Thursday, September 22, 2011

Blackness and Gothness. Post 1- aesthetics.

There was a conversation over on tumblr that sparked a need for me to talk about being an Aging Black Goth. So this is the first post.

Now I am 34 and about 15 years ago when I started to really get more into my Gothness as an aesthetic remember that I had no internets. There was no googles. No youtubes. No online solidarity nothing.

When I made a conscious decision to delve more into my long standing goth leanings I discovered a lot of things. The obvious of course was that every image and icon I had to look at was thin, white, pale with straight hair.

It's important here to say that regardless of how much my personal self image comes from inside myself, I am also a very visually oriented person. At that time it was very important to me to have things and people to look at and be inspired by.

I knew how to basically do a cat eye liner. I did a lot of that but beyond that I had no references.

As I mentioned in previous entries about Alt/Gothness I used to be very into Alt culture. I bought (totes NSFW) Blueblood at every chance. I read Gothic Beauty. I consumed Alt print media even if it didn't directly involve fashion. Tattoo magazines, horror magazines, literary magazines.

At that time I never saw a Goth of color for the most part. I recall Blueblood may have had a few non-white models at the time but largely my life was devoid of brown people.

One of the big problems I had at the time involved Nice White People trying to give me style advice.

For instance, picture yours truly heading to the goth shop because I'd read about a pressed powder that was lovely and sparkly. I arrive and find that it comes in super white, kinda white and slightly tan white. Clerk looks at me as if I was asking to slip into the Shroud of Turin.

It took me quite a while to realize that not one of the gothy make up companies or alt make up companies at the time had any face make up appropriate for a brown person. Being that I have for years been very into supporting indie things and the Alt community it was a really hard awful lesson to learn.

Not one.

I remember asking the advice of an elder goth and I got nothing.

Radio silence.

Worse yet, another elder goth who I was trying to be friends with actually recommended ways in which I could pale out my complexion and "refine" it.


I remember being so hurt and I didn't really have the language at that age or coping skills to explain to anyone or even myself just how fucked up that was.

For a few years when I was very into dressing super Gothy and I wore a shitload of Lip Service, Eternal Love etc, I remember that stores I shopped at a lot and spent a lot of money in, I was often treated like a tourist.

When I say "like a tourist" what I mean is that inside any niche store, say a fat girl store when someone who doesn't look like they shop there walks in, it's that snotty we're not going to make an effort thing.

Eventually I stopped shopping locally as much as possible. I started changing my aesthetic and did a lot more DIY and clothes surgery because I just got tired of that.

I spent a lot of time feeling not directly excluded but not really included. And this goes beyond the notorious Seattle Freeze and speaks more to situations where I would be all dressed up and would be getting major side eye until I was uncomfortable and would leave or just not go in the first place.

As a young person of color at that age who was very visibly trying to fly her freak flag proudly life was fucking hard sometimes.

There were layers of difficulty. There was of course the fact that I lived here in Seattle where in many neighborhoods seeing a person of color is cause for alarm (yes sarcasm there), the next layer was that I did not dress "like a Black person" according to both Black folks and white folks.

I became very fond of wearing some Grunge Era Courtney Love level smeared eyeliner. I can't tell you how many times I was "confronted" by strangers.For some reason my apparent non Blackness made people really angry.

On the flip side of that I had a lot of people who heavily exoticized me to the point where I stopped feeling like a pretty human girl and felt like some kind of exhibit.

The cumulative result of feeling either hated or like some weird art exhibit caused me to withdraw from the local scene for the most part.

When I was of age I had a few friends with whom I would go to fashion shows or club nights but I was pretty shy and reticent about really engaging and looking back that makes me really unhappy.

Now that I'm older I am fine with how other people treat me when I don't appear to fit into their mold of what blackness is or isn't. In some ways I do feel like I was part of the early movement of Black folks flying their freak flags.

I'll end on a good note.

I remember once while I was rocking what I deemed my Trashy Goth look. Imagine, black and burgundy asymmetrical bob cut wig, layers of two-three in not so great condition slips, big platform combat boots, major eye liner and carrying a big ugly purse.

I was in Capital Hill waiting for the #7 bus and a young Black woman walked up to me and grilled me about my style and where she too could find these things.

Next time I saw her around she was rocking the fuck out of her Lip Service clothes and she thanked me for being weird and Black and beautiful.

Those few and far between moments like that didn't make it entirely better but they helped.

And now that I am officially an Aging Goth, I can look back and feel like maybe I did contribute a little bit and that's okay.

1 comment:

wellroundedtype2 said...

Thank you for saying all of this.

I relate to what you are saying about being a visually oriented person. I think that is why I so love seeing photos of you. And other women. Who experiment and play with what the "expectations" are of us.
I got a huge compliment from a reader on my blog about posting pics of myself -- she said that she liked seeing pictures of middle aged fat women like me -- not just "young" fatshions. My first thought was "I'm not middle aged!" But I am. I am in my 40s, I have lots of grey hair that I'm not interested in coloring over at the moment.

I know there's nothing that can fix what you've been through -- the silence, the cluelessness, the exclusion.

You are an astronaut of sorts, and others will follow. You allow all sorts of new channels to flow.

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