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Ammerman Schlösberg AW15, womenswear, red, black, robe, NY
Backstage at Ammerman Schlösberg AW15Photography Evan Schreiber

Being a teen goth is about solidarity, not sadness

For young people, immersing themselves in subculture is a liberating act that brings friendship and acceptance, not depression

So, young goths are at risk of depression. Waking up to that news this morning felt like a flashback to the My Chemical Romance inspired moral panic of the mid 00s, when the Daily Mail got wind of an ‘emo suicide cult’ driving vulnerable teens to the edge. Naturally, the first thing I was asked on arrival in the office (where my perpetual paleness, black outfits and penchant for dark lipstick have established me as the resident queen of darkness) was whether I was planning an op-ed.

Admittedly, my brand of early teenage rebellion was more filtered through the lens of MySpace rather than the Batcave. I was the cliché – hanging out outside the local shopping centre, reading Kerrang and lusting over Sonny Moore, the teenage emo frontman (who, in perhaps the most remarkable transformation of the internet age, later refashioned himself into Skrillex).

School was (obviously) a drag, but in hindsight, turning up on the first day and declaring my favourite colour to be black in a round of “everyone introduce yourself” maybe set the tone. I had friends, yes, but often felt isolated – my peers were in that awkward age where bringing down other people to prop up your own non-existent adolescent self-confidence is the standard, so I put my headphones in and kept my head down.

Through a mutual friend, I found my own band of outsiders: a group of local misfits who wore bondage trousers, dyed their hair, had smoking habits, and even the facial piercings my parents forbade me. We bonded over music and our own alienation. Rather than spending our time together beneath a cloud of sadness, my new friends gave me something I hadn’t felt – acceptance, solidarity, and a sense of comradeship.

My mind was opened to new possibilities of gender and sexuality than were visible at my buttoned up Home Counties grammar school. These boys were out of the closet, wore make up, painted their nails, and did not subscribe to the desperate assertions of Footy Lad masculinity my classmates did (who spent their time using ‘gay’ as a pejorative so as not to attract suspicion on themselves).

“Rather than spending our time together beneath a cloud of sadness, my new friends gave me something I hadn’t felt – acceptance, solidarity, and a sense of comradeship. My mind was opened to new possibilities of gender and sexuality”

We didn’t mope around together – we had fun. We waxed the boys’ legs and talked about music, we walked around our small town and didn’t care when we were shouted at. They say there’s strength in numbers, and when you’re a 13-year-old emo, that’s certainly true. Admittedly, I was more naïve than my new friends ­– and I do remember vividly the moment I saw the scars, barely healed, that ran across one of their arms. I asked them to promise not to hurt themselves and they refused. Another, already perilously thin, would wolf down diet pills. I also never realised quite how rife with misogyny the music we adored was.

But I don’t believe that any reckless behaviour habits are really a result of being a goth, or an emo – rather that escaping into subculture is a coping mechanism (and act of empowerment) for teenagers with growing pains or difficult home lives trying to work out their places in the world. I certainly never felt peer pressure to harm myself to fit in, and to me the idea that Marilyn Manson was more to blame for Columbine than the fact that teenage boys had access to guns is absurd. These arguments make the youth movements that give acceptance to many into a scapegoat rather than dealing with actual issues like mental health or bullying. 

What immersing myself in subculture at a young age gave me was friendship, solidarity, a passion for music, self-expression through style and the important lesson that not everyone has to like you, and life is actually a lot more fun when you stop trying to be normal. The lasting nature of subcultures like goth are a testament to how utterly freeing that is.

Related: read How to survive summer as a goth with designers Ammerman Schlösberg here