Confidence and Motives of Sex

An aspect of Giovanni’s Room that is of particular interest to me was the characters that Baldwin introduces to highlight particular aspects of David’s character. One such character is Sue, seen in part 2 chapter 2, with whom David has sex and acts as a foil for how David deals with his sexuality. They share the attribute of gender norm deviance, specifically David’s homosexual relationships and Sue’s less feminine gender expression.  Where they most significantly differ though is how they express their gender deviance. David reacts mostly with shame, while Sue proudly displays her differences by her appearance of “hair cut very short,” “always wore tight blue jeans,” all “in order … to indicate how little she cared for appearance or sensuality” (95). Even in their discussion of personal discovery, she urges David that he “can’t just go on being a brick stone wall forever” (97).

However, despite her confidence in her sexual expression, they both perform sex out of spite for a lover (either past or present). David does it to discredit the homosexuality in himself, based on his shame of his relation with Giovanni, while Sue does it “giving herself, not to [David], but to that lover who would never come” (99). The motives of these characters also interesting contrast with Molly of Rubyfruit Jungle. Molly would often have sex to defy the norms of heterosexuality and her upbringings; David however regrets of same-sex relations because of the deviance from the norm. Additionally, Molly feels power from sex, while David feels weak from giving into lust.


Discussion Questions:

  • What other ways does David defy gender norms, outside of his homosexual relationships?
  • In terms of relationships and sex, what other differences do David and Molly show? Any similarities?

3 thoughts on “Confidence and Motives of Sex

  1. I have always found it interesting the way they played with gender norms in this novel. Sue obviously did not care much about “traditional femininity” and rejected it in the way she presented herself. David, on the other hand, tried to constantly reaffirm his masculinity because of his guilt and shame of being with Giovanni.

    Your observation that the sex between Sue and David was motivated out of spite for a lover is very important to think about. David’s relationships are always tragic or motivated by tragic things. Even when he tries to take his mind off of Giovanni, he is acting in spite of him. Sue and David’s sex is only to try and take their minds off of other lovers, but in the end only makes things worse, for David at least, internally.

    Your parallel between Molly and David also brings up an important quality in David; Molly has sex to defy heteronormativity in society, while David hs sex to try to reinforce those norms within himself. This one contrast highlights David’s main problem throughout the novel and how negative his thoughts are towards himself.


  2. Yeah all this is very accurate; drawing further among other texts we’ve studied, there’s a trend of gender deviance to dispute their sexuality. Stone Butch Blues showed the lesbian community finding it odd to have feminine lesbians who were Friday Night Lesbians (I may be misremembering the name), Zami showed the distaste of the queer community towards Lorde (a “black, queer, fat woman”), Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe showed the weirdness of Dante’s felinity from Ari’s perspective, Nevada showed the dichotomy between pre- and post-op transwomen.


  3. I feel when David chose Sue to have sex with, it was funny in a way. He was seeking a woman, but chose one who very obviously did not show her femininity much. It is interesting to me that while he wanted a woman he chose one that did not present as a very girly one, especially because the entire reason behind his wanting sex with her was to discount his previous homosexual encounters. This led me to question why he chose her specifically. To answer my own question, I feel it is because, as we talked about multiple times in class, his obvious distaste for femininity in general. He hates any sign of, what he sees as, weakness and gravitates even toward women who are not traditionally “womanly,” even Hella could be an example.


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