Today’s post features two items about how LGBTQ issues, Catholicism, and the arts intersect, including a new review of James Baldwin.
Reviewing James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room Today
An essay in the National Catholic Reporter examined Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin’s groundbreaking 1956 novel, as a model for the complexities of the LGBTQ experience and genuine allyship.
The book’s central character David meets Giovanni at a gay bar, shortly after proposing to his girlfriend. Their instant attraction creates confusion for David who feels both intense desire and fear about their relationship, even experiencing dreams of a demon warning him of burning in hell.
“By zooming in on David’s inner turmoil and anxiety about his desire,” writes NCR essayist Jordan E. DeSanto, “Baldwin helps us understand the daily mental, physical, and emotional difficulties that LGBTQ+ people endure in the fight against internalized homophobia and heteronormativity.” A good part of the book takes place in Giovanni’s rented room, which is both a haven and a closet, a place for love and a place from which to be liberated.
The ambivalence of LGBTQ identity and relationships described by Baldwin should also inform allyship with the queer community, De Santo asserts. Despite historic shifts in U.S. law and culture since 1956, solidarity with LGBTQ siblings often lacks nuance. The pain that co-exists with David and Giovanni’s love reflects the experience of many LGBTQ folks: the “cognitive dissonance–choosing between their inner desires and meeting social expectations.” Baldwin invites us into the complexities of Giovanni’s room to empathize with both the agony and the joy, as well as to imagine a new world of acceptance and inclusion.
De Santo concludes with an inviation to allies:
“Baldwin calls us past performative allyship, toward empathizing with the suffering and joy of our LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ. Just as Jesus entered into our world so that He could empathize with our human experience, so, too, does Baldwin invite us into Giovanni’s room — to empathize with the pain and joy of the LGBTQ+ experience. To participate in the labor of love — recreating our world as we know it. Creating space, brick by brick, where all LGBTQ+ people have access to safety, emotional support and the ability to celebrate how they choose to express their sacred desires. “
New Podcast Features Lesbian Catholic Musician
A new podcast by singer-songwriter Katie Pruitt focuses on the intersection of Catholicism and sexuality.
According to Rolling Stone, the Nashville artist reflects on her Catholic school days as a closeted lesbian in much of her songwriting. “God was a word I had spoken but I hardly knew,” she sings in “Normal,” one of the songs on her 2020 debut album, Expectations.
Her podcast, The Recovering Catholic, explores these themes deeper as she interviews guests including Julien Baker, Leslie Jordan, and Ruston Kelly. “Like many people in the LGBTQ+ community, I’ve had a falling-out with religion as an institution, but not necessarily with the idea of god,” she explains in the first episode which features Christian singer Semler.
“There are parts of my religious upbringing that have never left me and other parts that have left me a little broken,” Pruitt shared. The Recovering Catholic can be streamed on Osiris, Apple, and Spotify.
Like Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Pruitt’s music and podcast refuses to shy away from the depth of the LGBTQ experience. By delving into both the deep pain and the profound joy, these accounts of Catholicism intersecting with gender and sexual diversity can encourage greater acceptance, as well as more genuine allyship.
—Angela Howard McParland, New Ways Ministry, November 13, 2021