Of Goths Suffering Harassment, of Vampires, and of Skull Accessories

Oh dear, Goths are in the news again. A Goth couple in England was banned from the bus because the driver objected to their appearance, which included the young lady being led on a leash by her fiancee. Several of you Snarklings sent the link to the the Lady of the Manners with letters much like the following one, sent by Mordicus:

Dearest Lady of the Manners,

Earlier a friend brought the following news article to my attention; “Goth who walks fiancee on a leash is banned by bus driver who told him; ‘No dogs allowed'” (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=509713&in_page_id=1770)

Now given the responses of some of the people on the Daily Mail’s site it would seem that not everyone thinks that what the bus driver did was wrong. Personally I disagree.

Now my question is firstly what do you make of this highly unusual case, and secondly what would be your advice to goths facing harassment this extreme.

Thank you for your wonderful column

Mordicus

At first, when the Lady of the Manners had only read the headline of “‘I’m a human pet’: The Goth teenager who’s fiancee walks her around on a dog lead”, the Lady of the Manners thought it was going to be a case of some not-very self-aware Goths being upset that they had perhaps garnered more attention than they had realized they would get. But then the Lady of the Manners read through the article, and discovered that wasn’t the case at all. That the Goth couple were NOT complaining because people were looking at them strangely, but that they had been insulted and assaulted. (Yes, Snarklings. Grabbing people by their clothes and slamming them backwards is assault, and should not be ignored or brushed off.) The young lady herself stated “It might seem strange but it makes us both happy. It’s my culture and my choice. It isn’t hurting anyone.”

In the Lady of the Manners’ opinion, the bus driver’s actions were very wrong, and he should face the same sort of consequences he would if he had behaved in a similar manner toward more “conventional” passengers . As several commentators on the original news article stated, the bus driver probably wouldn’t have batted an eye if drunk and rowdy passengers had boarded his vehicle; Dani and Tasha deserved to be treated with the same sort of civility as anyone else.

As to the second part of Mordicus’ question, the Lady of the Manners’ advice to Goths facing harassment that extreme is this: do everything you can to remove yourself from the situation (especially if it could turn dangerous!), and then bring the matter up with the appropriate authorities. Speak to the manager. File a police report. And please, the Lady of the Manners begs of you, do not respond to the insults and abuse with violence of your own. Yes, it’s a perfectly understandable instinct, but it would only make it that much easier for people to try and apply all the negative Goth stereotypes to you. Of course, the Lady of the Manners wants you all to be safe, so if it’s a case of defending yourself, do what you need to in order to protect yourself. What it all boils down to is stand up for yourself. Do not just sigh and resign yourself to suffering abuse, and be sure to follow up on your initial report or complaint.

As an aside, the Lady of the Manners would like to point out that it seems to her that this young couple were not being discriminated against because they were Goth, but because of the gentleman leading the lady around on a leash. The Lady of the Manners suspects that if the young couple were dressed conventionally but still using the leash, they would have suffered a similar level of harassment. Leading one’s partner around on a leash is not really a part of the Goth subculture, but part of the BDSM and Dominant/submissive cultures. While there is some cross-over between Goth and the fetish communities, they are different communities. (The Lady of the Manners talks about subcultural cross-overs here.) Either way, the harassment was absolutely uncalled for, and the Lady of the Manners hopes that such incidents will become more and more rare.

Now, the Lady of the Manners has been promising to share with you Snarklings a letter she had received from a vampire. The Lady of the Manners has not forgotten her promise! Dove Grey wrote to Gothic Charm School:

Dear Madam:

I read with interest your article about dealing with vampires.

Vampires do exist, however, we don’t go around advertising the fact. Even when we look much different from normal humans we do our best to hide it.

I wish you would discourage young people from playing at being vampires. It’s dangerous for them to start hacking at one another with razor blades and plastic teeth.

Real vampires are reclusive, careful people. We don’t offer to change kids into vampires. We aren’t searching the world for someone to sink our teeth into. We don’t live forever. We don’t have super powers, good looks, arcane knowledge, or great social lives.

Tell young people to become football players, dancers, actors, healthy and law abiding adults. Vampirism is nothing anyone WANTS. It’s an illness by another name.

Dove

The Lady of the Manners does agree that it is dangerous for people to “start hacking at one another with razor blades and plastic teeth”, vampires or not. While the Lady of the Manners is fairly certain that Dove does not speak for people who are members of the vampyre subculture, or even for everyone who would consider themselves a vampire, the Lady of the Manners is grateful that Dove wanted to share a bit of their experience. Thank you for writing, Dove!

And finally, the Lady of the Manners will hold forth er, talk about the growing popularity and mainstream-ing of a very potent symbol of darkness. A reader named Allena, who had remembered the Lady of the Manners offhandedly mentioning the topic, wrote in with some questions about it:

Dear Lady of the Manners,
Just a little curious about a subject you mentioned in conclusion about a month ago. What are your thoughts on the suddenly popular skulls/ Jolly Rogers that seem to decorate everyone now? I happen to wear them quite a bit myself and I have for quite a while. I know a little about the history of the symbol, but nowadays they are not associated with anything in particular, so I feel they work well to symbolize my tastes.
I am okay with them being very cliche and mainstream now since I know it will calm down sooner or later (and it gives me more options when shopping!). However, I got a strange comment from a college professor who I admire I great deal. She asked me about them, and why I wear them so often. “They seem very… oppressive,” she said.
I don’t know if I was more surprised or amused my her comment, since I don’t feel that way at all, as I’m sure you can understand.
Anyway , you mentioned a bit ago that you might write about the whole skull popularity. I would greatly appreciate this, since I hope you could shed a little light on the subject for her (and I, of course, love your opinions!!).
Thank you for taking time to read my letter, and thank you for your lovely thoughts every month!
Allena

The Lady of the Manners is, for the most part, amused by the proliferation of skull-y merchandise. The Lady of the Manners thinks that combining a symbol that has long stood for danger and death with a candy-coating of pink glitter is wryly charming. But the Lady of the Manners can’t help but wonder if the countless throngs who are also buying these cutesy memento mori have really thought about what their new accessories might be saying. Other than they’re oh-so tough, in a pink girly way.

On the one hand, the Lady of the Manners would like to think that the ever-growing crop of cute skull merchandise is an offshoot of the acceptance of Goth and other alternative subcultures by mainstream society. Trust the Lady of the Manners on this, Snarklings. The way mainstream society shows its acceptance is through readily available consumer goods targeted at one’s particular subculture. The Lady of the Manners tries not to (frequently) indulge in the oft-mocked “In my day, we had to burn sticks to make eyeliner! We had to make our own fishnet shirts! Kids today …” ElderGoth ranting, but there is a grain of truth to it. The Lady of the Manners would have been delighted if, as a big-haired and spooky teen, she had been able to trundle down to the local shopping mall to pick up a sparkly skull necklace, let alone stroll into a major department store and buy an entire skull-themed wardrobe.

But, just like always, this widespread availability of a symbol that was once more closely associated with the Goth subculture makes the Lady of the Manners pause. How much power can a symbol retain if it is so, if you’ll pardon the phrase, defanged that it is turning up in teen accessory stores across the land?

The Lady of the Manners does NOT believe that a person must provide proof of their subcultural “cred” before being allowed to own skull-festooned goodies, not at all. But the Lady of the Manners does admit to occasionally having to quash an impulse to ask complete strangers what drew them to the skull necklace/shirt/rainboots that they’re wearing. Was it because they are interested in the symbolic meaning of the skull (or skull and crossbones)? Was it because they thought it was “edgy” and “fashion-forward”? (Buzzwords that the Lady of the Manners despises.) Or was it simply because they are big fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies?

If most Goths are honest with themselves, there is something faintly ridiculous and theatrical in adorning oneself with memento mori. Yes, be mindful of the transient nature of existence, accept that death does indeed come for us all. But try to keep it in perspective, and don’t shun all traces of humor and happiness because of those ideas.

As to why the Lady of the Manners personally collects skull accessories, and preferably pink and sparkly ones? Oh, that’s simple, Snarklings. The Lady of the Manners prefers her spooky darkness to be laced with humor and whimsy, and the Lady of the Manners finds the notion of a delicate and ladylike cameo featuring a pink skull and crossbones very amusing.

With that, Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners is going to go window-shop on eBay and Etsy for more sparkly skulls. (If only someone would make cameos with bats!) What is the Lady of the Manners going to write about next time? Oh, that depends on what sort of letters you send in!

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