"Goth, Wannabe, and Christian Sexuality"
The first time I walked into the crowded weekly gatherings of Poly Boston folks at a hip local cafe near Cambridge, I was struck by how many people were wearing black. It wasn't a goth crowd, but the fashion looked goth-influenced by one or two degrees of separation.
No coincidence. Polyamory and its values have become established in goth culture, well known and understood there even by non-polys, according to Amy C. Wilkins, a sociologist at the University of Colorado/Boulder. Her book Wannabes, Goths, and Christians: The Boundaries of Sex, Style, and Status came out in 2008, and she published an article a couple months ago that is now spreading in the blogosphere:
Goth, Wannabe, and Christian Sexuality
National Sexuality Resource Center
By Amy C. Wilkins
“Freaks” dressed in all black. “Easy” white girls who date the “wrong” guys. “Good girls” who’d rather pray than date.
Goths, Puerto Rican “wannabes”, and Christians are all seen as “odd,” as “freaks,” or as “posers.” Outsiders think they wear the “wrong” clothes, have the “wrong” emotions, and — perhaps most alarmingly — make the “wrong” sexual choices.
But young people in these groups are not so different from us, anyone who has ever wanted to improve their appearance, have fun, be noticed, or be seen as authentic rather than fake....
Although goths, wannabes, and Christians each have a distinct approach to sex and sexuality, sexuality is central to identity-making in each group. In various ways, [all three] challenge expectations for young women... but each subculture also valorizes romance in manners that offer both payoffs and costs....
At the Sanctuary, a weekly dance night in the Northeast, Goths (who, in this group, are predominantly white, middle-class, and college-aged) get together for a night of dancing, hanging out, and forming “cuddle circles.” Proud of their freaky personas and dark style, they wear fetish wear, leather and PVC, dog collars, and leashes. A man walks through in chaps and a thong. Other men “gender blend” in make-up and skirts, but the women are dressed in sexy, clearly feminine outfits. On the sidelines, pairs and groups of people kiss, caress, suck on each other’s necks.
At the Sanctuary, they tell me, the rules are different: People are free to kiss who they want, even if they are in relationships with other people. And women are the sexual aggressors. Men are “ostracized,” Hyacinth says, if they hit on women too overtly. Goths value these rules, describing the “meat market” scene of hip-hop clubs as “repulsive.”
“I really, really liked it [about the Sanctuary],” Hyacinth explains, “that nobody tried to grab my butt.”
...Goth women value sexual agency, pursuing sexual and romantic relations with multiple partners, both men and women, and experimenting with “freaky” sex. They describe their sexuality as empowering, arguing that they are in control of their sexual choices....
...The Goth, wannabe, and Christian strategies come with similar costs... sexual double standards are alive and well. As much as goths and wannabes experiment with being “bad,” they... want to think of themselves as different from girls who are really, really bad.
...Goths routinely distinguish “true” polyamory (simultaneous involvement in more than one intimate relationship, which many of them practice) from “just sleeping around.” They explain that “in its purest form, it’s not about sex, it’s about love” and that they “don’t want to be associated with people who are irresponsible.”
...Despite their different sexual styles, the women I interviewed all valorize romance. Goths and Christians explain that their sexual choices are better paths to romantic intimacy. For goths, polyamory forces them to develop better communication skills, to be more honest, and to trust each other in new ways. All this creates better, more authentic relationships, they say.
Christians use a logic that assumes that wasting romance on a relationship that doesn’t end in marriage means that there will be less romance left over for the marriage itself. For them, delaying dating and sexuality ensures unparalleled intimacy with their (anticipated) future husbands.
A bit differently, wannabes explain that they aren’t just having sex with Black or Latino men because they’re cool, but because they truly, deeply love them — and they work hard to create enduring romantic relationships rather than sexual ones. For them, romantic relationships are the key to securing community membership, while purely sexual relationships mean that they will be dismissed as “easy white girls.”
This emphasis on romance comes with costs....
Read the whole article (Nov. 18, 2008).
Wilkins says she "is currently researching race and gender identities among Black middle-class students at predominantly white universities, and the use of monogamy in the construction of notions of love among young and mid-life adults."