One of the lessons I’ve charged myself to learn this year is how to achieve a balance between being open and responsive to people while not getting trampled on or taken advantage of. My latest encounter with this flaw of mine occurred on Christmas Eve; my friend Nicole and I went into San Francisco for Deathguild, a goth night that happens every Monday night at DNA Lounge. It was only the second time I’d gone with her but I really felt at home despite that I wasn’t dressed nearly as appropriately as I could be; generally, I’m too lazy to try that hard to fit in anywhere.
I would take an occasional turn on the dance floor but my favorite part of the evening was standing on the balcony watching other people dance. There are unspoken fundamentals for goth dancing but mostly anything goes. You are there to be an individual and you dance however the music moves you. I spent the night fascinated and inspired by the fearless characters and their quirky dance moves.
The first to catch my eye was Scarecrow, mostly because he wasn’t dawning an entire wardrobe of black. Instead, he wore a tan sweater adorned with a dark brown leaping reindeer, a pair of khakis bunching slightly at the top where they were strapped to his thin leggy frame, and a brown fedora pulled forward over his face and unkempt shoulder length hair. He was in his own little world; he moved with a staccato flow, his sharp joints jutted very matter-of-fact with his robotic movements, less showy but reminiscent of Michael Jackson. There was a gentleness to his dance like a puppet with invisible strings, not doing anything fancy, just dangling in place.
I noticed next a man I would name Clarke Kent. He stood against the edge of the stage facing the dancing crowd, his dark hair greased back and to the side like the helmet of hair on a Ken doll I remember having in the 90s, his square jawed face illuminated by the blue white glow of his phone. He looked quite well kept and as I quickly learned, addicted to his phone. He kept it tucked into the inner right breast pocket of his tweed jacket. As he danced, he didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. They were either in his pockets, sometimes actually on the phone in his jacket, wrapped tight pulling on the collar, or occasionally adjusting his black rimmed glasses. For a few moments, he held his hands up half curled into fists a few inches from his ears as his feet danced all the while checking his phone every few seconds. Regardless of his preoccupation, he seemed to be enjoying himself. By this point, I looked just as addicted to my phone as it was the only thing I could take notes on.
Another inspiring figure, dawning the left side of the upper stage, was a woman I would call the Broken Ballerina. I remembered seeing her in that same spot the last time I had come. She looked more stereotypical, petite and thin and dark pixie cut hair, wearing heavy boots and a long black dress topped with lace like you might expect on a violinist in a professional orchestra. Her body moved with a precise jagged flow, both pretty and dark. I could tell she had a ballet background the way her feet would gently sweep across the floor as she passionately flailed and kept her ground on the corner of the stage. Near her was a tall lanky man with a slick blonde thin mohawk, dressed in tight vinyl shorts and a tank with wire rim glasses like might seem appropriate on a physics lab assistant.
I was drawn to the quiet ones but there were those around them that dressed screaming for attention. Two women came together firmly planting themselves on the stage near the ballerina to give perfect juxtaposition. They wore bright blue headpieces akin to Roman centurion mohawk helmets, glitter pasties that bounced with their breasts and striped short corsets around their bellies. They looked brave to me.
By now, I had taken enough notes to fill my phone so I went back to just absorbing the space and the crowd. I felt truly honored to witness these individuals bear themselves publicly in their own fashion. I was quite inspired by their courage and self-assurance. Standing on the balcony with my drink in hand, I could feel a genuine smile come onto my face like I hadn’t been able to express in a long time.
And then the evening grew dark. I was spotted by a creeper. Apparently because I’m not adequately dressed up enough, I look approachable to people not familiar with the scene, especially men who are out trolling. And even more, because I like meeting new people, I’m generally instantly friendly and inquisitive, fueling the perception that I’m available and interested and the predatory maneuvers escalate.
This particular man had crept his way through all the women on the balcony unbeknownst to myself until he got to me at the very end. He had a pleasant enough demeanor at first, a round face with a little beard and smiling eyes, almond skin and a heavy accent I couldn’t place but guessed Egyptian or Middle Eastern after some conversation about his family. He kept asking me questions and we bantered back and forth about how we ended up in the Bay Area. Eventually, he started getting awkward, asking me what kind of music I listen to, why I don’t like Rhianna (because all women are supposed to like her right?) and if I know how to salsa and we should go downstairs and dance.
First of all, you don’t really dance with people in a goth club, you dance next to them. Nearly anything goes as far as self-expression but touching other people while dancing is rare and seems unspokenly discouraged. I was not about to start grinding with this man out of context, not of course withstanding the obvious fact of his intentions quickly seeping out as an increasingly occasional hand was placed on my back while he slid closer and closer to me along the railing until there was no railing left for me to casually edge away.
So I said several times I didn’t want to dance. I already had anyways and it really is a mostly solitary act. I stood my ground there but as to how to get myself out of this conversation politely, I had nothing to go on other than to start seeking exasperated eye contact with my friends in hope that they would enter and remove me. Luckily,Nicole caught my signal eventually and I asked her where the bathroom was and we made the escape. So even though he completely freaked me out by the end, I felt bad that I hadn’t developed the ability to save us both the energy and just tell him to go away earlier. I felt bad for him. Instead, I jolted off and remained in the bathroom long enough that he’d see I wasn’t returning. Even though he was creepy, that wasn’t very nice. And every time I go this place, it happens nearly the same way. The only way out is to give up the evening and run out. This isn’t a long term solution. I would much rather be blunt and honest with someone encroaching on my space. Men as aggressive as that either don’t understand subtle polite social cues of disinterest or choose to ignore them.