X-ing up for shows is a recurring debate within the sxe scene, but I think it's an important ritual. In my experience, x's on the fists are falling by the wayside, but it's a total mistake. I think some of it is kids not wanting to out themselves in cities with small sxe scenes. I think a lot of it has to do with straight edge recovering from the macho stigma of the early nineties. A lot of xfolkx consider x-ing up a tired war cry, and subsequently, few people really want to own those x's in public.
The distinction between substance-free living and a straight edge lifestyle is a matter of pride. Substance-free living is about personal choice, but straight edge living, while also about personal choice, is a matter of standing up and owning that choice. Anyone that knows me in real life knows that I've waffled on the issue of substances and substance-free living and that I didn't decide to include "straight edge" as a apart of my identity until recently. Adopting the title was important for me because I want to lead a positive life style and be a model of positive living, and claiming that publicly makes me feel accountable to more than just myself.
Being vegan is another decision I made in a move towards positive, healthy living, but it's a choice many find intimidating. It's important to me to share my awesome vegan food with folks for a lot of reasons (after all, food is inherently social), but the main one is that I want non-vegans to understand being vegan isn't difficult or miserable. It's quite the opposite, actually; it's EASY AND DELICIOUS! It's not on my agenda to "convert" everyone to veganism, but I do like to get people thinking about it. Such a simple change in lifestyle can be really life affirming, and I don't think people should be intimidated in the slightest. For that reason, I've always been open about being vegan and cooking vegan food, so I don't see why I shouldn't be the same way about substance-free living.
I'm twenty-two years old, so a lot of the social activities my age bracket engages in are laced with liquor and other loopholes in reality. It's a cultural fact that permeates every social sphere. Truth be told, sometimes punk shows and "radical" gatherings feel like frat parties with grungier clothes because everyone's so tanked. It'll never stop being surreal when I wade through conversations like, "Fuck this corporation for being sexist," or "Fuck that company for exploiting developing nation labor," while everyone gesticulates with a cigarette in their hand. (Cigarettes are never vegan, BY THE WAY.) Hang outs get hijacked while people make beer/weed/whatever runs, and people make hurtful decisions under the guise of intoxication. Why is it that the party can't start until we've all got a Drink in our hands?
So when I go to bars and shows, I put an x on my hand. I'm kind of socially awkward, but being straight edge routinely challenges me to find healthy ways to manage that. And there's a trade off: while I may not "loosen up" as much as I'd like when I go out, I'm not picking fights or saying things I shouldn't, either (two things I have definitely done in a previous life under the influence). I am accountable for my actions, and I find my relationships richer and more meaningful when not mediated by substances. When me and my friends aren't fucked up, we're really being ourselves - inhibitions and all. And that's kind of awesome.
Substance-free living also challenges me to find new ways to spend my time. The routine for "fun" at my age is kind of locked in stone: call some people, get trashed, do whatever. But so much more creativity (and variety!) is demanded of us when we step away from that. Even as a drinker, I couldn't stomach drinking all the time because drinking all the time gets fucking boring. Plus, routinely escaping into an altered state of consciousness eliminates so many possibilities that require a sober mind. I think the sober world has more potential for genuine fun than the intoxicated one, and I just can't understand people who want to spend most or all of their time in that latter universe.
When I go out with the x's on my hands, I'm saying, "Hey, it's okay not to drink." People recovering from substance abuse problems see an ally in me. Anyone managing their moods with beer/weed/whatever second guesses themselves. Some people just pause and say, "Do I really need to be consuming _____ tonight?" Outing myself as a sober person creates a demand for sober space, and I think it's important for people to recognize that sobriety - whether embraced occasionally or resolutely - is a valid and important choice. Life can happen outside of intoxication culture! Much like I'm not trying to make everyone vegan by sharing vegan food with them, I'm not trying to make everyone straight edge by putting an x on my fist. But to show that, when I'm angry or scared, I don't distract myself with a drink - to say that I am a nice, awesome, fun person, and those qualities weren't lurking at the bottom of a bottle - to make a conscious and open decision to protect my body when I want to have fun - that's big. And that's why I make a public display of it.