Sunlight & Shadow: Understanding the Gothic Subculture
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Gothic and Evil are Not Synonymous

The four friends stand in a close circle, a ring of black panne velvet, pale faces, dark lips. They talk quietly amongst themselves in the noisy, crowded din of the high school hallway as boys push past and girls primp in their locker mirrors. Suddenly, a small object flies anonymously out of the moving cloud of people, and all around echo whispers of "Satan," "witches," and "freaks."

One of the four clad in black bends to retrieve the object from the floor. She looks at the bright green lozenge with kohl-lined eyebrows raised.

"Apparently, they don't think water melts witches anymore," she says dryly, handing the green lozenge to one of the other three. "Now they're using Skittles."

That high school hallway was my high school; those black-clad "witches" were my friends (as were some of the rest of the bustling crowd); the "freak" who made the sarcastic comment above was me.

As can be assumed by this point, I identify with the Gothic subculture (though I don't show it much anymore, having become an adult with a job and bills and a husband and responsibilities). I often (but not always) dress in black or dark colours, I listen to dark and moody music (some that are classified as "Gothic," some that are not), I enjoy wearing pale foundation and black eyeliner in graceful Egyptian lines on occasion, and I tend to write "depressing" prose and poetry. Based solely on this information (and sometimes even less), here are a few things that have been assumed of me:

- That I'm a "witch."
- That I worship the Devil and engage in animal sacrifice.
- That I have very low morals and values.
- That I do not value human life--mine or anyone else's.
- That I'm a very angry and violent person.
- That I smoke marijuana or do some other drug.
- That I have a poor relationship with my parents and an unhappy home life.
- That I want to kill myself.
- That I have low or no self-esteem.
- That I have little or no ambition.
- That I have a very low intelligence.
- That I did poorly in school.
- That I will amount to nothing.

That's an awful lot of information gleaned from very superficial observations based mostly on my appear ance and musical tastes. Is it really possible to know a person in such intimate detail with so little input? Judge for yourself:

- I am not a "witch"--the definition here being as from The Crucible and the like--a woman who has sworn to serve Satan and who does harm to others through spells and curses (I'm not going to get into the debate over the many unrelated meanings of this word right now--that's for another website, perhaps).
- I do not by any stretch of the imagination worship Satan; I am, in fact, a Protestant Christian. And as for animal sacrifices, I adore animals far too much to put any to harm or death. - My morals and values come from my religious faith; I believe I have a very strong value system.
- I value all life--human, animal, plant, extraterrestrial if there are any, etc. I greatly enjoy life and I believe that everyone should be able to do the same.
- I get angry like the average person, but have never done any violence to person or animal in all my life, and couldn't conceive of doing so.
- I do not smoke tobacco, marijuana, or do any other drug, and I don't intend to.
- I have a wonderful relationship with my parents. We have been a very close and happy family as far back as my memory stretches.
- I have no wish to end my life; I love living--even the parts of living that are unpleasant.
- I have a healthy self esteem and feel very good about myself and my achievements.
- I am quite ambitious and have set goals for myself quite far into the future. I have already reached some of my goals, and I am still quite actively pursuing others.
- I feel I am quite intelligent and perfectly capable of any cerebral undertaking I choose.
- I maintained a high B average in college; In high school, I graduated with honours with the third highest GPA in my high school graduating class.
- I am a working Graphic Designer, doing what I love and making advances along the way.

Am I evil? Am I a bad person? Not really, no. Am I an exception to the rule? Not at all. There are, of course, a few "bad apples," as there will be in any identifiable group, but for the most part, Goths tend to be more like me than like the stereotypical assumptions. In an effort to help others understand what being Goth is, and also in an effort to help potential Goths determine whether or not they are Goth, webmistress Azhrarn created a set of seventeen guidelines displayed on her website Blood Dance: Goth. "If most (10 or more) of the following statements are true, it is VERY likely that you are Goth," she says. She accentuates the importance of the first guideline--the one absolute commonality that binds all Goths together--by adding "If the first statement is false, you aren't Goth--no, not even if all 16 of the rest are true." Her guidelines are these:

- You feel the need to spend a lot of time creating things (music, art, poetry, philosophies, stories and the like).
- Your creative efforts are often described as dark, shocking, scary, morbid or strange.
- You like museums and cultural centers.
- You understand and even enjoy Shakespeare, Shelley, Browning or some other similar work without having to read the Cliffe Notes [sic].
- You know the difference between nihilism and existentialism, even if you don't really live by either.
- You really, truly enjoy music of many kinds.
- You are a very sensual person (aware of color, texture, sound, taste and scent).
- You don't understand why the people around you spend so much time watching TV.
- You don't feel comfortable looking just like everyone else you know.
- You do feel comfortable just being yourself, even if no one else around is anything like you.
- You wonder "why" a lot, and come up with some interesting answers.
- You wonder "how" a lot, and often figure it out on your own.
- You don't just reject something because you don't understand it.
- You base your opinions of people on who they are and what they do rather than what they look like.
- You are not afraid of the unknown.
- You are not afraid of the dark.
- You are afraid of mediocrity.

Do these statements sound like the description of a cruel, violent, or "evil" person? Don't say "yes" unless you're prepared to say the same of people such as Edgar Allan Poe, Pablo Picasso, Jane Austen, Salvador Dali, Mozart, Beethoven, C.S. Lewis, Kate Chopin, J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, Maya Angelou, Anne McCaffrey, George Lucas, Tori Amos, and thousands of others who also embody a great deal of those characteristics--and possibly even yourself: how many of those statements can you say "yes" to?