Snarklings, this it. This is the post in which the Lady of the Manners is going to attempt to address THE question that arrives in the Gothic Charm School mailbox the most often. Now, the Lady of the Manners has indeed addressed this question before, in various ways, but this is going to be the comprehensive answer to this dilemma that so many of you young Snarklings are facing.
The dilemma? Parents not approving of or letting you be a Goth.
First things first: if you are attracted to finding beauty in darkness, if you are fascinated by the macabre, the grotesque, and the morbid, if the music, literature, and aesthetics of Goth have wrapped their inky black tendrils around your heart, mind, and soul, then no one can change that or take that away from you. (Unless, of course, your tastes change, as sometimes they do, and that’s fine too.) If you have found a home in the Goth subculture, your parents expressing their disapproval or dismay at what appeals to you isn’t going to change that. No really, it isn’t. You may have to downplay your interest in the culture and its trappings, you may have to wait until you are off at school or have moved out on your own, but Goth isn’t going anywhere. It’s an artistic movement that has been around, in one form or another, for centuries.
However, the Lady of the Manners also knows that she’s being a trifle disingenuous with that answer, because that’s not really what you young Snarklings are asking for help with. You want to have your exterior represent your interior; you want to dress the part and be able to look like the fabulous creatures of darkness that you are in your hearts. And that is what your parents tend to object to. For example, there’s this letter from Mary-Sue:
Dear Lady of the Manners,
I told my parents I was Goth and they just laughed. They insisted that no, I was not Goth, and that yes, it WAS just a phase. I tried telling them about some great videos on YouTube by kazlovesbats, SebastianTheGirl, LeahMouse, and you, who were all saying generally the same thing about the subculture, but they didn’t want to see any of them, and they wouldn’t listen to anything I myself had to say. This pretty much sucks because I want to dress in black, and studs, and have the makeup, and all the other stuff I think is cool-looking, but I’m broke and have no car or life, so I can only go shopping when and where they take me. What do I do to make them see this the way I do?
Now Mary-Sue did one of the things the Lady of the Manners would have suggested, which was to show her parents videos that explained about the subculture. Alas, they weren’t willing to watch them, and weren’t willing to listen to anything that Mary-Sue had to say. So turn things around. Ask your parents what are their objections to Goth? What makes them so sure that you aren’t a Goth and that it is just a phase?
The “just a phase” comment is something the Lady of the Manners has wanted to come back to for a while now, actually. For many in the Goth world, being told that “it’s just a phase” is exasperating because we know that it isn’t. To have something so important to us dismissed as a passing fancy makes us feel like the person saying that is ignorant (willfully or not) of an aspect of ourselves. This is especially disheartening and hurtful when it comes from people who have known us for all our lives, and who should have a better understanding of what is important to us. Not to mention the subtext of “it’s just a phase” — that this interest is shallow, frivolous, and that we’ll “grow out of it” — is laden with condescension and scorn.
However, for some people, Goth is “just a phase”, and there’s nothing wrong with that, either. Not everyone who develops an interest in the spooky and the macabre forms a lifelong attachment. Some people want to explore the subculture and then drift away from it as other things attract their interests. Let the Lady of the Manners repeat herself: there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t make those people “poseurs”, and it doesn’t make them deserving of ridicule, it just means that they’re trying on identities and interests until they find the things that really speak to them. Not everyone knows, deep down to the marrow of their bones, who they are and who they want to be, and one of the best things about life is that there are millions upon millions of chances to discover and learn about new ideas. If someone was once interested in Goth but eventually decides it’s not for them, that’s fine. The Lady of the Manners just hopes that those people understand that for some others, Goth is not a phase, but something we stick with for our entire lives.
As to parents saying “it’s just a phase”, the Lady of the Manners has a question for them: So? So what if your child’s interest in Goth is a phase? Do you dismiss everything they show an interest in as “just a phase”? Wouldn’t it be better to ask your child to explain their (possibly to you) newfound fascination, so you can find out what draws them to it, and you can have a better understanding of who they are and who they want to be? Take this opportunity to have a conversation about what they like, about what fascinates them and what motivates them to explore these shadowy corners of the world. Encourage them to learn about the history of Goth — not just the music and subculture that grew out of the end of the punk era, but the historical, artistic, and literary roots of the Gothic movement. There really is more to it than strange music played by people in eccentric black clothing, and learning about the world is never a bad thing.
Gwyn Grim has found a way around her parents’ disapproval of her Goth wardrobe:
Dear Lady of the Manners,
I’m in love with goth culture and I’ve been drawn to it since I was 2 years old. But my parents are very disapproving of the culture, I suppose Marilyn Manson set a bad example. I’m always searching through eBay for the most beautiful dresses, nothing too elaborate but just enough. Simply knee-length lace corset dresses. What I’ve been doing is my brother buys the dresses and ships it to my best friend, and I keep the dresses there and I don’t wear them around my parents. It gets quite tiring though and I dunno what to do. I feel like a fake I suppose because I can’t dress this way around my parents. What should I do? Is there an indirect way to get my parents to be more accepting?
The Lady of the Manners is shaking her head in a fond and indulgent manner at you, because your clever way of indulging in your gothy finery is actually a long-standing tradition in the subculture. The Lady of the Manners has strong memories of some of her friends coming to school dressed in a normal, unremarkable manner only to transform themselves with the clothes and makeup they had brought with them in their messenger bags. And yes, they made very sure to reverse the process and don their camouflage before they returned home every day.
Does the Lady of the Manners condone such subterfuge in order to dress the way you want? Mmm, in a way. Sartorial self-expression is an important thing, and there are many people who never feel confident or secure enough to dress the way they really want to. The Lady of the Manners doesn’t want to encourage any of you Snarklings to out-and-out lie to your parents, but does feel that having an “away from home” wardrobe is not a horrible crime. But as Gwyn Grim says, it does get quite tiring to be constantly switching back and forth.
Are you a fake because you can’t dress the way you want to around your parents? Good heavens, no. How Goth you are is not determined by your wardrobe. The Lady of the Manners realizes that her saying this will be a bit of a shock to some people, what with her well-known devotion to elaborate clothing. But being able to indulge in inky black clothing is not a sure sign that someone is a Real Goth; it just means they don’t have to suffer the limitations of dress codes that other people do. As the Lady of the Manners has said before, Goth is a matter of aesthetics that encompasses many things. A person could drape themselves in all the black velvet in the world and live in black eyeliner and lipstick, but if they don’t have an appreciation for (or at the very least knowledge of) the music and literature that were the catalysts to summon this subculture out of the formless darkness, then they’re not quite Goth. An interest in the shadowy fashions can absolutely lead someone to discovering the Goth world, but those shadowy fashions are not the be all and end all of the Goth subculture.
How to get your parents to be more accepting of your interest in Goth? The thing the Lady of the Manners always suggests: talk to them. Find out why they object to Goth. Many parents are hesitant about their children expressing an interest in Goth because the very foundation of the subculture is about exploring and examining ideas that are not always happy, ideas that make people feel unsettled and uneasy. Parents, with the best of intentions, want to protect their kids from that for as long as they possibly can, even if that protective attitude isn’t actually helping anyone. Another objection many parents have with regard to Goth is because of the image of Goths as dangerously decadent types, and if their child shows an interest in Goth, it means they’re growing up “too fast”, and becoming someone that the parents have no idea how to communicate with.
So talk to them. Arm yourself with examples of family-friendly Goth media such as The Addams Family, The Munsters, the character of Abby on NCIS (a friendly, professionally-successful Goth on mainstream TV!), Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas, or Emily the Strange. Play them songs by The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Voltaire, or Rasputina. Point out to them that the Goth label applies to literary classics such as Dracula, Wuthering Heights, and everything by Edgar Allan Poe. (And of course, you could hand them a copy of the Gothic Charm School book or have them watch the Gothic Charm School videos!)
Tell them what sparked your interest in the Goth, why it resonates with you, and why you want to express yourself that way. (An aside: telling your parents that you like Goth because it’s “edgy”, “so hardcore”, or “it’s black like my soul” is not going to set them at ease.) Point out to them that exploring the Gothic subculture involves reading classic literature, studying history and art, and encourages people to think for themselves and become who they want to.
Alas, the Lady of the Manners does have to tell you there is a chance that no matter how calmly and clearly you explain yourself and how many examples you show to your parents, they won’t budge in their opinion that No Child Of Theirs Is Going To Be A Goth. So then what can you do? As the Lady of the Manners said at the beginning of this lesson, you may have to wait a few years to fully become the gothy creature you long to be; that you will able to sneak in the music, the books, and the general ideas of Goth into your life, but that you may not be able to completely express yourself in the way you want. Yes, that’s a frustrating idea. If you feel so strongly about it that you are willing to deal with arguments and recriminations from your disapproving parents, the Lady of the Manners wishes you luck and emotional resiliency. She just wants to remind you that your gothness is also not determined by how much you rebel against your parents’ wishes, and that sometimes adopting a veneer of “normalcy” is worth it to keep the peace at home.
Then there are the letters that make the Lady of the Manners’ heart ache for the babybat writing in, such as this one:
My mom is CONSTANTLY on my case about what makeup I wear. I’m shy of 13 (I’m still a babybat) and even though I have told her I don’t care what others will think of me, I still get lots of backlash from her with her telling me society will close doors for me. NOT TRUE. Yes, I’m pale, but that doesn’t mean I have to wear light makeup. I like dark makeup. She has told me I look like a slut and no boy will ever like me because I look like, and I quote, a fucking zombie drag-queen that got punched in the eyes. I’ve tried calmly talking to her and my dad, but nothing has worked. She still is so critical. I still get straight A’s, excel in my music and athletics, and she focuses on what is on my face instead of my good qualities. What should I do?
Sincerely, a desperate babybat
Darling, the Lady of the Manners needs you to show this section of the post to your mother right now.
Dear mother of the desperate babybat: what on earth are you THINKING in saying such things to your daughter? No one, NO ONE deserves to have such things said to them, much less your own child. You may not like how she wants to look, but that does not mean she deserves to be called “a fucking zombie drag queen” or any other rude, hurtful, disrespectful things. Children are not clones of yourself, they are their own selves with their own interests and tastes. Lambasting them with cruelty for being different isn’t going to change the way they are, it’s going to make them withdraw from you and leave lasting emotional scars. Why would you want to do that to your child?
For the babybat going through this: be strong. Try to keep in mind that your mother is almost certainly saying these things out of fear, because society does try to freeze out the people who are different, and she probably wants to save you from strife and hardship. She’s going about it in a horrible way, but at the heart of it, she probably thinks she’s being cruel to be kind in a “tough love” sort of way.
What should you do when your mother talks to you like this? In as calm and dignified a manner as you possibly can, tell your mother that you don’t agree with her, that you do not deserve to be spoken to like that, and (if at all possible) walk away from her. Go to another room, go for a walk around the block, but make it clear you will not stay there and be insulted. If it’s not possible to walk away and end the conversation, do everything you can to stay calm and keep repeating “I don’t agree with you.” Avoid getting into an argument if you can, and keep reminding her of the good (better than good, amazing!) things you are doing with your grades, music, and athletics.
Finally, if your mother keeps belittling your appearance and hurling insults at you, you may want to think about going into stealth Goth mode for a while, and give up makeup entirely. No, it’s not a thrilling prospect, and the Lady of the Manners understands that. But if the makeup is the one thing your mother keeps fixating on, then it may be simpler to save expressing yourself with cosmetics for a few years; while the Lady of the Manners dislikes the phrase “wait until you’re older”, your mother may be less hostile about your cosmetic choices when you’re in the middle of your teen years as opposed to “shy of 13”. And let the Lady of the Manners assure you that your gothiness will not vanish just because you aren’t able to indulge in dark shades of makeup. There are many gothy people who don’t wear any makeup at all; black eyeliner is not a prerequisite for being a Goth.
In a perfect world, none of this would be an issue, and your parents would allow you to explore the shadowy world of Goth and encourage your self-expression, instead of trying to squash it in the name of fitting in. There are enough other people in the world who will try and mold you into what they think is right without your parents attempting to do the same. So, Snarklings, be true to yourselves and remember that no matter how frustrating things get, there are others out there like you.
And to drive home the point that there are others out there like you, that you aren’t alone: comments are OPEN. Moderated as always, but open. So please, show each other some support.