In fifth grade, I kicked a girl in the shin. One day during recess, I was standing in this group of other girls in my grade. Most of them weren’t my friends, but some of my friends were hanging around them, so I joined in. I was standing on the fringes of the group when two girls from my class came up to me and teased me for having a crush on a boy in our class, a boy who I had no interest in. Growing increasingly angry, I did the only thing that I thought would make them stop: I kicked the girl closest to me as hard as I could so she would shut the fuck up. She cried, “Ow!”, and the head of every girl in the group turned our way, like geese responding to rifle fire. So, I ran. A few of the girls started to chase me around the playground, trying to confront me and asking me why I kicked this girl. Frankly, our playground didn’t have many good hiding spots, and I’m not a fast runner, so the hunt was over in a matter of seconds. Standing at the edge of the playground by the chess tables, I started to bawl as the group of girls began their interrogation.
As the reason for my Hulk rage became clear, the conversation shifted gears to my appearance and the way I presented myself as a young girl. For those of you who have never met 11-year-old Carolyn, I’ll give you a breakdown of my everyday outfit: T-Shirt, basketball shorts/Lands End zip-off khaki pants (I was not the most fashion-forward child), and a backwards hat, donned with admiration and which also served as a way to get out of brushing my hair. These girls started to instruct me on how to make my appearance “feminine”, which in turn could perhaps lead to their friendship. Lose the hat. Soffee shorts not basketball shorts. Cuter, girlier T-Shirts. I just stood there sobbing and nodding, noting their suggestions in my head and slowly realizing that I would never fit their definition of femininity. While these girls thought they were giving me valuable advice on how I could better fit in, they were unintentionally rejecting who I was as a person.
Last Tuesday, the Brooklyn-based queer punk duo PWR BTTM announced the release date for Pageant. Along with the album announcement, the band debuted the record’s lead single “Big Beautiful Day” with an accompanying music video (featuring a cameo by buds Diet Cig). This pop punk track is the official “fuck you” anthem to toxic masculinity and gender norms. Over fuzzy power chords and pounding drums, Ben Hopkins sings about how patriarchy’s coercive gender roles have trapped men into acting a certain way based on their assigned gender, countering this norm by suggesting that, instead, we celebrate being ourselves even in face of societal rejection. The lyric, “There are men, there are boys who never had the choice/But to grow up to be scared to be your friend,” exemplifies the constant rejection of people who choose to not perform society’s interpretation of their gender. Anything other than the normative role is frightening. People either try to morph you into their vision of normal, or, as Hopkins alludes, ignore you altogether.
As a lead-in to the chorus, Hopkins sighs, “God, it’s so exhausting.” This line may be seen as a throwaway lyric to most, but this simple exclamation is profound: having to explain why you want to and do wear something is the most annoying and tiring thing we have to do because it happens all of the FUCKING time. I can not begin to count the number of times as a kid I was asked:
Why do you wear a hat?
When are you going to stop wearing that hat?
Do you have plans to stop being a tomboy any time soon?
The list goes on. It’s like I should’ve walked around with copies of my own personal FAQ page.
The song ends with Hopkins deciding to save these men from their own toxic masculinity:
“Jesus Christ, let’s help them.”
After years of pain, it would be easier for Hopkins to revel in anger. But Hopkins suggests that solving these issues begins with confronting our programmed views of gender and what is normal, taking that view, and lighting that shit on fire. There is no right way to perform gender, and having expectations on how gender should be performed is damaging to everyone.
If “Big Beautiful Day” gives us any indication of what to expect from Pageant, there will be more songs that I only wish my 11-year-old self could’ve heard, and which my 24-year-old self still needs as a reminder that other people have experienced these same moments of vulnerability. But for now, I’ll continue to blast this track through my headphones and, “Curse that motherfucker” who tries to keep me from being my damn self.
Listen to “Big Beautiful Day"