By Max Holzberg
It started with the hair, growing it longer and dying it darker. Then he began to wear makeup, paint his nails, and adopt a new wardrobe. “We saw the signs and didn’t think much about them,” said Colin Wright, father of Michael. “I think we tried to ignore them or perhaps we were just in denial.”
“We definitely had our suspicions: the makeup, the nails, the wardrobe. The hair seemed logical; I guess kids try and rebel when they’re teenagers. I remember that would push my parents buttons when I was younger,” said an emotional Colin.
“When he came out–that was the hardest part for my wife and me. It confirmed our suspicions, sealed off our hopes and dreams for him. We knew our boy wouldn’t be normal anymore.”
This once-normal boy Colin mentions is Michael Wright. Michael now prefers to be called Ash. “I hate it when people get my name wrong.” He has been transitioning to Goth for the past 6 months. “Don’t they know it is the most offensive thing you can do to a Goth person? It’s like calling a trans woman a man!”
These past few months for the Wright family have been very difficult.
“Michael’s transition has had a bit of a toll on our family,” said Colin “I’ll admit the beginning was okay. He started to forget to do his chores, and he would miss clubs at school. This seemed like normal teenage behaviour.”
“I was only concerned when Michael stopped seeing his girlfriend and quit the football team,” added Susan, mother of Michael.
Susan is sure that there is a correlation between the erratic behaviour exhibited by Michael and his self-identification as Goth.
“I had to stop going to school. I just felt like I couldn’t be accepted there anymore,” said Michael with a long sigh. “It was just the fact that I’m Goth. If I were gay or something, I could show up to school and no one would care, unless I told them. I don’t have that kind of privilege. When you’re Goth, you’re so visible. It’s hard to hide who you are.”
For many years, Michael hid who he was from his family and friends. He knew from a young age that he identified as Goth, and that one day he would have to come out.
“I always knew I was different, yet I always thought people would accept me for being different. I didn’t expect this to be so bad.”
Michael’s family has not taken kindly to his self-identification. His mother pretends that it is just a phase. His father has had many long conversations, telling Michael that Goth is not the answer.
Michael has even lost some of his best friends, as they can’t come to terms with who he has become. He rarely goes to school, and when he does, he is a ridiculed by his classmates, peers and teachers.
Every Thursday Michael meets with the group ‘Pray the Goth Away,’ in the basement of ‘Our Redeemer of Love Baptist Church.’ The group uses religion to remove what they call “Goth tendencies” from a Goth’s life.
High profile human rights groups such as Amnesty International have deemed these practices “inhumane, as they subject innocent human beings to the hatred and prejudice of others.”
Susan is fully aware that these practices are controversial and says her family’s aversion to Michael’s lifestyle choice results from their faith. “What Amnesty doesn’t understand is that God deems Goth to be a sin. Until God says otherwise, we will continue to follow what He says.”
Colin said that if Michael came out as anything else, things would be different. “If Michael were to come out as gay or trans, heck, I would have no problem! He knows how much we support those people. But the Goths, I just can’t stand them.”
Michael has had to move on without the support of his family, learning to embrace his Goth lifestyle. “I’ve started to see that there is a wonderful life that Goths live. I’ve seen a counsellor who has been fantastic in helping me understand my identity.”
This counsellor, an ally to the Goth community, is a well-known activist. He is currently running a Change.org petition that he believes “will definitely shut down Pray the Goth Away”–that is, if he gets 2,000 signatures by Thursday.
Michael has also begun to experience the Goth community social life. On Thursdays he goes to his local dance hall, which has Goth night, something similar to gay night. “I’ve gone to Goth night a bunch of times, met some cool people, and done some Goth dancing.”
Beside clubs, Michael has also found other platforms and ways to meet Goths. “I use Gothr. It’s a Goth Dating App on my iPhone, like Tinder. I’ve met Goths from my neighbourhood for a hookup, a coffee or both. It’s been really nice.”
Michael said that as he becomes more comfortable with himself, he plans to start a peer-counselling program for other Goths in transition. “You know, there are a lot more Goths living in our society than you’d expect; it’s just that a lot of us live in the closet, we don’t have the guts to come out.”
It’s true; experts estimate that between 5 – 13% of American Teenagers are Goth, yet only 3-6% will come out in their life times. Michael believes he can help change these statistics by being more open.
“The best tools we have to break down these barriers as Goths are ourselves. If we learn to be more open, then society will learn to accept us and the world will be a better place.”