Where my Goths at?
August 31st, 2011
08:00 AM ET

Where my Goths at?

The sprawling, battered, hand-me-down sedan had slowed down to a putter alongside me in the dark for at least a block or two, but I willed myself not to acknowledge it. Head down, bangs yanked over eyes, one combat boot clomping in front of the other, I tried mightily to will myself to disappear into the night air - or at least brace for impact.

"FRRRREEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAK!"

The passengers exploded into laughter and peeled off down the suburban avenue. They'd not offered any specific critique or cause for their verbal assault, but I had a sneaking suspicion that it was black lipstick I was wearing. Possibly the long black skirt and black fingernails. Definitely the dog collar.

It had not gone unremarked upon before; in fact earlier that week, my mother - generally a supporter of my right to individual weirdness - had sat me down in the kitchen for a serious talk. "Mrs. B. said she saw you walking along Fort Thomas Avenue and she was worried you looked like a...a...punk rocker!"

Author Kat Kinsman in high school, circa 1990.

I sighed and rolled my eyes, as 17 year old girls are contractually obligated to do when dealing with parental figures. "Did you mention to Mrs. B. that I was a National Merit Finalist, got a 5 on my A.P. English exam, had been a varsity cheerleader, am the editor of the yearbook and got into every college I applied to - with scholarships, even?"

She nodded grimly. "Of course I did. It's just that you've started to look so...different..."

I snapped back, wounded. "And by the way, Mom. I'm not a 'punk rocker.' Geez. I'm Goth. I'll be downstairs."

"Downstairs" was my parents' basement. Cliched, yes, but it was increasingly the only place I felt any semblance of safety. I painted, made sculptures, wrote dreadful and lovelorn poetry, listened to the dark and bloody-voiced bands that I adored and generally bided time until my impending escape to art school. Life just hurt less down there, and I felt comfortable in my own moon pale skin.

It was true that I looked different on the outside than I had before, moving from pastel flowered miniskirts, jelly shoes, polo shirts and jean jackets to shredded black tights, witchy dresses, clunky boots, cross necklaces, purple-tinted hair and eyeliner galore. I wasn't trying to stand out. I was trying to match my appearance to my inner self. I was trying to be beautiful - even if no one else thought so.

In the late 1980s in suburban Kentucky, there was no Goth.net, no "Lady of the Manners" Jillian Venters offering sage advice online to babybat Gothlings struggling to come out of the coffin, no Goth Cruise, no copies of Gothic Beauty magazine gracing the shelves of my local Waldenbooks. While so many of us have found and befriended each other later in life - catching a glimpse of a slightly ornate ring, spying an old cemetery-posed picture on Facebook, or a mutual "like" of a band like Bauhaus or Siouxsie and the Banshees - there's a constant refrain: "Where were you when I was younger? I needed you. I was the only one where I was."

While some young Gothlings managed to find a kindred soul at their school or at their local alternative club, so many of us were left to our own devices. We stayed up through the bleary hours, hoping to catch a Camouflage or Ministry video on MTV's 120 Minutes. We rifled through bins of 12" singles at record shops, read Anne Rice books in college coffee shops, wandered through cemeteries with cameras and sent away for Burning Airlines band T-shirt catalogues - all in the hope of finding another soul singing in the same key.

Now, twenty-some years later, there's a light in the crypt. With the advent of the internet, a 15 year old girl in rural Indiana is not just scribbling verse upon verse about rose thorns and bloody tears into a journal she tucks into her backpack; she's posting them on her Livejournal for all the world to see. She's got Goth friends - who, technically, she may never have met in person - but she's not alone. Gone is the record store scramble and snail-mailed mixtape for a penpal in another state; it's a Last.fm or Spotify playlist or jockeying for a turn to DJ in front of a virtual crowd in a turntable.fm room. There is guidance just a click away from ElderGoths who've seen it, done it, bought the concert shirt and written a book on how to do it with style and grace.

For those who seek it, there is community in both online and off, via message boards, mailing lists, Facebook groups, blogs, dance clubs, elaborate Steampunk parties (Is Steampunk part of Goth or not? Discuss.), Goth Weekends and other forms of assemblies. For the more reserved among us (last year I went to a Gothic picnic and knew no one and tried to talk to groups of strangers and it was wicked awkward), there is the quiet peace and pleasure in knowing that that we’re not the only ones perusing sinister and pretty items on Coilhouse.net and pictures of people we might well have known, way back when on nowthisisgothic.tumblr.com. The emotional and aesthetic solidarity does my dusty old heart an awful lot of good, and I’m sure – at last – that I’m not alone.

Those of us who stumbled through the dark alone may have toned down our lipstick shade (which didn't stop a makeup artist from suggesting he style me as "CNN Goth" as he was prepping me for a recent live TV shot) and spider web necklaces to meld more seamlessly into the work environment, but if you look closely, the little details shimmer through. An elementary school teacher in Las Vegas has barely-covered tattoos and Peter Murphy on her car stereo. A high-level executive assistant in midtown Manhattan sports black polish in his fingernails and a suit-wearing real estate executive in the West Village wears a heavy, silver cemetery cross ring and plays Dead Can Dance on his iPod on the subway. A Chicago restaurant marketing director posts Sisters of Mercy videos on his friends’ Facebook walls late on a Friday and a London internet creative uploads pictures from yes – the Goth Cruise. Old Goths don’t die – we just dress that way.

At its core, Goth is not about liking a particular band, the height of one's hair, rejecting sunlight and obsessing about death. The outward manifestation varies wildly, from Hello Kitty fetishists and Victoriana recreationists to Pagans, Steampunks and closet Corporate Goths. It's notoriously difficult to pluck out the common thread but I've come to believe this to be true: despite many of its outer trappings, it's not a fixation on or desire of death - quite the opposite.

Goths are in love with a darker beauty - a life scored in a minor key and played with great passion. While some people may dally and dabble for a while and toy with the accoutrement (I was not annoyed several years ago when black nails and lips were all the mainstream rage - it just meant I could stock up on better brands), every now-adult Goth I know says essentially the same thing. "I didn't decide to be Goth. I just…was."

And it wasn't easy. Though the outer trappings may float into fashion (okay - I'll admit that I am cranky at Ed Hardy for appropriating our lettering, cemetery crosses and fleur de lis, but mostly because it all looks so dopey – and while we’re on the subject, vampires may dominate books, film and TV right now, but this incarnation is Emo, not Goth), people can be downright cruel - even murderous [Sophie Lancaster], or at least rudely inquisitive. It's up to each one of us to decide how high to let our (black, studded, shredded, skull-bedecked) freak flags fly.

As it happens, some six and a half years ago, rifling through responses to my online dating ad, I came across a message from a handsome, black leather jacketed man leaning up against a stone graveyard monument in his profile picture. We got married on the altar of the deconsecrated  1850s Gothic stone church in which we now live together, and for our five year anniversary, we're going to Northern England's Bronte country and Scotland to tromp around castles and run through the moors screaming for Heathcliff.

My inner 17 year old self might be rolling her eyes at how giddy and lame that sounds, but I bet when I look away, she'll crack a smile.

soundoff (504 Responses)
  1. Philip Hades

    I remember sitting around at lunch in high school, flipping through the Burning Airlines catalog with my freak friends....

    As much fun as scouring Ear X-Tacy and Wax Trax and all my local shops for Sky Gone out or (later) KMFDM's GOdlike 12" there's a lot to be said for connectivity. Seeing how many kids out there still have no one outside the internet to lean on when the real world abuse from bullies, or even family, starts up; I wonder how many of us didn't make it to be "old goths".

    July 2, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  2. RoseBlood21

    Kat, what a wonderful article. Thank you. For introverted goths – ones that have social skills, but prefer to sit home or in a cafe and listening to Joy Division and reading Poe, rather than going to the clubs – this is a great relief. I have read on some goth blogs that unless you have a bustling group of goth friends and go to the goth clubs, you are not goth. The funny thing is that I would certainly like to connect with more goths in real life, but it is sometimes awkward and contrived as you felt on the picnic. I have been into goth literature, music and aesthetics since I was a teen, but now with work, I am corporate goth & being Indian people don't associate me with being goth. However, I was goth before I knew the label for it. It was natural, not for attention and a reflection of how I felt and am inside, just like you. My family didn't understand or accept nor did some in school, but I didn't care as it was who I was. Perhaps, there are other closet goths out there that I will meet in time, but in the mean time, it's reassuring that there are many like myself out there. Thank you again, kindred spirit. http://www.darkelegancegoth.blogspot.com

    May 24, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  3. RoseBlood21

    Kat, what a wonderful article. Thank you. For introverted goths – ones that have social skills, but prefer to sit home or in a cafe and listening to Joy Division and reading Poe, rather than going to the clubs – this is a great relief. I have read on some goth blogs that unless you have a bustling group of goth friends and go to the goth clubs, you are not goth. The funny thing is that I would certainly like to connect with more goths in real life, but it is sometimes awkward and contrived as you felt on the picnic. I have been into goth literature, music and aesthetics since I was a teen, but now with work, I am corporate goth & being Indian people don't associate me with being goth. However, I was goth before I knew the label for it. It was natural, not for attention and a reflection of how I felt and am inside, just like you. My family didn't understand or accept nor did some in school, but I didn't care as it was who I was. Perhaps, there are other closet goths out there that I will meet in time, but in the mean time, it's reassuring that there are many like myself out there. Thank you again, kindred spirit. http://www.rosebloodgothic.blogspot.com

    May 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  4. Heidi

    @Sarah

    childfree by choice sounds like you had an abortion or murdered your own child. Whos the goth with issues now?

    The term "childree by choice" has been around for a long time.

    Many, many people who thoughtfully make the choice not to reproduce for many reasons. It does not indicate that someone has harmed their children. How could they do that if they do not have children in the first place?

    To further your education. Referring to something as being free of something indicates a desire not wanting to have it. Like car-free (doesn't own a car and doesn't want one or carefree (doesn't have a care) or fat-free (nonfat food).

    "Less" denotes not having. Like careless (not having a care), fareless (no cost to ride), clueless (not having a clue) and so on.

    Chilfree by choice, and having kids should be a choice; not an accident or obilgation or the result of a thoughtless act.
    GOOGLE the term "Childfree" on the Internet. You will see the term being used on any website where childfree people post.

    Are you getting the picture?

    December 21, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  5. D. Allen Crowley

    A kindred soul! I explored this very same subject (growing older as a Goth) in my first novel... North Coast Gothic: A Grim Fairy Tale. Check it out! It's available on Kindle and Nook, as well as in paperback.

    December 21, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  6. Someone

    Pssh, you thought changing the way you looked would match how you felt on the inside? I know you were just a teenager, but watch SLC Punk! If you haven't.

    December 9, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • ODEN

      Posted on Congress is betting the csnitotuents are the lame ducks of course.And the concensus proves it. all one needs to do is turn on the boob tube CNN And your statement was on target! As healthcare is concerned you bet obama will muck-it-up as we can see its all about greed and power. I think we all see the big power grab and control by the government course this country is heading for. The problem is How do we stop it?.. Many feel as if a vote next year will fix the problem. I think it adds fuel to the fire not only that but I believe it is planned and controlled. Frankly speaking this will play rigth into obamas lap. he gets rid of the ones that oppose him. This is a very dangerous man he plays to win but not for America. Do you think that the democrats have no clue that they are going to be voted out? They have drones a model of themselves called republicans. All they need to do is e2€œchangee2€9d teams in mid streamI hate that word.Healthcare is no more than a money grab and nothing less than a power hungry dictatorship / totalitarionship. Ultamitly the micromanagement of the US. This is the avenue of the mark of the beast. The control of life from birth until death with the government making all of the decisions.

      March 5, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  7. Brandon

    LOVE this article! I am not Goth but have been a fan of and friend to the Goths since the 80s. I wrote and am co-producing a teen comedy, MY SUMMER AS A GOTH. Jillian Venters is a partner of ours on this project! Check out our Kickstarter campaign here and support us!!!
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1759327397/my-summer-as-a-goth?ref=live

    October 13, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  8. pearl

    I can't even believe some of the responses here... So hateful and judgmental.

    I'm not sure if I would identify as a Goth (goth, whatever). I do like the style and I'm sure there are people who would assign that title to me. But I do know what it's like to spend your adolescence being treated like shit because the people around you can't seem to understand, you're not dressing a certain way or doing your hair and makeup a certain way for attention, you're doing it because... and here's the tricky bit... YOU LIKE IT. It's so simple.

    I do realize that teal hair and sparkly red eyeshadow (just a little, not much more than thick eyeliner) is going to get some stares. I don't care if people look, it's the thinly-veiled disgust that bothers me... I don't make fun of you for wearing pyjamas in public, why are you making for of me in my black and white lace dress and my sky-blue lipstick?

    Right now, my hair is silvery-white. When I get a touch-up I'm going to add some black pieces, and hopefully I'll find a job with a loose dress code so I can dye my hair blue-green again, because it's my favorite color and it looks so nice with my skin... But right now, I'm remaining mostly blonde because people are nicer to you when you're blonde. It's a fact. I ruined my hair so people wouldn't be so put-off by me, and that's sad. I understand toning it down based on the situation... I wouldn't show up to a job interview in lime-green eyeshadow, or to school in black lipstick. That's for my off days. But I'm so tired of having to tone myself down so far so that I'll be more acceptable to others.

    What I really don't get is... It's perfectly acceptable to paint your entire body orange, fry your hair with bleach, and walk around with clothes a hooker would deem too slutty, but I'm covered-up , pale, and I tend to favor black and slightly odd style, so I'm the freak? Weird.

    But really, you just have to figure out how to add little pieces of yourself in your everyday wardrobe- jewelry is a great thing, and playing around with makeup opens up a ton of options. Even just a colored liner is fun and there are plenty of more muted shades (burgundy, deep sapphire and emerald, sparkling black, plum) that I think would be perfectly fine for work. Or at least you could get away with it at most of the places I've worked at.

    September 11, 2011 at 4:14 am |
  9. Fluer D' Phillys

    If you grew out of being a goth, then you were never one to begin with. It's not some phase you grow out of.

    It's more than just music or appearance, although those characteristics are easy to identify. Being goth is like coming home for people who just didn't fit in anywhere else, and regardless of what anyone says, did want to fit in somewhere. It's meeting other people after spending a childhood being fairly lonely and having an ah-ha moment. It's being able to have an intellectually stimulating conversation about topics not related to pop-culture. It's being different, together.

    People who are goth because they just are, are still goth, regardless of age and life status.

    September 7, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Rebeckah

      Seriously hit it on the head. :) You do really always carry that darkness into adulthood. Your eyes will always be drawn to grave stones and bats..just like certain songs you hear will always make your heart dance. I'll never give up my Bauhaus t-shirt, and my toenails will always be polished black. This is me..since eight years old when I fell in love with Elvira and Stephen King. We will never be something we're not.

      April 30, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Krishna

      Hi I am just practicing with a first weisbte and have used this code (thanks) and it works great except I get the same code error as Eilia and Israel when one first goes into the Members page (when no filter is applied to the search). Did you resolve this? I don't get the error anywhere else, and I don't care about it on that filter, as such, but obviously as a novice I have no clue how to remove the error message. Hope you can spare 5 mins to help. thanks

      September 15, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  10. Lauren

    Well, I think it's great (minus the leather). I'm glad the author found what she was looking for.

    September 5, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  11. sockpuppet

    they weren't "goths" where I lived, they were zulus.....
    It's easier to have people make fun of you for something that's within your control. So the fat kid, the depressed kid, the kid with the screwed up teeth, the cutter, the kid with the dad that committed suicide etc-instead of people mocking them for those things in their life that truly humiliated them, they deflected the attention to their clothing. Some idiot screaming at you for your clothes just sounds like an idiot, and it doesn't HURT. I found this to be true of almost everyone one of my friends-there was maybe ONE that was a well-adjusted individual. Even the artists were screwed up.
    Now I know all these people as adults, and it's interesting to note that all of the kids who grew up to better themselves, get therapy, live happier lives, have stopped dressing in extremes. They still show an artistic streak to their style, but they no longer feel the need to make such a statement everywhere they go. The others who are still just overgrown wounded children are still living the lifestyle. They still get up in arms over ridiculous nonsense like a dress-code at work, instead of real life important issues.
    It's pathetic and sad to read the FB posts of people who are obsessed with their cats or this year's Halloween party, or making references to obscure music to make other people feel stupid. All because they still can't get out of their own heads enough to get married and have kids and think about someone other than themselves. They truly sound like they've never grown past their teen-aged mentality.
    I oddly enough was on the fringes of all groups, including the goths, because, I didn't comform to their "non-conformist" style of dress, which was all the same. I never understood it.

    September 4, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • jennydevildoll

      Since when are "getting married and having kids" a sign that people are no longer thinking about themselves? If that were true why does the world need CPS and divorce lawyers? Is everyone required to get married? And if they do, are they required to have kids? (For the record I am happily married, and we are childfree by choice.)

      And none of this even touches on the fact that there are still many states in the US that do not allow all adults who love each other and wish to be married to do so--if they happen to be in same sex couples. But given the heteronormative presumptions of the above remarks, the poster may "not have been outside of their own head" to remember that fact.

      September 4, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
      • Sarah

        childfre by choice sounds like you had an abortion or murdered your own child. Whos the goth with issues now?

        September 5, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
      • jennydevildoll

        @Sarah – "childfree by choice" is a term for people who have made the conscious decision not to procreate. It differentiates from people who wish to have children but do not yet, or those who cannot have children for medical reasons. It has nothing to do with murder. Nor does it mean that someone has had an abortion (though I also support that right if that's what a woman decides.) Now who's the goth with issues? I don't know, but I'm guessing your issues are with where the education systems clearly seems to have failed you?

        September 5, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
      • MsAttitude

        Not to mention the fact that some people have kids who are in NO WAY prepared emotionally (forget the rest). That emotional non-readiness is NOT, in any way, shape, or form a sign of being selfless. It's a selfishness. And who suffers? The innocent babies forced into a world NOT ready for them.

        -for the record, I am helping a family member raise children because said family member is much too young-hearted/immature to take the responsibility upon themself. Oh and the other parent? Exists but only for holidays...and only for an hour or two then.

        September 22, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • sockpuppet

      you know, when I mentioned getting married and having kids, it was just shorthand for growing the hell up. It really wasn't about specifically getting married and having kids. But of course, since you don't have kids, that's the one sentence you are going to focus on and become offended by....whatever.

      September 5, 2011 at 1:38 am |
      • jennydevildoll

        That's some amazing reading comprehension you got there, since I also questioned your views on marriage and even your assumptions that every adult who wants to is free to get married (people who are grown ups also do things like follow news and current social issues!). But you believe that my only issue is with the part about having kids.
        You also seem to think everyone reading this should know how your mind works and therefore instantly know that "marrying and having kids" is your shorthand for "growing up" (you've passed along the memo to the medically infertile, right?) So again, if these things are tantamount for "growing the hell up", then why do we have need of either CPS or divorce? And for that matter, where does that leave goths and other non-mainstream types who have married and had kids? (I know quite a few who fit that description too!)

        September 5, 2011 at 2:00 am |
      • Sarah

        I agree, that person has some serious issues

        September 5, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
      • jennydevildoll

        @ Sarah again – so far you haven't been able to articulate what those "issues" are, other than using a term you don't know the meaning of.

        September 5, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • Heidi

      I am 65 years old, never been a Goth (not that there's anything wrong with it) and am Childfree by choice. Your narrow view of the world that people aren't grown up unless they marry and have a family is sad.

      I have been married and divorced. Single is for me. I have always worked hare, served in my community and have followed many interests and activities.

      There are many choices in life. Those who blindly follow only one dictated path without thinking for themselves are the immature ones.

      September 6, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
      • Fabricio

        Oh, come on, you know you love it. High hair, pirate eye pahetcs, saucy crossdressing what's not to love?Um, excuse me while I go shower.bizarrogirls last blog post..

        September 12, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Lady Tam Li

      sockpuppet: getting married and having kids doesn't make someone instantly self-less. Not in the least. If two people are *dedicated* to each other...married or not...then yes, you have to learn to be a bit more giving. But the basic rules for a great marriage really apply to *any* relationship, romantic or otherwise.

      My husband and I have decided we aren't kid-people for a variety of reasons. That doesn't make us complete immature and selfish jerks, though. We're actually pretty easy-going for anyone who bothers to get to know us.

      i also think you may be taking FB statuses FAR too seriously. If you hate these people this much....why are they on your friends' list...?

      September 8, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  12. Tom

    gay

    September 3, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Sam

      Jerk

      September 4, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
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