Of Reclaiming Goth for Yourself

Hello Snarklings! Now that the Lady of the Manners has drifted out of her crypt again, it’s (finally) time for a new Gothic Charm School post.

Dear Lady of the Manners,

I am a young trans “baby bat” trying to get a handle on what gothic style I want to pursue. I’ve always adored the goth subculture and wanted to be part of it, but I didn’t want to be like my mother, who has been a goth since she was young and raised me as such.

I won’t go into detail for your sake and mine, but she is not a good parent, for many reasons. However, I’m close to moving out (hopefully within a year!) and have started to make the transition into gothic style (I’ve always listened to the music).

I want to know: do you have any advice on how I could separate the gothic culture and scene from its ties to my mother in my head? I want to be able to move on and enjoy my life without thinking of her and wincing every time I see a velvet maxi dress.

With love,

The Lady of the Manners has been prodding at this reader mail for a long while; it’s an emotionally-fraught subject, and the Lady of the Manners wants to do it justice. 

First things first: Moving out and being in your own space, and having emotional distance from your mother will be an enormous help. Day-to-day ties and reminders are weighty things, and getting out on your own will lighten them. Congratulations and good luck!

Don’t feel you’re alone in this. The issue of needing to untangle and reclaim things that are important to you from upsetting and painful associations is hard and can be almost as emotionally wrenching as the origins of those associations. Almost. However, in the Lady of the Manners experience, the emotional strife of reclaiming those things is worth it. Some of the things the Lady of the Manners has done:

– Write a list of the things you “want back”. Songs, books, fashion styles, and so on. For each one, write why it’s important to you. Don’t feel you must write an essay filled with flowery prose; “Because I love it and want it to be mine” is a good reason. Make a copy (or copies) of that list, then destroy one of the copies. Soak it in water until it turns to mush, tear it up, burn it ”” it doesn’t matter how, just obliterate it. (If you do decide to set it ablaze, do so in a safe manner in a fireproof container.)

Once you’ve destroyed a copy of that list, use another as a checklist of sorts. For example, if there’s a song on that list, listen to it  (as often as you can) while thinking about why it’s yours. After you do that, treat yourself very gently and kindly. You just poked at an emotional bruise, and now you need to take care of yourself.

If you’re thinking “This sounds suspiciously like something a therapist would say”, you’d be right. This is something the Lady of the Manners learned from her therapist, and it’s apparently something a lot of therapists recommend.

Please remember the Lady of the Manners is NOT a therapist. If you feel doing this would be too overwhelming, trust your instincts

(The Lady of the Manners does feel that making lists and destroying a copy would be a low-stress way to approach things without going through the emotional stress of rewriting your reactions part, but again, use your own judgment.)

– Another thing that has worked for the Lady of the Manners is to explore the music, movies, books, aesthetic, and so on that are adjacent to the ones that have uneasy associations. For example, there have been songs that the Lady of the Manners loved that became tainted because of associations with certain people. So the Lady of the Manners searched out other versions – covers, instrumental, whatever – of those songs. Something just different enough that they didn’t hit the “And now I’m stuck thinking about [person] and the bad parts” button, but similar enough to help her find her way back to enjoyment. For the velvet maxi dresses you mentioned, search through Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and so on for images of velvet maxi dresses that are slightly different than the ones you associate with your mother.  

– Then, of course, there’s good old fashioned spite. You deserve the glorious darkness of goth! Those things don’t solely belong to your mother, they are yours, and by heaven and hell, you will take them back and enjoy them.

The Lady of the Manners has had varying degrees of success with motivational spite. There are times when it works wonderfully. There are other times when the Brain Raccoons rummage in the mental and emotional trash to fling things around. At which point the Lady of the Manners decides to put cheerful motivational spite on hold for a little bit.

The very most important thing to remember is that your mother doesn’t own anything related to goth. You deserve to make your own version of it, and keep all of the lush and darkly glittering bits that delight and comfort you.

What say the rest of you? Do you have any words of comfort or advice you can share with Eden and the rest of us? Please comment!


On a completely different topic: summer has arrived with a vengeance in the Lady of the Manners’ part of the world, ugh. Therefore she wants to remind you of previous Gothic Charm School posts on dealing with the burning orb and sweltering temperatures, plus some DIY tutorials to help you stay a bit more comfortable.

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5 Responses to Of Reclaiming Goth for Yourself

  1. Eden says:

    Hi again – don’t worry about how long it took, I don’t mind a bit. I will say I’ve changed names again since then, but I don’t mind Eden still being my alias here, so don’t worry about that either.

    Anyhow: thank you so much for the response. In the time it’s been since I first wrote I spent a lot of time ruminating and working through my feelings, and now I have a new job and more concrete plans to move out and into a home with my wonderfully grunge-enjoying boyfriend. He isn’t a goth, but he does love the style, at least. I really appreciate everything you’ve said and will be sure to take it to heart. Thanks a million. <3

  2. gildedbat says:

    Miss Manners’ advice is excellent. It’s hard to tease out traumatic associations, and it’s a process that you’ll need to give yourself some time and patience with. I’m sorry that you’ve had a difficult relationship with your mother — that’s something that cuts through all areas of one’s life, and it will take a long time to heal. That’s ok. Just be gentle with yourself, and don’t think you’re just being dramatic or overly sensitive because you don’t want to look at another piece of velvet.

    I’ve gone through this sometimes with fashion, but most often with music, where sometimes a thing just has too many painful associations. What I do is simply put it away for a while. My love for it is still there, and it will still be there when I’m ready to return. I just take the time to pursue *other* loves that don’t also give me pain. Then, when I do eventually return to it, it’s a joyous reunion and not a tedious session of couples therapy.

    My basic advice would be, experiment and explore. Maybe you don’t want to wear velvet maxi dresses for a while. Maybe you want to go for them in pastels, instead, or accessorized in a wildly different way. Maybe you get really into ’50s dresses. Whatever. You are free to pursue any fashion you want, regardless of how “goth” it is. Do what makes you feel good, what makes you feel empowered. You’re not going to have your membership to the club revoked because you don’t pursue what’s currently popular in the goth scene, or because you don’t follow in your mom’s style.

    Just sniff out what feels like *your own*. There’s a ton of room to play around! Those velvet maxis will be there for you next year, or in 5 years, when you can look at them without wincing. You’ll have the mental space to look at them after you’ve carved out a safe and supportive niche for yourself — gotten settled in a new place, made some new friends, built some positive associations to help push out the old bad ones.

    Most importantly, as Jilli says, your mom doesn’t own goth, and you don’t owe her for introducing you to it. It will take a little time, but you’ll feel when you’re ready to claim it for yourself and take mental ownership away from your mother.

    In the meantime, be patient. When there’s a record that just brings horrible memories flooding, and I want to exorcise those demons, I wait until there’s a day when I’m comfortable, I feel ready and able to deal with the stress of confronting it, and I put it on. The first listen is a little intense, but it gets easier after that.

    You can do the same with any sources of negative association with your mother. Confront them when you feel safe and at ease. Put on the music, or dress, breathe deeply, and gently dismiss any thoughts of your mother that come up. Stay in the moment of how much you like the song, or how you feel in the dress, etc, purely on its own merits. Your mind will keep drifting to the difficult thing. That’s ok. You only need to say to yourself, “Yes, I know you’re there, but today I’m not talking to you.” Bit by bit, the possession becomes a ghost floating in the margins, and then fades away altogether.

  3. Bunnie says:

    I definitely understand where you are coming from, especially regarding the relationship with your mother (my own relationship with my mother is strained – though I do not think she realizes that, as I am in multiple closets where she is concerned – and I share many loves with both her and my father, who I also have issues with). I can definitely second the Lady of the Manners’ suggestion of cheerful spite. Particularly if you happen to come from a childhood that could be restrictive, enjoying something your way can be exhilarating.

    The hardest part to accept, however, is that separating what you love from unpleasant associations and memory will likely take time. For the longest time, I had a deep resounding hatred for Nirvana and Guitar Hero (I was always neutral about Nirvana, but had loved Guitar Hero previously) due to a bad relationship where the other party was obsessed with these things. It took years (probably close to 7 or 8?) before I could hear an original Nirvana song (as in, not a cover) without grinding my teeth and turning the station or have the desire to play Guitar Hero again. It won’t necessarily take years for you to learn to disassociate what you love with her, but don’t feel like you’re failing if it’s taking more time than you’d like.

    I’m kind of repeating what’s already been said, but don’t forget that pop culture and sub culture belongs to everyone who wants to be a part of it. I don’t know if you are feeling this, as I did with some of the things I love that my parents love, but also don’t forget that loving the same things does NOT make you the same as them, or even remotely similar. Both of you being into goth does not mean you are similar people, or compatible, or comparable. It is unavoidable to like things that people who we don’t like or disappoint us like also; that does not make us similar human beings. My father and I are both huge fans of Nightwish, and both of us think of them as our favorite band. However, my father is a VERY different person from me, and some of those differences are nauseating, but I recognize those are differences and sharing a love of something does not mean we share everything, and does not mean I have to share the aspects of his nature I detest.

    At the end of the day, you are YOU and you get to choose what you love and who you are. No one, not even a parent, gets to say otherwise.

  4. Tovah says:

    Hello all,

    I have nothing new to add to the excellent comments so just wish to say that this post and the supporting comments have been super therapeutic and I am so very grateful to have read them. I have long struggled with negative/abusive associations with certain people within the scene in relation to music and style and therefore must, every few years, step away and go down a 1950s inspired rabbit hole to help work through the recurring triggers that crop up. Reading these comments has really allowed me to feel that this is ok and that I will always be able to come back to the scene. Thank you for posting all of this. 🖤

  5. Laurence von Bottorff says:

    The fiery orb indeed. Here are the closing lines of Emily Brontë’s “Stars”:

    O Stars and Dreams and Gentle Night;
    O Night and Stars return!
    And hide me from the hostile light
    That does not warm, but burn

    That drains the blood of suffering men;
    Drinks tears, instead of dew:
    Let me sleep through his blinding reign,
    And only wake with you!

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