Helllllooooo Faithful Readers, and welcome back to a shiny new installment of Gothic Charm School, which is going to start off with a heartfelt apology from the Lady of the Manners for her hermit-like state lo these many months. The Lady of the Manners never meant to take quite that long of a break from haranguing — er, from answering the various burning questions that many of you have sent to her, truly she didn’t. But one day just turned into another until the Lady of the Manners looked at the calendar and was shocked to discover that it had somehow become 2004.
So! What burning issue has roused the Lady of the Manners from her months-long seclusion? Why, an issue that no one has actually come out and asked for advice about, but needs addressing none the less. You see, there’s a certain type of mail the Lady of the Manners seems to get quite a bit of. There are swarms and swarms of readers out there who are compelled to write to the Lady of the Manners to complain about being labeled Goth; they don’t want to be labeled, labels are restrictive and so limiting! Sure, they may wear all black, be interested in graveyards, gargoyles, horror fiction, vampires, or just prefer a darker aesthetic then most people, but they refuse to be labeled, and they’re terribly, terribly resentful when people try and apply a label to them. There’s So! Much! More! to their personalities and lives than can be encompassed by a (gasp, shudder of revulsion) label.
The Lady of the Manners hates to be the one to be the bearer of harsh news to these charming people, but they need to get over it. Labels can be used in a derogatory fashion, but that’s not the type of labeling the Lady of the Manners is talking about here. The Lady of the Manners wants to talk about the relatively harmless use of labels as a form of social shorthand.
If you wear all black, listen to obscure bands, and have a general aesthetic of dark and decadent, then of course people are going to label you a Goth. Does that mean you are a Goth? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s probably a good bet that you share certain interests with Goths. Getting all wound up about someone casually applying the label to you is a waste of time and energy, which could instead be used towards making sure other aspects of your lifestyle or personality are more prominent so people stop calling you a Goth.
(The Lady of the Manners has noticed that the people who make the biggest fuss about being labeled are usually quick to label other people. “Norms.” “Yuppies.” “Bimbo.” “Jock.” Labels are only distasteful when applied to their oh-so-complex selves. Think about that for a bit, snarklings.)
Labels are useful because they allow people to get across a whole bundle of information across in a compact little package. Labels can be explained and expanded upon, if needed, to get across all the nuances and quirks of personality of the person the label has been applied to, but sometimes brevity is a splendid thing. Labels can help sketch the broad outlines of a person and their interests; The Lady of the Manners doesn’t mind being called a Goth, a clothes fiend, or even eccentric, because she knows that all of those labels do, in one way or another, define facets of her personality. They’re not the ONLY facets of the Lady of the Manners’ personality that exist, but are some of the more obvious ones, and fussing about people commenting on that is just silly.
People don’t just get bent out of shape about labels that are applied to their personalities; some people get very, very vexed about labels being applied to their actions. The Lady of the Manners is referring to those people who spend all their free time with another person, indulge in public displays of affection with that person, and, in fact, exhibit every characteristic of being in a relationship with that person, but fly into a tizzy if anyone says they’re dating. They’re not, and anyone should be able to recognize that. Really. To be clear, the Lady of the Manners doesn’t mean the sort of relationship commonly defined as “fuck buddies;” no, those seem to be much more straightforward in how the participants behave towards each other. The Lady of the Manners is talking about people who complete strangers would assume are “involved;” people who behave towards each other just like boyfriends or girlfriends do, but who not only don’t want to apply such labels to their actions, but become livid if other people try to. The Lady of the Manners would like to take this opportunity to explain to those people that honestly, they can call what they’re doing whatever they like, but the rest of the world is going to look at their behavior and apply the most common explanation to it. Furthermore, the knowledge that other people are calling their whatever-they-call-it a relationship shouldn’t cause arguments, but just give them something else to be amused together about.
The Lady of the Manners sincerely hopes that this month’s column will help stem the flow of “Don’t call me a Goth!” mail she’s been getting; while some of it has been very amusing, on the whole she prefers the letters from people asking her to validate their gothy existence; those sorts of letters make her all nostalgic for when she was a fledgling Goth herself. Do come back next month, when the Lady of the Manners will attempt to explain that being a Goth does NOT automatically mean you’re a Satanist, but why people sometimes make that assumption. As always, send any etiquette questions to firstname.lastname@example.org