An open letter to the guy who said he’d give me a free tee shirt if I showed him my boobs at my show in Denver, Colorado on Sunday, July 22.
(Also an open letter to those who ask, “Why would you even let that bother you?”)
I don’t let just anything bother me. I, like most women, get verbally harassed every day, by individual people, society and the media. It is part of being a woman. It’s just the truth.
So, let’s not get all up in arms about me being on my period or overly emotional or (dare I say it) hysterical. And for the record I was on my period when I played this show, in case you wanted to know. I can bleed while I shred, thank you very much.
See, I get to choose.
I choose what bounces off my armor and what gets under my skin.
I choose what I let bother me.
It bothers me because I traveled 1,168.7 miles to play at Bar Bar, a wonderfully divey institution built in the 1940s, before all the big modern buildings tried to swallow it up. It bothers me because I found this place fascinating, and I felt, instantly, like I was adding to that rich, weird lore just by being there. A girl with her guitar and her go go boots and her band.
It bothers me because I was the only female on the bill.
It bothers me because there were only four women in the audience, one trans woman, and one appeared to be high on drugs (she kept nodding off). It bothers me that I was worried for both women even before I even played.
It bothers me because when I walked in, I had already decided that I would not feel intimidated. Not about my musicianship or my style or performance. Not about being the only female on the bill, nor about playing a very different style of music than the other bands (i.e. not aggressive metal).
It bothers me that I had already resigned myself to the fact that, simply by playing my songs, which are mostly written about women, from a female perspective, that I might be publicly or privately ridiculed (I am literally lightyears past caring about this at all, but I am sometimes caught of gaurd).
It bothers me because my band’s logo was projected proudly on the wall like a welcome sign and my heart felt optimistic and happy on our last night of this wild, tiring tour. It bothers me because I already felt victorious, like hitting the last lap of a race. Like I had come here to do something, and now all I had to do was do what I was born to do.
It bothers me because I embarked on this tour without my regular drummer, without a dedicated tour vehicle, without a dedicated place to stay, and very little money.
It bothers me because I had to scramble to even make the tour work at all, a somewhat doomed trip that I had booked four months prior and had hung a week of my life on. Things beyond my control had happened that had jeopardized every aspect of my ability to be here at this dingy little bar, to be able to share my humble story through song and strum.
It bothers me because my band had to rely on the kindness of friends, acquaintances, family, and straight-up strangers to make every single show of the tour happen (I am not joking). Not that it bothers me that we had to rely on these good and kind people, but it bothers me that these people were so incredibly good, and so incredibly kind—and it sucks to realize that, by contrast, not all people are so good and kind.
It bothers me that we’d had an exciting yet extremely grueling week; the shows had many high points but it was also a week of shit-storms: there was some low attendance, constant 90+ degree weather, an emotional meltdown on my part, and daily stress of being in a new city without a place to stash our suitcases, merch, or limited gear. We had only practiced with our temp drummer twice ever before embarking on this trip, and it added to some mental drama, although he did an amazing job and killed it. Then there was the waiting. Because we did not have a home base, we would sit in one place, like a brewery, for hours with every bit of our stuff until our load-in time (usually 7 p.m.), then take an Uber to the gig and scramble for the missing gear we needed. Every night, we would stay up into the wee hours to get paid, then try to get some sleep before having to find a new place to exist for several more hours before our next show.
It bothers me because much of the needed gear we did use on the road was borrowed, and so many had been so kind to us before this night, and even during that night in Denver. And it bothers me that my memory of this kindness is now somehow tarnished by one bad apple.
It bothers me because—as it suddenly started to downpour (hard and fast), you came up to me and said I should talk with your drummer about borrowing gear. Your drummer was kind enough to offer us his drum kit. It bothers me because we braved the rain to retrieve all the pieces in time for us to open the show, and he set the entire kit up for our stand-in drummer. Another guitarist allowed me to use his amp. It bothers me that I had this overwhelming sense that people are good and kind and I belonged here. That I was somehow one of you.
It bothers me because I felt like we were all watching out for each other, and I thought about how silly I had been to have ever felt intimidated by playing a dude-centric metal show. It bothers me because I felt like we were all in this together.
It bothers me because, as the only female in my previous punk band, and often the only female on the bill for many shows, I had shared the stage with so many dudes, and great dudes at that. Those dudes include: Jello Biafra, FLAG, Weirdos, Adolescents, 7 Seconds, Agent Orange and so many more (many of whom I admired so very much as a young girl learning guitar at 13). None of these dudes ever made me feel like I was less than for being the only woman on stage. I was in my early 20s then, and I was never treated like anything less than a guitarist and a fellow musician. Of course, there were some shitty exceptions, but—like I said before—I choose what I allow to bother me.
It bothers me because you stood right up front, maybe five feet from me, while I played and sweated and sang, and you smiled the whole time I played and swished your long hair. It bothers me because I assumed that you had enjoyed yourself and I concluded that you had at least liked/and/or respected my music and/or respected me as a human being trying to exist and make art in this world.
It bothers me that the band before us had songs like “Right Wing Death Squad” and talked about being “on the side of America," yet no one said anything about what this really meant, even when the band spelled out exactly what this really meant.
It bothers me that the girl on drugs who bought my t-shirt immediately forgot who I was. It bothered me that said she was traveling alone and would not commit to getting a ride with us later.
It bothers me that, at the merch table after my set, you said you liked my band and were full of congratulatory words. It bothers me that this made me proud. Again, it bothers me that I thought I was “in.” Not just a girl with a guitar and her go go boots, but a musician. It bothers me that I sold merch to your friends and the people in your scene (all of whom were super nice). None of them made me feel less than.
So why did you have to ruin it all?
It bothers me that you said I reminded you of Viagra. It bothers me that I gave you the benefit of the doubt, because I assumed you were not used to talking to girls and you also seemed socially awkward.
It bothers me that you apologized for “what I might think that meant,” staying you meant “the retro Viagra commercial with the 1950s people in it.”
It bothers me that I nodded, smiled, and said, “Well, I am wearing a 1960s swimsuit.” It bothers me that you said something about how you salute that, but not “that kind of salute.” It bothers me that I laughed at this bad joke (as you continued to talk about your dick). It bothers me that I basically blocked this part out of my mind, choosing not to admit that my internal alarm bells were ringing. Every woman knows the feeling of putting those alarm bells on "silent," like the buzzing of a phone call during movie.
Why should I disturb the whole audience with what was probably just a butt dial?
It bothers me that I assumed that you (again) had no idea how to talk to women, let alone women who play guitar in a swimsuit, albeit a very conservative one-piece that has often been complimented by well meaning millennials as a “cute dress.”
It bothers me that I said, “It’s OK. We are friends, aren’t we?” It bothers me that I was trying to be agreeable, which is most women’s natural defense, so ingrained in my way of being that it felt involuntary. It bothers me that I now blame myself for smiling when I felt like turning away to talk to someone else, someone who deserved my attention. It bothers me that I blame myself at all.
It bothers me that what I choose to wear, or what any women chooses to wear, matters in discussions such as this. It bothers me that I immediately put on more clothes, feeling a creeping sense of shame about my body. It bothers me that literally no matter what I was wearing this probably could and would have happened. Ask your sister, mother, cousin, and aunt. Nothing stops any man from making creepy comments; even sweat pants.
It bothers me that I am used to men making comments about my body, and that I am generally good with distancing myself form their BS and/or assaulting any sense of who I am, and how I represent msyelf.
It bothers me that so many people will still say, “What were you wearing?” when a guy says something creepy to me or one of my friends.
It bothers me that, when you played, the crowd erupted into a seething mass of excitement and raw power. It bothers me that your band was really good. It bothers me that I still think your band is really fucking good. It bothers me that I enjoyed myself, and stood up front to show my support, and even head banged, although it made my neck sore (especially after a week on the road).
It bothers me that, after you played, I bought my drummer (the one back home) one of your T-shirts, He is an avid metal head, and going through some tough times. It bothers me that you offered it to me for free because of these hard times, and it bothers me that I said: “No. I want to support your band.”
Which is the thing you should always say when a DIY band ever offers you free merch, if you are a decent person.
It bothers me because, like I said, we had very little money to work with, and had flown to Colorado via family airline points.
It bothers me that I told you I respected your music and though you shredded. It bothers me that I meant it.
It bothers me that as I was loading my gear out into the car to leave, I stopped by most of your band, smoking outside, and congratulated you on a great show. It bothers me that I said, “I am so glad I got a shirt and was able to play with you.”
It bothers me that, in front of your bandmates, you seemed to have a different tone.
It bothers me that you said, “You know, you could get another t-shirt if you do something for me.”
It bothers me that I dumbly asked, “What?”assuming you meant I could sign my CD for you or help set up a show for you in California.
It bothers me that you said, “You can show me your boobs,” in front of everyone, very loudly.
It bothers me that your bandmates laughed.
Laughed, at me.
You know, me?
The only girl on the bill.
That traveled over 1,000 miles to be here.
To play at this crummy bar.
It bothers me that I was completely speechless at a time when I should have stood up for myself and my merits.
It bothers me that I said, “Ha, right!” as I walked away, my mind turning to complete and utter rage, even though my face remained plastered in a fake smile.
It bothers me because I did not feel it was funny. It bothers me because I did not feel like smiling.
It bothers me because you had the nerve to call after me: “You think I’m joking! But I’m not!” Then, more laughing from your bandmates and whomever else was standing outside. I blocked this part out, too.
It bothers me that I allowed your words to make me feel like a complete idiot/piece of meat/worthless accessory to your scene all at once.
It bothers me because my first reaction was to leave, quickly, without saying anything else to anyone.
It bothers me that my first feeling was shame.
Total, whole-body shame.
Shame for trying to do something outside my comfort zone, shame for showing up as my full authentic self, shame for not saying something smart back, shame for sharing my art with the world, shame for just being a woman, shame for having boobs, shame for what I was wearing, shame for thinking you or anyone else there would be my friend, shame for thinking I belonged here in this dingy club and in this problematic scene or anywhere else men so obviously rule.
It bothers me that we were in the car, leaving in the rain, when I even told the guys what happened.
It bothers me that when I brought it up, I downplayed it. Like, what a jerk, right? Ha. Ha. But hey, it happens.
It bothers me that my bass player/husband, and my temporary drummer, now my very good (and very real) friend, were aghast and upset and did not find it funny.
It bothers me that I did not feel safe or worthy enough to tell even them what you had said, while still at the venue. It bothers me that my first reaction, when stuff like this happens, is to disconnect the bomb for the benefit of everyone involved and retreat into myself. To brush it off. To put it on "silent."
It bothers me that, the next day, a friend we were staying with replied to this story with, “Well, maybe that’s what all the other metal girlfriends do.”
It bothers me because I am not someone’s girlfriend. I’ve never, ever in my life been simply “someone’s girlfriend,” nor has any other woman.
It bothers me because his young daughter, who had begged me to record her singing earlier, was sitting right there, watching and listening to this conversation.
It bothers me that this is the thing people want to know about my tour, not the wins but the shit (this is due to the fact that my well meaning husband--very uncharacteristically, I might add--left a vague and threatening post on Facebook).
It bothers me that, the next week, on vacation with my husband's family in Colorado, I woke up periodically in the night with angry and confused thoughts.
This had happened days ago, and it was nothing. He was a jerk, so what?
Why was I letting this small thing bother me me so much?
Then there was the morning the full feeling came. It wasn’t anger—it was bigger than that.
It was like I had been pressing down on this feeling—a beach ball held under water.
Well, it had to come up. The revelation splashed in my face.
It bothers me because this story IS so fucking small!
It bothers me that women have been through worse, so much worse. That I have been through so, so, so much worse. I’ve had so much worse happen at shows, from boyfriends, from teachers, employers...
That’s exactly WHY it bothers me. Why I choose to allow it to bother me.
It bothers me for the 13-year-old girl inside of me; the girl who reached for a guitar and saved her own life. Who found her own voice and sense of agency on stage and at backyard shows.
It bothers me for the girl who comes after, and the band who plays that same venue after me—which just so happens to be an all-female band I had the pleasure to play with in Tacoma, Washington last Spring.
When I saw their poster on the wall of Bar Bar that night, their young smiling faces so full of energy and passion--advertised at the next show--my first thought was concern, then anger. Then, action.
And that's why I choose this bothersome feeling.
Bleary in the guest bathroom of my mother and father-in-law’s house in the hills of Colorado, unconnected to WiFi, I had my comeback. A few days late and probably overkill, but I had it.
Stumbling to the bathroom for my first pee of the day, my iPhone in hand, I turned on the voice memo on my phone and finally spoke into it
Spoke back to you
My heart pounding so loud, like a double bass kick.
“It bothers me because...”