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Comparison of Giovanni's Room and Profundis

Giovanni's Room is significant not because it's a novel written by a gay man, but because it's a novel written by a gay black man during the civil rights era when Baldwin was living with his white lover in Paris. It's Baldwin's mastery of descriptive elements to express the longing for love, and acceptance from a position of otherness that drives home the embracing loneliness of desire for being embraced not as other, but as that which is human that pierces the reader's heart. Within "Giovanni's Room" Baldwin's character "David" exist as human within the presence of his lover and their apartment knowing full well that outside of his lovers space and presence he ceases to exist as human and becomes the problematic other -- that which is a threat to white straight society. Unfortunately, despite his greatness as a writer; Baldwin much like his character existed as a problematic other for his own people during the Civil Right's  era due to his being a black gay man possessing a white lover and writing about white homosexual relationships and desire.

Most millennials fail to realize that Baldwin lived as an expatriate throughout Europe during that time.  Although Baldwin was not the only successful gay Black man to exist during that era, it was Giovanni's Room that brought him into the American spotlight as a writer, not just a black writer, who spoke for the LGBT community, but for black gays, lesbians and transgenders of various races from their position of otherness. What angered black America about Baldwin being claimed by the white LGBTQ community during their struggle for Civil Rights was that it was seen as an attempt to legitimize their political position by creating what a number of Americans considered a fictitious LGBTQ history by snatching up and conscripting whomever they could to their cause rather they were living or dead. I remember it being said by one black man when LGBT communities had conscripted Martin Luther King as a champion in their fight for Civil Rights saying "they're only claiming him cause he's dead, and they can get something out of it. They didn't want to claim him when he was alive; why do they want to claim him now!" What many black Americans forget is that they're claim to Baldwin was based upon their willful splitting of his black revolutionary, and literary identity from his gay identity; especially since that identity included a white lover.

It was Baldwin's life as a problematic other to both white and black Americans that was while heatedly expressed in Giovanni's Room. If anything, Baldwin's novel would more so apply to those living at the intersection of race, gender and class. Perhaps that's why Giovanni's Room will always be a heartfelt classic for all time. There are elements of Giovanni’s Room that read very much like Plato’s "The Cave"; reading from "The Cave" "the shadows upon the cave wall (“the obscure shadows within the window panes that were painted white);  play out the stories that we the elders have decided they should believe in in order to create a belief structure within populace that will act as an internalized control mechanism within them. The escapee returns to the cave and attempts to warn the populace that they are worshiping shadows which do not reflect the real world; to this the populace state "that he is mad and only thinks that he’s seen the real world". The escapee from Plato’s cave is left with two options; either return to the surface and leave behind everything he’s ever known – returning to self-complancy (a form of learned helplessness). There is no third option given to the escapee. In Wilde’s Profundis, the Character Robby is given a similar choice “your fault was not that you knew too little, but that you came to know too much”. 

Both Profundis and Giovanni’s Room has caused me to seriously question if the behaviors of gay men – particularly are derived from wit or self-loathing. In Giovanni’s Room and Profundis there is the overriding question of codependent relationships based upon the creation of a false self designed to conceal an individual’s queer identity (“otherness”).  Along with the creation of a false self, is the creation of an over-inflated self  created to deflect public scrutiny created to make the individual laughable and thus; nonthreatening to society:Drag, unnecessarily flamboyant clothing and behavior, insisting on calling each other out of preferred gender (blatantly disrespecting each other), exposing each other’s queer identity as a means of hurting others or each other due to imaginary wrongs; as Wilde states “your hideous game of hate”. 

The nonthreatening fool who is a caricature of various social identities considered less than human or white straight males has been a tactic utilized by black Americans since slavery as a means of not only fermenting and planning rebellion, but of also criticizing the “master”. In both Giovanni’s Room, and Profundis, the codependent relationships  experienced within both stories are built upon the mutual exchanges of both individuals false-selves; though the true self remains hidden either out of fear or shame expecting to be abandoned if it should be revealed and found to be imperfect and undesirable by the love object (object of love that the individual has fixated themselves upon). But the question that should be asked concerning the behavior of gay men is have gay men, or the LGBTQ community unfortunately been forced to focus more on politics, and creating socially acceptable false-selves instead of developing healthy, functional personal egos possessing boundaries, self-restraint and an appreciation of others different from themselves in terms of race, gender expression/sexuality and class. Despite the numerous gains in civil rights for various queer communities, after reading or listening to both Giovanni’s Room and Profundis, it is necessary to truly question the overall psycho-emotional health of queer communities independent of their queer identity (their degree of mental health independent of their queer identity).  

The intersectionality of gender identity, sexual expression and class and its impact upon queer mental health, yes – queer mental health not CIS mental health, in this case should be seriously examined outside of sexual expression and gender identity, but under the light of existential psychology where the emphasis is placed not upon roles socially acceptable to society. The inherent question within queer identity is, can LGBTQ individuals: pursue, and obtain a healthy, authentic self without distancing themselves from the society in which they live; can they refrain from projecting their otherness into others in order to deal with the otherness within themselves, and if they manage to do this will it alter how the LGBTQ communities deal with each other and themselves as distinct communities?


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