Back in my early 20s I guess I identified as a goth (of course, no real goth would say that they are, and anyone who does call themselves a goth isn’t, the same argument as being a hipster, or being ‘cool’). I’d moved out of my parents house into my first flats (shared houses, whatever you want to call them), where I lived with a couple who were quite punk/goth. I really liked these people, and I guess I may have been a little desperate for their acceptance, so I started changing myself so that I could fit in.
After only a short time I went from being your typical metal fan (listening to Tool, Metallica, etc, all dressed in jeans and band shirts) to growing my hair, dying it black, listening to The Cure, and going out to town dressed in black with touches of leather and velvet (or whatever I could afford as a poor student). And one thing I really enjoyed was the makeup.
People think of goths and assume that the makeup style should be like Marilyn Manson, or some kind of death metal corpsepaint. That’s really not that close. I used to go out in ivory foundation (which suited my skin tone surprisingly), usually dark eyeshadow, but more often than not blue or purple, and dark red lipstick. In all the effect I was going for was a little less dead/vampiric and a little more feminine. Add that to the fact that I was wearing tight clothes, and the occasional skirt, and I guess I ruffled the small town sensibilities of more than a few people. Of course I went through a few phases after that, having an emo phase until finally landing on my kinda indie/kinda geek/kinda don’t give a damn style I’ve landed on now.
Back then there was a bar in Hamilton called 6ft Under. It was a metal bar, part owned by Paul Martin, the host of the Axe Attack on The Rock radio station. They played almost entirely metal of various flavours, but our group didn’t care because it was basically the only place in town that would let us all in the way half of us dressed. For the most part it was a really friendly environment since metalheads are usually quite friendly and forgiving, and the more asshole/conservative element (mostly skinheads) stuck to another bar a few doors down from there, at least for the first year or so. I had a couple of run ins with homophobes assuming I was gay or transsexual and taking exception to that, but that was pretty rare since I was a regular.
One night I went in with the flatmates, and toward the end of the night I had to use the bathroom, as you do after a few too many ouzo and sprites (I have no idea why I used to drink this so much. I tried it recently and it was foul). I walked into the men’s bathroom, which was down a corridor past the disabled and the women’s, and ducked into the cubicle since two skinhead guys were standing at the urinal (rules of men’s bathrooms being that you don’t stand too close to another man while you pee).
As soon as I closed the door one of the guys shouted “Dude, there’s a chick in here!”. The other one replied that I was hot, and there was a little back and forth from them about me until they finished and walked out. I waited in there for an extra couple of minutes because I really didn’t want to risk bumping into them and having them recognise me as a male.
No luck. As soon as I got to the end of the corridor one of them wandered up, grabbed my hand and introduced himself to me (it’s a good thing I have unnaturally soft hands for a male). I don’t know how long I was standing there speechless, it could have been a second, it could have been a couple minutes, but all I know is that I realised that as soon as a word came out of my mouth, I was going to be in for a world of pain. This did not seem like the kind of guy who was going to accept that he had made a mistake with identifying my gender, and would most likely blame me, quite violently.
Thankfully one of my flatmates walked up to me at the perfect moment, put her arm around me, gave me a kiss on the cheek and told me we were leaving. I managed to nod at this guy and walk away without having to say a word.
Now, this anecdote I like to tell people to get a bit of a laugh, and maybe to prove that I wasn’t as boring in my past as I am now. But the more I think about what happened the more I have to think of my privilege as a cis-gendered, straight, white male. Women have to deal with unwanted advances all the time. LGBT folk have to deal with threats of violence et cetera from people who can’t handle their sexual identity. And non-cis-gendered folk get abuse for how they aren’t “normal”.
I went through a phase where I got to see things a little bit through the eyes of others, and it still took me years to realise what privilege I have as a “normal” person. I still can’t say I really know what others have to deal with though. The first step is the most important.
Postscript: I’ve said phase, but mainly because I couldn’t think of the right word to use. I just don’t see myself as fitting in that subculture anymore. I would love to go out made up again at some point, but not as a joke or anything. I just don’t think I could pull it off anymore, what with the beard and the fact I’ve put on a few kilos over the years.