Rebel girl, rebel girl
Rebel girl, you are the the queen of my world
Rebel girl, rebel girl
I think I wanna take you home
I wanna try on your clothes
-Bikini Kill (“Rebel Girl”)
If I tried on Rebel Girl’s clothes at this point in my life, I’d be less like a Riot Grrrl and more like the world’s most punk rock drag queen. But I’m a trannyboy with a grrrlhood dipped in modge podge, glitter, and girl power—I can’t shake that history from my skin.
I discovered Riot Grrrl sometime after my Second Wave consciousness- raising at age 12. Having read every thick volume of feminist theory in my school library (think: The Feminine Mystique), I dusted off “womyn with a Y” and found a label with less crunch and more bite: Grrrl.
Everything You Need to Know About Riot Grrrl—I traveled all the way to the County Public Library for that little book of girls with big ideas. Sure, the cute n’ tough aesthetic appealed to me (though I had unsuccessfully dabbled in goth fashion during junior high cheerleading days, I never gave on my alterna-girl dreams), but the message sliced me like a three-chord riff: Revolution. Grrrl style. Now.
Don't you talk out of line
Don't go speaking out of your turn
Gotta listen to what the Man says
Time to make his stomach burn
Burn, burn Burn, burn, burn, burn!
-Bikini Kill (“Double Dare Ya”)
Lyrics from the Riot Grrrl music scene were far from the flowery showtunes I grew up singing, but they were straight and to the point. Plus, screaming “Suck My Left One” when no one was home was pretty liberating for well-behaved adolescent.
But once I acquired Le Tigre’s entire discography, I realized that the Riot Grrrl party bus had rolled on by back in 1999. After all, Buffy was almost off the air, Sleater-Kinney disbanded, even the Spice Girls broke off into their separate dramas of unwed motherhood and prison. Girl power was looking less glamorous. Frustrated yet determined, I started a One Grrrl campaign to rev it up again.
I changed up my wardrobe, covering thrift store vests with Sharpie marker scrawl and mismatching chandelier earrings. I made my own zine before I ever held one, passing out photocopied musings to girls who looked like they needed some self-esteem. I would have started a band had I been able to trade in my Judy Garland vibrato for a Brody Dalle snarl (years of vocal training nailed my vocal chords to Broadway even when my ears were filled with bass lines). I even roped my parents into the whole thing, persuading dad to print stacks of feminist lit on his workplace copy machine and begging mom to let me wear combat boots to my first high school dance.
But at school I was a lone ranger. No matter how many girls said that they “really appreciated” the rants about sexual harassment and women’s history in my zine, no one made their own. I faced lectures from school administrators for passing out “profane advertisements” on school property (I guess naming my zine Emma Goldman Could Kick Your Ass wasn’t the best idea) and boys were on my case more than ever (“what the fuck is she wearing?”). I tuned it all out with my Walkman headphones til I ended up in college and attempted to be more sophisticated. I left my cassette tapes at home—Bikini Kill never made it to my iPod upgrade.
I joined the Feminist Majority. I took a Gender Studies class. I read academic articles about the same movement I had tried to revive. I started talking about Riot Grrrl with a kind of nostalgia it usually takes years to acquire. Riot Grrrl wasn’t “my scene” any more, and once I came into my tranny self, I felt like I was barred from grrrlness forever.
But I’ve been thinking…I still make zines. My gender rebel activism is totally feminist. And my iPod is slowly accumulating more PJ Harvey and P!nk than anything else. Riot Grrrl is a part of my history that I would never want to abandon, and I seriously doubt that any other grrrl would let me.
This boy is still a Riot Grrrl.
Stop thief, you can steal the way
I fuckin’ felt when I got up today
Well, I guess you’re the judge
I guess you’re the king of the forever beauty pageant I’m always in
But my hear beats blue, beats red, beats mad
Is this the only power that you really wanna have?
-Le Tigre (“On Guard”)