hurt them, these conversations have now become less daunting. In quarantine, some survivors have had extended time to think about the abuse they have lived through, and our ability to support one another online has created the ultimate formula for a mass reckoning within the music industry. A member of the DIY scene reflected on this time, as well as how Instagram empowered her to come forward about the abuse she encountered. “I don’t think I would’ve gone public about my own story if I hadn’t had months to sit with myself and reflect on this... Instagram is the biggest platform for the scene, at least locally. So, I feel like it was only right that Instagram was the platform that these stories were shared.” Another member of the DIY scene had a different experience with sharing her stories: “When I have posted about it I get sick to my stomach… There is always an equal and opposite evil to all the loving comments that come with it… If someone feels empowered by speaking up I hope they hold it close, it’s a hard feeling to obtain.”
Post call-out brings a grey area for what is next, both for survivors and abusers. Whether the person called out is a close friend, a partner, or a distant musician that made you feel heard, we come to the moment of reckoning, of what’s next. The reality is that it’s not black and white, and the minefield of accountability and empathy and cancelling that we are entering now has never been more charged. There are a few pillars I have learned to follow in all of this, a few guidelines worth mentioning to understand where I am coming from: First, abuse in all forms - sexual, mental and physical - is bad! Always! Second, we should always believe survivors who come forward. Third, accountability is good. While the steps after accountability and cancelling aren’t always clear, the process of bringing someone to trial for things they chose to do is always good, even if the person is close to you. If someone’s life is negatively affected by their actions, if their career is ruined or they have lost trust and friendships and money and peace of mind, then they have still not lost anything close to what a survivor loses when they are abused. My assault cost me time and emotional space I will never get back, and forced me to reckon with how men close to me have caused other people the same harm that I have experienced, intentionally or not. The line I drew in the sand to separate the “good” and “bad” guys is made of just that: sand. It moves, it changes, it becomes invisible.
I believe that people are capable of reckoning with their actions after they have caused harm. I do not believe that this reckoning undoes any harm, nor do I believe this reckoning entitles someone to regain their platform. When you lose that, I believe you have permanently lost that. However, I do believe that once the accountability process has done its job, we will be left with two populations: The angry, defensive men who feel they have been wronged, and a second population of men genuinely grieving for the pain they inflicted and dedicated to understanding this harm in order to prevent it from happening again. But how do we decide what, if anything, demonstrates the proper amount of recognition from abusers of the harm they have caused? How do we decide what is enough accountability, enough of an investment in the process? For everyone, the answers to these questions are different. Many people would answer that they don’t care what happens to these people, and there is nothing anyone can do to demonstrate a real investment in the process of change. That when this kind of change is so internal, going to therapy and removing yourself from the scene is still not enough and we cannot prove that these actions mean anything. I can empathize; it is impossible to know when real change has happened. For survivors of abuse, wanting these abusers to be removed from the community for everyone’s safety and well-being is a fair request.
Survivors of abuse want different things, however, and we should focus our accountability and restorative justice practices based on the vast and dynamic needs of survivors. I am a survivor who does not feel our current system is working. I am a survivor who realizes that the steps after the call-out are difficult, and that it is hard to know if someone is really invested in changing, but I want to try. I want to try so we can be in a world where men’s instincts not to abuse are not based on the fear of being called out. I want men to want to be good because it's what they should be. I want to prioritize survivors first, but I also want to try to set up resources for people who have inflicted harm, so they can stop causing harm in the future. I think harm can be reduced only when more non-men are centered in the industry: in the lineups, the leadership, and the audience. Who you surround yourself with matters, and the more non-men that exist in these spaces, the easier it will be to hold men accountable. The demand of representation beyond being a token is not a sensitive, whiney, or soft request. This demand comes from a place of hoping that more representation of us in this industry will lead to less abuse, of knowing the talent we offer, and knowing that our current system is not working.
Supporting non cis-men does not mean we cannot continue to support cis-male fronted bands. If we see you, a cis man, as someone who supports us in the spaces you play and the way you carry yourself, you earn our trust and support. We do this with the trust that you will try as hard as humanly possible to not fuck it up. We also trust that if you do fuck up, you will tell us; you will not wait for us to get it out of you. You will not moonwalk away from your harm. You will stand and say “I did this. Even if I didn't mean to, I did. It hurt people; that was all me. I do not get to occupy this space anymore. I made a choice and choices have consequences, and you deserve better. I will try to make myself better, but what’s done is done.” No one needs defensive solidarity statements right now, men, dudes, guys and bros! Our culture needs proactive intervention. We need cis-men to talk to their fellow men about consent, boundaries, and their lack of friendships with non-men. We need cis-men to give up shows that have only cis-men on the lineup. We need cis-men to actively elevate non cis-male bands. We need cis-men to text their non cis-male friends to make sure they get home safe (and not falling asleep before they respond, you idiot). If you choose to open a DIY space as a cis-man, we need you to do everything in your power to make that space safe and accessible for non cis-men.
We are allowed to expect more from people: the people in the audience, our idols, our friends, and ourselves. Not only are we allowed to, but we must. The Litterbox primarily booked white men last year, despite being a space run by non-men. This happened because we as a culture have grown accustomed to the internal misogynist in our brain that tells us this is normal, inevitable, and that pushing ourselves past our immediate tastes and instincts is unnatural or risky. My co-producers and I did not put the effort in that we should have to book non-male bands, non-white bands; that was on us and us alone, because they are out there, and they are talented. Fighting this system will mean fighting our instincts of defensiveness; it is not enough to not know better. Quarantine has provided us all with a critical time to think about what we want the world to look like, and how we can be better allies to one another. My roommate Jackie, a co-producer for the Litterbox, has talked about this both in regard to the music industry and the world at large with our allyship: “I want everyone to feel safe in the scene. For me that’s making sure that women and most especially Black and non-white women (cis and trans) feel welcome, safe, encouraged, and supported. We have a long way to go to get there, but I hope this time of introspection is beneficial for white cis men to examine their privilege and generally for everyone in the scene to think about their role in either upholding oppressive systems or actively dismantling them. I think quarantine has taught us all that our behaviors can only fall into one of those two options.”
As Scawah Miller, another member of DIY community, pointed out, abuse is not limited to assault, and checking yourself as a man at all times is pivotal to creating a better environment for all non-men. “From the most seemingly insignificant actions or words to the most abusive ones, they are all contributing to that which makes non-men feel uncomfortable in a space that should belong to everyone.” None of us are removed from the process of accountability, and treating this process as an opportunity rather than a death sentence is one of the things we can do in preventing harm in the long run. We have not yet built the new system for what accountability looks like long term. It can feel easier to call someone out, pat ourselves on the back, and jump ship. But calling out is just the first step to building these systems, and without resources for survivors and continued accountability for abusers, the spaces we love will not change. Burger Records and individuals who inflict abuse are mere symptoms of a larger system, just one disposable head on the Hydra. For abuse to be prevented in the future, more representation of non-men is essential. It is a scary time of uncertainty, yet at the end of quarantine, both the folks I interviewed and I hope that this period will bring us into a better world. While it feels scary to watch your idols burn and the systems around us crumble, it also offers us a chance to make the world better. We will not know what all of this looks like until we try, until we strive for a scene and world where accountability is opportunity, where safety is the expectation, and where representation is essential.
Maddie Rogers is a photographer / writer / bookmaker currently based in Chicago. Through found objects, textures and experiences, she's interested in making the small things feel big and the big things feel small.
Daniela Loza is a 17-year-old, fat Mexican-American female artist living in Chicago. She explores he sexuality and imagination through crayon drawings, watercolor paintings, and paper mache sculptures.