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When I was 13 (and for many years after) I was in love with this kid who wore pink converse and Jack Skellington hoodies and Alkaline Trio t-shirts. Partially because I was, and am, obsessed with bondage pants, but mostly to impress him, I went through a short stage of D.I.Y. Goth. I made bondage pants with ribbon and armwarmers out of socks– to my credit, they all looked really good. I wore them to school several times but instead of making me look cool, I just looked mismatched and ridiculous. It did not make him fall in love with me, and all of his friends ended up making fun of me for years for being a “poser.” I learned my lesson there, I suppose.

These are what I mean by bondage pants, in case you didn't know.

Recently, however, I’ve been thinking about Goth again. It began when J and I had a conversation about being Goth in high school. Apparently, he was known as Johnny Cash because of his daily uniform of black, and also wore more makeup than most men ever do. Then I started noticing how beautifully dark and tragic E’s Victorian dresses look on her (though she would be sexy in a paper bag). And then I decided to take my already-ripped black & zippered jeans and rip them more and turn them into bondage pants. When I wore them out, I paired them with some leather bracelets from J and my collar. And that’s when I really started noticing parallels.

Goth fashion, for those who didn’t go to high school in the last two decades, is actually one of those “I’ll know it when I see it” things. It’s a little bit like punk, but with less energy and more brooding. It’s characterized by many things: lots of black, pancake makeup, chains, boots, Victorian-style dresses, dyed & spiky hair, piercings, collars, studs, buckles, and even a thing actually called bondage pants. For Goths, it’s like every day is Halloween.

Yes, Goth is a stupid fashion trend for prepubescent unique snowflakes, but it’s really only the latest incarnation in centuries of fascination with the dark and the macabre. Some of us non-Goths can’t escape this obsession as well: we love Nine Inch Nails, horror movies, Edgar Alan Poe, and maybe even BDSM. What is this fascination with the macabre and what does it mean for us as people?

The connection between the sexual and the scary, and by extension BDSM and goth culture, can be exemplified by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s certainly not the only piece of literature that could be used as an example, but it’s the most famous and one that is often cited as an influence to Goth culture. (Spoiler alert.) The unmistakable sexual undertones are set in the very beginning, when Jonathan Harker visits Dracula’s castle and is threatened by three aggressive temptresses, signifying everything he wants and fears. When Dracula arrives in England he succeeds in turning Lucy into one of aforementioned sluts, which horrifies the men. Her fiancee, Arthur, reclaims her by staking her– an obvious reference to the power of the phallus to punish and solidify ownership. Not to mention all the pointy teeth and blood.

People who love BDSM are pressing their bruises, are worming their way into the minds of others, are constantly challenging the limits of pain and pleasure. Though I do not identify, and never have identified, as a Goth, I can’t deny that part of the appeal of submission is its darkness. The shadowy depths of the Id are wild and untamed, and prodding that beast can take us to places our rational mind cannot go. This is not a risk that most are willing to take, but some are obsessively attracted to the possibilities of what they may find. Sex and fear are both powerful drugs that can open the gateways to our deepest animal selves. Maybe most Goths are just making a shocking fashion statement or emulating their favorite musicians, but I’m sure there are some who are aware of the legacy they are propagating: a fascination with the macabre and what it means to us.