Identity in Giovanni’s Room and “Montero”

“You live in the dark, boy, I cannot pretend,” sings Lil Nas X in “Montero (Call Me by Your Name),” a song about a same-sex relationship with someone who has not come out publicly. The content of the song and its accompanying music video center around the rejection of feeling shame about one’s identity, a theme that features prominently in Giovanni’s Room. David struggles with his attraction to men, his love for Giovanni, and the realization that he has to return to his fiancée soon. To escape these feelings and possibly to prove that he is attracted to women, he sleeps with a woman named Sue. As he has sex with her, he goes through the motions and refers to it as a “performance” (302). She asks to see him again afterwards, but he shrugs her off and “could scarcely bear to watch the struggle occurring in her face, it made [him] so ashamed” (303). In this scene, David, unlike Lil Nas X, can and does pretend to be someone he’s not, an experience that leaves him feeling unfulfilled and ashamed. 

When Lil Nas X sings, “Call me by your name,” he is encouraging his lover to feel comfortable around him in his identity, something that Giovanni wants from David as well. In class, Lan Ahn brought up the fact that every person in the music video, from Satan to the serpent, was portrayed by Lil Nas X. She asked if we think that has any connection to the theme of identity. I think it absolutely does. The “Other(ed) Americans in Paris” article describes the tension between the true self and the historically-determined self present in Baldwin’s work. In “Montero,” Lil Nas X is taking the version of himself society has createdーthe sinner who is going to Hellーand uses it to show them who is really is: a black queer artist who is not ashamed of who he is. David, in his relationships with Hella, Sue, and even his father, is attempting to be who society wants him to be: a straight, white, engaged man. His love for Giovanni interferes with that performance by revealing his true identity. 

One thought on “Identity in Giovanni’s Room and “Montero””

  1. I agree with everything you have said here and think there is something especially significant in the difference between Lil Nas X’s and David’s viewing of their own bodies. Lil Nas X embraces his body and shows it to the whole world in this music video; I agree that there is significance in his portrayal of every character in the video because he does not conform to a single role placed on him by American society. David, however, is ashamed of his body and often overly aware of his physical presence in mirrors around him. Lil Nas X views himself rightfully proudly, but David feels shame when he looks at himself. Perhaps David falls victim to the traditional conceptions of salvation that John feels in Go Tell It On The Mountain.

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