Straight Edge refers to a subculture within the hardcore punk music scene. The principle ethics of the subculture are that its adherents abstain from the use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and recreational sex. The term was coined in the 1980s by the Washington D.C. hardcore punk band Minor Threat, whose core tenants were taken from the lyrics of a song called “Straight Edge,” whose central message was that the hero had better things to do then to do drugs and abuse sex. Ian MacKaye, leader of the band and author of many of the songs, who does live a life of abstinence, is however not an exponent of Straight Edge as a group or subculture.
The movement has branched into two major schools – regular straight edge and Hardline. Hardline is a much more rigorous, extreme, and ascetic school, with fundamental Islamic overtones, and a strict vegan and pro-life philosophy.
Straight Edge is primarily a movement whose adherents are composed of white middle and working class teenagers; however there are many who are much older, and there are some who are of other ethnicities.
The symbol for straight edge is a capital X, often tattooed or drawn on the hands to signify their resistance to drugs and carnal temptation. The origin of the symbol comes from the common practice of bouncers and ticket-sellers at punk shows to draw a large X on the hands of underage customers so that they could not order beer. Soon this was adopted by even overage customers as a symbol of solidarity and as a method of identifying themselves with a drug-free lifestyle. Sometimes the X is expanded into XXX. Straight edge is often written as “sXe” to signify the subculture, and teenage adherents will often place an x before and after their username on internet forums, e-mails, and chat’s, such as: xstraightedgex.
Many straight edge people exhibit tattoos that identify themselves to the world and other straight-edgers. Common tattoos are of slogans such as “Drug Free for Life” and “True Till Death” signifying their lifelong commitment to the ideals.
The subculture is judgmental of members who drop out or “lose their edge,” and are as equally judgmental of everyday people who choose to drink, smoke, and engage in casual sex, sometimes even becoming violent. In the 1990s several members of straight edge were arrested for engaging in violence against people who were smokers and drinkers, one being charged for murder.
In some parts of the United States straight edge is considered a gang, despite the fact that the majority of their members are nonviolent. October 17 is considered “National Edge Day,” a straight edge holiday in which members of the community attend local hardcore punk shows. Some members of straight edge are involved in other political and social organizations and programs that fit into the abstinence philosophy, such as organizations against drinking, animal cruelty, and pro-life issues.
See: Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics. Pennsylvania: Pm Press, 2010.