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Why James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room Is a Must-Read for Queer Millennials

Why James Baldwin’s 'Giovanni’s Room' Is a Must-Read for Queer Millennials

Why James Baldwin’s 'Giovanni’s Room' Is a Must-Read for Queer Millennials

If you haven't read James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, stop what you're doing and read it. 


If you ask any gay man over the age of 50 if he read James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, he’ll nod and say, “Oh yeah, years ago. Probably when I was your age.” He’ll then continue, “Yeah, I remember liking it.”

James Baldwin, a gay black man, wrote on issues of race, identity, sexuality, and the black experience in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, Baldwin is fading in the classrooms, and people no longer read or appreciate his work. Scholars dispute why this is the case; some argue his work is too controversial while others say that modern, female black writers eclipsed him (think: Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison). Whatever the reason, many Millennials, myself included, didn’t have the privilege of being exposed to Baldwin’s work.

This is the cover of the book Giovanni's Room.

As a queer man, I would have greatly benefited from reading Giovanni’s Room when I was younger. Giovanni’s Room is the story of all gay and bisexual men, and it's beautifully written. It covers queer everyday experiences like social isolation, passing privilege, masculinity, self-loathing and temptation. Giovanni's Room also subtly, yet realistically, reveals the way class and social standing affects our personhood, even more so when we’re queer. Giovanni’s Room is a staple in the LGBTQ+ canon, and should be cherished by all ages and generations.  

In a little bit more detail, here are four reasons why you need to revisit Baldwin’s classic, Giovanni’s Room (GR).

1. GR is one of the most accurate depictions of male bisexuality ever written

While many scholars have read the book with the notion that David, the protagonist of the novel, is a closeted homosexual, that’s far from the case. The nuances in his attractions to both men and women don’t suggest denial (at times, he’s surely in denial), but rather a capacity to love more than one gender. The way he’s torn deciding between his fiancé and Giovanni is very real, and something every single bisexual man can identify with.

2. GR illustrates how complex issues of class manifest themselves in the queer community

Upon first read, you might think the class issues no longer relate to us today, especially if you’re American. Unlike Paris in the 20th century, the US has an aristocratic, gay elite. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but we do, and they are the ones who push the “gay agenda” and LGBTQ+ movement forward today. They're the people with the disproportionately loud voices in the community.

3. GR explores feelings of self-loathing, social isolation and confusion

Sadly, gay and bisexual men often feel like outsiders in the communities that they should feel the most accepted. If you grew up as the only queer person in a small, rural town or you grew up in a religious, anti-LGBT household, surely you know the feelings of isolation and confusion. However, even for gay and bisexual men who didn’t experience as blatant queerphobia, we still experienced feelings of isolation in this cold, heterosexual world we live in. GR explores these emotions and evokes them in all of his readers.

4. GR will encourage you to pick love

At the end of the day, GR is a sad reminder that we often forgo the relationships that mean the most to us, out of fear of judgment, pain and homophobia. We need to be strong and pick the path less traveled. For love can conquer all, but only if we’re willing to fight for it.

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