Blood, vampires, and resident evil. Goth is back in a big way – but this time it’s being reappropriated for sex positive and anti-racist ends by a digital community run by femmes of color. Kristen Cochrane talked to three women who run popular goth/alternative Twitter accounts about community-building, Satanism, and fighting misogynoir.
Last October, I noticed a recurring theme on my Twitter feed. It was increasingly filled with tweets and retweets of images, Gifs, and YouTube clips that featured topics like blood and sex, Rob Zombie music videos, and schlock horror film stills, for example. It was Halloween-month, after all, so I figured people were just getting into the holiday spirit, but when I looked closer I noticed that something more interesting was going on. After clicking on the profiles and scrolling through the timelines and tweets, I noticed that the majority of these accounts seemed to be run by women of colour who identify as goth and alternative.
The bio of the popular account @grotesquefreak currently reads “THE BREAKDOWN COMES WHEN YOU STOP CONTROLLING YOURSELF AND WANT THE RELEASE OF A BLOODBATH.” One of her own posts from August 2017 that she recently retweeted features a group of stills from Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film A Clockwork Orange, captioned with a quote from the film: “Oh bliss! Bliss and heaven! Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh.” The larger photo shows a maniacally grinning Alex (played by Malcolm MacDowell) with blood-dripping fangs. Another recent tweet says “Spending my night snowed in with my bf and playing resident evil”.
Twitter can often seem like the forgotten sibling of the behemoth known as Instagram, but its unique mechanics make it an ideal space for subcultures, marginalized groups, and alternative folks to carve out a niche and be quickly up to date on what’s going on in their digital circles. In our contemporary cultural moment, a Goth and Alternative Twitter was created for and by people of colour (POC) and is being used as a digital space for resistance, affirmation, and community-building. It’s also highly populated by women and femme folks, which makes it a unique arena to talk about issues specific to sexism and racialization.
I got in touch with with Melissa* a.k.a. @grotesquefreak, Shay, a.k.a. @TheMadamMortuus, and Jessica*, a.k.a. @ShayBayBay18, whose names have been changed for their privacy. While these women are proud of their accounts and the collective support and care it has fostered for the alternative, creative WOC (women of color) and POC communities on Twitter, they also have jobs which might find their content unsettling, despite their obvious compassion and support for the women who share similar lived experiences.
“Goth people of all races get stereotyped, but it’s definitely difficult being a black person in the goth culture,” Melissa told me. “People will try to question your morality and even your blackness. In terms of morality I mean when people automatically assume you want to slit your wrists and die.” She continued: “Alternative POC can feel rejected completely by their communities because people tend to be scared of what they don’t understand. I was never allowed to express myself the way I wanted to. My mother couldn’t wrap her head around her only daughter wanting to be different. I had so many phases and she could never handle it because I was standing out ‘too’ much.”
Melissa added that for as long as she could remember, her peers and family could not accept her style, telling her to “tone it down,” “cover up,” and to “blend in more.” There’s a dearth of alternative black representation, and online portrayals of goths disproportionately feature pale-skinned white people. This lack of representation takes its toll on black folk and people of colour who identify with goth and alternative culture. “People tend to want to write you off as a basic black girl who is trying so hard to be different. I can’t count how many times I’ve been stereotyped by non-goths,” she said, citing the question,”why are you trying to be white?” as an example. Melissa hopes that her Twitter account will help “people who don’t feel accepted to realize their worth.”
In 1999, the late scholar José Esteban Muñoz wrote Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, which examined the ways in which minoritarian identities (e.g. BIPOC and queer folk) negotiate and work with contemporary images and cultural objects that might not be obviously aligned with their own culture. Muñoz called this ‘disidentification.’ For example, music cultures like metal, punk, and classic rock have historically been presented as very white. Users like @grotesquefreak, @TheMadamMortuus, @Shaybaybay16 and other members of their community engage in a similar process of disidentification.
@YUNGSADISTIC is a popular account among the alternative, creative, femme POC community on Twitter.
It’s not only music cultures and subcultures that these women and their cohort are disidentifying with and reframing. There is a complicated and horrible history—which continues today—where women of colour have been and continue to be shamed for expressing themselves sexually. By taking ownership of gender performance (i.e. how someone dresses, writes, or presents their personal aesthetic), the double bind of anti-black racism and sexism (Moya Bailey refers to these intersecting discriminatory practices as misogynoir) can be challenged and counteracted.
In January, @TheMadamMortuus posted a photo from Moschino’s FW/18 runway, where the female model is dressed in a black latex jumpsuit with high leather boots, and a mask that only exposes the eyes and mouth. Vogue Italia credits Moschino Creative Designer Jeremy Scott with “ giving voice to present-day new perversions that, more or less, are always the same: sex, education, and SM. This time the designer goes beyond that and revisits fetish with an ironic and desecrating twist.” The Goth and Alternative Twitter accounts run by WOC and femme POC that curate photos of kink and SM aesthetics in runway fashion—both contemporary and retro—are not only a stand against sexism, but also against femme-oriented anti-black racism, or misogynoir.
The women of this Twitter community do exactly what Jeremy Scott is doing—reminiscing about vintage fetish iconography, and rendering it anew often without commentary—except with the addition of a highly charged political bent. When the tweets do use direct text, they also consider modern fetish and kink, with dark, goth, gory, and alternative twists.
For Shay, a.k.a. @TheMadamMortuus, her Twitter functions as both a support network for young, alternative, femmes of colour, but also as a trusted source for playlists that throw back to the alternative music of the 1990s and early 2000s. It all started when she began to post the music she was listening to on a daily basis. Soon people were hitting her up for recommendations, and eventually she started making and sharing playlists.
Soon she started getting messages from young POC in places like urban Chicago, who thanked her for introducing them to Slipknot and Marilyn Manson. These genres have historically been marked by whiteness, and Shay’s curation subverts the narrative of musical whitewashing.
When Shay and I come upon the subject of her Twitter name “Gore Whore,” I asked if she took it from Rob Zombie’s “The Hideous Exhibitions Of A Dedicated Gore Whore.” In fact, the name goes back further than that. Shay found it when she encountered Gore Whore, a schlock horror film from 1994. “It was basically this woman who just wanted to sleep with guys and drink their blood afterwards,” she explained.
I also wanted to ask about the seemingly misunderstood Rob Zombie, whose performatively grotesque films and music unsettle those outside of his fan base. I wanted to know the question of the moment, as clichéd as it can become. So I asked, “do you think Rob Zombie is a feminist?” Shay paused. “Thinking back to his music, I saw him in Chicago this year and he was very femme-positive to the crowd,” she said. He pulled a Kathleen Hanna move and said, “I want all the women up front.”
“He reminded everybody in the crowd to be respectful when they were moshing,” she said, acknowledging that moshing, for women, can be fraught with experiences of physical and sexual assault. “He just shouted out the women a lot. But that could mean anything,” Shay said. “I’ve seen interviews of his wife Cheri Moon, and she always talks about how respectful Rob is. But you never know somebody, you know?”
These accounts are healing and affirming not only for the women who run them, but for the people who follow them. They provide a digital safe(r) space for women to speak openly about their sexuality. Jessica*, who goes by @ShayBayBay18 and currently has the name “FREAK” above her Twitter handle, said that it was Satanism that led to the awakening of her sexual consciousness.
“I used to feel guilty about loving sex and being comfortable with my sexuality, and then I started getting into Satanism and I realized that there was nothing wrong with sex,” she said. “The more you talk about it, the more comfortable people get with it, and I think that normalizing sex is important.”
Jessica added that it’s essential for women to be able to express and exercise autonomy and agency when it comes to sex. “Women especially should be unapologetically open about sex and not be judged for it. I will continue to be sex positive and speak freely about it in the hope that all women will feel okay to do the same if that’s what they want!”
When I asked Shay about Satanism as a generative tool for sexual awakening, particularly among marginalized folks, she echoed Jessica’s thoughts, but added that she “always appreciated the open mindedness of Satanism, specifically the attitude toward sex work.” This attitude, Shay told me, is basically a “to each their own, and no questions about it” approach.
But besides the politics, we can’t forget about the pleasure that comes from embodying a sex-positive, Satanist aesthetic and ideology. Crucially, it’s about getting turned on by taboo, as Shay explained, and embracing that form of pleasure.
And, as these women have shown us, pleasure is also political.
Kristen Cochrane is a writer and graduate researcher at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Her current research is located in queer cinema, particularly in Latin America, but she also writes on topics related to culture, film, media and their intersections with gender and sexuality. Her work has appeared in Amuse/i-D, AnOther, Teen Vogue, Somesuch, and VICE.