Amy C. Wilkins’ Wannabes, Goths, and Christians: The Boundaries of Sex, Style, and Status includes studies and interviews from numerous Goth identifying individuals, many of whom appear to be queer and in poly relationships, as well as Christians and what she labels as “wannabes,” specifically Puerto Rican wannabes (1, 74-80). More broadly, the author mentions ties to sex and sexual behaviors or identities that these three groups may or may not possess, specifically in chapter 3 with sexually open Goths and “babe feminism” (53-59, 62-63).
The author explains in the introduction and chapter one that these various identities are demonstrative of a broader issue where people want to be “cool” and “accepted,” not understanding the ways in which class, gender, and race specifically plays into both “their problems and their solutions.” (2)
Wilkins makes a clear distinction between the gender and racial divide of these three groups, with Goths and Christians focusing on gender and wannabes (Puerto Rican here) about race. Furthermore, she points out that the book is intended to inform people of how young folk use elements of “subculture” to form their own identities and how they “solve” issues using those identities (3).
Including the history behind class, gender, and race, the author utilizes an intersectional approach to address our lived experiences and how these “performed” methods of identity are informed through “structural conditions” embedded into the fabric of society that serves as a baseline manual for these women (6-20). Furthermore, including definitions of “gender,” “cool[ness],” and “sexuality,” readers are able to understand the complex relationships that exist between class, gender, and race overall (12-13).
For example, Wilkins argues Christians redefine what cool means to either mold Christianity to fit into that label or associate negative conditions to coolness in a way that discourages others from engaging in certain behaviors. As former nerds, Goths used to draw from middle class behaviors that are associated with being “studious,” noting the inability to socialize as well (27). They find “alternatives” to avoid temptations like drinking through social gatherings and events and hold each other accountable (102-103). Obviously this is rooted in shame, mentioned on 137, which creates religious trauma eventually and unhealthy relationships with their own bodies, food, sex, sexuality, gender—existing basically.
Furthermore, the Goths she interviewed said that they essentially were always Goth, like how I was born gay. In fact, Wilkin states that it may even be hard to identify who is or isn’t Goth at times, which is like saying you are non Goth passing (like straight passing for queer people). While people may identify as they choose, it doesn’t mean it is necessarily true or indicative of reality. I could easily say that I identified as a jellyfish but that’s not accurate and definitely would appear to be offensive to marginalized groups who cannot change how they “identify” as marginalized (36, 48, 58). That is definitely not how it works and seems like an attention seeking behavior!!!
Chapter six and seven focus mainly on wannabes and their struggle with white and essentially remaking whiteness, and their associated lived experiences (both that lead them to this “lifestyle” and after). Finally, she explores alienation and associated responses, like self identification and self marginalization that each group relies on and explains perhaps why that may be.
Personally, I enjoyed this reading because it was extremely informative. I absolutely loved her ideas about how these labels and others are used to push back on limitations set by society, because I have been there and definitely use a rather liberationist approach to everything in my life. However, I found the inclusion of these wannabes who wish to cross “racial identities” as problematic and concerning given their struggles with fetishization and trying to essentially be another race (2). Dating BIPOC should not ever be considered a “lifestyle” (2). In fact, I was a little disturbed to hear that these are “projects” as if attempting to be something you are not is a lofty goal similar to redecorating your house (3-4). For Goths, she explains that their ideas of self marginalization are equally problematic and often serve as a means to “impede the development of meaningful relationships across race or class lines” (53). Wilkins is absolutely right that these projects can be constraining and restrictive, even if it appears to be helpful.
A lesson my mother taught me at a young age is that what methods you use to survive, whatever coping mechanisms work in your youth, may come back and serve as saboteurs in the future because they were likely never healthy in the first place. I definitely believe that applies in this case, where people—likely with good intentions—are actually perpetuating racism, classism, etc as a means to find themselves at the expense of others. These “unseen effects” can be very damaging and I am appreciative that the author included that understanding (4).
I will say that I was rather confused where she got these ideas from and it seems like a bit of a reach. I don’t know where the idea that Goths were former geeks comes from, but that was never the case for anyone I knew. The same can be said for her ideas on Christians and Wannabes, which are largely stereotypical, and often are based in generalizations that do not pan out in the long run. I wonder if she was pulling only from specific pieces of work or specific studies because otherwise, I think including this information is irrelevant as this analysis has no basis in reality. I have never met a single Goth person who attends a sanctuary for example, and while my experiences are not representative of everyone else’s, no one I know or have talked to about this has ever met a single Goth person who engages in almost any of the behavior she mentions. In fact, many Goths are actually Gothic Christians, pagans, or atheist (a simple internet search would show research to support that).
I genuinely did enjoy her perspective, I just don’t see research backing her up. Interviews are helpful, but you cannot base your entire research on the testimony of a small group of individuals, your own experiences, or specific studies that are very limiting. Of course, I did look over her evidence and Wilkins is making an argument based on something I personally do not think exists in the way she describes, so I understand my own biases in that regard, but I appreciate a change in narrative and the intersectional approach towards understanding problematic identities overall.
- One participant claims that “Goths don’t have the answer to the gay community” and need their “distance” from us to explore their sexualities/have “freaky sex” but I really think they do, and while gatekeeping is certainly an issue, this is not an example of that (74). It is okay to gatekeep when people are speaking for marginalized communities they literally are not a part of, so that was a little infuriating to read. Also, wannabes are acting based on racial stereotypes that black and brown people are prone to violence, are all poor and unintelligent, etc which is racist and messed up. It is odd that anyone would aspire to be something they are not, especially wanting to BE poor or marginalized. Imagine having so much privilege you get bored enough to essentially invent an entire new personality and morph into a fictional character that is oppressed…why? Could not be me.