***SPOILERS*** About Jo's sexuality

Is Jo gay, bi, a genuine transgender, or just a cross-dresser?

Well, from the scene where Jo dons a pink jacket made for praising James Dean, my gaydar immediately reacted (how many gays are in love with JD?!). He does seem to fit in comfortably with the girls in the store, and I do agree with Juanita--perhaps too comfortably. And of course, there are the Maguire sisters performances and the cross-dressing.

However, I think there are finer points to consider (or maybe I just need to watch the film again, which I don't mind because it's tantalizing, and which I do because it's painfully and eloquently--albeit cheesy at times--sad). Some straight people allegedly cross-dress, and I don't find this unbelievable. I especially remember someone saying that the cross-dressing was just a joke (although if Mona said this, then the statement may be unreliable because she's delusional). Jo does admit of being different (in the scene where he enters the store after being abused--was he actually raped?). But being different doesn't mean being gay. People think actors (esp. theatre) and artists are different; Jo seems to like performing. Joanne also admits that she regrets having the operation done (someone asks her if she does, and she replies that only when she thinks about it). I think her decision for a sex change may be seen as a response of being hurt by Mona and the townspeople and not exactly wanting to become a biological female. Finally, Jo may have had sex with Sissy's husband only as an act of revenge for that guy by exerting the power of attraction over him.

Can anyone share his/her thoughts? Especially those who have watched the movie several times.


Very good points you brought up.

I believe Joe was very sexually confused. I believe he might have been sexually attracted to be men and women. He said in one scene after he shows up years later now as Joanne "I've become what my mother always wanted..." which leads me to believe Joe grew up in a family without a father figure and perhaps struggled most of his childhood (living in a dried up poor Texas town) with a parent who maybe regretted the fact he was born a boy and even commented on the fact his sex was a disappointment. Which I sure would screw anyone up.

I think Joe always felt different, and he felt safe with the girls. Working in the store nobody judged him or made him feel different. He loved his friends and would go along with anything they did (such as dressing up in drag for the high school talent school, becoming a James Dean fan) I think he did this because it was his only way to express his true feelings (Sissy and Mona talk about how Joe after the talent show fooled one of the boys into taking him into the backseat of a car where it was discovered he was in fact just dressed up as a woman) which makes me believe he was in fact sexually attracted to men. I believe him being in the James Dean fan club was yes he was attracted to him, and the fact James Dean was the most important thing in Mona's life. I think he felt safe with Mona and saw how different she felt as well. I truly believe he was in love with Mona and if she would of given him the chance he would of ended up going away with her since in a strange way they were both outcasts.

There's also a scene in which Mona claims Joe could be a lot like James Dean. I think Mona was caught up in her own little fantasy and when the two of them as teenagers went out to try out as extras in 'Giant' Mona's very fragile mental state was snapped when she wasn't chosen (most likely the biggest disappointment of her life) (they said the entire weekend Mona and Joe were playing around pretending they were James Dean and Natalie Wood) I think Mona broke down the night before they were supposed to leave and in a moment of weakness Joe showed his true feelings for her and they had sex. I really think Joe thought after what they would fall in love and maybe escape the town but Mona was still caught in her fantasy and after she learned she was pregnant she made up the story of James Dean being the father.

Which in Joe's eyes was the biggest betrayal that could of happened to him. He put his true feelings on the line with Mona and after finding out that she's pregnant after that one fateful night he's slapped in the face to see how unstable Mona is and how she pretended nothing happened with them and lived in her own little fantasy that James Dean was the one that got her pregnant not him. That she didn't want Joe (who in her eyes besides being her friend was a nobody) she rather live a life thinking it was Dean's child.

I think after Joe's rape it was all downhill. I think he decided since he tried his love with Mona and she shut him down (remember he tells her "Just because he's dead (- meaning James Dean) "Does mean you have to kill me off to." He should have been fed up and just left and chose what he wanted to be (live as a transgender and as a woman since when he tried to live as a man he was heartbroken) he picked what seemed like the easiest and made the most sense to him since he had always acted and felt he should have been born a woman. After he became one like you said I truly think he regretted it. It might have been his way of getting back at everyone (Escaping, making a life for himself, and living as something everyone thought he acted like). With Sissy's husband I don't think he/she slept with him. I think she told Sissy this showing how sad all these people's life's were counting his/hers.

He loved Mona and she broke his/her heart. So he escaped and lived as something he really thought he should have been but I think when it comes down to it he was just a sexually counfused young man who had his heartbroken.

lol damn I wrote a lot.


"These pretzels are making me thirsty!"


I love your post.u

Well, rejection sure is a powerful thing. Come to think of it, there was a lot of rejection or denial in the film. As you pointed out, Mona was rejected in Giant. Mona rejects Jo. Sissy's husband rejects her. Juanita thinks that God sort of rejects her later on. Stella Mae denies that she's not happy when Edna Louise tells her so. Mona denies that she wasn't in Giant, and that Jimmy's not JD's son. Juanita denies that her husband is bad.

I think you're probably right in saying that Jo was very confused and was bi.

Before I watched this film, I was reading a lot of Edgar Allan Poe short stories and study guides from the net. His short stories left a lot of room for interpretation especially about the characters. I guess I carried over the analytic approach to this film. On a different note, I also like it that the title meant a number of things: there was a JD fan's club reunion so in essence the characters were channeling JD back to the store and all of their memories when JD was alive, and during the entirety of the film, Mona was continually calling for Jimmy to come back to the store.

There are nifty trinkets in the screenplay.



Jo was born straight woman traped in a mans body.


It would seem that is the simple explanation...lol.

If thier souls are female...it isnt a homosexual act to have straight sex with another male...unless if the male organ of the Transexual is invited into the act then it makes the straight acting male gay.

Confused???...I am....lol.

You dont have to wonder about his sexuallity...the actor is from Kansas City...Im sure that answers that question.


It's been awhile since I watched it, but here's my take.

As noted, Joe was a misfit. This is the wrong decade and wrong location for someone to be unsure about his sexuality. He's trying to assert himself, like being one of the Maguire Sisters...maybe he's just trying it out.

I think if you look at old TV material you can find an interesting convention. Paul Lynde was gay for instance and you see him really pushing some boundaries in his material. An audience today would probably say, "Gee, we GET it, ok? You're gay!" But in those days it was eccentric, silly, maybe campy, something else.

"Gay? Like the Flintstones, 'We'll have a gay old time'? Sure he seems happy to me!"
Nooo, homosexual.
"What's that?"

If you didn't like Paul Lynde, you switched off the set. But Joe is right there in their little community.

I suspect there aren't many universal truths about the gay community...I had a sexuality course once and I'm thinking the teacher said they break down into four or five groups.

1) Knew it all along from an early age, never doubted they were attracted to same-sex.
2) Don't have a big hangup about it, experimented a little.
3) Don't prefer it but they're in jail or at sea in the Navy or an all-female university otherwise have no members of the opposite sex around, so it's gay sex or no sex. Look up "Lesbian until graduation (LUG)," for example.
4) Connect more emotionally with the same sex but the actual acts are secondary. Like "Kissing Jessica Stein" but with true non-sexual passion, if that makes sense.
5) I don't remember.

When the incident happened about Joe getting beat up, I thought, 'Homophobes. Sometimes they're lashing out because they see something in another that is a reflection of themselves. They can't tolerate that part of themselves so they beat him.' If Sissy's husband had sex with him, maybe that was the confirmation that he (the husband) had been attracted to Joe all along.

So let's go back to Jimmy Dean's conception. I think that for some, attraction doesn't have a gender. I can believe that Joe was very sensitive, that he saw beauty in Mona, -and/or- maybe he envied her because she was female, perhaps the female he'd like to be.

It's also possible that he thought if he tried sex with a woman, he could "overcome" his other desires. I don't like that last theory much, though. Reason: when it's all said and done, Jo (Karen Black) doesn't stop loving Mona. I think she's genuinely hurt that Mona is still stuck on James Dean and will never love her like that.

My conclusion then is that what Joe felt for Mona was a transcendent thing. It isn't about sex. Like I said, maybe some people know all along that they're homosexual. So why can't Joe be someone who feels like a man trapped in a woman's body who is also in love with a woman? That's what I think.


Loved "Kissing Jessica Stein." What I got from that movie and your insightful post is that labels cannot explain everything. Categorization is helpful, maybe even essential, but ultimately, solely relying on them is missing out on life's rich complexities.


Glad you found it helpful.

Maybe #5 was bisexuality, i.e. both straight AND gay, equally attracted. It could be that Joe is 99% gay but the 1% that isn't adores Mona.

People are attracted to a variety of things of course and some traits aren't physical.


I bet some "99% gay" men would sleep with Cher in a heartbeat, not because of how she looks or how much fame she has, but because of what they see in her personality. People often seek others who have something they themselves lack and in this case, the link would indicate they see courage, standing up for what's right, and so on.

Life's rich complexity, amen...but very difficult to distill that in 90-120 minutes of film.


What people fail to realize is that sexuality and gender identity are two totally different things.

I believe Joe may have been straight. He obviously loved Mona.

I think the rape may have done some serious damage to his psyche, that and growing up in the family that wanted him to be a girl. Joanne even admitted that she regretted the change.

A lot of transsexuals are actually straight - in fact, many men who go through "the change" actually are lesbians trapped in a man's body, which means they still stay sexually attracted to women after they transform. I know that's hard to imagine, but true. In fact, the majority, believe it or not, is like that - not gay...


Jeez, it seemed pretty obvious to me that the reason Jo regretted having the surgery was that she later realized she could have been a happy gay man, but was raised in a nasty town (and era, to be fair) which believed there was no such thing.

As for the thing with Mona, Jo simply had genuine affection for her, and what the night they had was born out of that love; but let's face it, if they got together she'd be one of those women married to gay men even today settling for crumbs of sexual affection knowing full well her man wants men.

It's kinda like in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof where Maggie had had some kind of affair with Brick's friend Skipper, knowing that Brick was the one Skipper loved. (That's explained in the play, not the movie version. I believe the line is "We both pretended it was you.")


I think Joe was gay.Coming from that generation I can remember how little we understood about homosexuality. We thought gay men were girls. Why else would they be interested in men? Remember in Brokeback Mt. how they both said they really didn't understand it themselves. As a gay man Joe felt he was a man even if all around him said he was a girl (girly). He loved Mona but not necessarily romantically. He experimented with her. It is only natural that he would have loved to be the straight man everyone expected him to be. I think that is what he meant when he told Mona that he needed her to believe in him so that he could believe in himself. When Joe finally left and was on his own he probably thought maybe it would be easier if he was a girl. He certainly was attracted to men.He didn't understand that he could be a man and still love a man. His transformation made him fit more into the male female relationship that was the norm. He certainly met men and had sex with them. But he was a man deep down. That is why he regretted his transformation. As for dressing up as a girl straight or gay men would do that. Especially for the arts. Just my thoughts. PS:He was probably pressured into that joke with Lester T. plus I'm sure he was attracted to him.


We've come a long way since the era of the story, and we still have a way to go before anyone could care less how someone gender identifies or one's sexual preference. The confusion of categories there are for where someone fits on the matrix of sexual preference, gender self-identity, biological identity, and presentation--each having several or more gradations--is more baffling than 3D chess. But categories are important for those fighting for legitimacy from the fringes, because a category is an identity that can be asserted and with comrades. But I think they are an interim thing we'll outgrow and the only thing that will matter is that everyone has an equal shot at finding true love.

Just sayin'