I grew up in Canberra.
I didn’t not fit in. It wasn’t exactly that. It was more a feeling that nothing around me ever fit me.
Sometime around maybe 1992?, I was introduced to the punk and hardcore scene by my sister and some new friends, friends I still have now over 20 years later.
The scene was always super cliquey in my experience and my yet to be diagnosed anxiety issues were finding their awkward giraffey feet. I never felt punk enough, hard enough, authentic enough, noticed enough, included enough, involved enough, noticed enough.
I always felt auxiliary and never relaxed or at ease. This was further compounded when travelling to the big ass cities of Sydney and Melbourne for shows, which though were so important to me, were also extremely intimidating. Even though this was my scene to embrace and even though I dedicated my time, travel, money, calendar and passion to it, it never seemingly embraced me. I always felt like an imposter. Always.
This self consciousness hindered my self worth and self belief. I couldn’t understand why it just didn’t work even though I desperately wanted it to. I loved the music. Shouldn’t that be enough? That’s what this counter culture group claimed to be and seemed to be for everyone else but it never felt like it was for me. I doubted myself a great deal.
What was clearly intimidating for me was that the scene was predominantly men. Being a minority within is awkward as shit and made even worse by what was my impression of the involvement of the women. Wether it was all in my head or real, my experience was there seemed to be only 3 ways the girls were actively involved or embraced within the community:
There were the girls that were hooking up with everyone. The hotties. I wasn’t them.
There were girls that were throwing down. And hard. Epic hardcore chicks with life time X commitments to hands and neck and all the right leather jackets. And immaculate hair. I wasn’t them either.
Then there were the girls on stage. And holy shit I wanted to be them. But more on that later.
I didn’t really identify with either of the other types of females as friends or role models, even though I gave both versions a lot more attempts to recreate than I care to admit. Being any version to fit in felt even more false to me; my confidence and idea of self became pretty unstable so that’s when I started to look to the guys for inspiration. They seemed to be having a great time, and seemed to be completely free of the social pressures I was feeling. They were just doing their thing and I desperately wanted to be doing the same. There was such an ease in their manner. Automatically accepted.
A decision was made about my style direction: shaved head, skateboard (which I aaaalways sucked at), practical jeans, Vans and a screen print band tee; it was the best version of me I could come up with the end result was quite androgynous, which is not a true representation of me at all. I was trying to fit in with the majority.
I was trying to fit in with the majority.
I wasn’t very noteworthy and was rarely noticed. That also felt false to me and not great I have to say but flying under the radar felt easier than maintaining and trying to be a chick worth noticing in the scene.
I remember quite clearly my sister advising me that I didn’t need to dress like the boys that I wanted to date….I could date them instead of be them. It was a shit and awkward time. I was totally uninspired. I couldn’t be anything quite right and I certainly had no idea of who I actually was.
I got cynical and mean and bitchy. I saw right through other imposters as I used the same harsh lens on them that I used on myself. I made jokes about them with my other insecure friends and became our version of humour, which is pretty ugly. I felt at odds with myself personally so I rejected the scene even though I was part of it, and I as a result proactively added to that weird cliquey vibe that I had been subjected too. It wasn’t my finest spiral.
It was a shift in my understanding of both myself and others.
Enter women like Renee from Mugshot. And Carol. Once I witnessed them amongst the headliners everything shifted.
You have no idea what they did to my brain. It screamed louder than they ever did with pure, unbridled, raw, positive envy. Not that dark ugly envy that wants to crush others but that ‘if I can’t be like her I might just die’ envy. The luscious type that changes your world view and inspires you.
Seeing them front bands changed everything for me. For how I saw other women generally and forever. No longer as a threat nor as competition but rather, inspirations and leaders. It took seeing them up there to change me.
I became a total fan. Not just of them, but of what women are capable of, who they can be, who they can inspire.
It was a shift in my understanding of both myself and others.
I didn’t worship them romantically like I did with guys. It was something different and new. The difference between being a groupie and a legitimate awe struck fan. And it was addicting.
I am the hugest fan of male singers, bands, musicians, leaders, friends etc etc but when we only ever have males as heroes the potential to breed distrust and competition between women is apparently a thing. To normalise female inclusion and importance changes everything. To show value and to openly appreciate each other is priceless.
I had tears in my eyes the first time I saw Arms Reach. Yep. Two females rocking the fuck out on those guitars. Ingrained and very definitely integral parts of the band. Nothing gimmicky or forced. No ‘token chick’ vibe (I hate that that is a thing or that I’ve ever seen women as token but I am guilty of it). These chicks were the real fucking deal. And I wanted that. To be that. Or be around it. Or be a loyal fan of. Shut up and take my money!
Back then, I was that punter that every scene actually needs. Always at the front, always buying tickets to shows even if I’d been and seen the band 100 times, always ready to dance, helping start a circle when it’s 4pm at a youth centre, mouth open in a grin of encouragement and awe, sucking beers until the 2nd encore of the 28 song 45 minute set. I was that person that would drive all the way from Canberra to a Wollongong PCYC to see a show. Or pay in cash for the fanzine and all the merch. Still awkward as hell and never feeling I was quite right but man, I loved the music, the ideals, how fucking cool everyone else was, the venues, the memories made, the feral fun of having a roof drip condensation into your freshly opened Coopers red. The accidental violence of the pit. It was all so awesome. But I never felt I was. Seeing women up front gave me a glimpse that I COULD be though. I just needed to find my way…
Regardless of my poor self image, it never stopped me from turning up. I was never told I shouldn’t by anyone. But I was also never really proactively invited in. I always felt like shit about myself. I wanted to be more or better or something…I often felt like a girl and that was why I didn’t fit into the group. It was definitely based on gender and being at a loss of what my role might be because there seemed to be no real place for us, or less opportunities that’s for sure. I was searching for a role that might actually be where I felt good: of valuable to others.
20+ years later and I’m still exactly the same person but I’ve finally found my world, one that I hold in high regard and where I can say quite confidently that I hold great value. Ironically this new scene is one where I’m surrounded by the many of the same people (and very often the same music) from back in the punk days but these days instead of hanging out in bars and venues all my time is spent in padded rooms on the floors of gyms. My life is almost exclusively focused on training in a martial art Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ).
I am deeply involved as an athlete and am the proud creator and leader of the largest female only crew of its kind in the world called Australian Girls In Gi (AGIG). I’ve won some medals internationally and a boat load of them locally. The BJJ community is a massive crew of guys and girls that literally beat the crap out of each other daily, enjoy that process immensely and live to tell the stories. They are generally pretty fit, healthy and very much badass.
I have been entirely submerged in my obsession since day one, 7 years ago. I’m also now a black belt, a very rare and special thing, especially for a woman, to own.
A while back, a friend dragged me away from training for a night and convinced me to try get my social life back, even for a few hours, outside of the gym.
We went to see one of my favourite bands, The Bronx. Lucky for me we arrived early and I had that rare and breath taking experience of standing infront of a room waiting to see High Tension (the support that night). Having never heard anything about them, or knowing anything about them, when Karina walked out on stage to front the band she also broke my brain.
I stood there motionless and in awe.
There’s no other word.
It was emotional. I went on a roller coaster of it. Totally thrilled by what I was given the privilege to witness.
I’ve been going on about that moment for quite a while now. I’ve shared videos and playlists of High Tension with many. Spreading the word of this epic force that is. Trying to share that tectonic shift of a moment that I had with others.
Almost a year since that moment, you can only imagine my kid like excitement when I got the call from that same good friend that took me to the gig…Clanger, he’s a deadset legend. This time his call was this “I want you to come help out with the production of High Tension’s film clip. The song is Bully. They needed some female fighters for an all girls fight club scene. Get yer mates. We’re on.’
Two awesome things about this.
1. I’m SO completely ready to be the chick for the job.
And 2. A chick is needed for the job.
Karina came to my gym and we went through a few techniques that we might include on the day but more than that she explained how and why we would be making the clip, what the song and the film clip would represent; the deeper meaning to the day.
I couldn’t get the words out then to explain how perfect the concept and message was. So here I am, doing that now.
The Mixed Martial Arts scene is a lot like the hardcore punk scene.
The Mixed Martial Arts scene is a lot like the hardcore punk scene; no one has ever said to me that I (or the other girls) can’t be involved…(very few have been overtly sexist or ignorant). By in large the guys involved are all for us gals being part of these worlds, I would even say the majority are in their own ways very supportive.
Having said that, scenes that are male dominated for me (and my anxious mind) have always inherently still felt like ‘their’ world not ‘our’ world and that is where fear and fear of exclusion resides, where confidence is lost and support or reassurance is still needed, even if it is already subtly present it needs to come to the front.
Girls to the front indeed (Kathleen Hannah, we adore thee).
If there is one thing I learnt from my experience in the hardcore scene in my youth (and such wasted time in angst) it is to try my best to reject this any form self imposed exclusion and limitation. Fair enough if those around me were going to try to exclude me, fine but hells if I was going to ever add to that burden again.
Choosing not to make the same mistakes again, I arrived into martial arts training without any apology for my involvement back in 2010. Even though it is, and was, a male dominated arena I hit the ground running acting just like it was mine to take, that I owned it and had every right to it. I put my head down and ass up and got training hard. I trained hard to be good, like really fucking good, at what I do, everyday. No white noise in my head this time. No thinking this scene was ‘for the others’ or ‘for the boys’. No way that anyone could even hint that I wasn’t deserving of equal respect. I made damn sure of that. I worked my ass off to ensure it.
My experience of this new approach: almost no one has ever done anything other than cheer me along, send words of support, donate time, support, guidance, effort, experience, knowledge and love for my cause. Sure there are haters but that’s just a percentage & personality thing. It happens, I care not.
Generally, most people openly say they believe in me and what I’m doing. I do see myself as an ambassador for females in BJJ. Because of this, Australian Girls In Gi (Nation wide support community for female grapplers) was born and now thrives. Over the past seven years I have gone on to proactively change public opinion by sharing the confidence I have in myself, and all women within my sport. We are, together, showing others how to treat us by behaving in a way which demands inclusion and respect.
There are now over 1200 active AGIG members and thousands more supporters. Males and females alike.
High Tension’s Karina is currently this same driving force pushing toward equality within the Australian punk music scene.
As a front woman and inspirational character she is a powerful, feminine, insightful, tough, intelligent, strong, loud and visionary. She is so unabashedly simply being Karina that she is paving the way for others that need to see her. She is hugely inspiring.
Around Karina I get the clear reminder that truly focusing on being really fucking good at what you really fucking want and just getting that shit done because it MATTERS to you, well, it will yield every result you are looking for. She just….dominates. She just IS badass and powerful. She isn’t trying, she just IS. Right now. Without apology or excuses.
I love that about her. Her passion and this message made its way all the way to me. That’s a loud voice. A far reaching and powerful one. Literally and figuratively.
I want to share with you the night that I finally felt completely, utterly, included, part of and worthy in the hardcore scene, 20 years after first trying:
Saturday night, at the age of 36, I left my apartment dressed in clothes that suit me and my attitude, not a style or trend. I met up with my best friend, Krys (she is the one I get kneed by in the film clip) and the love of her life, Dale, as well as my team mate, another fighter in the film clip and friend, Franca.
When we arrived at Howler, we were immediately warmly welcomed by those we had become friends with during filming for the film clip of Bully. Band members from High Tension and many others as well as their fans and friends. We were all excited to see each other and loads of hugs were exchanged. Our names were on the door as guests. This felt like an actual gesture of welcoming, not a simple ‘we’ll put you on the door’ but more. It was a reunion of likeminded and interested people.
Everyone I spoke to knows they were, and are, a part of something meaningful in that film clip.
We watched iExsist from the comfort of the seemingly purpose built aging-punk-ladies-luxury-lounge (a glass box that is kinda soundproofed?). Due to awesome venue layout, you can sit directly next to the band, sip drinks, crowd watch through the dark glass at the rear of the stage and chat with friends in comfortable seating with out having to scream at each other. And no smoking indoors anywhere. (Where the fuck was this when I was younger?) This is like the dream setting for ageing ears. I had literally nothing to whinge about – at 35 and out at a show after 9pm – you have no idea the revelation this was.
High Tension were up next and as we headed into the band room Kiri welcomed us with her gorgeous smile, beautiful long open arms for hugs and a stack of merch that I’m still carrying around proudly today. She told me that all the girls were headed down the front for Bully and added to the end of that remark ‘you have to go down there with them’.
We danced. We listened. The crowd was a perfect mix of guys AND girls. It all felt totally even, normal, not a ‘thing’ to be a girl at a show. The feeling of relief was immeasurable. I’ve never before experienced it at a gig in this scene.
I didn’t need all my friends to be there to feel safe. I didn’t need to know ‘people’ in the room to feel validated. I didn’t need to know anyone at all. I didn’t need scene fashion to make me feel authentic. I didn’t need prior knowledge of the band or the songs or the B-side vinyl release that only 15 people could get their hands on or any of the other vitally clique important social requirements that I failed to be able to fulfil back in my youth. I just had to be there and enjoy the show and accept the amazing gift that this band was offering. Pure entertainment that without them, wouldn’t exist. It was SO important to me to bare witness to that. And to enjoy the hell out of the set. Which I did immensely.
I couldn’t believe it. It meant the world to me.
Just after rushing the pit for the song Bully and sharing a moment of pride as I watched my girls stage dive with Karina, High Tension played their second last song. One which they dedicated to Krys, Franca, Sienna and myself.
I couldn’t believe it. It meant the world to me.
When Karina dedicated the next song to me and shared some extremely kind words I grinned like that 16 year old girl did when she first saw Fugazi in Canberra all those years ago. She did that same thing that they did that day. She shifted my world view.
Times have changed. The scene has changed. In my view, much for the better. And I have a pretty good idea who is influencing that change. These girls, they wanted it & so it is.
I’ve written this because I want you to know how important it is to have people (not just women, not just men) to look up to and blow your mind with their perfect ability to 110% be true to themselves and to others. It took me too many years to spark that fire in myself, even well after working actively to spark that faith in other women.
It is SO important to women like me that other women take the stage, so to speak. It changes women like me.
This change in me was not something I sought after in a bid to learn about or push a feminist agenda or GRRRRRRL power or empowerment or liberation or wymyns business or any other catch phrase or term to be twisted. This was about really seeing that I’m not out of step with the world, it’s just that I hadn’t yet seen others were taking the same steps as me. I hadn’t found my heroes because they were represented as the minority in the group.
Funny how it lead me to feminism, grrrrl power, and empowerment. And I’m now proud to reclaim the words as the powerful tools that they are and align myself with them.
Karina. I thank you. You changed my view of myself for the better. It was enlightening to see me through your eyes. I hope you can also see yourself through mine for a while. You’re incredible. A true inspiration.