On my second day at Wesleyan, I met a fellow freshman who owned the same band T-shirt as I did. I was walking down Foss Hill and he was walking up, and we hugged when we spotted each other. He’s still one of my better friends on campus.
Growing up in the most suburban suburb of Long Island, I developed parallel to the angsty music scene in which I was rooted. For every awkward year of my adolescence, I could tell you exactly which bands I was listening to. I could probably predict the same for each one of my high school friends. We moved through the motions together, with pretty impressive precision, probably attributable to the amazing power of word of mouth. When Fall Out Boy was cool, we all loved Fall Out Boy. The next day it wasn’t, and we all miraculously agreed on that. It was part mutual progression and part peer pressure, but whatever way you add it, we all experienced it together.
Music was the focus, but it was bigger than that. The music I was listening to bled into everything from what I wore to how I related to people. Luckily, all of my friends went through all of the phases at the exact same time as I did. Show me one of my old MySpace pictures in which I am wearing a Hello Kitty tank top, and I can show you at least four of my friends wearing similarly embarrassing attire. It doesn’t make it O.K., but at least it distributes the guilt.
Weekends were spent at shows, or, when there weren’t any good shows to go to, in the back parking lot of CVS. Living down the street from one of the oldest record stores on the Island put me in prime position to meet bands, have my Converses signed, and get covered in the sweat of strangers I was pressed up against when things got rowdy. You started a show with a bunch of people you’d never met before, but by the end of it, you had made a lot of friends, if only by virtue of sheer proximity.
A few weekends ago, at a house show put on by some really great Wesleyan cover bands, I had the opportunity to relive my glory days. I had forgotten what it felt like to jump around and push against people without any repercussions. I made my way to the front because that was what I was used to, and I craned my neck to shout into the mic because I knew the words, but I wasn’t so prepared to start playing crowd control. As the night went on, the pit behind me grew increasingly aggressive. At one point, it was just me, all five feet and two inches, between the over-packed crowd behind me and the band trying to keep playing despite the impending stampede. Luckily, a few people quickly jumped in to help. I thought I had done a fine job considering the circumstances. I braced my knees, kept my feet on the ground. The band stayed untouched under my moment of control. But I wouldn’t say it was comfortable.
The next weekend, a post was published on Wesleying analyzing the music scene on campus and the relevance of the phrase “Bros Fall Back,” the title of a punk zine and a command to those who feel entitled to their space to make room for others, at the front of a show or elsewhere. In many ways, the post expressed things that I had been thinking since the show but hadn’t put into words. Yes, I am a woman, and yes, I didn’t feel entirely welcome where I ended up in the crowd. There were those same social dynamics at play, ever-present even in the spheres where I naively felt safely removed from them.
At the same time, though, the post was a well-needed privilege check. In a way, I was a bro. I had immediately made my way to the front because I was an old hat at this, so of course I deserved to be there. It made me reflect, not just on show culture but on the other situations in which I may not have been so cognizant of the privileges afforded to me.
If there’s any one rule of mosh pit etiquette, it’s that if someone falls, you stop what you’re doing and you help that person up. It’s always been one of my favorite parts. People go to shows to let off some steam, to hear live music, to feed off of other peoples’ energy, and to get away from daily routines and all of the social norms inherent in them. At Wesleyan, it is everyone’s job to make all of our spaces inclusive. We have different stories about how we got where we are, but all that matters is that we are there now, and we each deserve to enjoy it.