extremely online

Raven, the Acid Bath Princess of the Darkness, Emerges from the Depths of Hell (the Internet)

The emo girls who started it all. Photo: xXblo0dyxkissxX/YouTube

It’s January 2, 2009. Two teenage girls, eyes ringed in black, stare deadpan to the camera. My Chemical Romance blasts in the background as they introduce themselves: Raven, the Acid Bath Princess of the Darkness, and Tara. They fill us in on their dislikes (preps, Davey Havok’s new hair) and likes (Edward Cullen, Hot Topic) to kick off the new year, even though they advise us, “Crappy New Year. New years, new tears.” And thus a meme was born.

Their YouTube channel, xXblo0dyxkissxX, featured the girls and, occasionally, their friend Azer (who was briefly disowned after being spotted in a Hollister) dancing and singing along to the likes of Good Charlotte and Papa Roach, while also asserting their devotion to the goth lifestyle. The videos were clearly comedy, but the internet was a much different place in the late 2000s. Commenters speculated about the alleged poser-dom of the trio, when they weren’t insulting their appearances or sexual orientation. Many saw parallels between Tara and Raven of YouTube and Tara Gilesbie, the author of the infamous Harry Potter fanfic My Immortal (yes, the title is an Evanescence reference).

Twelve years to the day after their viral New Year’s video was uploaded, Raven resurfaced online, confirming that the characters were comedy creations. Raven, whose real name is Sarah, came forward because people were beginning to link her professional social-media presence (she’s a dominatrix who performs under the moniker Petra Hunter) with the old videos. She had admitted in a 2014 WNYC interview that Raven and Tara were fictional and had no connection whatsoever to My Immortal, but people barely seemed to notice. Internet sleuths started to connect the dots between Raven and Petra in 2018, and she disabled the comments section on the YouTube videos in 2019 to stop users from keeping the rumor alive (comments have since been reactivated). The barrage of questions on her work accounts compounded in 2020 when the theory spread on TikTok.

For a while, Sarah was able to deny that Petra and Raven were one and the same with simple math: She’s about five or six years older than Raven claims to be in the videos. In the final week of 2020, though, the speculation became fervent enough that Sarah decided to tell the story on her own terms, rather than risk being doxxed. Besides safety concerns as a sex worker, she also wanted to make sure that her video co-stars, Azer (who uses they/them pronouns) and Tara, were protected, since the latter, especially, values her privacy. The hateful comments they received over the years — which included rape and death threats — have thankfully been eclipsed this past week by praise for their comedy, with Raven and Tara being hailed as “meme queens.” Vulture recently caught up with Sarah following her return to the Raven persona.

What made you want to create the videos in the first place?
I wanted to have a career that involved comedy and/or comedy writing for a while. I had fallen in love with improv when I was, like, in seventh grade, I think. And even if it was never my main focus at the time, it was still something that was incredibly important to me.

Why did you decide to satirize your younger emo self?
After I came out of my emo stage, I was kind of embarrassed by it. I thought that a lot of the things that I liked had been cringy. Because when I was 12, 14, 15, I never thought I was emo. I wanted to be goth, basically. The biggest differentiator in my mind was that emos were more emotional, and I saw that as a weakness. But, in hindsight, I was totally emo, and now I’m a grown-up emo, you know? Who cares.

So I wanted to be a comedian, wanted to troll people, and was hoping these videos would pick up steam or whatever. This was in 2007, and I think a lot of people kind of forgot that emo kids were everyone’s punchline back then. People just can’t believe that we didn’t write My Immortal or that we didn’t have anything to do with it. Because I had been a young goth who wanted to deny she was emo, I knew a little bit more about the psychology of the people that I was trying to troll. I kind of thought about it, like, Okay, so what could I do that would make little baby Sarah super-mad?

You guys received a lot of unwarranted backlash after originally releasing the videos. Did that affect whether or not you wanted to pursue comedy?
Um, yeah, actually. I think it was pretty harmful for me. And it’s something that I didn’t really put together until, like, yesterday. And … oh, God, I might cry.

That’s okay.
I know, but I just did my makeup. [Laughs.] I definitely pursued comedy in a few different ways after making the videos, but it wasn’t necessarily the same. And after a while, I just kind of gave up. It was more of a psychological thing, because I thought it was pretty obvious that they were comedy from the start, but we were met with so much hatred and abuse for it. We got those comments every single day, pretty much the entire time the videos have been up. I think that over time, what starts out as something that I was able to write off and laugh about and be like, Haha, look at these ding dongs, they don’t get it, really just started to subconsciously eat away at me and damaged me, in that I started to believe that my videos weren’t funny.

Then, as I got older and I tried to reconnect or rekindle this love that I’d had, there was also, in the back of my head, the shame of being a sex worker. I did sign up for improv classes back in 2016, and I was really excited about that, but I ended up dropping out because I was very depressed at the time, which is kind of a joke in itself — given, you know, that I guess there’s kind of a stereotype that all comedians are depressed as shit. The improv classes were really awkward for me because I felt like I couldn’t really be myself, and I couldn’t let my classmates know I was a sex worker, and I couldn’t make jokes about my job. Then there was also that fear of, like, Okay, well, what name do I perform under? Because if privacy is such a huge thing for me, what am I going to do if a client comes to my show, or somebody’s seen my ads online, and they make the connection that, you know, this dominatrix also does improv under this name?

A lot of fear and discouragement weighed me down, I guess. So one of the things that has been really great, but so painful to deal with, is after coming out, people have just been so nice and so great about it, and just being told that they thought I was funny this whole time. That just makes me wonder about what might have happened if I didn’t give up and where I might be now, if I hadn’t, like, fucking felt bullied off of YouTube.

Your videos honestly feel like a time capsule, because I watch them and immediately I’m back in the 2000s: My Chemical Romance, Twilight, everything. What does it feel like to be associated with such a specific period of time?
Um, really weird. But it’s also really cool because as a very open, self-accepting adult emo now, I am absolutely delighted that I — or Raven, rather, is associated with a very specific point in time that is now important to me. I think that, for a long time, it wasn’t okay to be emo — especially, like, an adult emo. But now, over the past few years, I think it’s become cool again, or at least it’s become a lot easier for people to be more open about actually liking the things that they like and actually having feelings and being angsty and things like that.

I’m curious: Did you ever shop at Hot Topic or (the horror) Hollister?
[Laughs.] Hell yeah, I shopped at Hot Topic. In fact, I was so obsessed with Hot Topic that I remember being a little baby emo and printing out the item pages that I wanted to get at Hot Topic. Whenever I had money to spend on clothes, which was definitely not often, I would go through that binder, and I would sit down with a calculator and calculate the sales tax for everything so I could make sure that my money went the farthest. I fucking loved Hot Topic, and that was another thing that I took from my personal life to play into the whole Raven thing, because I definitely went through a phase where Hot Topic was life.

No Hollister, though?
No no no no no no no! Never Hollister. In 2005, I got quoted in my high-school yearbook saying, “I buy all my clothes at Hollister, and that is a big lie.”

How would you say your relationship with social media has changed over time?
Well, of course, I loved it when it first came out — you know, Blogspot, Xanga, MySpace, Facebook. As I got older, I didn’t really care as much. I ended up getting rid of all of my personal social media by 2017. I think I started in 2016 and just had it completely gone by 2017. That was partially because of my career in sex work. I was a lot more closed off about it than I am now. Now, I don’t care, and I just switched to having social media for my job and my job only.

That one’s been a really weird one, because sex workers aren’t welcome on social media, and we build these platforms up, and we get them all this traffic and then eventually they kick us off. And after SESTA/FOSTA passed in 2018, that made it even harder to be on social media. I’ve had my Instagram shut down twice without any warning at all, and it’s been really infuriating to just be prohibited from fucking existing. It’s really weird now to have accounts for Raven as well because it’s kind of a mind-fuck, in a way, because I get to use those accounts in ways that I don’t necessarily get to use my work accounts. Over the past few years, I’ve had a very love-hate relationship with social media where it was more, like, hate-focused. And now, after Raven, I’m kind of learning to love it again.

What do you think Raven’s up to in 2021?
Well, I know for a fact she was really fucking excited when My Chemical Romance got back together, and she was very, very upset whenever COVID made them cancel their 2020 tour. I have a feeling that she probably didn’t get tickets in time for the one show they did in 2019. I think that the most realistic ending of this story is that she turned into someone in their early 30s who looks back fondly on that time period. She probably has a kid and is doing that whole cool-mom thing. Like, I’m going to share music with my kids, and I’m going to still wear black, but at the same time, I have a much different life now.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Acid Bath Princess of the Darkness, Back From the Dead