Claw and Scream
Now 23, I fell in love with Bikini Kill in 8th grade, when an article on Sleater-Kinny referred to them. My curiosity piqued, I went to the Kill Rock Stars site and found their free downloads. I fell in love immediately and bought all their albums, one by one, with what little money I had, as well as the albums of other artists I may not have ever learned about or paid attention to otherwise. (More proof that companies can make more money by releasing some songs for free.)
Now, keep in mind, I am 23, so 8th grade was 4 years after the release of Reject All American.
Bikini Kill was over by the first time I’d ever heard them referred to, and as far as I could tell, the Riot Grrl movement had never really taken off in my area of the Bible Belt anyway. Nonetheless, they helped me through some of the worst years of my life.
I’d always been an outcast at the Christian school I had attended since kindergarten. All my old friends had left the school, except the girl who had once been my protector and idol, who was then discovering sex with one of the guys who used to beat me up. As a child, I had been picked on for being overweight and terrible at all sports, but I refused to bow to the bullies, often resulting fights I wasn’t capable of winning. The way I saw it, losing a fight was better than not fighting, no matter how much trouble I got in for it. I simply didn’t understand why the adults didn’t want me to stand up for myself, when they claimed “God” made me special for a reason.
The year before, that all changed. I lost weight, changed my wardrobe (form-fitting, masculine, punk), and attended cheerleading camp just to have something to do during the summer. At first, the other girls were sweet to me in a sort of pitying “awe, look at the loser trying out” sort of way. Then, I started out-performing their lazy asses. (Seriously, I love the cheerleading sport, but our girls wouldn’t kick above the waist to save someone else’s life.) Suddenly, when I returned to school that fall, everyone knew who I was and not in the good way. There were rumors just out of hearing range, my things were stolen and damaged, I was mocked in my classes, and I was still beat up on the luckily few occasions bullies could find me away from watchful eyes. It only made them angrier that I wouldn’t apologize for being weird.
And then I discovered Bikini Kill. Their songs, the history behind them, taught me that there wasn’t anything wrong with me being myself, with being pissed off that I was expected to be anyone else. I listened to them night and day, during homework, and through lunch period with a new group of friends that were quickly ostracizing me from even them because I wasn’t outcast in exactly the same way they were. And possibly the greatest lesson of all, they taught me the power of words.
I started writing for the school’s literary magazine and took on a recruiting role, and it went from “oh yeah, we have one of those” to the hotly debated topic. Younger kids sent in their own shy poems because of my boldly accusatory ones. I worked with our sponsor to start the school’s first poetry slam. I performed the poems that were most disapproved of, poems closest to my heart that shared with the world the confusion and bitterness of growing up in a world that only wanted to tell me what I couldn’t do and who I couldn’t be. A few boys secretly professed that they wanted me to never stop writing, and a handful of girls professed that they identified with what I was saying. I know that sounds terribly egotistical, but I honestly didn’t get that was what was happening until my friends started explaining it to me. It was meant yet another warning to stop drawing attention to myself, but I just went at it harder than ever before.
Because of Bikini Kill, I learned to be someone I was proud of, even if others hated me for standing up for myself, and I learned my wicked tongue could be used for more than starting fights at school. I am lucky enough to now share my life with people with whom I don’t have to claw and scream just to be heard and have calmed down quite a bit from the angry little girl I was in high school. All the same, I firmly believe that it was Bikini Kill who helped get me here, even after they’d already broken up, and I will always love them for that. I will be their fan until the day I die.
-Jessica “James” Teeple