:: the coffin lid creaks open. a hand extends from inside, checking the daylight level ::
Gracious, the Lady of the Manners didn’t intend to take quite that long of a nap, but apparently needed to be in torpor for a while. Hello Snarklings! For the first (belated) post of 2022, the Lady of the Manners is going to revisit a topic she hasn’t written about in a very long time, but one that will always be a concern for younger goths everywhere: dealing with parents.
In an ideal world, when a young person decides to explore the goth subculture, their parents would be supportive. Or at the very least, not react with fear and disapproval. But alas, that ideal world doesn’t exist. So what can you do when your parents react poorly to the unfurling of your spooky self?
Firstly, there’s the Lady of the Manners’ perpetual suggestion: talk to them. Ask them why they object to you exploring 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.
- That concern is frequently paired with the VERY WRONG misconception that goth encourages self-harm.
Dark things won’t stop existing just because people don’t want to acknowledge them. Neither will strong emotions. Goth arose from some intertwined and entangled things: music that often explored the ideas of death, horror, and decadence; an acknowledgement that melancholy and darkness are a part of everyone’s lives, and an exploration of what beauty and catharsis can be found in the darkness.
As for the notion that goth encourages self-harm: not only is that horrifically and offensively wrong, but also an accusation that has been thrown at every subculture that has ever existed. For many, the goth subculture helps people who feel different and overwhelmed and isolated by showing them they aren’t alone. That there are others who feel the same, and who strive to express and cope with those feelings through music, art, and self-expression.
- Another objection many parents have with regard to goth is because they have an 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.
- Hand in hand with the worries about decadence, many parents have a vague grasp of what goth is – their only reference may be the deluge of images on social media featuring provocative and “edgy” models or memes that come across as objectifying and fetish-y.
Again, any and every subculture has ended up with images that give the suggestion that the entire style is about sexualizing and commodifying the members of those subcultures. (The Lady of the Manners has had some very interesting conversations with her Dad about how this happened to the Summer of Love hippy counterculture, and how fascinating and frustrating it was to watch happen.)
Goth, of course, has its more adult sides. The subculture has been around for decades, and there has always been a thread of subversion by way of outre and shocking art and fashion. However, that’s not the only thing goth is about. There are plenty of “family-friendly” or age-appropriate aspects of goth. Which leads the Lady of the Manners to the second part of her advice …
Arm yourself with examples of family-friendly goth media such as The Addams Family, The Munsters, Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Monster High, Coraline, Paranorman, Ruby Gloom, or the Vampire Kisses YA book series. Those are just a few examples – the Lady of the Manners is sure there are many more! 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!)
Thirdly, be ready to tell them what sparked your interest in 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.
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? Well, 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.
The Lady of the Manners is sadly aware that some of you will receive disapproving scorn and cruelty from your parents – especially if your true self is also counter to their expectations of gender or sexuality. Every time the Lady of the Manners reads about parents behaving this way she wants to shake them and calmly and loudly explain that 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?
To any younger goths facing this: be strong. Your parents are probably saying these things out of fear, because society does try to freeze out those who are different, and your parents may feel that they’re being “cruel to be kind” to get you to change into a person who will be safe from bullying and discrimination. They’re terribly misguided and wrong, but they may feel that they’re trying to protect you.
What should you do if your parents talk to you like this? In as calm and dignified a manner as you possibly can, tell them that you don’t agree with what they’re saying, that you do not deserve to be spoken to like that, and (if at all possible) walk away from the “conversation”. 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.
Do what you can to find online communities that support you, and that will make you feel less alone. If you worry that your parents will check your phone, your tablet, or whatever you use to go online and use what they find as another reason to be disapproving, go to your local library and use their computers when you can. 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 and an inky-hued wardrobe is not a prerequisite for being a goth.
Now is the time when the Lady of the Manners opens the virtual salon to all of you: do you have helpful suggestions? Words of encouragement? Leave a comment! (As always, comments will be moderated, so be polite.)