Hello, Faithful Readers, and welcome to the long-promised “Goths and School” column. Yes, the Lady of the Manners is following through on what she promised last month, no more wild tangents about weddings or other social events.
So. Right. School. Hmmm.
The FIRST thing all of you need to take to heart right now is that by being a Goth, you’ve set yourself up for Not Fitting In. Which is fine, “fitting in” at school is overrated, and there are far more important things to be concerned with. But the Lady of the Manners wants to be very clear about this; if you don’t want to be harassed, hassled, or made fun of for being a “freak,” then you might want to reconsider your devotion to the spooky black-clad life. The Lady of the Manners doesn’t want to make any of you feel like you’re not a Real Goth because you don’t like being picked on by people you wouldn’t want to talk to anyway. Goodness knows there are plenty of grown-up Goths who don’t like it either (but still have to put up with it). It’s just that that little microcosm of society known as school can magnify annoying and hurtful behavior.
So you’ve accepted that the “normal” kids will make fun of you, that teachers will make snap judgments based on your appearance, and that your parents might concernedly ask you “Soooo, everything all right? Nothing you want to talk about?” every few days. Good. Now here are some of the important things to keep in mind:
1. Talk to your parents. Yes, they couldn’t possibly understand what you’re going through, and GOD they’re so irritating some times!, but they’re your parents. They worry about you. Try and talk to them about the Gothic subculture, try to answer any questions they might ask about it. Remember, most parents (and teachers and classmates, for that matter) only have a vague idea of what Goth is about, and THAT was gleaned from the never-terribly-accurate media. Reassure them that you’re not in a cult, that just because you want a back-to-school wardrobe of all black velvet doesn’t mean you’re a Satanist, and that you aren’t involved in some sort of weird kinky sex thing (if you ARE, which the Lady of the Manners isn’t even going to address other than to say be responsible gothlings and go to your local Planned Parenthood, DO NOT tell your parents this unless you have a VERY good relationship with them and know they won’t die of shock). Watch Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice, or either of The Addams Family movies with them and let them see that Gothic does not equal disturbed and violent.
2. Cultivate a quietly superior attitude as your armor at school. When your classmates start harassing you, smile at them in a faintly amused, faintly elitist manner, and then walk away. Don’t get into name-calling fights (or any other type!), because you won’t win them. It doesn’t matter if you’re right and they’re wrong; the other kids won’t admit it. If you can just act quietly indifferent to them and not react to their taunts and attempts to annoy you, they will eventually get bored and find a new person to bother.
Also, Authority Figures (be they parents, teachers, or something else) tend to be impressed by good manners, even IF they think you’re a freak. The Lady of the Manners survived a lot of slings and arrows in high school (and even college and the ”˜adult’ world of employment) by being mannerly and polite. In a condescending and somewhat elitist manner, true, but most of the people who were attempting to torment her didn’t catch that.
(Of course, that is NOT a good reason to brush up on one’s manners, but it gives the practice a devilish and sneaky sense of fun. *wink*)
The quietly superior attitude can also lead to the cultivation of a snarky wit. Some of the only fond memories the Lady of the Manners has of her school days are those of sitting with the other freak kids, quietly making biting observations about the other students. If you DO indulge in that sort of social snarkery, be very, very careful about what you say and who hears you. While it will make you feel better to share spitefully witty comments with your friends, be careful that you don’t cross the line and torment someone just because you can; you don’t want to act like the people who annoy you, right? Also, don’t even joke about hurting someone, because people overhearing you might not think it’s a joke. Explaining to adults that saying “Oh, I want to kill her!” does not mean that you really would is tedious and a quick way to be branded someone who needs to be watched.
3. The verbal taunting and harassment by someone has taken an even nastier turn? WALK AWAY. Find the nearest place where there is some sort of nominal adult presence, because most tormentors won’t continue with their ”˜fun’ if there is a grown-up around to witness it. If the people persecuting you don’t stop once you’re around adults, it’s vital to not respond in a similar manner but try to get the attention of the adult in the area and bring the problem to them. (As prejudiced as it is, most adults will try and pin the blame on the “freak” or weird kid involved in these sorts of events, which is why it is SO important that you make it clear by your behavior that you are the blameless party in the incident.)
Of course, if the harassment moves to a violent sort, then there’s an even bigger problem. Again, try to walk (or run, if necessary!) to a different location, preferably where there are crowds of people and hopefully a few sane adults. If this isn’t possible (and the Lady of the Manners is unfortunately aware that sometimes it isn’t) then you have to make the uncomfortable and QUICK decision of whether or not you are capable of defending yourself. The Lady of the Manners doesn’t like advocating violence, but if your tormentors seem intent on hurting you, do what you must to come out of the situation as unharmed as possible. But she very STRONGLY recommends reading up on the laws of your city (and school rules) concerning assault and battery, and to remember that while sharp pointy jewelry and metal lunchbox handbags are fun accessories, if used in a fight they can possibly land you an ”˜assault with a deadly weapon’ charge, even if you didn’t start the fight.
4. What if your school has a dress code? What if your parents won’t let you dye your hair purple? Well, the Lady of the Manners hates to be the bearer of dismal tidings, but there isn’t a lot you can do. Sure, you can try wearing wacky tights, use colored hair styling products to temporarily change your hair, and paint your nails black, but certain rules just can’t be bent out of shape; school and parental dictates on appearance fall into that category. Console yourself that when you get to college (and/or move out from your parents’ house), you can go as wild as your budget will allow you.
5. Do your homework. Yes, there are a billion things you’d rather be doing and you hate some of your classes, but being a good student and getting good grades has some benefits besides the obvious one of getting you into a better college: many parents and teachers will overlook or forgive a lot of “weird” behavior and clothing choices if you regularly get As and Bs on all your tests.
Contrary to what other people and the media try to tell you, school is not “the best years of your life”. There isn’t a single one of the Lady of the Manners’ acquaintances that wants to re-live their school years, not a one. With that said, the Lady of the Manners doesn’t want to give you the impression that your time at school will be filled with unending misery, because it won’t. Honest, there will be fun times. But don’t feel that everyone else is having a grand time and that there’s something terribly wrong with you because you aren’t; some of those people you think are having the time of their lives are just putting up a good front.
The Lady of the Manners can’t really think of any other advice to offer you to get you through school with a minimum of emotional (and, heavens forbid, physical) trauma, so she’s just going to stop right here. Pop back next month, when the Lady of the Manners will probably hold forth on the holiday season. “Probably,” because who knows what will attract the Lady of the Manners’ attention next. As always, send any questions you have to firstname.lastname@example.org.