My first time at The Castle was at a ripe age of eighteen, less than a month before my birthday. I suppose this deserves a bit of situating: I moved out at eighteen, in a pissy high school huff, that covered up deeper tensions, overlaying lines of conflict that still exist today. But I moved out two whole weeks before I graduated, I will crow this until the end of my life, and lived with friends for six months before losing my handholds. Then I crawled back to my parents for all of three months. My mother threw me out for quitting a terrible job and wanting to focus on my community college classes. I have never gone back since then, more than six years on my own.
My mother, while I lived with her, was a mite restrictive, you might say. I had bought a dress my senior year that cost me $40, a black vinyl number, and I loved it. I would wear it in front of a mirror in the bathroom, the door safely locked, because I couldn’t leave the house in it. I couldn’t let it be seen. I had to carefully hide where my money had gone. I would gaze at myself in the mirror and think all sorts of things I had to pretend really really hard I wasn’t thinking.
It was this dress I wore to The Castle my first time, with black fishnets, and… my rag-tag old boots. I have since high school been attached to black leather work boots, preferably with steel toes. They looked wrong with that dress, but I couldn’t have cared an ounce. I wore no make-up, a standard practice. A novice’s garb.
I had no idea where Ybor was. Having lived in Punta Gorda, my experience of Tampa until then had been of the Performing Arts Center. I couldn’t have retraced our route. It was like a sacred labyrinth, and only now, an initiate into the mysteries, do I know my way through the dark turns.
When we arrived, my friends left me to my own devices. I was free to explore as I wanted, for the first time ever. No check-ins, no sneaking out unnoticed. I had never been before to any club, let alone a goth club. I wasn’t a sheltered kid, I postured. I knew all about breaking gender rules, I knew all about wearing black. Nit-wit idiot child. I didn’t expect to feel a wave of home hit me. It was magic, lace, vinyl, leather, top hats, canes, rivets, buckles. I was so out of place, but home in the same moment. Terribly under-dressed. And Gods, I wanted to dance. It was early, and the floor was empty, and I have no recollection of what was playing on the three large screens. I moved at first like a wooden doll.
I recognized so little of the music I heard, but I drank it in. I recall it being an endless pulse of synthpop. Everything unfamiliar until they played Kathy’s Song. The lacings of my inhibitions loosened, and all that was bound up came undone. I learned that my road inward lay in movement, that I danced my path to the Divine, as others prayed, as others drummed, took drugs, meditated. Was I supposed to buzz that way? Jaded faces, they already knew. This was ritual.
Reminisce with me. When did your secrets first unfold to you? Where did you first belong? Tell me stories in return, tell me stories of waking up.