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Still gothic after all these years

Part 4

by Ellen Barry, photos by Dana Smith

For "people who do not like prolonged contact with others," goths have built a fairly complex, structured society for themselves. Some San Francisco goths chart their lineage through the people who brought them into the scene, and the people who brought them into the scene -- "parents" and "grandparents" in the goth world.

And considering their rampant individualism, they also have an occasionally frightening ability to act in concert. The goth community may not have the power to punish, but ostracism is a serious sanction. Bexton tells the story of a goth shunning that happened in San Francisco last year. A woman came forward with an allegation of rape against a man in the community three weeks after the incident -- too late for legal action, Bexton says -- and the San Francisco goths made a community decision to exile him.

"Basically what ended up happening was an unofficial ban," Bexton says. The few times this man came back to goth clubs (there are now five in San Francisco) he "became one of the invisible people." Not long after, he left town.

Shunning is an unusually harsh measure, but this is a group in which social pressure can bear down hard. Thanks to the Internet, communication is so highly developed that it approaches the level of collective consciousness. This point was brought home to me quite strongly when, after three days working on this story, I found that complete strangers were delivering back to me personal information that I had let slip in an interview with a goth across town, and which had found its way onto a mailing list on the Internet. The effect was creepy; I started to get nervous around people in black.

Nate Roman, a 22-year-old who appears as DJ Mothra at Man Ray's Curses and the Spot's Ceremony, says he sometimes suspects that the goths know his thoughts before he even speaks. Everyone knows everyone, and it can be a tricky crowd. Bexton says he knows of feuds that have gone on for 15 years.

"It's hard to explain the increased level of communication," says Roman. "I feel like I could handle myself in public office now."

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