Friday, 22 April 2016

Dare to Shine - Introduction


There's exactly one month to go until World Goth Day, and that means one month until Dare to Shine is officially unleashed! I'm so excited and proud to be a part of this incredible anthology, containing ten stories from contributors spanning four different countries, in aid of the fantastic Sophie Lancaster Foundation. And in light of the main publication, I wanted to share the Introduction which I have written for the book.

​For more information on Dare to Shine, please visit the website - and also check out the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, who will receive 100% of all profits from the anthology's sales.

I remember when I was in high school, there were a couple of girls in the year above me who were constantly stared at. Their hair was dyed raven black; eyes smoky, brows drawn on. They walked in chunky leather boots or intricately-decorated Converse. Their coats were long and dark. A lot of students would go quiet as they walked by; pretend they hadn’t seen them, or stare so harshly as to make anyone wince.

I also remember a day in August 2007. With it being the summer holidays, I’d spent a few extra hours in bed, before dressing in my typical black t-shirt and jeans combo, lining my eyes and lacing up my combat boots. Then I went out for the day, and heard the name Sophie Lancaster for the first time. I was immediately shocked and disgusted by the news. Here was a young girl, just a few years older than myself, who had been attacked and hospitalised with her boyfriend near Manchester. I abhorred violence anyway, but what truly sickened me was that these two people had been targeted for no apparent reason. True, they were goths, but so were a lot of people, just as a lot of people were who they wanted to be. There was no crime in that, no fault, was there?
I kept up to speed with the news. Thirteen days after the attack, Sophie died. There was an outpouring of sorrow across the whole of the UK. Flowers and tributes were laid outside Stubbylee Park where the pair had been set upon. Social media exploded with outrage and condolences.
The next month, I returned to school to begin two years of Sixth Form. There was a dress code: no logos, no band t-shirts, no ‘offensive’ text. I kept to my simple black ensemble – and, to my alarm, so did the two goth girls. The long flowing coats were gone; the makeup was really toned down. At first, I thought they had been scolded by a teacher. I later realised, after I was allowed to wear an ankle-length trenchcoat according to the dress code, that they had calmed their style out of worry. Manchester was only an hour away from my home by car. There was a fear. Were people so outraged, so offended, by the clothes on others’ backs? Offended enough to strike, to kill?

Over the next few years, the Sophie Lancaster Foundation grew. I remember reading about Sylvia Lancaster’s tireless efforts in her daughter’s name; when she was awarded an OBE by Prince Charles for all her work. I remember when I met her for the first time at an event held by my university.
Sophie Lancaster’s name has become almost legendary within the alternative community. To many, she has come to symbolise the extent of the hate crimes to which individuals can be subjected. But it is important to also remember that she had blood in her veins, she breathed the same air as her killers. She had hopes and dreams. She was creative, caring – her own person, as we all are. She simply chose to express herself outwardly, in her dress, in her choice of music; in a manner she was completely entitled to do as a free human being. There is no crime or fault in that.
I have always been a proud individual, never following a crowd – not out of any teenage angst, but because I wanted to be myself. One day I’ll go out looking like a long-lost member of the Addams family; the next I’ll be wearing tie-dye and flowers in my hair; the next I’ll settle for jeans and a plain t-shirt. I’ll get completely different looks and reactions from the same kinds of people – but I’m still me. And every day, no matter what I look like, I wear a black S.O.P.H.I.E. band on my wrist.
Being able to express oneself is a basic right, and any targeting because of that is a hate crime. Everyone can – and should – be who they are inside; show their individuality for all the world to see, without fear or need for justification. That is what the Sophie Lancaster Foundation stands for: education and acceptance. I have done a lot of work for them and it’s led me to push my boundaries in ways I never thought I would. It’s boosted my confidence, brought me new friends, and solidified my convictions.

I spoke briefly with the two goth girls while I was in school. A few band names were mentioned; some favourite movies. Then we talked about homework; universities; what we were each having for dinner. It was a completely normal conversation; a kind that anyone could have had, whether they were dressed in black or all the colours of the rainbow.

After all, every single one of us is in the same boat; living our lives as we want, under the most diverse, crazy, mismatched flag you can imagine. And that is really something to celebrate.

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