Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Diversity and tolerance in the Goth community

For a lot of people who have not spent time poking their noses into the weird and wonderful world of Goth, 'the Goth community' is the group of creepy-looking teenagers in whiteface lurking outside the supermarket on a Friday night. Or the freakishly-tall-platform-wearing, PVC-clad twentysomethings smoking outside the pub on fetish night.

But the Goth subculture is something that is attractive to people of all ages, from all walks of life. There is no age limit on Goth; you don't have to give up your velvet and lace once you leave college or uni and have to hold down a 'real job' or when you start a family. The oldest Goth I have heard of is Vena Cava of The Goth Bible's (by Nancy Kilpatrick) Cross Section, whom, I'm sure I read, was 65 at the time the book went to print.

Most babybats begin developing an interest in Goth culture in their early teens - probably when they begin secondary school and start noticing the black-clad kids in the older classes. But some start younger, around the ages of eight or nine.

Of course, if your parents or other close relatives are Goth, even if you don't identify as Goth yourself, you will have been more aware of Goth and other alternative fashions and subcultures from a much younger age.

I once received a comment on my old site pointing out that the majority of pictures I used were of white Goth girls. Did this mean that there were no black Goths, or was I just a racist? No, I am not a racist; I use pictures that I find on the net, and the majority of pictures available are of white, female Goths.

There are black Goths ('Goths of colour' and/or 'ethnic Goths'), white Goths, Asian Goths - skin colour is not a factor in what makes one a Goth. Yes, you might say that the stereotypical Goth is pasty-white, but that is just that - a stereotype.

Gender and sexuality
There are male Goths, female Goths, transgender Goths - although it's probably fair to say that with the emphasis in some styles of Goth fashion being on the androgynous, it's not always easy to tell which is which. However, just because a person is Goth it does not automatically mean they are gay or bisexual (a common stereotype). No, not even if they are a male Goth dressed in androgynous or even outright feminine fashion. Not even if they are wearing make-up and a skirt.

There is a large gay and bi community within Goth subculture, which might be partly because of the fact that the Goth community prides itself on open-mindedness and tolerance.

Also, as I have mentioned before, being Goth also does not necessarily mean being 'kinky' or promiscuous. It's a subculture, not a sign of any kind of sexual preference.

In the UK, Goth is generally viewed as a 'middle class subculture', popular amongst relatively wealthy, alienated teens wanting to rebel against their parents and shock their equally middle class neighbours, unlike the punk movement, which was working class to the bone.

Well, I'm a teenager, I live in English suburbia, and do live a reasonably middle class lifestyle, despite actually having working-class roots. (I read the Daily Mail, so really this should come as no surprise to my readers.) But shocking my neighbours or rebelling against my parents never really came into it.

Honestly, when countries like Singapore, Iraq and the Ukraine have a thriving Goth scene, it is a bit ridiculous to think that Goth is a term that only applies to spoilt suburban English kids. And in the UK, I can safely say that at every Goth event I have attended, no one has given a toss whether the person standing next to them drives a 4x4 or a Ford Fiesta.

Again this is something I have already mentioned, by I don't mind re-hashing it - Goths all over the world follow all kinds of religions, with the majority being Christians. Many are also atheists, agnostics, Pagans, Wiccans, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist... you name it. Goth is not a cult and has no group religion. As a community, Goths also do not discriminate against any particular religion. All are welcome.

At first glance, being part of Goth subculture does not necessarily seem compatible with raising children - but it can be. Many Goths are already parents or are planning to have children. Unfortunately, many people raise eyebrows at Gothy parents, assuming that an all-black wardrobe and a penchant for pointy boots somehow makes an unfit parent. This, frankly, is a load of utter bollocks. Goths are just as capable of raising children as anybody else.

For Goths, the choice of whether or not to get married and/or have a family is just as much a personal decision as it is for those outside the subculture - there is no True Goth Law that states, "You must only marry another Goth, and furthermore have three children, which you will name Kali, Lilith and Raeven."

All right, so a spontaneous trip to the spooky club becomes a bit harder with a spouse and child, and the silk velvet probably gets confined to the back of the wardrobe until little Alfie stops spewing liquids from various orifices, but being a Goth and being a parent are not at all incompatible.

Source: Pandamoniam Designs on Etsy
If you've ever spent a day browsing through Goth links on Google, you may have discovered the two polar opposites of opinion regarding, well, the average size of a Goth (I really couldn't think of a better way to put that).

On the one hand, many sources claim that to be Goth is to strive to appear waif-like, heroin chic, and that almost all Goths suffer from anorexia or bulimia. On the other hand, many sources claim that all Goths are horrendously obese. Neither set of opinions seems to have taken into consideration the fact that some Goths might actually be, well, normal.

Of course some Goths prefer a waifish aesthetic. Some would rather be curvy and voluptuous, or strong and toned like an Amazon warrior. There is no 'one true Goth look'; how a person chooses to look is down to the individual.

And yes, there are Goths who are obese and Goths who suffer from eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating, ED-NOS), but I for one will put my hands up and say I don't believe that this has anything to do with these people being Goth. Goths are people of all ages and races and walks of life - undoubtedly some of them will have eating disorders or will be obese. If you look at ANY group in society, there will be some who suffer from weight-related problems or health issues - it is not something specific to the Goth scene.

Smoking, drugs and alcohol
Smoking is a bit of a Goth cliche, especially clove cigarettes (they're black...). So yes, a fair proportion of Goths are smokers. But not all of them. I'm not! And chances are, if you're a young person just becoming involved in the Goth scene, the only people even vaguely likely to put pressure on you to smoke are the local mallgoths.

Alcohol is about as popular in the Goth scene as it is anywhere else - some Goths are heavy drinkers, some moderate, some don't drink at all. The difference is that you won't often - if ever - see bar brawls at the local Goth club.

Drugs? Stereotypically, of course, all Goths are on meth or smoke weed. In real life, I would say that the greater majority of Goths are not on drugs; in fact some (like me) are very anti-drugs. Indulging in drugs is IN NO WAY a requirement of Goth culture.

From a discussion regarding drugs on
"Oddly enough, there seems to be some strange "stereotype" some people have towards goths and the misunderstanding that all goths are into drugs. This baffles me, as the vast majority of my friends, as well as most goths I've known in my lifetime, have an extremely anti-drug stance."

"I am absolutely against and intolerant of hard drugs of any kind and in my book that is anything beyond marijuana. As for marijuana I don't smoke it myself but I can turn the blind eye if someone else does it but I prefer if it wasn't done at all. I rarely drink alcohol but I do drink...maybe once or twice a year? I used to smoke clove cigarettes (*ahem* "cigars" now) but quit for a variety of reasons."
"Well, I don't do drugs, drink, or smoke. I do not mind if someone else does it, as long as they do not disturb me or repeatedly ask me to partake in anything they are doing at the time. I can appreciate that everyone has their own set of beliefs and whatever they do with their body is their right and theirs alone. I just prefer to stay out of their way and go about my own business."

"I have no problems with anyone doing drugs. It's a personal choice. If my husband and I want to drop off the kids at granny's house for the weekend a couple times a year and spend the weekend getting fucked up and drunk then that's our business so long as it's not affecting our children in a negative way. I think people mainly confuse the Goth scene with those club kids who do X/meth/coke and hang out at the club every weekend. If you don't look past the surface it's far too easy to associate the junkies at the clubs with regular Goths."

"I don't really encounter anything beyond the regular alcohol and a bit of weed on my local scene. I personally don't take drugs (and only drink a little), but as I said to a friend recently, its your body, you do what you will with it, and deal with the consequences, its not my place to say unless its affecting me in someway. But everyone I've met is pretty responsible, and also respectful of other people's choices - people will offer cigs or weed, but won't ridicule me for declining. I'm not sure where the stereotype of drugs in the subculture has come from...I work in an area just filled with heroin junkies, and there's a methodone clinic not far from my workplace...I can guarantee you I've never seen a goth or "alternative" queuing up in there."

For the rest of the above discussion, click here.

There are probably criminals who enjoy Goth subculture, just as there are criminals who like opera or ballet. But Goths, by and large, are non-violent and honest people. I'll stick my neck out and say that, despite the 'scary' appearance of the patrons, one of the safest places you could be is a Goth club.

Unfortunately, if a crime is committed by someone wearing black clothing, with unnaturally dyed hair, or piercings, blame tends to be placed on the Goth community as a whole - for example, the Columbine Massacre. However, looking closer at such cases, the black-clad perpetrators tend not to have been involved in the Goth scene proper - they may listen to rock or metal music, wear black clothes and dress in Goth style, they may even call themselves Goths, but 9.9 times out of 10 they are not 'real' Goths, merely people who believe the media scaremongering about Goth and adopt a Goth appearance to make themselves 'shocking', 'rebellious' or 'scary' - which is NOT what Goth is about.

I have never read about a crime, violent or otherwise, committed by someone who was involved in the 'true' Goth scene.

Yes, people with disabilities can be involved in the Goth scene. Why some people seem to be surprised by this is beyond me.

Mental illness
Goth is often associated with anorexia (as mentioned above) and depression, however most of this association is brought about by media stereotyping. Nonetheless, the Goth community is generally welcoming towards everyone, and if someone with an interest in the Goth scene did suffer from a mental illness such as depression it would be unlikely that they would be treated differently because of this. There is possibly less stigma associated with mental illness in the Goth scene.

To sum all this up - hey, Goths are just people! Who knew?

Goth gossip: Star of UK soap Coronation Street, Julie Hesmondhalgh, and her husband, writer of TV programme Shameless, are launching a creative writing competition for teens in memory of murdered Goth Sophie Lancaster, with proceeds being donated to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. The theme of the competition is 'Difference'. Click here to find out more.


Dr Blood said...

I'm not even sure if I'm a Goth or not having read all that. I do wear a lot of black though and listen to industrial techno music.


I think you've covered almost everything dear Amy. Age ain't nothing but a number. Even people that don't look 100% can be into many things Gothy. I love the whole dress-sense right from the Siouxsie tarten skirts and hairdos, right down to the dark Trad Goth sounds.

Most of the people around here in Oswestry claim to be Gothic. But they are very pushy people that often want their own way. In life, you have to learn that you can't always get your own way. I'm totally 1000% anti-drugs, and I don't drink. I can't afford to spend money on drink and drugs. So, I have to make do with the music...and the books I buy on The Net.

Some older people can often enough look very Gothic. Infact, more Gothic than the teens that hang out at the local mall. I see myself as a casual Gothic lover of all things dark. But I don't like maggots and worms. I'm more into bats and photography of graveyards etc. I think that does entitle me to some respect from true Goths.

I also grew up in the darkest parts of the 1980's. When punk turned into Goth. Goth is punk with attitude and balls. It also has an aura of timeless elegance to it. Goths are refind punks that know how to dress and behave better than neurotypicals.

ultimategothguide said...

@ Dr Blood - the point I was trying to make is that having an interest in Goth isn't limited to a single race, age group, or even body type; and that being Goth doesn't mean you are going to become a depressed anorexic antisocial drug addict either. I perhaps got a little carried away... >.<

Angel of Darkness said...

My best friends dad thinks that I drink and do drugs and doesn't believe I could be a Christian and go to youth group being goth. The funny thing is he only met me once.

Julietslace said...

To be honest I don't think there's a stereotypical class for a Goth and I've never heard of it before. Any negative experience because of my class (working class) has nothing to do with Goth, I think!

Anonymous said...

I like your blog a lot and I'd love to show this to my parents, but I fear that the picture at the top (of the girl in purpleXlime green) would only solidify their stereotypes of a "goth." (being someone of questionable morality who dresses immodestly.) Is there a way to read it lacking the header at the top? I wouldn't copypaste it into a word document since they'd assume I just wrote it myself...

Lady Euphoria Deathwatch said...

Hi Amy,

As an over weight, elder Goth I'm glad to be included here.

So many younger Goths think we are posers who couldn't grow up or are trying to be young again. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

We were and are Goth from the first breath to the last. Can't think of ourselves as anything else.

I was Goth before there was a Goth scene. And I'm Goth now that I'm of and age that the club scene doesn't impress any longer.

Goth is a mind set not just the clothing you wear or the music you listen to. And I'm glad that you say that here.

Hugs, Euphoria

Dr Blood said...

Having read through some of your other posts, it has now dawned on me that I'm a "Perky Goth" which is even more amusing since I'm male. :) But I am also a a depressed anorexic antisocial drug addict (cigarettes!) too so it's all good. ;)

SiouxsieL said...

Wow. What a great post. The Goth Bible is such a helpful resource. I have it on my desk. Kudos to you for covering so many angles in one post.
And, I like the girl on the header (I'm currently searching for a pair of paints with bats on them).

ultimategothguide said...

@ Angel of Darkness - yeah, that sums up what a lot of my friends' parents think of me, too :-/

@ Juliet's Lace - I've come across it quite a lot as a stereotype, next time I see it somewhere I will send you a link. I probably read it in the Mail... :-S

@ Anonymous - I'm afraid not... I have been thinking about changing the background and header but might not do so for a few more months yet. Sorry I can't be more helpful. I guess you could print-screen it into Paint?

@ Lady Euphoria - thanks very much, I'm really glad you like the post ^^

@ SiouxsieL - thank you very much ^^ And thanks for adding me to the blogroll on your site, I've been getting loads of hits from you (not to mention being ridiculously flattered)!

Have you tried Aderlass? I have a satin skirt from them with little metal bats on one hip.

Sara said...

I think that the majority of goths are atheists, not christians ;)
At least over here it's like that.

Julietslace said...

Ooh do send me a link next time, I'm curious. But you have to stop reading the Daily Fail ;)

ultimategothguide said...

@ Juliet - and read what, the Sun? Pfft, I think not. XP

Charlie said...

Hi I am glad you mentioned the age thing, I have a mixed style but there is some goth in there, but I constantly worry about my age (32)and wonder if there will ever be a point when my face can't carry off the look... that whole thing where you look young from the back and turn around and people go.. oh god! Maybe my style will have to evolve to avoid this? I refuse to conform to normality though but what age should the PVC go?

ultimategothguide said...

@ Charlie - maybe the PVC doesn't have to go, maybe, like you say, it just needs to evolve, e.g. a PVC waspie over a corporate blouse instead of a PVC miniskirt?

Two of my biggest fashion idols, Adora BatBrat (37) and Jillian Venters (early 40s) still dress in amazing, OTT Goth clothing, so at 32 I would say you still have a good few years to go before you need to worry. ^^

Xanthy said...

Yep, totally. I love how you say the safest place you can be is probably a goth club - here in Belgium, it's so very true! I can go to a goth party in my underwear and no-one would harass me. At any other party, things would go very differently...

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