China, like much of Asia, has always had a thriving style culture. Many of the latest cutting-edge trends even surface and rise to popularity there. Both China and it’s close neighbour Japan are also known for some riskier styles, including Harajuku and Lolita fashion.
Despite this openness, thousands of members of the goth community in China have united in support of a woman who was told to remove her “distressing” makeup before she was allowed on the subway. Posting on Weibo, a Chinese social media outlet, the woman wrote about her disheartening encounter with a security guard who told her that her makeup was “problematic and really horrible.”
As a reformed goth myself, stories like this can be really disheartening. Kids, teenagers, and young adults are still learning their place in the world and how they fit into the fabric of society; style, especially alternative style, is often the first way young people explore their individuality. Encounters like this one can only serve to harm their sense of self, and even reinforce negative ideas they may have had about themselves prior to the experience. Not only can it be emotionally difficult for the recipient, but sometimes also physically dangerous. In 2007, goth fashion enthusiast Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend were assaulted by five teenagers because of their clothing. While her boyfriend managed to recover, Sophie fell into a coma from which she never regained consciousness, and died of her injuries 13 days later. Views like those of the security guard aren’t intrinsically violent, but violence against a specific group always begins with smaller, subtler actions.
Despite the heaviness of this event, the Chinese goth community has come out in droves to support the young unnamed woman, with more than 5000 people posting selfies in solidarity. The support the community is giving this woman only disproves negative stereotypes surrounding goths. Given their benevolence, how can goth style be considered “problematic and really horrible?” Even in my own experience, goths are far more supportive of individuality and personal taste than anyone who follows mainstream fashion. My 12-year-old goth self found only love and support from the goth community, despite often looking like a Marilyn Manson backup dancer.
Self-expression and individuality are as important socially as breathing. For someone in a position of power to try and take that away, like the security guard in the subway station, is appalling. A public apology should be given to the woman in question, along with a promise to train future security staff in acceptance. Though it may be a fool’s hope, the community response does offer some prospect of what may come to pass: a more accepting future.