Over the last few weeks I have had some interesting conversations about identity. As I have a little time to think I’ve decided to write a few blog articles about the concept of ‘identity’ as I unpack a few of the main issues we have raised. With a fair wind behind me I may even be able to convince Ruth to add a blog about this given that her psychology doctoral thesis was largely about ‘identity’.
Here come the Goths
Last week Ruth and I met up with a lot of “Goths”. We went to Whitby Goth Weekend where we regularly go to meet up with friends from our university days. Whilst we are there we help raise money for the Bat Conservation Trust on the bring and buy stall. When we arrived on Friday morning we went to the beach (a particularly Goth activity) where we met our friends. As we walked back up the beach a photographer asked if he could take our picture. We obliged and carried walking up the beach. As we did our friends said “You’re in Whitby for an hour and nothing. Two minutes with Robb and Ruth and already someone has taken our picture”.
As we continued on our journey, we were intercepted on the stairs up the cliff by a group of eight A Level sociology students. They asked a variety of questions about why we were there and what we were doing? It was quite entertaining when we were asked what we ‘did for a living’ – mirth and hilarity abounded as we discovered that two IT professionals were in our group. This is not a stereotypical “Goth” occupation!
The final question in the survey was “how do you feel about the word ‘goth'”? This led to all four of us looking at each other and saying things like “but I’m not really a goth”. None of us really identify as “goth” per se. This lead us to have a lot of conversations over the course of the next 24 hours about what all of this means.
From Whitby, Ruth and I dashed back home for me to be “the vicar”. Sunday services and an APCM were the order of the day. Then we rushed from there into the deepest darkest South of England to meet some new people. We’ve been invited to be involved in the organisation of the Goth Eucharist at Greenbelt this year. Again, the question of “what is ‘Goth’?” was raised by everyone. Am I ‘goth’? What is ‘goth’? Am I ‘goth enough’ or just an interloper? This seems to be the inner existential crisis experienced by most people who are ‘goths’.
For me, the honest answer is ‘no’, I’m not a goth. I don’t think there are many people who say that they are. It is usually something that other people say to identify people. Personally, I usually describe myself as a ‘hairy biker’. I’m often found wearing black and riding a big black Harley with the internal soundtrack supplied by George Thorogood whilst I’m doing it. I listen to heavy metal, have long hair, tattoos and piercings. I’ve been known to dye my hair on occasion. I play guitar in a heavy metal band and have some pretty funky clothing. ‘Goth’ isn’t a term I use to self identify, it is a term that other people use to categorise me.
Human beings like to categorise the world around them. They like to compartmentalise the world so that they can store the information in their brains. This is so that they can take a complicated question and come up with a neat and easily identifiable answer. When the world is presented with a large number of individuals who don’t fit into a category it feels the need to create one. In this instance we have the word ‘goth’, a generic coverall that encompasses just about any type of ‘difference’ and makes it ‘the same’. At Whitby Goth Weekend and the Goth Eucharist you will find Metalheads, Steampunks, Cyberpunks, Rockers, Glam Metallers, Trad Goths, Emos, the ocasional cosplayer and probably some people who just like good old fancy dress. And the world can’t cope with all of these individuals. It needs to find a way of categorising them so that it can go back on with it’s business. We must compartmentalise!
Now of course I have put myself in the position of having written Leonard Nimmoy’s “I Am Not Spock” by asserting my individuality; I Am Robb. To redress the balance, I will continue to write about identity tomorrow and draw the Goth*/Priest strands of my existence together for your entertainment.
*See that? I just identified myself as ‘goth’. See how readily I conform!