When I was 15, I got into punk music. When I was the same age, I also had my first run-in with being sexually harassed in public. A strange man on the bus decided that it was a good idea to try to put his hand on my thigh, and I had wanted to kick his goddamn teeth in. I remember that I was listening to the Dead Kennedys when that incident happened, and the more uncomfortable I became sitting next to that man, the more I turned up the volume. The aggression of the music felt like wrapping myself in armor – and it comforted me when nothing else in that moment could.
But don’t get me wrong. I’m the farthest thing from a hardened punk. I’m shy, introverted, and cry easily at otter videos. I like having my hair stroked and apologize way too much. So why do I like punk music? Well, I guess what first attracted me to was the power I felt while listening to it; I felt untouchable each time I had my earphones blasting The Sex Pistols, and the music made me temporarily forget how I looked.
Self-confidence, and feeling powerful in my body, was always something that I’ve struggled with. I was molested as a child, and grew up with body dysmorphic disorder and other nasty things as a result, like Depression and PTSD. I never truly felt comfortable with my body, and feeling safe in it was an unheard of thing; so I shrank myself down as much as I could while growing up. I surrounded myself with toxic friendships because being submissive felt comfortable, and if you look at any of my family photos, you’d see a deeply sad child looking back at you. It was only years later, after I finally told someone what happened to me, that I realized how much body dysmorphia that I had been living with while undiagnosed.
For many years, I refused to have my photo taken, dressed in dark clothing three sizes too big, avoided the beach so no one would see me in a swimsuit, and constantly begged for reassurance... even if I didn’t believe the compliments that people told me. I walked with bad posture to make myself seem smaller, and as a teenager I once burst into tears after seeing myself in the mirror because I hated the girl in the reflection. I repulsed myself. There’s simply no better way to describe it. My self-esteem was cripplingly low, and I desperately wanted to be someone else: if I had the option of disappearing into the wall, I would’ve gladly taken it. For many years it was like there was a massive, neon sign above my head that constantly dictated how I should feel about myself...
and the sign read: “MY COUSIN RUINED MY BODY SO DON’T LOOK AT ME”.
I wholeheartedly believed that lie for most of my life, and it was only years later when my therapist told me that my body dysmorphia was linked to my assault that I gained clarity. Hearing those words was like pulling the sword from the stone, and from then on it all made sense. I had been hurt as a child by someone I trusted, and the only way I knew how to protect myself at the time was to hurt myself even more. Hating my body was the ultimate “protection”. No one could violate me if I violated myself worse. If I despised the way I looked, and constantly hated myself, then I was safe... that's what my brain had learned after being assaulted. I tricked myself into thinking that I would be safe from another assault if I tore my own body apart, and had been unknowingly internalizing my trauma for years.
I started getting into punk music when my self-confidence was at its lowest. It was uplifting to me when I heard the thrash of guitars and people screaming into microphones. Now they are powerful, I would think to myself. They stand up for what they believe in and take no shit. I looked up to all of the women with greasy hair and smeared eyeliner who sang about castrating their abusers. They didn’t care if people saw their cuts or their cellulite or their ripped fishnets, and would've stomped any man who dared to catcall them.
I was attracted to how unapologetic they were for being themselves: they didn’t apologize for existing like I constantly did. A lot of them had experienced sexual harassment, or assault, and weren't afraid to write songs about it. They were comfortable in their bodies. The punk community was inclusive, and welcomed everyone to release their frustrations. I became infatuated with the sense of fashion, the anti-racism, the ideologies, and the remorseless way that true punks kicked Nazi "punks" and skinheads to the curb. At age 15, I started listening to punk music while struggling to keep my head above water. When I was 20, I finally told someone about what happened to me as a child after hearing the song "Don't Tell Me What To Do" by Cerebral Ballzy. (yes, that's their real name.)
Today, at age 24, I take medication every day, go to therapy, and am no longer afraid to share my story - and with 100% certainty I can say that punk music was critical for any of those things to happen.
As I write this, I’m still learning how to be myself and not apologize for it. Kathleen Hanna is singing over my computer speakers and the sun is shining outside. It's springtime. The weather is gorgeous. I’m learning how to heal, and the work is hard, but that's okay. On days when loving myself seems impossible, I listen to punk music as loudly as I can. And on days when it feels easy, I make playlists of songs that helped me so others can listen to them, too.