If you know me professionally, or casually, you know that I am a feminist Bible scholar; I’ve been teaching, publishing and lecturing publically since 1998. I work primarily with post-structural criticism and gender theory. My work can be summed up as this: I want people to stop being ass hats. Specifically, I want people to stop using the Bible to justify being ass hats.
I chose to become an academic because 1) I didn’t want to get married (that seemed to be the only other choice when I graduated high school in East Tennessee); 2) I wanted to say “important things” and thought that if I had a degree from some “important” place, people might be more inclined to listen; 3) I wanted to keep learning yet still have a place to live, and above all, 4) I wanted to teach. But even though I have published books, published dozens of articles, lectured from California to South Africa, and taught a few thousand students, people are still acting like ass hats, and claiming that Jesus says it’s okay.
“Acting like ass hats” manifests itself in various ways: denying a person his or her civil rights because of race; denying a person her rights because of gender; denying people their rights (or inflicting violence upon them) because their lived gender doesn’t match their assigned gender, and on and on. In my academic world, I write and lecture to other academics; however, my colleagues are not ass hats, and I don’t need to persuade them of anything. They already know that racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia are cultural constructions, often justified through bad Bible interpretation. When I teach, I teach to liberate; I believe in my soul that education, and particularly an education in the Humanities, is the only lifeboat we have out of the muck. But frankly, the questions that we ask in the Humanities, questions like, “What does it mean to be human? What are our responsibilities to other people? Can we manifest a Just world, are all bodies equally entitled to that Justice, and what does that Justice look like?” are not questions many of my students take seriously. Oh, to be sure, some of them do take these questions very seriously, but many do not; and many, if not most of our local citizens do not. In fact, I find that the typical undergraduate student and my neighbors tend to believe that sexism and racism are things of the past, that trans people are just weird, and there are no trans people in Springfield, MO anyway. So, my question is, what else can I do? I teach, I lecture, I write. Nothing changes. The answer is, I play drums in a feminist punk/grunge band called C-Rex (Clitoris Rex).
Socially conscious punk music, like apocalyptic movements and mysticism, arises in times and places of perceived hopelessness. It is akin to apocalyptic movements that desperately declare- through incoherent language, ambiguous sexuality or gender presentation, and sometimes through violent imagery- that corrupt power must be destroyed so ‘the good’ can take its rightful place. Protest punk can parallel widespread eruptions of mystical experiences, in which a person seeks to erase every separation between the façade of humanity (or social construction) and the divine (that which may be apart from human control). Mystical experiences escape reason through any means necessary (pain, sex, drunkenness, starvation, etc.). The wild abandon of boundless, chaotic punk can ecstatically emerge when political, economic, and social processes stifle and oppose the equal allocation of Justice. Or, at least, it should.
As one might expect, the first public faces that emerged in the punk movement were women (The Slits, Patti Smith, Nina Hagen, e.g.) or gender-benders (New York Dolls, The Cramps, e.g.); thereafter, with the exception of a handful of female bands, political punk has been largely reproduced by white, straight, males to expose, ostensibly, issues like a loss of civil rights and economic crises (see the work of Raymond Patton) and racism (e.g., Apartheid era punk in Durban, South Africa, and the Two Tone [Ska Punk] movement in the UK). Simply put, punk has been integral at times in drawing attention to inequities. Yet, like any countercultural endeavor, it gets subsumed into the culture it opposes. The punk scene in Springfield, MO is largely non-political and is occupied by young, middle-class white men; I suspect this is true of similar cities across the US. And this brings me to my primary question: what situation would require a 50+ year old, middle-class, educated, white woman living in the Midwest (such as myself) to play shows in which performances begin at midnight, and we play and yell profanities, loudly, hard, with wild abandon to a throng of twenty-to-thirty-year-old white males (mostly) who are giving us the “punk salute?”
The situation is this:
1. In 2012, the Springfield, MO Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights brought a resolution that would add “sexual orientation and gender identity” as a protected class. The City Council collapsed in the face of evangelical pressure and tabled the proposal. The mayor appointed a special task force (with the inclusion of evangelical pastors) to review it. In Springfield, MO, still, you can be fired or denied housing for being gay or transgendered.
2. In Maryville, MO, a 14 year old high school student was raped by a high school senior, football hero. The community responded by burning her house down. All charges were dropped against the football player. Under the weight of public pressure, the family of the young girl moved away.
3. The Missouri House easily passes laws to require a woman to wait 72 hours to get an abortion, but just mentioning that a person should wait 72 hours to buy a gun will bring in the death threats. Women still endure male co-workers who cannot NOT put their hands on your shoulders to talk to you (my eyes are UP HERE); who ask why we are so angry all the time. There is much frustration. One friend asked, “How the hell are we ever supposed to address wage gaps and education issues when we can’t even walk down the effing street? Our seat under the table is so securely and systematically enforced because we get tied up in what should be basic issues- like, hey, don’t hit me, don’t rape me, let me have control of my own body.” Ass hats. But I digress…
Punk can subvert power, but in Springfield, MO, the punk arena is the realm of the cis-gendered, white male. He may be loud and he may be angry, but he’s not angry about the things that anger me. So this is where C-Rex comes in: (lyrics by Becca Doss, C-Rex, singer and guitar)
C-Rex response to Issue 1: “Christian Tourette’s”
Gotta love the sinner, but hate that sin
Easier to aim the stones at the ones who don’t fit in
Goin forth to the corners to spread the Good News
Condemn ‘em all to hell, it’s what Jesus would do
Cause Jesus loves me more than you
Look it up in the bible, you’ll see that it’s true
It’s our Christian duty to inform and persecute
Cause those f**kin faggots need to fear the goddamn truth!
On the corner our signs make it pretty clear
You can’t go to heaven if you’re a dirty queer!
Look for me tomorrow I’ll be back at the bar
(Cause its) Just As I Am, not as you are!!!
C-Rex response to Issue 2: “Asking For It”
(So you) legislate rape like you know what it means
So sure you’re the cure and not the disease.
One in every three by the time we’re 18?
(Musta) lost the f**kin aspirin pressed between our knees.
Every little girl who walks the streets alone,
Asking for it!
Every woman found living in a war zone
Asking for it!
Every soldier dares give you her salute
Askin for it!
Oh yeah you know she was asking for it too!
C-Rex Response to Issue 3: “Mr. White Haired White Man”
“Smile honey, what you so mad about any way?
Smile honey, bet I can make you smile, whatcha say?”
You’ll find it hard to believe. You self-enamored prick
But the key to my happiness, isn’t wrapped up in your dick
Yes, the lyrics are explicit and acerbic; the anger is real. Yet these passionate expressions are extensions of our work in the Humanities: we observe the world around us, we experience it, we determine whether it is a good one, and when it falls short, we expose it and try to transform it. Punk, at its best, is an uncompromising transformative endeavor; it ignores propriety, and leaves enemies in its wake. It thrashes its way through placatory and empty rhetoric and holds a mirror up to the bullshit. It is one of the last remaining strongholds for determined humanitarians, and is a welcome catharsis, perhaps a last resort, for this frustrated feminist.
Teresa Hornsby is a Professor of Religion at Drury University.