This is an article I wrote for Gothic Beauty four years ago, when they actually paid me. It came to mind when I was at a friends wedding recently, a friend I have known for almost twenty years, and one who I lived with at some point in my formative goth years. At the wedding reception I was introduced to a babybat (young goth / goth newb) and she said how great it was to meet me and all the groom’s old-school goth-type friends. I immediately regarded her with suspicion, as I do when anyone seems genuinely pleased to meet me (which is an issue for another time), eyeing-up her gothgarb for signs of weakness, as one must do with all babybats. It’s still odd how judgey I am, but it’s a sign of my own weakness and lack of confidence (remember this when anyone judges you) which I accept. It’s also a right of passage, to be judged by your elders, hence the republishing of this peice, which is way too short to cover every nuance involved in ‘goth points’ I know. And don’t worry, I was supportive and kind to said babybat. And mildy jealous of her outfit…

“For a subculture that on occasion seems happy to ridicule itself, it also takes itself very seriously. The gothic subculture is almost unique in it’s characteristics. The style is instantly recognisable – usually black clad, heavy make-up, big hair – and this makes it easy for people to identify and label. It also has a set of core values and shared interests, demonstrated by studies of goths and the subculture over the years, that are deemed to be intrinsic to ‘being a goth’. An appreciation of literature and art as well as music is fairly standard, as is a love of the macabre and topics that others might deem morbid. Much like punks with their highly visual, identifiable style and strong values, goths take themselves more seriously than they realise. The problem with a strong appearance however, is that it can be easily replicated, and this is what causes arguments, goth-snobbery and accusations of being fake. But for a group that is at times so marginalised, why don’t we get along more with those that want to emulate us? And why, if our values are so important, do we openly mock them and even go as far as to deny our ‘gothicness’ altogether?

For a subculture that on occasion seems happy to ridicule itself, it also takes itself very seriously. The gothic subculture is almost unique in it’s characteristics. The style is instantly recognisable – usually black clad, heavy make-up, big hair – and this makes it easy for people to identify and label. It also has a set of core values and shared interests, demonstrated by studies of goths and the subculture over the years, that are deemed to be intrinsic to ‘being a goth’. An appreciation of literature and art as well as music is fairly standard, as is a love of the macabre and topics that others might deem morbid. Much like punks with their highly visual, identifiable style and strong values, goths take themselves more seriously than they realise. The problem with a strong appearance however, is that it can be easily replicated, and this is what causes arguments, goth-snobbery and accusations of being fake. But for a group that is at times so marginalised, why don’t we get along more with those that want to emulate us? And why, if our values are so important, do we openly mock them and even go as far as to deny our ‘gothicness’ altogether?

The answer to the first question is fairly straightforward in my mind. As is common among many burgeoning weirdos, we are often the subject of bullying. What feels natural to the soon-to-be goth is seen as freakish or awkward to others. As children turn into teens, trying to be adults, it is only natural that alliances form and exclusions are made. In order to be accepted (which is what everybody wants ultimately) some feel the need to reject others. In large communities there may be enough people for everyone to have a group in which they feel they belong, but in smaller ones goths can genuinely be ‘the only weirdo in the village’. Growing up and being made to feel as though who you are and what you like is wrong, is tough. If what you enjoy and believe in is part of who you are, there is little you can do about it, so when a group of likeminded people is finally found with whom you can feel accepted, it is not difficult to see why potential fakers would be met with rejection themselves. If becoming who you are has been a trial in itself, anyone who comes along, trying to emulate it without having to go through the ‘hazing’, would be seen as disingenuous and undeserving of being part of the group.

As for mocking our own culture, with all it’s intricacies and perceived ‘rules’, that is a slightly more complicated issue. In front of non-goths, especially those in the mainstream, it often feels important to be proud of who you are and make a point of where your cultural allegiance lies – as a friend of mine used to say ‘to fly the flag’. This probably goes back to being bullied for being ‘weird’ and, having got through it, now being able to stand up and be proud of who you are (or in some cases even feeling superior to those who are not goth). Within a group of likeminded, black-clad, individuals however, it is funny to mock the things that set us apart from the ‘normos’. This is ok, it is an ‘in-joke’, the mocking is on our own terms and as such reinforces our belonging. As in “I’m so goth, I can take the piss out of being a goth, because only I know what being a goth is and so do my friends”. If this all feels a little analytical, it’s because it is. I wrote my psychology dissertation on the gothic subculture. For this I was naturally awarded 100 ‘goth points’. ‘Goth Points’ is a prime example of gothic subcultural piss-taking and group reinforcement. As Encyclopedia Gothica puts it “Since nobody keeps score and there are no prizes for winning, (it’s) more of a sarcastic in-joke”. For the uninitiated, Goth Points is a made up game where fictional points are awarded for goth-like behaviour (‘I adopted a bat and named him Vincent’ for example) and deducted for non-goth behaviour (‘I went on holiday to Ibiza and got a suntan’). Occasionally actions are so ungoth, we have our ‘goth membership’ revoked. Something like buying the latest X Factor single might be such an example. One of the other classic in-jokes is that some of the people considered most goth, deny being goth altogether. In their denial of being goth, they make themselves even more so. It’s the kind of thinking that can cause black holes (the gothest kind). When it comes down to it, the only thing that can make you ‘not goth’, is not being one. Liking a mainstream band or hating the latest Tim Burton movie doesn’t immediately make you a gothic failure, but if enough of your traits and tastes are gothic, you are a goth. If they are not, then you are not. Simple.

To outsiders, and those who think about it too much, it can often seem that goth has a schizophrenic nature. We are deemed to be worthy of the title if we have suffered because of our gothness, but we reject and look down on those who show an interest if they themselves haven’t experienced the same thing. Once accepted as part of the group, we then make fun of the things that set us apart from those who made fun of us when we were younger. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but this the nature of the beast and quintessential to gothdom.

For many people being a goth might be seen as a choice, but for myself it feels like something I was born with and finally found a name for. For a time it felt like I was ‘the only goth in the village’. Like some kind of corset-wearing, goth two-stepping disease, having a label for my general lifestyle helped find friends, and also helped find acceptance, and it is this that at once makes us take it so seriously while also allows us to enjoy who and what we are. It also means I am officially allowed to give and rescind goth points at will. You have been warned”