Goth and Christian ‘intimacy talk’

Goth and Christian ‘intimacy talk’

Surprising similarities between divergent groups, but old stereotypes persist, researcher says

Though they express their sexuality in starkly different ways, evangelical Christian men and goth men share a startling amount of common ground in their “intimacy talk,” which in both cases tends to emphasize intimacy, vulnerability and respect for women.

Despite this, these groups do not completely transcend the culture in which they were reared, a CU sociologist reports. But the strategies these men employ can be seen as an attempt to deal with bad options enforced by social tradition.

Clearly, there are differences between the groups. Young evangelical Christian men eschew partying, embrace self-discipline, extol moral cleanliness and commit themselves to sexual abstinence. They value old-fashioned, masculine chivalry.

Goth men, on the other hand, exist largely on an opposite pole, donning dark clothes, expressing dark emotions, rejecting traditionally “masculine” traits, engaging in “gender bending and queer play,” freely enjoying sex. They tend to use the rhetoric of feminism.

Though they may differ sharply, young men who are evangelical Christians or goths engage in similar forms of “intimacy talk,” meaning they speak of their emotional vulnerability, desire for communication, trust and intimacy, and respect for women. That’s the conclusion of Amy Wilkins, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado.

But while they strive to be “better” or more “evolved” men, Wilkins reports, both evangelical and goth men subscribe to “old gender tales” that maintain sexual double standards.

Wilkins’ conclusions stem from the study of local groups of northeastern evangelical Christian and goth men for 12 and 18 months, respectively. She notes that her findings are not intended to be generalized to all Christians or goths, but rather reflect her observations of specific local groups.

Wilkins presents her findings in an article published in the winter 2009 edition of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. Another of her articles on the subject was published in November by the National Sexuality Resource Center. And her recently published book, “Wannabes, Goths and Christians,” stems from the same research.

The similarities between the two groups are striking. First, both evangelicals and Goths use “intimacy talk” to justify their sexual practices. “Their sexual practices are desirable, they both say, because they lead to greater relational intimacy.”

Second, both groups claim that their expression of masculinity is “more moral and more desirable” than that of other men, Wilkins says. Evangelicals describe themselves as “better men.” Goths portray themselves as “evolved.”

Both eschew the “predatory model” of male heterosexuality, meaning they tend not to pursue women aggressively. In fact, Wilkins notes, both groups of men identified themselves as “geeky” and sometimes shy before becoming evangelical Christians or goths. The evangelicals retained their “geeky” identity. But the goths transformed their “geekiness” into “freakiness.”

Yet even as they reject elements of traditional masculinity, “old gender tales persist.”

Among the evangelicals, men strive for abstinence while maintaining the notion that “men are innately heterosexually desirous in a way that women are not,” Wilkins writes.

Goths, meanwhile, expect women to be sexually aggressive and available, which “allows goth men to perform their own masculine sexual desire.”

In both subcultures, moreover, double standards persist. “There’s this idea that’s out there in the culture about boys’ sexuality that creates problems for boys,” Wilkins says. “There’s almost no space for boys to talk about not being interested in sex.”

Participating in these subcultures may solve these problems for these young men, Wilkins suggests.

In the goth community, she says, there’s a “disconnect” between what men say about gender equity and how well women are actually respected. At goth social gatherings, she says, women are sometimes “pawed at when they don’t want to be.”

Wilkins also observed double-standards among goths about their polyamorous relationships. One woman, for instance, described her seven-year polyamorous relationship as equal. But while her male partner could see other men and other women, she could only see other women.

The examples of these communities of evangelical Christian men and goth men demonstrate that even alternative forms of masculinity “are both bound up and enabled by the gender rules of the larger culture,” Wilkins writes.

And while some groups claim to value gender equality, Wilkins says she has not yet found one that is truly egalitarian.