Greetings, Faithful Readers, and welcome to another month’s chat at Gothic Charm School. As she’s been strolling around the city, parasol held aloft, the Lady of the Manners has been having experiences that (surprise, surprise) mirror those which a lot of the Faithful Readers have been emailing her about. Therefore, this month’s column is about Compliments, Questions, and (sad to say) Insults from those who are Not Goths, and how to respond to them.
Now, the Compliments part should be easy. If someone compliments you on your appearance, smile and say “Thank you.” Do not glare at the person, do not sneer at them, do not look right through them as if you didn’t hear them, and for heaven’s sake DO NOT say something to belittle yourself. Be friendly, be polite, and SAY THANK YOU. Compliments are gifts, and compliments from complete strangers are surprise gifts, which makes them even more charming; you should be charming about accepting them. The Lady of the Manners wouldn’t have thought this was something that was in need of being explained, but she has been proven wrong on this before.
Questions (well-intentioned ones, that is) are also things that should be treated with courtesy. If people are curious enough about you or your appearance to ask you about your clothes, hair, accessories (and so on), you shouldn’t get in a snit and refuse to answer them. As the Lady of the Manners has pointed out before, if you don’t feel you can deal with the attention the gothic style will garner you, then you’ll have to find a different way of expressing yourself. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have some standard responses to the more commonly-asked-questions. A smattering of the questions and answers that happen frequently in the Lady of the Mannerslife are:
Average Person: “Are you going to a costume party?”
The Lady of the Manners: “Oh no, these are my everyday clothes.”
AP: “Why are you dressed like that?”
TLotM: “Because it makes me happy.”
AP: “Is it a special holiday in your country?”
TLotM: “Er . . . Wednesday.” (Or whatever day of the week it happens to be.)
AP: “Wow! What a cool hat/ring/parasol/lunchbox! May I have a closer look?”
TLotM: “Of course.” (Said while holding whichever object was remarked upon so AP can get a better look at it.)
The idea is to give a short, friendly answer, not a dissertation on The Gothic Subculture and What It All Means. Of course, there will be people who will want more detailed answers& #151; at this point, you might suggest they research things on the World Wide Web, recommend they watch the Addams Family movies, or feel free to launch into your definition of What Goth Means to You, depending on how much free time you have.
Keep in mind that Goths are objects of fascination to young children. Many kidlings will be drawn to a goth as if magnetized, to ask questions about why you look like that. Even if you don’t like children, be very, VERY polite to them. You are permitted to tell them you’re busy and ask them to return to their parents, but only as long as you do it in a polite and non-intimidating manner. If you’re unsure why the Lady of the Manners is stressing this point, pop along to the archives here at Gothic.Net and re-read the section in July’s column about interacting with children. That should clear things right up.
Now, the tricky subject of insults. Even to this day, the Lady of the Manners occasionally hears statements like, “Isn’t it early for Halloween?”, “Oooooh, look at the spoooookie person,” and others that make up for in crudeness what they lack in wit. Do you know how the Lady of the Manners responds to those comments?
By ignoring them. By acting like she never even heard them.
People who feel compelled to insult strangers are doing so to get a reaction out of people, and to make themselves feel better. By ignoring them, you’ve refused to acknowledge their very existence and made them powerless, if even for a minute.
Also, on a more prosaic note, there isn’t ANYTHING you could say to someone who insults passers-by that would change their mind. In fiction, people can stun their tormentors into silence with an appropriate display of razor wit. In Real Life, that doesn’t happen. Boors who feel they need to bluster and spout derogatory comments don’t have the brains to realize when they’ve been outwitted; unfortunately, they may decide to enforce their comments with violence.
This especially holds true for Goths who are still in high school or junior high. The Lady of the Manners hates to be the one to break this to all of you, but nothing will make the kids who are hassling you stop, short of adult intervention. Almost no one in their teenage years has a blinding epiphany about how they shouldn’t pick on people who are different from them. This doesn’t mean you should silently bear the brunt of insults and cat-calls — try to find any sympathetic adult and tell them. Don’t expect any miraculous change to occur because of this, but sometimes information will bounce around, and the people who were calling you “f____g freak” last month will be packed off to sensitivity training the next month. Also — if you’re reading this column, then you have access to the web and the internet, yes? Go search out the various gothic newsgroups, IRC channels, and mailing lists. Lurk there for a bit to make sure you won’t do anything that will get you flamed, but use these resources to connect with others like you. It’s easier to hold up under insults and harassment if you can talk to people you relate to.
Now that the Lady of the Manners has done her part to build the Gothic Friends Network, she’s off to have some ice cream. If you have any questions, drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.