Baldwin’s Queer Community

Throughout Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin seems to be consistently thwarting the creation of a successfully unified queer community. A frequent barrier that he presents is individual self-loathing, which leads to a degree of alienation between members of what would otherwise have been a queer community.

As David narrates the entire novel, it’s hard to tell if Baldwin believes self-loathing is a widespread problem in the establishment of a queer community or if it’s a particular trait that David possesses. This becomes especially apparent at the end of the book, when David imagines Giovanni’s execution, describing his death as “the gateway he has sought so long out of this dirty world, this dirty body” (168). This is so blatantly out of Giovanni’s character (who, at one point, prides himself on his enjoyment of “the stink of love” (141)) that David’s tendency to project his self-loathing onto others (especially queers) becomes apparent.

Regardless of whether or not this is meant to be a widespread problem in the queer community Baldwin depicts, its stemming from a failure to comfortably reject gender norms makes it seem like a problem that could easily affect others. David’s accusation of Giovanni during their last argument reflects what David seems to detest about his own interest in men: 

“All this love you talk about – isn’t it just that you want to be made to feel strong? You want to go out and be the big laborer and bring home the money, and you want me to stay here and wash the dishes and cook the food and clean this miserable closet of a room and kiss you when you come in through that door and lie with you at night and be your little girl. That’s what you want” (142).

In his reply, Giovanni explains, “You are the one who keeps talking about what I want. But I have only been talking about who I want” (142). David’s apparent fear of being made into a female entity existing only to support a male one demonstrates not only his interest in maintaining standard masculinity, but also his belief in the rigidity of male and female constructions. It seems entirely out of his understanding that he and Giovanni could both possess the masculinity he desires, or that they might attempt to form a relationship that sidestepped traditional constructions entirely. It’s this conviction that heteronormative gender roles are absolute that keeps David from enjoying queer company throughout the novel. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that this experience of queerness in a highly heteronormative society would be widespread, making relationships characterized by self-loathing and hateful projection (like David and Giovanni’s) also widespread in Baldwin’s queer community. 

This final fight between Giovanni and David also shows the difficulty in creating a community when people have reacted differently to heteronormative society. Though queer relationships make David feel emasculated and self-loathing, Giovanni, who expresses a desire for a who rather than a what, seems to take no account of heteronormative expectations in the formation of his relationships with David. Furthermore, David seems to lack the ability to understand or believe Giovanni’s sincere love, showing the extent to which two queer people, having had different experiences with heteronormative society, become alienated and unable to form a supportive and compassionate queer community. 

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