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Living life while Abstaining

No alcohol. No drugs. No promiscuous sex.These precepts form the foundation of the underground straightedge movement, a subculture based on a commitment to life-long abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

The origin of straightedge is somewhat difficult to piece together. Like many movements, the ideas and beliefs of the group existed long before they had an official name.

Freshman Telia Suarez, who has been straightedge for four years, said most attribute the popularization of the movement to an early ’80s punk band, Minor Threat. Lead singer, Ian MacKaye, wrote a song titled “Straightedge” and is often credited with coining the term. Some claim an earlier punk band, the Teen Idles, were the first to popularize the ideas associated with the movement.

Whatever the official origin, it is largely accepted that the group originated in the underground punk rock community as a counter revolution against what was becoming a drug-obsessed subculture.

As the movement popularized in the punk rock scene, many bands composed of all straightedge members began to appear. Rather than adopting normal punk anti-establishment themes in their music, these bands began to use their songs primarily as a means to advocate the straightedge lifestyle.

Due to a preponderance of these underground bands, the doctrines and precepts of the movement were spread across America and overseas.

By the mid- to late-1990s, straightedge was worldwide.

During the growth of the movement, many rituals and unique icons were adopted. The act of “Xing up,” or drawing an X on the back of the hands, began as a means of identifying straightedgers at punk rock shows.

“It’s a common ground to start conversations,” Suarez said.The ritual was derived from the marking of underage patrons at clubs that sold alcohol. It originally functioned as a way to distinguish straightedgers and show that they opposed drinking to the extent that even if individuals were of age, they marked themselves in a way to make themselves ineligible to be served.Because of that practice, the X became popular as a symbol of the movement.

Often, three consecutive Xs, representing abstinence from drinking, drug use and promiscuous sex, are displayed on clothing as a mark of being straightedge.

Tattooing is another popular ritual undergone to illustrate a life-long commitment. Often, tattoos include the X icon or references to being drug-free.

Once the movement reached a national level, many of its basic precepts began to change. Numerous factions appeared with their own interpretations of what it meant to be straightedge.

According to , some groups advocate vegetarianism and veganism as being necessary requirements, others promote total sexual abstinence, and still other militant groups feel it is their obligation to seek out and attack people who indulge in alcohol and drug use.

Because of the lack of a universal ideology, many claim that straightedge must be defined on a personal level.

Junior William Force said he has his own personal interpretation.

“Straightedge for me is a personal commitment against all substances used for no purpose other than inebriation and dilution of mental facilities,” Force said.

For Suarez, straightedge is “not being dependent on something other than yourself.”

Many within the movement see themselves as standing in direct opposition to a culture that advocates recreational drinking and drug use.

Despite their strong defamation of alcohol and other drugs, many straightedgers abandon the movement shortly after age 21. This act of abandonment, or selling out, is rampant in the community and claims many lives each year.

This is often attributed to growing up, finding new peer groups or simply viewing the movement as an outdated trend. The practice of selling out has a stigma attached in the community and frequently results in alienation from the group and loss of friends.

“Those who sell out at 21, to me, were just wrapped up in a movement for the sake of fashion,” Force said.

Because of the high attrition rate, straightedge is almost exclusively composed of young people. And due to its origins in the punk rock community, most members are white males.

Though the movement has gained more female and minority members, it remains a predominantly male group.

Sophomore Brooke Douglas said she has seen the number of straightedge females rise in recent years.

“When I first became straightedge, there were, like, no girls whatsoever. Now it’s pretty common,” Douglas said.

Suarez offered a different observation.

“Sometimes I feel because I’m straightedge and a girl I’m not taken as seriously as a boy,” she said.

Though some straightedge factions advocate separatism and associating only with males involved in the movement, most support diversity. These individuals are often found at parties or clubs where alcohol is served.

Suarez said although her friends may drink alcohol, she doesn’t let it get in the way of their friendship.

“I don’t care that my friends drink,” she said. “I like them for the people they are. I don’t need beer and drugs to have a good time. I’m there (at a party or club) to enjoy myself and be with my friends.”

  • Contact Malachi McIntosh at