The Truth About Being a Goth
I’m not your typical Gothic. I don’t have any piercings or tattoos (I refuse to pay for the pain), I don’t have a mental illness, and most shocking of all, I’m straight. On the other hand, my birthday is May 22, World Gothic Day, so maybe that was my destiny.
I find solace in the Gothic world. As a kid, horror movies never scared me because I knew they were fictional. What really gave me nightmares were the “kill your speed, not a kid” ads. I memorized the Bride of Frankenstein movie to keep me from thinking about those terrifying commercials while I fell asleep.
Even though I didn’t start wearing black clothes with skulls until I was 16, I’ve always been drawn to the macabre. I think the first time I found an attractive woman was by looking at pictures of vampires from the Hammer Horror movies.
I guess I became a full gothic when I started going to Slimelight, Britain’s oldest goth club. I quickly noticed that almost everyone is isolated from mainstream society. Some of the stereotypes about Goths are correct: many of them really love poetry and suffer from depression. But I’ve only known a handful of Satanists and I suspect it was mostly for the shock value.
In a gothic club you meet lesbians with their spiky hair and leather jackets, autistic people debate Game of thrones theories for hours, people with ADHD talking twice as fast as everyone else, navy veterans with PTSD, schizophrenics talking about ghosts and angels talking to them and trans people sharing their horrible stories of childhood. The most striking group is the bipolar, who are generally resplendent in the most exquisite costumes and make-up, although they always worry about not looking good enough.
Gothic clubs are a haven where you can escape reality. In his book Dancing in the streets, Barbara Ehrenreich examines how ancient societies dealt with depression by wearing masks and dancing till you drop. I would suggest that Gothic culture offers a similar escape. Becoming a Goth is a way to make the darkness your own, to arm yourself against it by dressing up and making it fun. Dealing with death can indeed help some people cope with depression.
This is for me the best aspect of the Gothic subculture. A stiff upper lip is a great attitude if you’re in a bomb shelter, chasing a gazelle, or leading men around no man’s land. But the goth approach is all about focusing on your darker feelings, which I think has its merits, especially after a year like the one we just had. Modern Gothic culture is determined to find solace in the dark. I can recommend it.
On Facebook, I frequently see Goths discussing their mental illnesses. Some people think that social media causes mental illness; I think that just made it more visible. When depressed Goths meet, they exchange tips on how to handle life. When a goth friend of mine was suffering from seasonal affective disorder, I told him to close the curtains and watch some tropical fish videos. It worked.
For anyone who wants to try Gothic culture, here are my tips. I recommend reading “The Judge’s House” by Bram Stoker, a wonderful little ghost story involving lots of rats. As for his most famous work, Dracula has a fantastic start and end, which are the parts set in Transylvania – but unfortunately he has a long, tedious middle set in England. But read Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories: “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” are particularly good.
If you like weird curiosities like absinthe glasses and three-headed animals, look around the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities in Hackney. For modern Gothic culture, visit Camden Market and, of course, Slimelight (corner of Angel, Islington) which will hopefully reopen once the lockdown is over.
And finally, whatever you do, wear black. See you on the dark side.