I have just read Giovanni’s Room, about 17 years too late.
My exes brother gave it to me in either 1993 or 1994. I am not sure which. It was before I started a long and hopeless in places, beautiful in others relationship with his little brother. He was the more ‘acceptable’ of the two. Handsome, ‘masculine’, kind of crazy but not as ‘queer’ as my boy. So of course I never went with him.
Giovanni’s Room tells the story of a young American man in Paris, who embarks on a hopeless in places, beautiful in others relationship, with Giovanni. Giovanni is obviously doomed and so therefore is their love. The story should have served as a warning to me. It contains, in a much more dramatic and literary form, some of the details of my relationship with my boy. A homosexual love affair, a woman who loves one of the homos, a predatory, unpleasant older man. Sadness. Pain. You know the kind of thing.
If I didn’t know my exes brother better, and know how oblivious he was to what was about to happen to us, how self-absorbed he tended to be, I might have thought he intended it as a warning. But I doubt he did.
And anyway. I am sure I would have ignored it.
But I don’t ignore it now. Giovanni’s Room has hit me in the heart. It is a version, an exaggeration, but a version all the same, of my story.
Here are some choice quotes from the book:
“All this love you talk about – isn’t it just that you want to be made to feel strong? You want to go out and be the laborer and bring home the money and you want me to stay here and wash the dishes and cook the food and clean this miserable closet of a room and kiss you when you come in through the door and lie with you at night and be your little girl.” (2.4.209)
“Women are like water. They are tempting like that, and they can be that treacherous, and they can seem to be that bottomless, you know? – and they can be that shallow. And that dirty.” He stopped. “I perhaps don’t like women very much, that’s true. That hasn’t stopped me from making love to many and loving one or two. But most of the time – most of the time I made love only with the body.” (2.1.26)
“If I stay here much longer,” she said, later that same morning, as she packed her bag, “I’ll forget what it’s like to be a woman.”
I forgot what it was like to be a woman. But unlike the woman in the book, I think that is what I wanted. After I left, I forced myself to remember, and I am not sure I liked what I found. Neither ‘losing’ my womanly self in a kind of homo-love, nor emerging from it and experimenting with more ‘heterosexual’ ways of being a woman seem totally ‘natural’ to me. Especially not on their own. For I am both and all the aspects of myself.
‘I am all the daughters of my father’s house, and all the brothers too’.
(Shakespeare Twelfth Night)