Growing Up Goth: Finding My Self Within the Subculture

Vamp Jenn's Corner

How does one know they’re goth? I can’t recall a specific incident that brought me to this realization. There wasn’t some grand transformation that happened, although it would be more exciting to say I underwent a dramatic change similar to Anne Rice’s vampires. These characters shed their mortal shell in a painful process; even their bowels are emptied of all human waste. No, nothing of the sort happened when I began identifying with the goth subculture. The shift for me was subtle, but my family noticed my all-black apparel, heavy use of black eyeliner and polish, and unusual taste in music.

Here’s my coming of “dark age” story of how I found my place within this alternative group and discovered my true colors—black, black and black.

“We are the weirdos, mister”

Although at eight years old I had no idea of the goth subculture, there was a film my mother took me to see that I believe planted seeds of darkness in me, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. It was 1993, and I recall sitting in the movie theater with my mom watching Jack Skellington, Sally and the rest of the citizens of Halloween Town on the big screen. I was fascinated and ever since, that motion picture has remained my favorite of Burton’s.

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (© Touchstone Pictures)
Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (© Touchstone Pictures)

A few years would pass before I was drawn back to the macabre. Junior high was a difficult time. I attended a small private school where everyone already knew each other, so for an introverted kid like me, it was challenging to make friends. During my sixth-grade year, I mainly hid in the bathroom during recess until the bell rang. I became aware that something about me didn’t fit in. I wasn’t the only new student in class, but the others seemed to manage fine. No one was keeping me company in the girls’ restroom, that’s for sure.

Seventh grade was better and there were a few classmates I connected with, mainly because we shared an interest in witchcraft. It was 1997 and The Craft had been released the year before. We went to a Catholic school, so we had fantasies of forming our own coven to summon the four corners just like the witchy misfits in the movie. There were a couple of times we tried to discreetly reenact the levitating scene during lunch breaks. You can imagine nuns didn’t look too kindly on us chanting “Light as a feather, stiff as a board” in the hallway, so we eventually had to stop.

The enigmatic energy channeled in The Craft, though, left a mark on me, and my pre-adolescent mind was in awe of the main characters’ dark looks, especially Nancy’s (Fairuza Balk), which emulated a goth style. For Halloween during my eighth-grade year, I decided to go to school dressed entirely in black, dark locks draped in front of my face, with nails and lips painted in a metallic, midnight purple shade.

The Craft (© Columbia Pictures & Sony Pictures)
The Craft (© Columbia Pictures & Sony Pictures)

The odd thing was my ensemble didn’t feel like a costume. I hadn’t proclaimed beforehand, “I want to be a goth this Halloween.” To be honest, even I wasn’t certain what I was dressed up as. I believe I told whoever asked that I was a witch. As a pre-teen trying to find myself, I realized that I naturally gravitated toward the uncanny side of life. Looking back, I think that Halloween was the golden opportunity for me to slip into this alternate version of me, a version that turned out to embody my personality entirely.

Becoming A Baby Bat

It was clear that my interests lie in places where shadows lurk and throughout my teens I continued to expand my knowledge of the goth subculture. Funnily enough, I attended a public high school that required uniforms. The school colors were white, khaki and burgundy, none of which (except maybe the last one) were shades I could work with to express my goth side. There was a small group of goths at my school. I was too self-conscious to introduce myself, so I kept my distance, but I did observe how they managed to incorporate some macabre fashion into their wardrobe without getting scolded by the uniform police.

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For instance, capris show off your lower legs, so when I’d wear a beige pair to school, I’d put on fishnets underneath so that they’d be visible. A subtle statement, but one that I hoped would show I had a dark side. Black, chunky shoes were my footwear of choice and I’d accessorize with silver jewelry. Kohl black eye liner, a pale white lip gloss and a braided hot pink hair piece were other things I’d use to express my spookier taste. At 16, my mother let me get my left eyebrow pierced, which I took as a major rite of passage.

Hot Topic, in the early 2000s, used to embrace a more goth aesthetic and they carried alternative clothing lines, such as Lip Service. The retail chain was also the most accessible spot for me to find anything goth related. I couldn’t afford much of what they carried, but on occasion I did manage to buy dark lipsticks, spike collars and cuffs, and fishnets. Since alternative clothes can be expensive (even today), DIY fashion is a goth’s best friend, especially when you’re a penniless baby bat. I would search goth websites for ideas on how to make your own tops, accessories and more. I made use of what I already had to create my own black wardrobe.

A Goth Education

Back when I was initially getting into the scene, there was a plethora of goth websites and chat rooms. I relied on these to educate myself on the subculture. See, when I become interested in something, I have this incessant need to do as much in-depth research as I can about it. I’ve always been this way. If I were going to associate as goth, I wanted to make sure I understood what it entailed so that I could properly represent the community. Being goth meant more to me than just having an eccentric style or wanting to rebel against the mainstream. I viewed it as a multifaced heritage born out of a post-punk movement and then enriched by Gothic literature, art and history, horror, the occult and beyond.

I went as far back as learning about the Goth Germanic tribe. Although these ancient people aren’t directly correlated to the present-day goth movement, I felt it was significant to at least familiarize myself a bit since the tribe and subculture share the same name. I started compiling information in a binder, which became an important resource. I had printouts from sites such as blarg.net, darkwaver.com, paradoxboy.com and threethirteen.net, to name a few. To this day, I still have that notebook.

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I listened to different types of goth rock, Industrial, darkwave and ethereal music. The goth compilation CDs I bought from Hot Topic introduced me to many bands. Twenty years ago, when music stores such as Tower Records, Sam Goody and even Borders book shops were still around, there were sections dedicated to the goth music genre. That sort of categorizing started to disappear during the mid-2000s, at the same time the businesses themselves began to dissolve.

The allure of vampire mythology and history also took a hold of me during this time and I started reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. A cousin introduced me to the amazing Japanese animated film Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and the Dracula 2000 soundtrack. The movie adaptation of Queen of the Damned had also been released in 2002. Each of these elements shaped me in varying ways.

I became so passionate about the scene that, in my junior year of high school, I wrote a research paper dedicated to it titled, “The Dark Pariahs of Society.” It was for a non-fiction essay assignment in my English class, and I, fortunately, received high marks on it. This period wasn’t a teenage phase. It may sound dramatic, but I knew that goth was in my blood and would always be an essential part of my identity.

“Who Am I?” Questioning My Identity

I mentioned that I saw The Nightmare Before Christmas as a kid, and the fascination with the film returned in college when I went through a period of buying all types of Tim Burton-inspired t-shirts. I became known as the “Tim Burton girl” among classmates, a title I was honored to have.

Then life shifted after I graduated from my university. The feeling of not fitting in consistently plagued me and I found myself trying to squeeze into this mold to become more appealing. I sorely wished to be more outgoing, attractive, bubbly and talkative because none of the above came naturally. Although I considered myself goth at heart, you couldn’t tell by looking at me. I began experimenting with other looks, which was sort of fun at the time. My fashion sense might have changed, by my interests hadn’t. I was still the strange and unusual girl underneath the façade. I often say my 20s is not a time I would like to repeat. I was lost, developed toxic habits, made some unhealthy decisions and wasn’t truly myself around many of the people I knew at the time.

It wasn’t until my 30s that I returned to my roots. After maturing, shedding old skin and growing a renewed sense of self, I wanted to stop dressing in costume. Not just in a fashion sense, but in every aspect of my life. I wanted to return to the 13-year-old kid that showed off her true colors for Halloween and didn’t look back. Starting this blog has helped me to further share this odd and macabre part of me with others. I’ve come full circle and I feel complete.


I hope you enjoyed my story of how I found my home within the goth subculture. Like the introvert blog posts, this was another personal and special one for me to write that I was excited to share.

Feel free to comment your stories of finding yourself, whether it was in the goth community or another scene! I’d love to hear.

8 thoughts on “Growing Up Goth: Finding My Self Within the Subculture

  1. Fascinating, Jenn. Important too is the realization/explanation your goth aspirations flowed naturally from your personality, rather than being seared into you in a single transforming trauma. Much more interesting that way, actually.

    At one point, I was moody, contemplative and sarcastic. Still am, to some degree. Yet, one thing I gathered from life in the desirability of being optimistic and sunny. That’s not to say I still don’t savor deep and mysterious shadows. Not at all – it’s just that they make the brights even brighter. Thus, i peruse unsettling websites while listening to Mozart, Cuban music, etc, etc. You get the idea.

    Oh, and Hot Topic was home to whole goth emporium? Who knew? Certainly not us guys, that’s for sure.

    1. I do agree with you that it is good to have a balance between the dark and light. It makes life more enriching!
      Hot Topic was very different when I shopped there in the late 90s/early 2000s. I haven’t stepped back into one in a long time.
      I’m happy you enjoyed my post. As always, thanks for reading!

  2. This was such a fun read and relatable on so many levels! Thanks for being so raw here, I know that isn’t always easy but I think honest, genuine, sometimes mildly uncomfortable work always ends up being the best work 👏🏽

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