Question 9/21

Early in “The Male Prison,”  Baldwin writes that “…the two things which contributed most heavily to my dislike of Gide–or, rather, to my discomfort he caused me to feel–were his Protestantism and his homosexuality”(156). This may seem like a peculiar statement given that Baldwin himself was queer. How do you interpret this argument in light of the argument made about sexuality and/or religion in the rest of the essay. In addressing this question be sure to use the text to support your argument.

11 Responses to Question 9/21

  1. Noah says:

    In discussing the “the agony of Gide’s last journal” Baldwin extrapolates Gide’s struggles to a more universal level. Isolation in a modernizing world, the inability to meaningfully connect with one’s own identity or others is something all humans share. “It is important to remember that the prison in which Gide struggled is not really so unique as it would certainly comfort us to believe.”

    But Baldwin lauds Gide for “enduring this prison with such dignity.” The man’s troubles with who he was and perhaps what he thought he ought to be should be an example for all seeking to rectify our innate identities with societal and cultural norms, and also an inspiration to share our personal struggles with others.

  2. Aly Thomas says:

    I’m interested in how Baldwin parallels that assertion with the belief that battling over whether or not “homosexuality is natural,” is not intellectually rigorous or helpful enough, and then comparisons it to other religious, some that are mythologized, historical happenings and then says that it is as foolish (for lack of a better word) to argue about whether or not those events were natural too. It seems that he is hinting at the socially constructed nature of religion and sexuality, that has the ability to isolate humans from the rest of society based on internal issues they are contending with, and how there needs to be work and effort done to unlearn a masculinity that traps people within themselves.

    • Gilberto Rosa says:

      I definitely agree with Aly. I would also add that just because Baldwin was queer does not mean he still did not internalize homophobia especially racialized homophobia which he was a victim of. It really does go to show that the effects of homophobic, sexist and racist rhetoric can be internalized by those who are affected by it. In fact, the very act of “coming out” is in some ways, an acceptance not only of one’s sexuality but also of the negative terms that are associated with being queer. Even though it is a very brave act, it still takes a toll on queer people’s physical bodies and the way they view themselves. So when Baldwin says says that he is uncomfortable with another person’s sexuality- even though he is queer- it is very real and shows the constant battle, even for him, to be proud of his sexuality and also be able to theorize on it.

      • Madilynn Samus says:

        I definitely agree that Baldwin seems to have some internalized homophobia. He remarks that Gide had not “come to terms with his nature” and that if he felt the need to talk about his sexuality so openly he should “be a little more scientific” and “[sound] a bit less disturbed” (156). This desire of Baldwin’s resonated with me as a queer person dealing with my own internalized homophobia. There have definitely been times where I wanted someone to just keep their sexuality to themselves or to at least act a little ashamed. I have often kept myself from speaking out about my queerness for fear that I will sound “disturbed”, even in today’s (comparatively) accepting society.
        Baldwin’s discomfort with Gide’s sexuality is something that is very normal, especially for someone who is at an intersection of many oppressed groups. However, I think it is important to note that Baldwin recognizes that Gide’s struggle is not unique to him and that it stems from the same prison that all men’s struggles stem from.

  3. Abigail Gardener says:

    At first it seems as if Baldwin is condemning homosexuality in general, which was unsettling to me as it seemed counterintuitive. Considering he has just written about how black men are struggling to find their place in a nation that has condemned them, it seemed like he has no place to condemn gay men. However, Baldwin actually ends up making the argument not that homosexuality is bad, but that it is not “natural” because men need women as sort of a stabilizer, as a means of tempering their masculinity. He goes so far as to say that “when men can no longer love women they also cease to love or respect or trust each other, which makes their isolation complete” (162). He then goes on to say that “nothing is more dangerous than this isolation, for men will commit any crimes whatever rather than endure it” (162). Baldwin views women as a necessary force to keeping men in check. Masculinity, to Baldwin, is a prison that only women can free men from. So in his eyes, if men reject women then they are destined to stay in their prison, to stay in isolation, and therefore they are more likely to spiral into criminal activity and an “unmasculine pride” (162).

  4. LaShawn Simmons says:

    Primarily, I want to say that I don’t think this is a peculiar statement given that Baldwin himself was queer. I do believe that the feeling of discomfort, more so arose from the performance rather of the Gide’s sexuality, which can be argued as internalized homophobia. I believe James Baldwin feels the most discomfort in Gide’s fusion of Protestantism and homosexuality. He points out that Gide is “pious” (155) and so his deeply religious values juxtapose his homosexuality in a way that is disturbing because Gide feels as if homosexuality isn’t natural or that it’s a choice (a choice that Gide is ashamed of). Baldwin makes the above idea clear in his statement: “If he were going to talk about homosexuality at all, he ought in a word to have sounded a little less disturbed” (156). Baldwin continues to cite instances in the text Madeline where the character’s discomfort with his sexuality severely affected his wife. Though what stood out to me the most was Baldwin’s comment that “It is not necessary to despise people who are one’s inferiors-whose inferiority, by the way, is amply demonstrated by the fact that they appear to relish , without guilt, their sensuality” (160). Thrusting one’s guilt about their sexuality on other people who are in fact comfortable with theirs is very common. I see it in all the time in mass media outlets like televisions and cinema. Some popular examples of this trope are seen in movies such as “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and the teen hit show “Glee”. In fact, James Baldwin himself explores a somewhat similar trope in his novel “Giovanni’s Room” through one of its characters.

  5. ccalimlim says:

    As Gilberto and Madilynn have pointed out, Baldwin’s statement is not entirely peculiar by virtue of the fact that he is queer. Queer people can still have internalized homophobia to unlearn and I believe that plays a factor in Baldwin’s reaction to Gide.
    Baldwin refers to Gide’s homosexuality as something he “ought to have kept hidden from us” (156) and “sounded a little less disturbed” (156) when talking about. Internalized homophobia here causes Baldwin to see Gide’s homosexuality as deviant from the ‘acceptable’ form of homosexuality.

  6. Laura Katz says:

    Baldwin in the rest of the essay seems to feel that the argument about whether or not homosexuality is natural is unnecessary and advocates for us to think more deeply about “the great problem … how to be a man”(Baldwin 157). For Baldwin personally, it might have been difficult to reconcile his homosexuality with his manhood, exemplifying as others have state, internalized homophobia expresses this internalized homophobia outward as he critiques Gide for being “illogical” and “romantic” and states that he failed to “testify to a powerful masculinity… and found no way to escape the prison of that masculinity”(Baldwin 161). However he commends him for his dignity in the prison which hints again that Baldwin has a moral code for homosexuals, including him self, that although they are trapped by society’s judgment, they should still act a certain way. This rigid sense of how to talk about homosexuality and be homosexual stems yet again from his own internalized homophobia and socialized location as a black gay man.

  7. Michaela Cabral says:

    As has been said by others, Baldwin’s critique of Gide for being homosexual is not impossible just because he is homosexual as well. When Baldwin says, “his homosexuality, I felt, was his own affair which he ought to have kept hidden from us” (156), it is possible that Baldwin particularly resents how open Gide is because he feels he cannot be the same.

    The discussion of guilt and forgiveness and Heaven and Hell suggests a very nuanced and complicated relationship with sexuality. When he says things like, “She was his Heaven who would forgive him for his Hell and help him to endure it” (159), he is deeply contrasting sex with women and sex with men, presenting women as almost redeeming and a way to combat the sin of homosexuality. The particular use of Heaven and Hell ascribes great moral significance to these relationships. Baldwin seems to view open homosexuality as a sin, but something that can not be controlled.

  8. Sydney Exler says:

    Pretty simply, I think we can understand Baldwin’s discomfort arising from the seemingly oxymoronic coexistence of Gide’s simultaneous religiosity and sexual identity. I don’t think Baldwin necessarily has a particular issue with either one (or, arguably, he has numerous issues with both), but rather is made upset by the fact that Gide attempts to embody both. This argument is further supported by the fact that Baldwin himself was homosexual, as it would explain his emotional and personal involvement in the discussion of the co-existence of such seemingly contrasting values or practices. Further, as Michaela mentioned, perhaps we can come to understand this moment as a representation of Baldwin’s personal inability to balance/manage these two conflicting ideologies; his criticism therefore portrays his personal frustration.

  9. Alex Bordona says:

    Queer people are made to feel ashamed of their sexuality. Especially men, and especially Black men. It is completely normal for him to feel some sort of internalized dislike of his identity and have discomfort in talking about it. It’s also possible he feels a sort of slight jealousy at Gide’s ability to be so open about his sexuality, to have found freedom in it, in a way, and to have reconciled it with a separate part of his identity that seemingly would contradict or be in conflict with his queerness.
    I’m honestly not sure why someone’s religion would make another feel uncomfortable, unless they were attempting to proselytize. Reading other folks’ comments, it seems like they’re not quite sure, either. There are a lot of factors that could go into his discomfort with Christianity – bad childhood experiences, bad adulthood experiences, a simple dislike of the doctrine, the list goes on. I think perhaps the dislike of Protestantism is not a dislike of the religion at all , but like I hinted at above, a dislike of his ability to combine the two seemingly contradictory aspects of his identity. This could point to Baldwin’s feeling that his bisexuality (?) cannot be reconciled with some other facet of his identity, and, again, a sort of envy of Gide’s freeness, his not fully being locked in the male prison.

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