My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Gender Roles, Feminism & Femininity

There's a worrying trend in modern Feminism, a trend that women who still like traditionally feminine activities are somehow lesser feminists, and somehow betraying their gender. This doesn't seem right at all, especially as Feminism was all about equal gender rights, and tearing down the concept of gender roles, not about simply replacing outdated roles with different, but equally restrictive ones.  

In most Western countries, the basic concept of gender equality is mainstream, most girls and women believe they can do anything boys and men can do, but there is still a cultural concept of what they should do, and some activities are still seen as masculine and feminine. I think the very idea of linking a task to a gender is restrictive. While it is acceptable to realise that men and women are different if equal, and there will be a tendency towards slightly different ways of thinking, that there is still a lot of cultural conditioning from early infancy, and there is social pressure on little girls to like cute things, the colour pink, fashion, then make-up, boys, etc. and to place the greatest value on their social lives, and social pressure on little boys to play with cars, to like bathroom and gross humour,then play with construction sets, or toy weaponry, and get into sports, and there is more pressure on them to place greatest value on material things and careers. This pressure is actually restrictive, because if one falls out of what is socially acceptable, the behaviour from the group tends to go from beyond shunning to bullying. I guess the majority of my readership are Goths, and have thus encountered what can happen if you step outside the mainstream and accepted roles.

When we realise that an activity is what it is, and that demographic stereotyping (whether based on gender, race, or anything else) is culturally invented, then it becomes a lot easier to allow people to have free choice and follow what they enjoy and not judge them as doing something wrong for doing something that goes against our cultural expectations. That said, we should also realise that some women and men do activities traditionally associated with their gender because they enjoy them, not because of having been pressured into them by a belief that they are feminine or manly, and that the choice is an educated one. Having probably faced pressure to stay in traditional roles, and also faced with assumptions as to the reasons behind us not wanting to, it seems rather hypocritical of non-tradtionally feminine Feminists to then judge women who do want to do something "girly", or assume it is because they have not learnt yet that there is a box for them to think outside of it. There are women who are not aware that they are being subjected to cultural, social and advertising pressures, or who don't know how to resist them, or don't want to because they are afraid of being shunned but there are also women who are doing those traditionally feminine things as a choice.

There are women who are strong, feisty, independent women who go on to choose to be house-wives because they feel it is good for their children to have a stay-at-home mother to raise them and they are affluent enough, or careful enough with money, not to need to be dual income. There are also men who choose to stay at home and be house-husbands while their wives work for exactly the same reason. There are also a host of other family arrangements that are neither of those things. There are girls who like pink cute things because they genuinely like those things, not because all their friends do or because that is how they see girls in adverts or on television. There are boys who like football because they think it's fun, not because it is the stereotypical activity for young boys in the UK. Feminism says that women are beyond stereotypes, but so is the whole of humanity, and creating a stereotype of the modern, emancipated woman is damaging, especially if it puts off younger Feminists from participating in social and political activism because they feel they won't be accepted if they're feminine as well as Feminist.

Part of the problem is that the dichotomy that holds feminine things to be weak, and masculine, or rather macho, things to be strong. Some women feel that to be strong they have to be strong like men, but unfortunately the strengths of men in cultural definition are often reduced to a sort of macho toughness, emotional coldness and a certain amount of subtext around domination, sexual promiscuity and material wealth... These stereotypes are very unhealthy for men - while they might not be overtly oppressive, they are very dangerous and insidious, and provide a cultural drive into destructive behaviour - think of frat boys drinking themselves into hospital because they didn't want to be seen as a "lightweight" or men who fight in the streets because to some the culturally acceptable response to being insulted is to start a fight over it. Violence is glorified rather than seen as a last resort to use to protect one's self and family.

When women take these stereotypes on, they are often doing so because they have partly ingested the idea that feminine things are weak and inferior. Traditionally feminine traits are not inferior, they're not weak. Being caring is not a weakness, being emotionally open is not a weakness, being communicative is not a weakness. Also, being submissive or being domineering aren't inherently male or female traits, and outside of BDSM power-play, are often signs of unhealthy insecurities or arrogances, and ones that have become culturally institutionalised in unhealthy ways, and in more ways than that of patriarchies where women were seen (and in some places still are seen) as possessions.

I am no less tough, determined, independent or equal because I choose to wear frilly shirts and cook things. Feminism was originally about having the freedom to make the choice, about self-determination and legal and political equality. We're now in an age where social pressures to fit to stereotype are a lot more visible because of modern media, but at the same time, an increasing number of people are aware of that, from subcultures, through feminism and gender equality to LGBT rights and the pervasive stereotyping of racial and national groups. If you take a path that is really your choice through all that miasma of social and media pressure, then that is applaudable.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Gothic Style, Architecture and Modernity

This is another old blog entry being recycled and scheduled. I have a nasty cold and am unwell at the moment, so I am trying to concentrate on getting better rather than on new material. That said, I am scheduling new blogs as well as recycled older entries. This blog is from February 11, 2008.

I've seen some gorgeous examples of gothic architecture recently, and some less successful modern attempts. I am close on believing that 'Modern Gothic' is an impossibility and oxymoron that can not be turned into a feasible actuality, but there are a few things that hold me back from this decision.

The obvious thing, one might imagine, is the proffusity of Goth items, but actually, this is not a factor. Many of the Goth (as in the modern subculture, not as in the architectural/artistic style I am simultaneously discussing. As far as this blog goes, 'Goth' refers to the subculture of the dark, and 'Gothic' as to the artistic style.) items I see on sale are tawdry and overly theatrical, with no real beauty, and a tendency to look like caricatures of horror film props, rather than actual accessories.

That said, if one looks hard enough, there are things to find that are a long way from fancy dress and Halloween, items of real craftsmanship, and it is the fact that there is still real craftsmanship in the world that gives me hope. The gothic style is grand, but it relies on top-level craftsmanship, and a balance between grandeur and detail to work, and anything else ends up looking overly theatrical, fake, and unconvincing.

I was, as I try to do every week, watching 'Grand Designs' on Saturday [the previous Saturday to February 11th 2008]. I have long dreamed of building my own home, so it intrigues me. This week the house in question was an amalgam of Gothic and modern, and although the building is not finished in the details, and I may be being quick to judge, I am not big fan of the result. I don't think it is an awful building, but I will not be ringing Handel up for a new chorus anytime soon. It has some amazing space, such as the octagonal dining room, and the gorgeous stairwell with the grand oak staircase, and they have made some things work quite well.

I don't think gothic can be done in half-measures, but this is a matter of my personal taste. I personally feel that one must either go for the Gothic gestures such as this family's carved fireplace and gorgeous oak staircase throughout, or go for the modern look throughout a building, and that combining the two is a balancing act too tricky to work unless one approaches the building with a unified modernised gothic style, rather than incorporating individual elements of both.  I, as have mentioned before, rather like traditional buildings. I also like modern buildings, and I think there is some amazing technology around today that gives the opportunity to build some amazing buildings. I'm looking forward towards seeing what will be built through the course of my life, and maybe, if all goes to plan, I can raise enough money to build some sort of scaled down gothic farm/house in the country somewhere... I do not want a mansion, it would be too much upkeep, but I would like a beautiful building, because I think all things should beautiful.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

30 Day Goth Challenge, Day 3

When did you come out the Goth closet? (If you didn’t then simply discuss the topic)

Well, since becoming a proper Goth I've never been in the Goth closet - Goth is not something I've ever only done at home, or hidden from people. Goth is too closely related to who I am as a person to be something I can take off as I peel off fishnet stockings, unlace my corset and wipe off my makeup, anyway, and I've never had much regard for the opinion of others so felt free to wear what I want. For a long time before I was Goth in terms of fashion, back in my babybat days and in the bohemian days between then and my proper Goth beginnings, I was judged as a freak, a weird person, a dyke, a witch, that crazy girl, etc. so I was under the rather angst-ridden teenage opinion that if everyone hated me anyway wearing weird clothes wasn't going to make anything worse, so I wasn't a closet Bohemian, Hippie or anachronism either.. I also was never particularly inclined to seek acceptance. I didn't see popularity as something to seek to feel validated or to improve my self-esteem.

As a child and teenager, I never felt I could relate to my peers, so quickly stopped bothering to try. I was a very serious, bookish, but also imaginative child and not very socially adept, and severely and violently bullied. It was easier to walk my own path than to be met with violence and hostility at any attempt to integrate. I became quite a solitary person, and quite content with the company of my imagination, but also sought people, younger and older than me, who were also a bit "different". I did have a few friends, but mostly ones who would not dare talk to me in the public arena of school. I was hoping that in moving to a new environment I would get a chance at trying to fit in, and therefore not be under constant attack and derision, so I tried briefly to fit in on starting my second secondary school, but the constant effort, fear of being found out and sheer boredom it entailed did not seem worth it, as it ate at me far more than being bullied had done, so I went back to being my inherently different self, which alienated people even before my breakdown. At my third secondary school, when I was a sixth-form pupil, I was told off for being friends with a first year. I responded that I didn't make friends based on the age of my friend, but on whether or not they were nice to me and we had things in common - the teacher told me I was very arrogant and should make friends with my classmates like everyone else. 

I did give up being a babybat temporarily because of external pressures. My best friend's mother, who was the closest thing I had to a mother in the absence of my birth mother, was very concerned about my new Goth appearance, and my interest in Wicca, she thought they were dangerous, and my Dad then got concerned too.At the same time, the school I was at was very conservative, and had me talk to the school chaplain, forbade me wear my pentacle pendant (I defied that in my school photo, where I look out with a defiant stare, wearing pentagram earrings and pentacle necklace visible), confiscated Gothic and Witchy possessions from my dorm and I got a lot of hassle from the staff over these interests. I could not give up my faith, that is part of my very soul, on that I would be intransigent, but I could dress a tad more acceptably, although I swiftly became Bohemian rather than mainstream. I was mentally unwell, under great academic pressure, had a difficult home-life and realised that to try and remain at least partially sane, and ease off pressures that would lead me to do something stupid, some compromise had to be made in the outward manifestations of my inner self. Maybe it was weakness, maybe it was a sensible decision in the circumstances. I was not yet fully aware of the subculture to make a true commitment to it, anyway, it was more of an interest, at that point, than a large part of my life. I may have stopped dressing as a babybat, but Goth had left its barbs, and I would spend the next few years drawn closer and closer to its beating heart.

I've moved places since then, moved out of the cliquish environment of girls-only schools, been through college, higher education and work, and found that as an adult people are either less judgemental, or at least less inclined to show prejudice openly. Wearing Goth, or any other kind of alternative clothes, in public will mean a few rude comments and if you're particularly unlucky, aggression from less enlightened people who think violence is acceptable. It also means I am visibly another alternative person, so when I meet alternative types who are strangers out and about,  and I talk to them, they're less likely to assume I'm going to do/say something judgemental, and thus it's easier to make new friends from the alternative world. It also means that non-alternative strangers who are curious, come up to me and ask about my clothes and sometimes conversations can grow from there and I can have a nice conversation with a stranger or make a new, non-Goth friend.

I find that being a visible symbol of my way of thinking is a bit of a filter - someone who's going to judge me over my Romantic Goth/ Aristo style is probably not someone I'm going to be able to get on with very well. I'm not saying I can only get on with other anachronisms, but that if someone is that shallow, they're probably not going to be the kind of person I'd be friendly with, because I don't like people showing a judgemental attitude towards others.

The closest I come to being in a "closet" is in my work life - if I'm at work I'm toned down (and tend to take my style advice from people like Sophistique Noir), and when I've been at places with a uniform, I've abided by that, but my being gothic is never a secret - I give people chance to get to know me first as Carolin the Employee, and gradually ease people into the fact I'm a Goth, because Goth is more than just fashion to me, it describes a lot of how I live my life and how I see the world, and I don't want people coming to assumptions (e.g must be depressed or take drugs) that can quickly be dispelled by simply knowing me first, rather than knowing me as a goth first. I'm never very Goth at work, at most it's a black trouser suit with metal buttons (I always replace plastic buttons) and a red, purple or plum blouse, some silver jewellery, my rather distinctive glasses, and maybe skull, cat or bat earrings. I can get away with skulls if they're discrete studs - people don't tend to look closely enough to see what they are. I still got a few odd questions by co-workers, mostly about whether or not I sleep in a coffin. I think that one is down to police procedural drama NCIS and the lovely Abbey Scuito playing to as many stereotypes as she breaks. I also seem to be the one who is treated as a depository of knowledge on anything weird.

Personally, I think it is healthier for people to be themselves, even in the face of prejudice from others. Giving into bullies and judgmental people only feeds their destructive behaviour because they think they have "won" if their victim panders to them. There is nothing morally reprehensible in having different tastes and a different way of thinking to other, only in harming oneself and others. There is nothing intrinsically harmful about being a goth, but being a bully, on the other hand, is harmful to the bully and his victim. If you are bullied, take strength in knowing that there is nothing wrong with you for being goth, and plenty wrong with the bully for them to think it is acceptable to seek enjoyment in intimidating and hurting other people.It is not your fault, it is the fault of the bully, nobody deserves to be bullied and shunned simply for being different. If people are judgemental, well, they are the ones missing out on being enriched by other perspectives. 

It is easy for me to say these things, and a lot harder to actually endure bullying, prejudice and judgemental attitudes, especially if you are young, and the bullying is not dealt with by the school, or the judgmental and prejudicial attitudes come from school staff, family or community or faith figures. While it is important to try to be yourself, sometimes it is best to wait until you are old enough to leave home, leave a constricting community and forge your own life the way you want it. It is good to fight intolerance and prejudice when you meet it, if you fight it in a constructive way, but some battles cannot be easily won, so pick your battles carefully. If you cannot be outwardly true to yourself, remain inwardly true.

"This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!" 
~Shakespeare, being wise through the words of Polonius being smug and self-righteous. 

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Makeup Tutorial: Black Lips and Eye-Makeup

This is my first attempt at doing a makeup tutorial. This a traditional, high-contrast Gothic look, suitable to be worn with various styles, or at least I do similar makeup with various outfits. Probably a bit heavy to wear with particularly historical outfits or Lolita inspired outfits, but with a bit of added neon it could form the basis of a cyber look. I tend not to wear false eyelashes unless out clubbing, so there's no instructions on that.

First of all, pluck/wax. I have dark, thick hair. My eyebrows grow back insanely fast, I have finer brown-ish hair on my upper lip that gets waxed, and coarse black hairs and coarse red (there aren't any redheads in my family, so I'm not sure how this happened) grow out my chin, and those get plucked. I have practically no eyebrows, those also get plucked. I use a thin line of natural hairs as a guide for fancier drawn ones. Some people like to wax/pluck after washing their face, but I think washing my face afterwards helps soothe any soreness.

Secondly, wash your face. This gets rid of flaky bits and helps reduce oily patches that can make your foundation go strange while wearing. If you had eye-makeup on the previous day, give your eyes an extra clean with some eye-makeup remover, because you don't want any mascara or eyeliner residue getting dragged into your foundation.

I am rather pale and slightly ruddy with dry skin, so I'd normally moisturise with a moisturiser that includes some sun protection. I am a sunscreen in winter sort of person, I burn and then develop freckles in sunlight, and my freckles like turning into moles, so I try my best to avoid that. I have three brown moles on my cheek, and a pink 3D one that sprouts hairs under my lip. My nose tends towards being oily, the rest of my face is really dry. I do not understand this strange quality of my nose! Once moisturised, use primer that turns your face into a nice blank, smooth canvas for makeup. My primer is sadly still in the bathroom back in England. Oops. 

Wash, moisturise, prime.

This is me having washed my face and done the above steps. You can actually see the pink on my nose where the skin changes and tends towards being oily! I have a scarf on my head because I couldn't find the box with all my hairbands in, and wanted to keep my hair out of my eyes.

The next step is to conceal blemishes and on your lips, then apply foundation. I use a porcelain and white, and blend them on my face rather than the back of my hand because my hands are ruddier than my face. This is not making my face much paler than it is, but does take out a lot of the pink/red tones, especially on my nose. I deliberately got my partner to take a photo of only half of my face done to show the change and to show the two foundations on my face. I tend to use more white in the foundation around my eyes because it contrasts with the black and provides extra vibrancy when I'm wearing colours.

Apply foundation.
Make sure to blend your foundation really well, onto your ears, down your neck and into your hairline. There was re-adjustment of that scarf between this photo and the next. After primer, foundation is exactly what it is - the foundation of your makeup, so you want to get this bit right. Don't go too pale unless you're well practised and covering all exposed skin. 

Next powder your face for a good finish, and highlight the tops of your cheek bones and rim of your eye-socket. I then used some shimmer powder on the cheek highlights and went under my eyebrow with slightly pearlescent white eyeshadow. The white eyeshadow is for contrast later. I do the highlights with a brush. I'm using large, soft watercolour brushes (and cleaning them well afterwards!) to do this because my proper makeup brushes also got left behind. Oops. I'm not using my art brushes for any cream, liquid, or other non-powder makeups because I want to use those brushes for art sometime, and I'm using them from new, they were cheap ones I bought in Hobby Craft or something. If they've had paint on them, I wouldn't advise using art brushes near your eyes. 

Powder your face
The next stage is the lips. Line them in black. The concealer applied earlier gives a neat edge to the lip makeup, and lining the lips first helps stop the lipstick from spreading. Use a decent black lipstick, not halloween makeup. I do mine in a first coat which I blot thoroughly, wait until it has set, then do a second coat and blot that, and then use lipstick sealer because with dark shades like black it shows and looks awful if it starts coming off. 

Line, colour and seal your lips.
The next stage is the eye makeup. As this isn't straightforward for me to explain in text, this has several photographs. The first stage is kohl under the lower lashes. I put kohl about two-thirds of the way to my nose and then blur it downwards and outwards for a smokey look. Don't do the lower waterline with kohl. It might take a couple of layers to get it smokey enough. I use kohl rather than eye shadow powder to avoid bits falling on my cheeks. If you want to, you can contour your cheek-bones with contouring powder at this point. Doing it very dramatically with angular lines is very 1980s, but I prefer a softer look. 

Apply smokey kohl under the eyes
The next step is to line your eyes in a cat-eye style with liquid liner at the top and outiside corners of your eyes. I use liquid liner by Rimmel as it has a really good application tip on the bottle and is les cumbersome than painting it on. Once that is done, use white pencil on your lower waterline to make your eyes look wider in order to counter-act the effect of wearing such dark makeup. I put a bit of white eye pencil on the inner corner of the eye, too. I think I actually did a tad too much this shot, so in the subsequent ones I'd blended it out as it looked a little strange. 

Apply liquid liner and white eye pencil.
The next stage I should have taken more photos, really, but I will have to do my best to explain in words.   I used three eyes-shadows for this, the white, a silver and a black. For this I used a double-ended applicator and my highlighting brush.  With the black I used a brush to go along the top of the eye-liner, and then using one side of the sponge tip, put black into the corners of the upper lid near my nose,. Then, using the other side of the sponge tip, I put silver up to the crease, and then using the first brush, not the one I used for the black, but the brush I used to do the highlights at the start, I put a new layer of white at the top, and then carefully blend it into a nice gradient. I'm a big fan of nice gradients. Once that is done, I pencil in my eye-brows. You can do them any shape you like. I'm thinking of doing something a bit squarer next time, as the curve meets up too smoothly with black eyeshadow here. Once that's done I do one last coat of eye-liner, for a crisp edge against the silver, and apply mascara. The "derp" face as my partner calls it, is so you can see the makeup, not because I was mucking around and pulling faces at the camera. 

Apply eye-shadow and pencil in eyebrows.
There you have it! While this process has quite a few stages, I don't think it's a very complicated look to actually do. The only tricky stages are blending the foundation properly and drawing the eye-liner straight. 

Some different angles

I'd like to thank my partner very much for putting up with me typing this blog, and for taking all the photographs. I know our bedroom has hardly got ideal lighting conditions, but I think he did a fairly good job, and I'm not exactly the best model (I do a lot of "derp" faces and blink, and twitch...). My partner is semi-professional and has a ::website::

If anyone is interested in what I used, here's a tray with most of the supplies in. Everyone has their own favourite products that work best for them and their skin, so I see little point in listing all my materials. (except to say that Rimmel eyeliner is very good for the price).  I haven't put the preliminary stuff on the tray, as that gets done in the bathroom. That cute little gothic stained glass mirror was a find from Oxfam. Charity shops are one of the best concepts ever. 

Me with a tray full of goodies. 

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

30 Day Goth Challenge, Day 2

Share Photos And Experiences From Your Babybat Days

Well, I was only briefly a babybat, and there weren't any photographs taken, so I can't share photos, but can I can share experiences. I wasn't into babybat music, but was into classical music so did not wear band t-shirts, and took my inspiration from Goths at the mall when I had sneaked off from sanctioned shopping trips. I was not into Satanic imagery, but into looking like a spooky sort of Witch. Yep, I was a fluffy-bunny Wiccan at the same time as a babybat Goth. I avoided those two cliches, but I still fell into lots of others. There were two shops selling both hippie/pagan and goth things in the city, and I used to frequent them both. I remember the smell of incense, hanging around with the people in the shops, and coveting the swords I was too young to buy. My partner and I have an extensive armoury between us now. Coveting attained.

I thought wearing all black was all it took to make an outfit Goth, and terribly mismatched clothes not realising that it took more than two items being the same colour to make them co-ordinate. Consequently, I wore floaty skirts with grungy tops and my black shiny wedge boots with everything, and wore cardigans over t-shirts etc. etc. I believed that only prostitutes wore fishnet, so wore opaque black tights for a while, and then when I realised that real prostitutes haven't worn fishnet in decades, finally let myself wear fishnet. I couldn't afford to buy proper clothes, and my customisation skills needed a lot of work, so all I could buy was charity shop clothes, and as I was on a rather strict allowance, this meant my wardrobe took a long time to grow, which was part of why my clothes were so mismatched - I didn't have enough clothes to put together proper all-black outfits and my choices were based on price rather than style.

I didn't know how to do my own makeup and hadn't heard of foundation, so I looked a mess. I'd been brought up by my Dad and his brothers before boarding school, and these were mainstream men that don't have a clue about makeup. I'd had no mother's dressing table to raid, wasn't allowed fashion magazines, and the other girls who did know about makeup, even if it was only mainstream makeup, didn't talk to me.  So I drew swirls on my face in pencil eye-liner. I'm very happy there are no photos of this and that I didn't often have the courage to look like that in public. Looking back, I must have appeared ridiculous. I also couldn't afford to buy proper make-up and wore halloween face-paint up as goth make-up. I really did look like an abomination. I didn't know how to blend properly, that it is important to line lips before colouring them, or how to apply mascara without making a gunky mess. I didn't have independent internet access, and I'm not sure how many goth makeup tutorials you could find on the internet in those days. There probably were a few, but nowhere near as many as there are now. YouTube wasn't even around back then. So yep, I was a makeup disaster.

My jewellery was worn all-at-once. I still wear a ring on each finger, so that hasn't changed, but I used to wear all my pendants at once, and they clashed, hideously. I also wore an actual dog's collar as a choker.   I had pierced ears, and wore big silver hoops constantly, and they'd get caught in my bird-nest of hair. My hair wasn't back-combed, it wasn't even dyed, it was long, brown and got everywhere. I went back to my bohemian braids in the end because my hair was waist-length and very fine and became natty very quickly otherwise, especially when subjected to the English weather.

Being a Goth was even more frowned upon than being a Witch at my school, but that made little difference. As I was already thoroughly bullied and mistreated, it wasn't any worse after my change in wardrobe because it really couldn't get much worse. I just got called "vampire" instead of "crazy cow". Everybody already thought I was a freak, probably because of my strange behaviour due to my insanity at the time, and partly because I have never had anything in common with the mainstream. Fashionable clothes, music and popular culture has always bored me. Also, I was a scholarship girl and skipped a year, those things got me bullied a lot too. Not to mention being scrawny and very tall, and really, really pale by nature.  One more thing for them to pick on me for really didn't change anything.  If anything, I was smug in my anti-fashion and felt a little stronger facing the bullies.

It was probably a wonderful thing for everyone that I stopped being goth, and didn't come back to the subculture until I'd had several years experience of dressing in an alternative manner. The world didn't have to put up with my bad attempts at Goth, and the local members of the Goth subculture didn't have to put up with a mentally unstable babybat, and I don't have any embarrassing photos. Everybody wins.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Goth, Subcultures and Conformity

I originally published this on Dec 18th, 2008, on a previous blog, but over 3 years on I still find it applicable, especially as I still get the accusation that I'm failing to be nonconformist by conforming to a subculture, as if I actually adhere to the conformist/nonconformist duality nonsense.

I read a blog entry that now seems to have moved, or ceased to exist, originally at Subculture.Blat. I can no longer remember reading it, and appeared to be mostly in agreement at least at the time, although my opinions may have since changed and I can't remember what it was I previously agreed with, but there is one point I objected to. It is not paradoxical that we Goths look for acceptance in a Gothic community while distancing ourselves from the mainstream.

Most of the Goths I know are neither trying to deliberately distance themselves or deliberately join a group. Most Goths are Goths because they like the fashion, music and lifestyle.

Some Goths do make a point of rejecting the mainstream, of putting distance between themselves and wider society. I do. I have found popular culture vacuous at best, and dangerous at worst, and would like to have nothing to do with it. That is not to say that all people in mainstream society are bad people, they are not, it is just that mainstream society is centred around ideals that are often the polar opposites of my own, such as materialism, celebrity worship, consumerism, selfishness and instant gratification.

This rejection of these conventional ideals is not a purely Gothic phenomenon. It has been passed down through all the various subcultures from the Romantics onwards. It is why subcultures exist. Yes, some subcultures have replaced these 'mainstream' faults, and I do think they are faults, with faults of their own, but the thread of realisation that living a self-serving life of materialism, greed and instant gratification is a path to ruin has been kept. Some of these subcultures have changed the world. Modern society, modern conventional society as well as modern subcultural society, has been forever changed by the hippies of the 1960s, for better and for worse.

But rejection of the mainstream does not mean rejection of any form of society. We may have been outcasted by ordinary society, and we may have deliberately distanced ourselves from ordinary society, but this does not mean we do not want to be in a community, and do mot value altruism, friendship and participation in the wider world. No, all it means is we do not want to be a part of a culture whose values we reject, and are quite happy to form subcultures, and interact between various subcultures, in groups that are almost contemporary tribes formed by common ideals, fashions and mini cultures rather than by nationality or heritage.

It is not that we reject being accepted, it is that we reject being part of the majority, or at least this is true for me. It is not that I think myself "better off alone", just better off away from the annoying banality of the ordinary, away from an empty popular culture and a society that is consuming itself. Rejection of one group does not mean a rejection of the idea of groups. It also does not mean we want the mainstream to hate us. Actually, I, at least, would like to see popular society accept Goths as part of the world, and take on positive values from all the subcultural and counter-cultural communities.

Goths who are desperately trying to be as alternate as possible, with the sole intention of being as different as possible from everyone else are not the majority of Goths, and it is not a case of just trying to avoid conforming to anything. Most Goths realise that they are conforming to what is expected of Goth, and most of them aren't doing it to fit in, they're doing it because they genuinely like it. I still wear colours occasionally, and I listen to folk and classical music, and I don't think it makes me any less Goth, I think it just makes me more me...

I don't like people who deliberately try to be as different from everybody else as possible, trying to distance themselves and reject everyone, usually because they have been rejected by everyone, dressing "to shock others... ...forcing the world to recognise them, but refusing to be a part of it", simultaneously crying for attention and pushing the world away. It does not seem to me a mature way to deal with the situation. I acted like that when I was about 13 or 14, and it does no good. Thankfully most of those people, like me, grow out of it. Thankfully most of them grow to have enough true self-esteem to not require such social coping strategies.

I may be openly walking a different path to the mainstream, but I do not do so out of bitterness and a desire for attention. I do so because that is the road I wish to walk. I accept that I am human, completely human, and I do not think holding something in common with other human beings a fault. I realise that I have my faults. I suspect my road probably has faults I cannot see from where I stand. I do not see difference as a virtue, nor as a vice, just as something that is.

I may reject mainstream society, but I do not reject humanity, and I think a lot of people are good people, and a lot of people are moving away from the faults of modern society as those faults become ever more apparent. I have also noticed that what was the mainstream is slowly holding less sway. Progress seems to be being attained by inches, but there is progress.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

30 Day Goth Challenge, Day 1

I am going to take part in the 30 Day Goth Challenge. This is 30 questions theoretically to be answered on consecutive days. I can guarantee these won't be up on consecutive days. These are the questions:

Day 1 – How did you come to the subculture? 
Day 2 – Share photos and experiences from your Baby Bat days. 
Day 3 – When did you come out the Goth closet? (If you didn’t then simply discuss the topic) 
Day 4 – Name a stereotype or cliche you can relate to. 
Day 5 – Is there a local Goth band or group in your area? 
Day 6 – Hand write your favourite lyric and take a picture. 
Day 7 – Ten of your favourite goth bands. 
Day 8 – What’s your worst and best experience with non-Goths? 
Day 9 – What genre of music do you dislike? 
Day 10 – What do you hate and love about the subculture? 
Day 11 – Is Goth a lifestyle for you? 
Day 12 – What’s your gothic inspiration? 
Day 13 – What was your first band t-shirt? 
Day 14 – What was your best and worst DIY disaster. 
Day 15 – Your favourite or most expensive item in your wardrobe. 
Day 16 – What’s the most casual you’ve ever dressed? 
Day 17 – Your favourite Goth brand. 
Day 18 – Worst hair experience. 
Day 19 – Share beauty advise and take a photo of your make up. 
Day 20 – If you could dye your hair any colour what would it be? 
Day 21 – What body mod do you have or have you considered? 
Day 22 – If you could attend any Goth event what would it be? 
Day 23 – Your favourite artist or photographer. 
Day 24 – Name the best websites for Goths. 
Day 25 – Did you ever consider leaving the subculture? 
Day 26 – Show a photo for every year (or month if you’re new) that you’ve being into Goth. 
Day 27 – The worst thing you ever did to a newbie. 
Day 28 – Do you consider yourself an eldergoth? 
Day 29 – What do you think will happen to Goth in the future? 
Day 30 – Make a list of blogs you regularly read and link to them. 

I'm not sure who started it, but I want to take part. 

So, for Day 1! How did I come to the subculture... Well, the very first goth I met was a girl called Rose or Rosie who was a few years older than me and at the first secondary school I attended. This secondary school was a state girls-only day school and we had a navy-blue uniform that was pretty conservative for state school uniforms (long skirts, shirts, ties, blazers), and she used to change into black dresses for the journey too and from school, much to the dismay of the staff, wore a "Vote Satan" t-shirt to P.E and had pentagrams drawn on her bag. I was just getting into Wicca at the time, and asked her if she was a Witch, but I was huge "fluffy-bunny" and I think I annoyed her. A fluffy-bunny is the Wiccan equivalent of a mall-goth or babybat, but they come in all ages, and some never realise stuff like that Wicca has only been around since the 1940's and that sparkly wands are just silly. I confess, I had a sparkly wand... Anyway, I thought she was cool, but at the same time I was terrified of her. There were a lot of rumours about her self-harming, that her and her goth friends slit each others wrists and drank blood, that she was on drugs, etc. etc. Now, I realise that it was a bunch of malicious nonsense, and it was probably the fact that she had to put up with that sort of bullying which made her snap when I asked her if she was a Witch too.  I regret having believed the rumours, and regret being afraid of her, as she was probably really nice. 

While not at school I was a bit of a tomboy, and as I had grown upwards unusually quickly and without much sign of  gaining curves, I ended up looking like a male teenage boy that was vaguely into metal and a bit of a geek. I wore baggy, ripped-by-use jeans and those black t-shirts with pictures of "cool stuff" on. My favourite t-shirts were one that said "I don't do mornings" and one that was all black with a space scene on the front. I'd wear chokers and my hair in a ponytail and wore those silver-looking necklaces that come on black cord. My favourite was a moon necklace, but I also ended up with dragons and swords and suchlike pendant designs. I had a girl ask me out when I was 13 because she thought I was actually a boy! I also ended up with big round glasses and a jaw-brace, completing my geekiness. 

It was a couple of years later when I got interested in Goth for myself. I was sent away to a very conservative Christian girls-only boarding school, where I did not fit in, was disliked by many of the staff and felt very isolated. I had a handful of good friends there, including Dawn who gave me that candle-holder, who I am all still friends with, but most of the girls spread rumours about me, didn't want to talk to me, and bitched about me behind my back. There were a lot of nice people there, don't get me wrong, but my  experience was mostly negative, and I will admit that my memories of this period are also patchy and distorted. While I was there, I was suffering from mental health issues relating back to my childhood, and the oppressive atmosphere and lack of support from my peers, who, admittedly I alienated further as I started acting on delusions and slowly falling further and further into insanity, only made matters worse. At this point I was having violent mood-swings, from deranged hyperactivity where I was gabbling nonsense and dancing about in the corridors, to suicidal depression when the hyperactivity and its associated distance from reality wore off and I was back faced with a life that had been rather painful, and only looked to be getting more painful. I started hallucinating and then became quite delusional, really believing myself to be an elf in a human body, and paranoid, partly because when I wasn't at boarding school I was being stalked by a neighbour and partly because I was also genuinely having bad things done to me by people who had realised that if I complained, nobody would believe me. The staff also used this - when it suited them to use it as an excuse, I was insane, the rest of the time, they said I was acting up for attention. I was seeing mental health professionals at this time, and the school ignored their advice. Needless to say, it ended badly.

My usual mode of dress at this time was rather bohemian, floaty, lots of green. This fitted in with the "elf" delusions, but when I was more myself - and I did end up with some extended periods of clarity - I started dabbling with an all black look, babybat Gothic. Part of me was being rebellious, as it was primarily the "preppy" rich and fashionable girls who mocked me for being at school on scholarship, for being socially awkward, for having no interest in popular culture. So I took on a Punk-inspired anti-fashion "I hate the mainstream" look, not one executed particular;y well, but one that was my sign of defiance. I had a pair of black patent wedge boots that I loved to death and did not know how to do my own makeup, and my spiked collar originally belonged to a neighbour's dog. Of course, this was seen as a sign of my instability or wayward nature, and while my Dad didn't mind, the parents of my friends and the school did. I quickly decided I was going to go back to colours. I had enough problems in my life, I did not need more.

I had begun teaching myself to play the piano in secret, after dark, as I could not afford the school piano lessons, and the school had halted my 'cello lessons as music was being considered a distraction. I would sneak in an out of the music department or the piano room below the dormitories of the younger children, still clad in my long white night-dress and pastel purple kimono/dressing gown, and I would play. I taught myself basic pieces, how to play with both hands independent of each other, how to play scales, and would write songs of my misery and madness because that way I could express all the things in my head without fear of being locked up for being mad or judged for being unorthodox. The piano was inanimate, but it was my confessional, my comfort, my link to sanity. Of course, this was thoroughly against school rules, so I learnt how to open windows from the outside, how to sneak around outside of CCTV view, how to hide and escape whenever some member of staff came to see who was playing piano in the early hours of the morning. I convinced several first-years that the school was haunted by a piano playing ghost, and I, all in pale colours, white as a sheet, with long scraggly dark hair and enough synthetics to spark as I ran, made a very good ghost when necessary. This might seem a tangental anecdote, but later on I will explain the huge impact classical music has had on my life as a Goth. 

After my GCSEs I left that school, and switched to another boarding school, but by that point the psychological damage had been done. I had become painfully shy, depressed and highly distrustful, even if my moods were more level and the delusions and hallucinations were gone. I kept to my bohemian look, and got a bit more hippie. 

At this point I met three wonderful people. Two were day pupils at my school, and one was one of their friends. The two day pupils weren't Goths, but one of them had a definite Gothic streak, with her attic bedroom painted purple, the empty bird-cage, the poetry written on on the door, her beautiful velvet skirts and her taste for the macabre, and the one who didn't go to my school definitely was a goth. I thought my goth friend's clothes were amazing, especially her towering Demonia platform boots. It didn't cause a change in my style right then, but it began something. I was given a purple, black and blue velvet lace-up medieval style blouse that suddenly became my favourite piece of clothing, and then a black peasant blouse got worn a lot... then I bought an all-black cheese-cloth ensemble. It had definitely influenced me. I was still predominantly a colourful bohemian, but a darker edge was beginning to emerge.  The dark one of my school pals steered me in the direction of deliciously dark books and horror movies. There was already a dark edge in my art and poetry, and I was working on the second draft of my post-apocalyptic novel (although it was more dark fantasy at the time).

My music of choice at the time was classical. I especially loved music of the Romantic period and 19thC.  Everything from stormy Beethoven to grand Mahler symphonies. The school did a performance of the Mozart Requiem, it wasn't quite Romantic but it was the most exciting concert I've performed in (and that still stands, years on and many concerts later) and that is when I started getting interested in period dress and historical fashion. I loved the passion, I loved the darkness, the power, the storminess. Liszt and Beethoven became my favourite composers. I read up on the Sturm und Drang movement, and felt I was born in the wrong era. I read Faust. I left school before completing all of my A levels because the pressure of school was starting to take its toll on my fragile mental health, and took a year out of studying at school, and became a bit of a recluse at home, but a very studious recluse. I had not previously had the opportunity to learn much in the way of music because of finances and attitudes from staff who saw my passion for music as a distraction from more academic pursuits.  Now I had time to myself, I threw myself into research on the Romantic era and latter movements such as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. 

I really wished for the money to learn instruments properly. My then step-brother (my Dad's now ex-partner's son) was off at Trinity College of Music in London, and I was in envy of his skill. The cheapest instrument to learn was the recorder, so I started studying that seriously, and I soon grew to love it and respect it as an instrument. I also ended up playing a lot of baroque music. I must say I still love the Romantic period more in terms of music, but I loved the period clothes on the covers of the music. I bought my first lace-cuffed shirt, and oh, how I adored it. The Baroque period was beautifully decadent, but I longed for the passion of Romantic-era music. I ended up learning a few Romantic-era flute pieces on the recorder for my amusement.

My passion for music had become a passion for history, art history and historical fashion. I discovered steampunk, and my daily dress was blend of bohemian, steampunk and historical influences. I had a pocket-watch, a parasol, and wore long velvet skirts, or dressed as a Victorian or earlier gentleman - not historically accurate, just what I thought looked good - but there was always a tendency towards wearing dark colours, and in looking for Victorian things I found a lot of Romantic Goth clothes. My music had diversified, I was listening to Evanescence, Marilyn Manson, Muse, Nightwish, Within Temptation and lots of other rock with a darker edge, including plenty of songs by mainstream bands that were tinged with a certain level of black. One day I went to a friend's house to play computer games (LAN party... I admit it) and they were playing Rammstein. I was in love with this harsh sound that was less growling than metal, with audible lyrics (albeit in German) and I discovered Industrial. I'd gone from orchestras and pianos to electric guitars and synthesisers, and was looking at rock music with the dissecting eyes of a music student. 

I also dyed my hair purple as purple is my favourite colour and has been for a very, very, very long time. I also went to college.

My first application was to do an art course rather than A Levels, but I was advised to get my A Levels and then apply to do my degree in art by the people at the first college, as they said I'd have got bored, and needed the academic side. I was really upset at the time, sick to death of academic pressures (I had been skipped a year at school, and it was always expected of me to be perfect, anything less than 95% on an exam was as bad as failure) and just wanted to be creative. I already had an AS in Art, though, so went to the local community college, and took my A Levels. My mental health had levelled out by this point, and I was lucid and socially aware enough to make friends, and I became friends with lots of Goths and Metalheads. My outfits were a mix of historically inspired, Bohemian, Steampunk and Goth. I studied English Literature, Classical Civilisations, Music, Art and Geography, all of which fed into my Romantic attitude. The more I studied, the more I absorbed. I started writing poetry profusely, composing my own music, and designing my own outfits. I read and read and read, and joined the literature society at college...

I had a mental health relapse as a consequence of being in a very destructive relationship, and ended up back in the pit of despair. I ended up hallucinating and with a fractured personality. Once again I was on the brink, but this time I was aware of it, and sought help, and eventually got the help of a reasonable psychiatrist after having been moved around the system as they couldn't pin a diagnosis on me, and came to the realisation I was not inherently mentally unstable, there was no neurological fault or chemical imbalance; I was an abuse survivor whose wounds had never been given chance to properly heal because instead of getting productive help, I had been pushed from one stressful and negative scenario to the next. I was also older and wiser, and realised that I was not a child needing the support of adults anymore, I was a grown woman who needed to fix her own life. So I did. I sought out my piano in times of emotional distress instead of cutting, I wrote bad poetry, wrote venting letters to my psychiatrists, and finally cut my mother out of my life like I should have has the strength to ten years previously. I faced my inner demons on my own terms and dealt with them.

A lot of my reading and music in this dark time was what could be considered Gothic. I felt solace in knowing I wasn't alone, that other people suffered, that other people went through this sort of agony. I started listening to Emilie Autumn and The Dresden Dolls a lot, and wrote a few angsty songs of my own. I started searching for beauty in the darkness, rather than fleeing. By this point I had suffered terrible abuses, gone mad and nearly died a couple of times - I had lived in the darkness - and I refused to let it dictate my nature in a negative, broken way. I was determined to use it as fuel to grow into a better and stronger person. My then boyfriend wounded me deeply, but in having to deal with him I found a deeper strength in myself. He also helped me pick my first guitar.

While I was in my final year at college (I spent 3 years there in total, as I took on music in my final year) I was definitely completely Goth. I wasn't a babybat aesthetically, definitely a Romantic Goth this time around, and I was also a modern Romantic, full of Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Liszt, and Pre-Raphaelite paintings, going out to seek experience, the awesome power of nature, trying to convey that in my own creative output. I was also into Victorian Gothic Revival art, architecture and design. I spent many hours in books and many hours outdoors being inspired.  Musically, though, I hadn't yet discovered the 1980s. My music tutor changed all that, he made me write an essay on the origins of Goth. In less than a week I'd listened to large chunks of the back catalogue of Siouxsie and The Banshees, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, and on researching the BatCave, Specimen. I learnt about Bowie and about Velvet Underground, I learnt about "Paint it Black" by the Rolling Stones and about Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain... I ended up writing two more detailed essays pertaining to Goth - one about Siouxsie and the Banshees as a punk band, post-punk band, and how they then kept stylistically changing, and another about multicultural influences in the music of Dead Can Dance (which I rehashed as an answer to a question on multicultural influences on modern music in an exam). With discovering 1980's goth music, I discovered the complete Goth scene, and finally felt like I had found myself in the process.

Years have passed between then and now, and I'm still a Goth, still a Romantic, still with my head in a book or out playing the flute above the creek. I changed, took on a degree in Creative Arts, grew up, moved out, moved country, moved in with my partner... I came to the Goth subculture in stages throughout my adolescence, skirting around the edges, but always being tugged towards it, finally, in writing an essay in my last year of college, I fell into the core, and have absolutely no intentions of ever leaving.