I have a dark secret: I was goth in high school.
Given that goths don't really like to have their pictures taken
, I had managed to keep my secret from my fiance pretty easily.
Embarrassingly enough, the story broke at my grandmother's funeral, where pictures of the family were scattered around the country church where her services were held.
I tried to distract him, but he zeroed right in on an older picture of my sweet wonderful grandmother, looking confused while being hugged by a girl with black and pink hair wearing a dog collar and a black silk gown. (No, that's not me to the left, that's a representative photo. There's not a chance I'm exposing mine to more people than have already seen it.)
"Is that you?" he asked. I could only nod, eyes cast down.
It all started around 1993 or so.
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I listened to alternative music and wore a lot of horrible-looking Goodwill castoff clothing, like silly T-shirts and jeans that were ripped up and safety-pinned back together. I dyed my hair and my shoes the same colors.
My style felt loopy and amateur until I met Amber, a friend of a friend who frequented the punk club for teens in my small town. She had black hair and wore fishnet stockings and superfluous things like vests and lots of chains and boots. I was impressed and envied her tough, don't-f**k-with-me vibe.
I had no discernible style and no particular talents, unless you count my ability to be teased and put up with an older sister who was a gorgeous drama-department sweetheart. My childhood "I can do anything" confidence was rapidly slipping away. So I decided instead of concocting my own strong personality, I would just scare the heck out of people.
Building a Mystery ... or Just Dressing Like Him
I started buying fishnets and Doc Martens and listening to industrial music, and I loved it. Everything felt dramatic and intense. Frequently, nights were spent in a car with Amber and some of my other newfound friends, driving aimlessly and listening to Skinny Puppy at ear-shattering volume.
The small, strip-mall-infested town I had spent my entire life in suddenly felt different, dangerous. I would go to parties in houses that looked totally normal from the outside, but inside, would be filled with swords and coffins and goblets. It sounds cheesy now, but at the time, I desperately wanted to believe in the idea of an underbelly, even in a town as sleepy as mine. I felt so lucky to have found it.
At school, I went from being considered wacky to being mysterious overnight. Well, in truth, the biggest mystery to other kids was probably why I was dressing like the TJ Maxx version of "The Addams Family,"
but in my head, they thought of me as an enigma wrapped in mystery. I was no longer teased, so instead I ridiculed other kids who dared to wear fingerless gloves, insisting that they were poseurs.
Talking smack about people in a park where you used to ride bikes as a kid is a major pastime for goths, as is discussing rumors of bands that may be coming to town. See, the thing about being goth is that there's not much to do. We have no real pastime other than sweating in black clothes.
You can go to goth nights at clubs if you're lucky, so that's one night taken care of, and maybe once every other year, a goth or industrial band would tour. Even if we didn't like the band, we went anyway. That's how hard up we were.
Moving Toward the Light... Clothing
I dutifully carried on past high school, taking a glow-in-the-dark "art piece" of a head screaming in agony to my freshman year dorm room, instantly horrifying my hippie roommate. I found my fellow goths
that first year of college, but I also met punks and shoegazer kids and metal kids, and they all seemed to have a pretty good racket going on. I found bands in my college town where the shows felt just as dramatic and underground and vital, and the kids were having fun.
I defected gradually, buying colorful clothing here, listening to Sleater-Kinney there. I grew up. Being goth is perfect for teenagers, because it's all about creating an illusion of a dark, dramatic world
, keeping yourself isolated so no one breaks that illusion, and then complaining there's nothing cool to do.
I still listen to Skinny Puppy sometimes and think wistfully about the days when the world still seemed so mysterious and out of reach. If only I could have kept myself in the dark.
Emily Gordon is a Lemondrop contributor, blogger, journalist and recovering goth who lives in New York.
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