Editor’s note: Support Boston is a collective that grew out of 2012’s Smash It Dead Fest. In their own words, the collective is made of “survivors and allies who are working together to provide resources for those affected by sexual assault, abuse and intimate partner violence mainly (but not exclusively) within the punk and radical communities in the greater Boston area.” On Sunday, March 30, Support Boston will present a workshop titled “Safer Spaces, Safer Shows” as part of Smash It Dead Fest. For this issue, we asked the Support Boston collective to reflect on why safer show spaces matter.
The desire to make shows safer for survivors was a huge part of why Support Boston was formed. Many of the folks in our collective have dealt with seeing their own abusers at shows in the past, or have even experienced that abuse and harassment at the very shows we attend. We wanted to examine the ways in which we could confront this type of behavior, regardless of the venue we are at. We are used to talking about why it matters to us on a personal level, but we think it’s equally important to share these ideas in writing, as well as at our workshop on Sunday, March 30.
When initiating discussions about safe(r) spaces, we often ask ourselves and others these questions: What spaces do we feel safe in? What makes us feel welcomed in those spaces? Who do we most often see at shows?
There are many factors that allow a person to feel comfortable at a particular venue, or in any crowd of people. The vibe can change drastically for many women and people of color when our identities are not reflected by those playing in bands or even attending shows. Punk has not always felt like it was our space to exist in. This has made it that much more difficult to feel confident about speaking out against the abuse and trauma we experience.
It is, therefore, no coincidence to us that intimate violence and other forms of trauma are inflicted upon women, folks of color, trans*, queer, and non-binary folks at alarming rates. (According to BARCC’s LGBT Individuals report, “a recent study of 103 transgender women in Massachusetts found that approximately 60% of the respondents have been raped and 38% had been subject to multiple incidents of sexual assault.”) If we want to combat this tendency towards violence, we must center the voices of those most affected by it and continue the conversation about what makes shows more welcoming to us.
We are drawn to punk for a variety of reasons: alienation, curiosity, the desire for a community that understands us. If many of our experiences involve violence and trauma, we must address those narratives. If we’re truly honest with ourselves and each other about our stories and our needs, we can then create spaces that foster dialogue, honesty, and support.
Last summer we were asked to lead a workshop at FMLY Fest on this very topic. Following the workshop, some folks asked one of our members whether or not posting about safe(r) spaces online or even on a physical wall would really “make a difference.” It’s a frustrating, but not uncommon, question we often hear. We recognize that putting up a sign or a list of definitions isn't going to change things overnight, but those signs and lists help foster discussions. These are the first steps that encourage people make changes in their behaviors. Inviting people to talk about their needs and experiences is, therefore, extremely productive.
Smash It Dead Fest has given space to those who have, for so long, lacked or been denied representation. By highlighting bands with women, folks of color, trans*, queer, and non-binary members, the fest challenges notions of what typical punk shows are. Granted, it has been, and still is, a learning process. But at the end of the day, it’s important to have discussions about safe(r) spaces because it's an opportunity to learn. We know that most of a scene's problems won’t be magically fixed with a single workshop or article, but it's the conversations that happen after the fact between friends and smaller groups that make the real difference. When these conversations happen, the ability to create safer show spaces and forge genuine connections with each other becomes a greater reality.