Wear the band’s shirt, make your own rules

One of the best things about being queer, I think, is wearing a band t-shirt to their show. The thing is, – and in your heart, you already know – a band’s performance is literally the perfect time to wear your shirt. Nothing more correct or appropriate. Wearing a band’s shirt to their show is like wearing a team’s shirt to their game, or a reindeer sweater to a Christmas party. Why else do you have it?

In high school, I was introduced to the ‘don’t wear the shirt to the show’ rule by one of the older guys that my friends and I dated, because of course the young people in their twenties who hang out. teenagers are the arbiter of cool. At first, I embraced it wholeheartedly, out of a deep adolescent need to be seen as respecting unwritten rules, to be in the know. My friends and I exchanged this bit of wisdom by sharing the names of those rare stores where you could buy black lipstick outside of October, like imparting sacred knowledge, initiation.

It’s a strange and arbitrary directive, however, even more so than most unwritten rules of cold blood. The only thing you gain by following it is knowing that you are following it, and the only thing you lose by trampling on it is literally nothing because nobody cares. The group shirt rule has no clear genesis; like so many apocryphal “common knowledge”, everyone who knows it has just heard from someone. It is one of those rules which exists absolutely only to differentiate between those who know and those who do not know, and to allow the former to say shit about the latter.

Today, I am thirty-two years old and have two children, and it is no longer desirable or even possible for me to look cool, which frankly saves me a lot of time and energy. In the years since I gave up on the jersey rule, I’ve found myself paying a lot of attention to who else is breaking it, and I’ve noticed something. In shows where women and LGBTQ people predominate, the shirt rule is rarely enforced or even recognized. The Sleater-Kinney, Janelle Monáe, and Betty Who shows are full of people stunting in their old touring merch, freshly purchased memorabilia, and even DIY fan material. And whenever I talk about the shirt rule, the discussion splits almost perfectly between the chichet guys who follow it like the scriptures, and the rest of us, who are like, “Why is that even a thing ? “

The rationale for the shirt rule is muddy at best; some members say that bringing a band’s merchandise to a show is “too much effort”, others that it’s “redundant”, because you’re obviously a fan if you’re at the gig. Below it all, however, it’s just a social acceptability tautology: you’re not supposed to do it because you’re not supposed to do it because you’re not supposed to.

Group t-shirts are a way to both present and define acceptable enthusiasms, and the basis for the type of enthusiasm allowed is still socially established by straight men. There are good and bad types of fandom; there are valid and invalid ways of loving things. There are rules about where you can wear a band shirt, of course, but there are also rules about how many albums a band you should own before wearing their shirt in public, or how many TV shows you have to watch to be considered a fan — and so on. I grew up in an era of robust public discourse about “posers” and “geeky fake girls,” which were essentially attempts to quantify how much you have to like something before you are allowed to like it, combined. to frequent goal post shifts to make sure the women never quite meet the requirements. If a girl liked something that boys considered their territory, they would find a reason to push her away.

Male fan culture tends to be concerned with legitimacy, with establishing qualifications: knowledge of anecdotes, longevity of enthusiasm, collection of paraphernalia. It is about loving something, but also about proving something, to be observed expressing enthusiasm in the best and most correct way. And the more counter-cultural or unorthodox an interest, the more male fans seem to invest in legitimacy, pointing out that they may like weird and socially marginalized things, but like them properly.

LGBTQ people and women have a different relationship with fandom, however, as our fandom is still at least a little bit stigmatized. Anything associated with femininity or “fangirls” is inherently devalued socially, becomes frivolous, comical. It’s like a pop culture version of how the pay scale for a job shrinks as more women enter the field. The groups that women and gay people like are not as serious as the ones that men like. Female performers are “cute” or “hot” while male performers are “awesome” except male performers with a predominantly female fan base who are kind of a joke.

Women and homosexuals find ways to express their love outside of the mainstream mediated by men. Since we are often de facto kicked out of more male-dominated forms of fandom, scrutinized and judged rather than accepted, we have a kind of freedom to cherish the things we love in our own way. Fanfiction, for example, one of the most ridiculed and stigmatized forms of fandom, has become a recognizable genre almost entirely thanks to the dedication of female writers, and LGBTQ people make up a large part of the fanfic writing community. Queer and female fans are practicing various types of reinterpretations of the art we love, from creating playlists for our favorite fictional characters to creating our own group gear.

At a Hayley Kiyoko concert last year, I saw fans not only proudly wearing their brand new t-shirts featuring the image of Lesbian Jesus, but also transforming rainbow flags from the table. of merch in skirts and capes. For many women, group shirts are a canvas to express their creativity by cutting, braiding and recycling – my friend teaches a t-shirt craft workshop every year at Camp Girls Rock. From fashion and fan videos to collages and zines, LGBTQ and female fans not only create our own rules, but our own culture out of pieces of any joy we can find. Remix, improvise and make things your own.

As a woman, a queer person, a trans person, loving what you love without worrying about standards of “coolness” requires a rejection of the hetero-patriarchal gaze in all its arbitrary bullshit glory. So wear your group t-shirts whenever and wherever you want, with pride. It’s pretty rare to find a piece of art that makes you feel right at home in the howling chaos of the universe – when you do, it’s worth celebrating.


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Elizabeth J. Harless