My goth brother, The Count of Cemetery Confessions, and I were reading this article published by the SF Chronicle featuring a
new event called Club Bodice in Oakland, CA. Now perhaps it’s because the mainstream obsession with goth kids has quelled for the summer, but I have to say I was a little disappointed. I managed to get a hold of the entire thing, but it’s not like I had very much to hold onto. A sparse 708 words, that superficially covers Shawna Davis, the creator of the event, her negative experiences in the goth community, which is one perceived to be so welcoming and alternative among the body shape issues, and the plus size friendly club night itself. Maybe it’s because the author isn’t a goth kid, but that’s why I’m here, isn’t it? (links are underlined)
I know Shawna through a Goth YouTube group on Facebook, where she’s just starting out, but you may have seen her modeling as Miss Mortis. Seeing how she participates in the group, how wonderful she’s been answering these questions, and all the work she’s been doing in preparation for the next Club Bodice night May 15th, I find it difficult to imagine someone giving her trouble in the scene. While I was busy trying to wrap my head around the possibility of such rudeness, the ever articulate Count supplied most of these questions.
The Count: What are some experiences within the scene that pushed you to make this event?
Shawna: Being plus sized it’s hard to go out and do normal day to day things without feeling the judgment of normal people, throw being Goth on top of it and it’s really “asking for trouble”. So going to the club for any of us is almost like a religious experience. It’s our shelter, our sanctuary to go and lose ourselves in music and movement and find fellowship with those we share this dark aesthetic with. So naturally when you are in your “safe place” and you find the same cold looks and scorn for the way you look from those who should know damn well what it’s like to be looked down on for just being who they are, can be utterly shattering. This can be said for those who experience elitism in the scene as well but instead of just scorn for what label you wear or who you listen to, it’s comments overheard about bothering to wear a corset, or how its “people like this that make the public think we are all this way”.
One time, when I went to Das Bunker while visiting LA, I actually had a girl take my then boyfriend aside a couple times to try and get him to leave me for her and even went so far as to try and dance in front of my boyfriend right in front of me. She literally was on the floor trying to pull some stripper moves in front of him. It was crazy for me because I didn’t feel very threatened as he was completely uninterested in her. But just the lack of respect she had for me to try that shit right there in front of me, thinking it would work like she was just showing him that he had made a simple mistake and look how much better he could have it with her. That without even knowing me, she had this much contempt for me as a person. Needless to say, it’s incidents like these that makes one become completely bitter to the scene and think there really is nowhere I can go, there is no place for me. And so a lot of people just end up staying home or just not bothering with clubs anymore. It’s not that they don’t want to dance or see their friends, they are just burned out on the negativity.
I have seen that attitude before. Cute boy with a plus size girl, and another girl brazenly flirts with the guy because she’s not a plus size girl. Sounds ridiculous right? It’s important to remember that some superficial goths like to bring outside standards of society with them because they don’t understand what goth is actually about. But maybe you’re thinking, it was just one bad night..
Count: Do you see this discrimination often at other events? Is there any difference between industrial goth and non-industrial goths?
Shawna: I have seen the most outward of this behavior at bigger clubs like Das Bunker in LA and Death Guild in my own backyard of San Francisco. While these clubs do play more prevalent types of alt music like industrial, I think it’s more a combination of the high school like atmosphere as well as possible age/inexperience of the person themselves. If they are younger, they are still in the high school mentality of trying to carve out a place on “the Goth popularity totem” and to them, the quickest easiest way of doing this is by clawing past those they would have less respect for like those who are plus sized. It all comes back to a reflection on our fucked up societies moral ideals in general, but it passes into our subcultures nonetheless. It happens less at smaller clubs where there is more of an eldergoth presence but there are still those who, regardless of age still have their prejudices and will show their disdain no matter which club or what type of music it plays.
Count: Do you feel that your experience at certain events has led you to feel unwelcome at others?
Shawna: Yes. Although I try to give other places a shot before passing a judgment, you kind of already know. Unless you are in a different area, then most of the same people from your local scene will be there anyway, so your pretty much just as likely to run into the individual(s) you get the negativity from in the first place. So yeah, it can most certainly put a bad expectation on most events in one’s area . Something I like about my club though is that I try very hard to put it out there what my club is about and how we have no tolerance for the bullshit. So unless the negative person is wanting to go just for the opportunity to be a little shit then they will want to steer clear of it since they already know what will be there.
I’ve been to both Das Bunker and Death Guild and they do get a very mixed crowd whether it be across lines of age or style of goth. The clubs themselves are not the problem, they’re trying to accomplish what Shawna wants. A safe place for people to be themselves. But when both those club nights are so iconic to the scene, having been around for decades, you’re going to get a few rude people who just want to be…well, iconic.
Is that a question I hear you mumble in the corner over there, “Zakkarrii she should just get a thicker skin. Deal with it. Aren’t we a little old to give a shit about bullies?” To that I say, ha, ha, let’s dance bitch. This idea of a thicker skin when discrimination is prevalent in local scenes is sort of useless when that confrontation is never resolved and consistently repeated. Are you trying to argue as if we don’t have this bias in mainstream culture for “appropriately sized women”, when a size mother fucking 12 is considered plus size? Or is it how that sentiment is then carried over to goth culture where you hardly ever see plus size women not fucking squeezed to death in corsets “because they should try to uphold the aesthetic” right? And for my last trick, maybe you’re right, this idea of bullies is a juvenile concept. Let’s call it what it really is, a general pressure from self centered, assholes who think a waist size determines validity of participation or interest in a subculture where we consistently bitch about values for art, but won’t hesitate to turn around and give a dismissive/disgusted look or a rude comment to anyone who doesn’t meet some unnecessary “standard” because “they’re just not my type”. It’s our problem when we pride ourselves on community and the community does shit.
Count: What is your policy for your event night? Is it just promoted as a safe event for plus size people exclusively or is it open to everyone?
Shawna: When I first started the club, the aim was for it to be a fun and safe environment for those who are more plus sized and their admirers and friends, but I very quickly realized that it wouldn’t make us any better than those who may look down on us. So we welcome everyone with a body positive attitude regardless of size, orientation, gender etc. Our only stipulation is that we have a zero tolerance policy for shaming and harassment. I want it to be a fun and safe place where anyone can come and feel comfortable and have a great time free of any negative or elitist stigmas and help lend a positive vibe to the club’s atmosphere.
Count: Should we have more of these kinds of events and can they go too far? Does it split up the scene?
Shawna: I think having more of these types of events would be great. Hopefully, if my event becomes well known/supportive enough I would love to take it on the road, doing special club guest takeovers all over the country. Help give people from all over the opportunity to come out and enjoy. I think it’s a great idea to help spread the awareness, not just for those who are plus sized but in general to help push out elitism. As long as everyone keeps in mind that this isn’t something to say one image is better than another. We’re just making it so it’s a place where we can all come together in respect and appreciation for the things that we share as an “alternative family”. I’m sure there will be those out there that would want to turn it into and “us vs them” type thing but as long as we can avoid those things I don’t really see a bad ending.
Count: How do you propose we fight against and push out the bigotry we see?
Shawna: A big part of it is to make sure we speak up when we see something wrong. Bullies, in general, only say things because they think they will get away with it or that others will join in mockery with them. I think that if more people decided to speak up when they someone being singled out then bullies/elitists would be less likely to spit their bile.
At the moment, it’s only for one Sunday a month, but I’m sure my hometown goths will be asking for more soon enough. Take your $10 and your sexy self to STUD (399, 9th St.
San Francisco, CA) May 15th for 9pm. I think someone mentioned something about gifts at the door?
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Until next time,
Don’t be hungry for life. Be ravenous.
Zakkarrii Edison Daniels