In Giovanni’s Room, the character David is an American man living and navigating European society. There are many different places in the novel where the contrasts between Europe and America are clear and one of them is in the context of David’s masculinity and his conflict with homosexuality.
From the beginning of the novel, it is clear that David struggles with his sexuality. David has his first homosexual relationship with a boy named Joey and immediately after their sexual encounter, it is evident that David goes through an emotional crisis about his identity and the expectations that society has placed on him that affects that. David states that after him and Joey spent their night together that he lost his “manhood.” He states “But Joey is a boy” (Baldwin 226). The power of Joey’s masculinity “made [David] suddenly afraid. [Joey’s] body suddenly seemed the black opening of a cavern in which [he] would be tortured….in which [he] would lose his manhood (Baldwin 226). Later on on that same page, David’s shame and guilt even resorts to his thinking of his father and what he would think of David had he known about his relationship with Joey and his relationship with his sexuality and that again brings him more fear and shame.
I think that due to the American societal standards that stereotypes annd stigamtizes homosexuality, same-sex relationships, and their relationship with masculinity or femininty, David begins to internalize his masculinity and what that means to him. And for David, his “American” view of masculinity does not exist with a man whether that be Joey or Giovanni. Therefore, in attempt to maintain his manhood and his masculinity, David resorts to his heterosexual relationship with Hella and a denial of his true love and desire for Giovanni.
I also think that David’s relationship with his father has a lot to do with his acceptance or rather lack of acceptance of his sexuality. In contexts like after having slept with Joey and after his relations with Giovanni, David feels the shame and fear of losing his manhood and often thinks of his father and when he does, it represses his feelings even more. Overall, David’s relationships that he has in France with Jacques, Guillame, and Giovanni are very complex and interesting and when looking at them in depth and in contrast to how the European characters in the novel dealt with their sexualities and homosexuality (or at least through the eyes of David), there are many apparent differences. Furthermore, although I only touched on it in this response, David’s father and his masculinity has definitely influenced David’s idea of masculinity and because it reflects the traditional American masculinity and enforces heterosexuality rather than homosexuality, David clearly feels as though he must conform to those expectations rather than exploring his sexuality with men.