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what is straight edge - frequently asked questions

sXe f.a.q. - version 2.0 - updated on the 8th of february 2001.
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What exactely does Straight Edge mean in it’s original definition?

-no consume of alcohol, no consume of tabacco and renunciation of any other
drug
-no promiscuity (= sex with often changing partners)
As an addition the majority of Straight Edgers started to feed
themselves vegetarian or even vegan. Especially in Europe you will only
find few Straight Edgers who are not nourishing themselves
vegetarian or even vegan, the Straight Edge lifestyle normally makes people
turn away quite fast from a meat based diet.

Where does Straight Edge come from?

Late 70ies, USA, Washington D.C. - the local punk scene is bigger than ever, but as time goes by many punks just turn into weird dressed colourful junkies. Normal shows can only be accessed from people older than
21 years to protect minors from the dangers of alcohol abuse. The only
exception are so called “all ages” shows. At these shows minors will receive
an X on the back of their hands, painted with a black magic marker, to exclude them from
getting alcohol (through this X they could easily be identified as minors at the
counter).

Some of the teens were quite unsatisfied with the way the scene developed
back then, with all its drug abuse and slogans like “no future”,
therefore they took the initiative and founded their own bands, wrote their
own lyrics against drug abuse and the resulting lethargy. They started
to preach other ideals which were much more constructive than the average
punk bands message back then. At that time the hardcore scene was born
out of the cornerstones of the punk scene.
Some punk ideas lived on in hardcore, for example the diy ethic (do it
yourself), some politic ideals and independence, but all the cynic and
destructive elements were replaced by way more positive messages.
One of these lyrics was giving a whole sub culture its name:



"Straight Edge", 1981

I'm a person just like you
But I've got better things to do
Than sit around and fuck my head
Hang out with the living dead
Snort white shit up my nose
Pass out at the shows
I don't even think about speed
That's something I just don't need
I've got the straight edge
I'm a person just like you
But I've got better things to do
Than sit around and smoke dope
'Cause I know I can cope
Laugh at the thought of eating ludes
Laugh at the thought of sniffing glue
Always gonna keep in touch
Never want to use a crutch
I've got the straight edge

While Minor Threat became more popular many older punks began to paint the X
which was known from all ages shows on their hands to declare their
solidarity with the younger kids and to give up alcohol and drugs with them
together - the whole movement had its sign from that time on. (Note: Even when
most people think that Minor Threat are the founders of the straight edge
philosophy some others believe that the band Teen Idles, something like a
pre-Minor Threat band, expressed these thoughts first without getting so
popular with it).
Within the next years Straigt Edge bands were founded all over the USA,
shortly after that the idea received more attention in Europe and found the
first followers (Benelux countries, Germany and southern Europe first).

Where does the name “Straight Edge” come from (often abridged: sXe, SE, XXX…)?

Well, it is almost impossible to give a secured answer on this topic,
therefore we’ll keep it short: Allegedly the drummer of the aformentioned
band (who was one of the first people to preach a drugfree lifestyle)
designed a poster for one of their shows for which he took a ruler. After he
had drawn a right ankle (or straight edge) on the poster he declared this as
a symbol for their new born lifestyle. After that the lyrics to straight
edge were written, at least that’s what the legend says… As mentioned above
noone will ever find out the truth about this, another story says that he
drew nothing but a straight line, and that this was the reason for calling
it straight edge…

Where do all these „rules“ about straight edge come from?

The basic principles were defined through a songtext while all the other
facettes that straight edge stands for nowadays are a development from many
years from many scenes from all parts of the world:


Out of Step (with the world), 1981

Don't smoke
Don't drink
Don't fuck
At least I can fucking think
I can't keep up
Can't keep up
Can't keep up
Out of step with the world

These principles simply stand for respect for your own mind and body as well
as for the opposite sex and your fellows.
Songwriter Ian McKaye was not thinking about some strict set of rules to
create more healthy humans who feel as something special, these principles
should not exist to end in yourself (note: the editor of these lyrics
probably never thought about starting some youth subculture, because nobody
could imagine to start something like this with his own personal opinion…).
On the contrary of this - a clear mind should allow humans to perceive the
world around them better and to recognice and to fight against deplorable
states of affairs in their social surroundings. This can be of ethic-moral,
ecologic or politic nature or can simply include problems from your very own
personal surroundings.

To broaden your horizon on this set of rules and to use your head is the
task for every straight edger. There is no sxe-legislative that sets rules,
everyone is creating his own rules, of course without ever loosing sight on
the basic principles. (also see below: personal widenings)

Some of the most common misunderstandings about Straight Edge:

Although the majority of all straight edgers is nourishing themselves at
least vegetarian in the meantime, which is something very desirable but still not imperative. The original meaning of the concept as it was formed
beginning / middle 80ies was only relating to a life without drugs and the
renunciation on sex with often changing partners, but:
- Straight Edgers are not giving up sex. The only thing that is disapproved
is promiscuity (=sex with frequently changing partners, the “follow your
dick around” thing, that typical college behaviour: "who is getting the most
girls?")
- straight edge itself has nothing to do with intolerance or violence against people thinking different

Is Straight Edge = Drug Free?

Yes and No! If you take the definition given above it should be clear that
beeing straight edge includes a drugfree living, but: In the USA the word
“drugfree” has another meaning, sometimes people who consume beer or
cigarettes call themselves drugfree, only because they have
nothing to do with hard drugs like cocain, speed or heroin. Tabacco and beer are
no drugs after this definition. Of course this view on the straight edge
idea is kind of half-hearted and almost wrong. Every Straight Edger is
living drug free but not every person who lives drug free is serious
about this and lives straight edge. But drug free patches and stickers stand
at least here in Europe for the right thing, you will find the difference
here only seldom, and that is a good thing…

How popular is Straight Edge?

The popularity of straight edge is always swaying, as well as the activity
within the hc scene itself (on which the straight edge idea is
(unfortunately) still limited). While there was a definitive high in the
activity of the scene as well as for straight edge in New York City in 1988
people disagree today if straight edge is getting more popular, if its
popularity decreases or if it stayed almost the same for the last 20 years.
Sometime you can recognize regional motions:
- While Straight Edge was really popular in the US in the middle of the
90ies (e.g. Earth Crisis gave interviews on MTV, many so-called lifestyle
magazines published (often bad) reports) you can notice a similar
development in Europe in the last 2 years. The scene is more active again,
and the media started to find interest in this topic. But the results were quite
sad here as well most of the time…
- In the USA the actions within the scene around Salt like city (one of the
cities near the most active area of the Mormons (is that a coincident?))
obtained some sad fame, the kids over there took the straight edge ideal
over the top and received much attention through actions like Xes carved
into the back of non-straight edgers with a broken bottle, some kind of
gang-mentality and the violence resulting of this. Of course this was exactely what the media was waiting for... Luckily excesses of this kind remained exceptions, after
many ups and downs the popularity and the activity within and outside of the
scene is somehow regulating itself.

How and why do I become Straight Edge and how long should I stay Straight
Edge?

- How: This is no club and no political party where you have to join, a
simple decision if you are willing to accept the ideals should be enough to
call yourself straight edge. Of course it would not be a good idea to show
up the next day with drugfree patches everywhere and to preach the truth to
all who are unworthy, this is not looking very convincing. Take your time
while you discover beeing straight edge. Often exactly the people who are
digging in it that fast are the ones who are gone first.
- The reasons for becoming straight edge are already discussed above:
Obtaining self control, take more consideration on your surrounding, bail
out of the normal way of life, people in your personal / familiar
surrounding who you want to keep on distance are only some reasons. This
list could be enlarged as you like, many ideals of straight edge are really
desirable. Everyone should discover this for himself…

How long should I stay straight edge?

Well, the decision to become Straight Edge should normally last a
whole life, at least that would be the ideal case. In reality people often
turn away after some years beeing straight edge while new faces show
up, only few remain as stable as it should be. It is not excluded that you
find again to straight edge after you once “lost the edge”, it may be that
you are even more stable then, but: Normally you should not let it come
this far…

What means „personal widenings“ of the original idea of Straight Edge?

As written above the exact definition of what straight edge is and means to
people differs from individual to individual. While the foundation always
stays the same every straight edger discovers some details over the time
that are important for himself beeing straight edge. Hardline (see below) was
only a small part of this, and it was already one of the major modifications
that could be found. In the USA for some straight edgers strict continence
is the last consequence in becoming straight edge, but this is only a small
minority. Often these modifications of and additions to the straight edge
idea are causing some turmoil, some agree, some disagree and other are
revolting against it.
You may also meet straight edgers who are claiming that their life is
affected by straight edge almost everywhere, e.g. I once met a person who
told me that he was showing more consideration in road traffic after
becoming straight edge. Of course straight edge influences your
relations to other people, at least at most straight edgers, some others take
it that far that they feel their life in school or in their job changed to the
better. As mentioned above, the line where these personal aspects of
straight edge begin and where they stop should be discovered by everyone
himself, discussing this topic would be superflous and almost philosophic,
everyone should discover for himself how far straight edge affects his life.
Only the foundations should be the same.

A few details from from the history of Straight Edge:

Over the years STRAIGHT EDGE developed many varieties that were sometimes
very different from the original idea:

HARDLINE:

One of most discussed and most controverse splinter ideas of straight edge
is probably the HARDLINE-thought that is besides dealing with a sometimes
militant anti-drug position and the equally militant animal-welfare
spreading an anti-abortion message. Through many actions, from which most took
place in north america, these people received some headlines. Besides the at some
places welcome militant anti drugs / animal rights position the abortion
aspect is one of the most discussed topic within the whole HC scene, especially at
the beginning / middle of the 90ies it was responsible for some serious
division within the scene between pro lifers (against abortion) and pro
choicers (for the right of the woman to decide over her own body). To get
deeper into this very complex subject would be too much for this room…

KRISHNA:

At the beginning of the 90ies a whole wave of Krishna HC bands came over to
Europe which was able to win a considerable following. In the centre of this
idea stood a label (Equal Vision) and the band from a former straight edge
allstar, Shelter, with its frontman Ray Cappo (Youth of Today), who were
preaching the ideals of the Krishna religion besides their still present
straight edge ideals. It was quite simple to arrange the characteristic
features of this religion (e.g. the vegetarian food is one of the main
ideas) with the drug- and promiscuity-free ideals of straight edge. But after
some time it was clear that this movement was rather shortliving and that
the majority of the people noticed that it was quite difficult to put
straight edge / hardcore / punk together with the conditions of living as a
religious person…

CHRISTIANITY:

Well, but not at all, because in the middle of the 90ies there was another
strange thing happening: Straight edge was suddenly connected to
christianity, this time a remarkable number of christians went to adapt the
straight edge and hardcore idea. Again the center of this movement was a
label (Tooth & Nail), again this idea had its origins and again it was over
(at least as a scene that developed in a noticable way) quite fast.
People from “the outside world” often say that straight edge itself has some
of the structures an organized religion has. It is easy to contradict those
people, perhaps there are some religious straight edgers and maybe you can
find some philosophies of some religions in straight edge (see above), but the
straight edge idea itself is still not having similar structures like an
organized religion, there is no church and nothing like the bible to refer
to. (To think further about lyrics = bibletexts / and concerts = divine service
which was tried many times before would again be too much for this here..).
Furthermore you should never forget the atheistic ideals the hardcore scene
took from the punk scene in its beginning, but however, there are always
exceptions.

 

Are there nazi straight edgers?

Every now and then, every good cause gets abducted by morons who would like to take a peaceful idea to radical proportions, trying to promote ideas that couldn´t be more contrary. There have been isolated incididents of individuals trying to link the straight edge to right wing ideology. However, if you carefully examine any of those attempts, you will find that any source, particulary websites, promoting such a mix will rarely feature a proper imprint or any contact information at all. Any band claiming such philosophy would have an extremely hard time to get any stage time outside events that are intended for a racist audience anyway. Compare it to entering stage on a Quaker-Festival and announcing your invention of "quake edge", you would hardly find anyone protesting. It is safe to say that any attempt to put the straight edge, the hardcore scene or punk itself in the wrong corner usually results in very strong reactions from the community.

straight edge was spawned by a leftwing subculture called hardcore punk, straight edge itself is political, considering that any action you take to improve yourself and your surrondings is an act of politics. straight edge is about positive, non violent improvement, which of course also embraces cultural and ethnical diversity. Considering this, you might as well think of "right wing straight edge" as an ongoing running gag.

Where can I learn more about Straight Edge?

Besides the fanzines that are published all over the world the internet (you guessed it) is one of the best ressources if you wanna know more about straight edge. Every search engine, be it national or international, will give you uncountable links to related sites (onlinezines, labels, bands, personal sites…) on which you can find even more links. Sometimes the usenet is helpful, too, e.g. alt.punk.straight-edge, alt.music.hardcore or alt.lifestyle.substance-free to name but a few are places where this topic is dicussed quite often. But remember: A good records collection is always the best foundation for your knowledge…