Here Is A Safe Space: Burger Boogaloo 2017

by Amy Martin on July 17, 2017

Photo by Breanne Bowland

I used to go to a lot of shows. I spent most of my twenties in Chicago, which, oh man, the music scene. Ten bucks could get you a Huber Bock and what felt like constant access to [The] Gossip. Gingerman, Elbo Room, Delilah’s, the Metro, Empty Bottle, the Vic, and countless little dank bars.

I’m older and more tired now, but that isn’t why I almost never go to shows. On about a 1:1 ratio, for every show I attended in Chicago, there was one I called off at the last minute, one I spent huddled in a corner, one I missed most of because I “stepped out for air” and never went back in. A couple years ago, I stopped fighting the fact that I rarely, if ever, feel safe at shows. I had to start saying it in words when I started dating my husband, who goes to an average of two shows a week, and who can predict with almost 100% accuracy which bands I will like. I’d watch him bop easily around a room hugging friends, and realize we’d never have a relationship if I kept trying to go to shows and standing stiffly in the least crowded part of the space with my arms locked around my chest until enough time had passed that I felt justified shouting “I’M READY TO GO NOW” in his ear.

My therapist helped me find the words: “He has a big, strong, male body that has not been violated in the way yours has. His body is not vulnerable in the same ways yours is, and because of this, he does not feel the same fear you do that his body will be violated in a crowded space.” We’ve talked about it many times since then, and still do talk about it often. I’m better able to express now what it means to me to have a safe space, and how rare it is to find it in a music scene, and how I’m sure it exists somewhere in intentional spaces but I’ve basically stopped trying.

All of this was on my mind for several reasons this weekend at Burger Boogaloo, which I joking-not-jokingly describe as “the only music festival I will attend.” It’s true—I like the music so much that we attempted Burger A Go-Go a couple years ago, where I hit three of my unsafe markers—packed in; skeezy touching under the “excuse me passing through” guise; and being shouted at and shamed by a man I had the audacity to ask to maybe not talk loudly through Cat Power, who I’d driven seven hours and waited out another six of unsafe space to see. Nope—Burger Boogaloo is it for me. (Key words “for me”– I do not pretend to speak for all people who feel vulnerable at shows. What I need to feel safe is not necessarily equivalent to what another survivor or vulnerable person needs to feel safe. And I harbor no delusions that Boogaloo isn’t capable of changing and becoming an unsafe space for me at any moment—almost happened twice this weekend, though in both cases the awesome crowd thwarted it.)

And so I’ve been reflecting on what it is that makes the Boogaloo feel like a safe space to me, and sharing in case it is helpful for others to read my thoughts written out. It would be lovely if some male-bodied people read this and reflected on which of these behaviors they might engage in and therefore have in their power to change, but I don’t control that.

-I can have room around my body if I want to. I do not have to be touched unless I choose. Right away, most music spaces fail this one. You gotta sell the tickets, right? Usually, going to a show means I tolerate my loss of this condition as long as I can, then leave.

I’ve heard the Burger Boogaloo organizers purposely don’t sell out the show. Capacity for Mosswood Park is 10,000, and Boogaloo hasn’t gotten up to that because there’s a conscious effort to not let the space get too crowded. I was worried Iggy Pop would change that this year, but even with a big name headliner, there still seemed to be a good mix of crush up front, spreading out in the back. I took a picture of the spot where I was standing during Shannon and the Clams; I could have put my arms out and moved side to side and still not touched anyone. It’s a rarity.

-Related—no one stands closer to me than is dictated by the crowd in the space. This was a hard one to put into words at first, but the more people with vulnerable bodies I talk to about it, the more “YES!”es I collect. That guy who’s standing next to you is too close, and you just know it. It’s crowded, you think. But no one else is standing quite that close to you. His arm is touching yours when he dances (is he dancing with big movements?), and no one else’s is. From behind is way worse. You think, “If my body were presenting as male, is this where he would be standing?” Your brain says “probably not.” Your brain is probably right.

-No one touches me without my consent. See above, but anyone with a vulnerable body will tell you that the uninvited intentional touches color all the other ones. The boob and butt grabs, definitely, but then there’s what I call the ‘scuse-me-slide, when, out of nowhere, you feel a hand on your lower or middle back, and hear “‘scuse me” whispered way too close into your ear as they slide by you. Extra points if the same person does it more than once, which happened to me at Burgerama, or if the space is not so crowded that you have to slide by.
Please take note: if you feel it necessary to intentionally touch a stranger, such as to request passage by their body, 1) use the tips of your fingers 2) in a stationary touch 3) on the outside of their shoulder. Stay far, fucking far away from the mid-body zone, even for arm touches. Do not use your palm. Do not move your skin across theirs, because dude, that’s a caress. One tap. Fingertips. One shoulder. Even better if your first attempt is words only.

As for the boob and butt grabs: if I react, the crowd around me believes me and reacts too. Some asshole grabbed my butt at First Friday once (not coincidentally, the last First Friday I ever attended). I followed him out the door yelling “HELLO! YOU JUST GRABBED MY BUTT. NOW YOU’RE GONNA WALK AWAY? The fuck is THAT?” People around me looked, watched, and did nothing. He slipped away in the crowd. I went home. I had been there twenty minutes.

-I don’t see anyone’s junk unless I choose to. This one almost fell through at the Boogaloo when a crowd surfer took off his shirt—okay, that was funny, and I laughed and clapped. Then he started fiddling with his belt buckle. I’m not sure what happened, but somehow, he stopped and took off his shoes instead; when he went for the buckle again after that, the crowd put him down. Thanks, crowd. That amphitheater is big and tiered for best viewing, and crowd surfing means you’re splayed on top of the crowd, which means a few hundred people would have seen this guy’s penis whether they wanted to or not. Is it funny if someone gets naked in public? Sometimes. I think a key question there is, “Are there people who will not have a choice whether they want to see this person’s genitalia today?”

-I can leave if I want to. This one’s hard at most fests, where in-and-outs aren’t allowed—leaving means you forfeit your ticket. If you came from a distance, leaving means you wait for your friends in the parking lot until they’re ready to go, which also isn’t great for safety. And it’s not just physical—lots of auditory and visual stimulation leave me feeling activated over time, and I need to take a break to see and hear nothing. So: buying that ticket for an all-day thing also usually means you surrender having an escape route, physical and sensory, which I and my fellow PTSD survivors may tell you is generally the first thing we look for in any enclosed area. The fact that I live within two miles of Mosswood helps with Boogaloo, but also, VIP tickets let you leave and come back. I went home and walked my dog in the middle of Sunday.

-When I ask someone to modify their behavior because it is impacting me, they listen and believe me. I did have a moment at Boogaloo where a tall, broad guy plopped himself right in front of me, in a space where there was definitely room to move around. After a few minutes, I did an outside-of-shoulder tap and said in a pleasant tone, “Hey, would you mind moving to your right a couple inches?” He did, and then checked behind him to make sure I had enough room. Perfect. Less than perfect was the five minutes I spent weighing whether I wanted to risk him reacting badly, and planning the exact tone of voice with which I would speak to minimize the chances he would react with violence, but at least I got to enjoy the rest of the set after that. It felt really good having my space respected. Compare and contrast with the aforementioned Cat Power scenario, when I asked a guy to lower his voice so I could hear my goddamn favorite musician, and he leaned into my face and yelled “OH. YOU DON’T LIKE THAT I AM TALKING? WELL, I’M GOING TO FINISH WHAT I HAVE TO SAY,” then continued his conversation at bullhorn volume. (The friend he was talking to had the decency to look mortified. Cherish these small gifts, friends. /sarcasm)

-People who are known to have been accused of sexual assault are not invited or welcomed into the space. This one goes without saying in theory; in practice, it is so often violated that it is almost laughable to think of it actually happening. The question, “What would you do if someone in your community were called out for sexual violence?” gets one reaction when it’s *not* actually happening to you, and the exact opposite when it is. Do you have a friend who’s been accused of creeping on vulnerable people, of coercing or forcing unwanted contact? You are going to have to learn to hold these two truths simultaneously: this is your friend, the good person you know and love, AND this person is a sexual offender. We contain multitudes, and sometimes parts of those are really, really bad. Yes, he’s your friend. Yes, he’s a rapist. Yes, he did that. What happens now? What will you do to keep others in your community safe, to honor the truth of the people who have been victimized? You can’t fix him. He can fix himself, if he commits his life to it, and turns his concert budget for the next ten years into therapy. And you need to hold him accountable forever. Uninvite him from the party. This is different from cutting him off forever and ever, and you are going to have to figure out that difference. It will suck and I am empathetic. Sometime I will tell you how much it sucks to see the person who violated your body and broke your trust enjoying the comfort of an unaltered social and family life, while you avoid the spaces you used to love that aren’t safe for you anymore. Will you listen when I tell you? Will you believe me? You have a lot of power here.

And this last thought goes out to those of you who think this all sounds like a bit much. It’s a concert, right? It’s crowded. People can’t help it. There’s always someone behaving badly—don’t let that ruin your good time. I would ask you to take a few moments to sit with that reaction, and think about why it is important to you to invalidate my experience. It is not your experience—it is mine. My experience is true, for me. Now—do you have friends who share some part of my experience, and how did you handle it? Have you ever reacted that way to a friend in person? Have you had a friend say they’re ready to leave, but you were having a great time, and so said, “In like three more songs,” and kept dancing? Have you had a friend ask to switch places with you at a show, and you weren’t sure why? Talk about it, and listen up.

I like that Burger Boogaloo seems to listen. There are cartoonish body part balloons everywhere, but no visible junk. There are crass jokes, but not mean spirited ones. People with male bodies wear dresses, and people with fat bodies wear whatever they damn well please; that is so great and so important. It’s not overcrowded. This is no small detail. A hundred percent of the things I listed above are exacerbated by crowding at shows. At Boogaloo, there’s space to stretch when you need it, to dance and sway, to move your body and not touch another if you do not want to. I wish so hard there were more spaces in music like this one. I offer my thanks to the organizers, performers, event staff, and the magical crowd for keeping things feeling safe for another year. I hope everyone whose experience contradicted mine—and I’m not naive enough to imagine there aren’t any—is able to shout it to their community. Please, when they do, believe them.

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