Among the Bloodpeople: Politics and Flesh
By Thomas Glave
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
With comparisons to James Baldwin and Jean Genet, Among the Bloodpeople: Politics and Flesh is a great introduction to the writings of Thomas Glave. The anthology brings together a unique array of writing, melding the personal and political, the intellectual and the erotic. Glave is a gay Jamaican living in the United States who has taught at MIT and Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. He explores issues of sexuality, diaspora, and narrative in his written works. All this sounds fine, great fodder for the NPR hipster set. These niceties are jettisoned with Glave’s forceful and beautiful writing. In the United States we have, for the most part, heated albeit peaceful discussions about gay marriage and church-state issues.
As Glave illustrates in essays both personal and political, Jamaica treats its gay population in two ways: shunned silence and barbaric atrocities. On one level, the word “gay” is never mentioned in public. On another level, gay Jamaicans have been violently persecuted.
“Today, or on another day perhaps not so different from this one – a day of light and birds and even laughter, genuine laughter – another faggot in Jamaica will perhaps scream, or not, as someone moves to burn down his home with him inside it; or tries to rip open his bowels with a machete, as he, the faggot (picture his watching eyes, watching; picture his open open or just-closed mouth, sometimes waiting) is perhaps momentarily distracted by looking at the sea, at our gorgeous bluegreen Caribbean sea.”
This passage, alternately vulgar, horrifying, and beautiful, is from his short essay, “Toward a queer prayer.” (The passage, with its mix of violence, anti-gay slurs, and geographic beauty reminded me of passages from Jean Genet.) With this essay and others, Glave attempts to square the circle of his devout Catholic faith and his personal gay sexuality.
Glave’s torturous negotiations between faith, culture, and sexual orientation weave into other narratives. These include an essay on the subtle racism he encountered as a student in Cambridge, England, and his experiences editing an anthology on gay Caribbean authors. The “bloodpeople” of the title has a dual meaning. Bloodpeople can mean one’s blood relations, one’s family. This can also mean one’s people by association, like people of the diaspora (Caribbean, black, African, etc.). This can also apply to a diasporic community like the LGBT community (communities?). Glave also questions the monolithic assumptions one associates with the term “community” and “diaspora.” Overall, it is a wonderful anthology, interspersing personal essays with more academic-leaning articles.
As someone who enjoys the Akashic Noir series, it was great to read something in their catalog outside their venerable series. I’m rating this lower than usual, not because of the writing, but because it may prove to have limited appeal beyond the NPR hipster set. But this brings up a valuable point of discussion. What use is a book like this when one can’t talk about it to non-like-minded people? Sure, one can crow about one’s awareness of a social issue (Jamaica’s persecution of gays) and use it as a means to improve one’s multicultural literary street cred, but, really, so what? The reason Glave writes many of his pieces is to use his literary gifts as a witness to the atrocities he has seen or experienced. This shouldn’t be about how one is now more informed about Jamaican literature, but about trying to get these state-sanctioned murders from occurring. Perhaps it might be useful, once you have read this book, to have an awkward silence at the dinner table or during a family get-together. With gay marriage gaining political momentum in the United States, opponents to these laws have been using the term “religious liberty.” Given what Glave is writing about and what is happening in Jamaica, it might be worth asking one’s right-leaning friend or relative what they actually mean by the term “religious liberty.” After all, it is about politics and flesh. And flesh burns.
Out of 10/8.5