Book Review | Books | Crime | Garth Greenwell | Jamaica

Thomas Glave’s ‘Among the Bloodpeople: Politics and Flesh’: Book Review


AmongtheBloodpeople1-508x800I was already deep into this essential collection of impassioned, incendiary essays when I read of the most recent instance of anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica, the brutal murder of 17-year-old Dwayne Jones. For Thomas Glave, who was born to a Jamaican mother and split his early life between the Bronx and Kingston—histories and geographies explored in the essays gathered here—the “flesh” of his title lives under constant threat of the most horrific violence, prone at any moment to being “chopped to death with a machete or burned to death in public.”

It is a threat he imagines again and again carried out on his own flesh and the flesh of his friends, in sentences that heave and roil with rage and grief. In the essay “Toward a Queer Prayer,” Glave remembers the murdered activist Brian Williamson, with whom he founded the Jamaican LGBT rights organization J-FLAG: “Chopped up with a machete, someone chopped him; carved up with an ice pick, someone carved him. Brian: remember him? His insides were ripped open by metal gripped in a pair of angry hands.”

It can be hard to understand why anyone would choose to remain in—would claim any connection whatsoever with—a country that so brutally attacks one’s right to exist. But these essays are fueled not just by rage but by love for what Glave calls “the bloodpeople: the people of shared DNA, shared genes and facial likenesses,” and for Jamaica itself, which emerges in Glave’s prose as a place of extraordinary color and music and life, “the place that provides you with such indescribable joy in your heart--yes, in your very deepest heart.”

6a00d8341c730253ef0192ac2cea96970d-300wiAbove all, Glave feels bound to the “mercurial, acrobatic language” of Jamaica, the music of creole and patois that he “long ago absorbed” and that emerges in the strenuous melody of his own remarkable sentences.
The word is a physical thing—as physical as flesh—in the world of Glave’s writing, which is also marked (like the work of James Baldwin, perhaps his most important forebear) by the pulpit cadences of the American black church.

Central to all of these essays is the assertion that the literary, the political, and the erotic are so tightly bound as to be inextricable, and Glave writes about literature with the same urgency that fills his essays on anti-gay violence. In short pieces addressed to four writers—Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Nadine Gordimer, and Toni Morrison—Glave describes how each of them provided him not just with a literary model, but with something much more precious: a warrant to exist.

Questions of language are questions of life and death, Glave argues, forcing us to see how the dehumanizing rhetoric about LGBT people that is so prevalent in contemporary Jamaica, as in so many places, “makes people into ghosts, unpeople, things. Things which, because less than human, are more easily hated, feared, despised. And killed.” “It is a sickness,” Glave writes, giving us an example of such language, his own voice punctuating it in parentheses, “a white people t’ing, a (to some, to many) satanic t’ing…a t’ing we cannot bear inna dis ya country, Massa God: so annihilate de battyman dem, de sodomite dem.”

Against the language of hatred and threat, Glave sets the literary imagination, which can “re-member” the very lives that dehumanizing language tears apart, can “put them back together, and ourselves, as, putting our best feet forward, we proceed…farther away from disremembrance and loathing.”
Glave—himself a celebrated writer of fiction—calls for 2519630706_7e57814dea“the kind of literature that enables survival because it says (or shouts), But wait, because I am here, and I exist.

As these essays repeatedly address forbidden topics, from a defense of barebacking to a painful, moving meditation on suicide (a taboo subject for black men, he writes), Glave crosses boundaries of genre and community, speaking with extraordinary candor and vulnerability variously as the American son of immigrants, as a Jamaican, as a professor, as a queer boy from the Bronx.

What unifies these identities and these essays is the ferocity of Glave’s voice, his sentences that can feel like living, untamed things. Untamed, but in the service of a project that is equal parts ethics and aesthetics: to speak truthfully and boldly and exactingly, even of horror, “to properly honor and do justice to the dead, and to ourselves in pursuit of a more human future.”

Previous reviews...
Duncan Fallowell’s ‘How to Disappear: A Memoir for Misfits’
Frank Bidart’s ‘Metaphysical Dog’

Alysia Abbot's 'Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father'
Gerbrand Bakker’s ‘Ten White Geese’
Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award as well as a Lambda Award. This fall he will be an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.

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  1. Unless both partners are in a committed, long-term relationship and/or both regularly test for HIV and other STDs (with negative results) there is absolutely NO defense for barebacking. None at all.

    Anything else is taking a very foolish (and sometimes deadly) risk of infection, especially among populations where HIV numbers are high, testing is not a norm and there is a higher-than-average number of men who are on the downlow (which is pretty common in Jamaica.)

    Posted by: johnny | Jul 27, 2013 8:44:15 AM

  2. Sad evidence of self-hatred in Thomas Glave: His indefensible defense of "bareback" sex, and his mindless embrace of the dehumanizing label "queer". Sometimes I wonder if it's an accident that so many high-profile LGBT people share these self-hating traits? Are these the "community" representatives that hetero-supremacist oppressors have approved for us? Is that why they seem to have such easy access to Left Wing media?

    Posted by: Stuffed Animal | Jul 27, 2013 2:07:27 PM

  3. how is it dehumanizing to embrace being from a different point of view, and living and seeing things outside of the perceived societal norm, Stuffy?

    I self-identify as Queer, and I have since my teens. How well has hating the word "queer" worked for you? all the Jesus-blowing in the world won't change you from being an insecure dunce.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Jul 27, 2013 2:22:47 PM

  4. Count me among the many gay people who do not like the word queer. I don't agree that taking "ownership" of it again gets rid of the stigma that resulted from my hearing it over and over and over again growing up.

    If black people want to call themselves n*ggers and gay people use words like fag and queer to describe themselves, it doesn't exactly elevate us. It basically holds us down where we were when we started. I, for one, don't want to be held down by a term I find extremely derogatory.

    Call yourself whatever you want, Kiwi, but your insistence on name calling simply proves there's a school yard bully inside of you, the very think you decry over and over. Look in a mirror lately? Immature children like you don't represent my kind of gay people one iota.

    Posted by: johnny | Jul 27, 2013 3:15:08 PM

  5. i don't represent insecure wimps who refuse to represent themselves. you're right.

    you, like many a stupid anonymous commenter, believe that the word "queer" is inherently harmful, and insulting.

    i self-identify as queer, as well as gay. i don't call you queer. i SELF-identify. i'm empowered by it.

    QUEER - from a different point of view. a deviation from the expected norm. unusual. unique. does not blend in to the masses.

    what's insulting and harmful about that?

    is your point that the word "queer" was used against you as an insult?

    because it wasn't used as an insult against me. the word GAY was.
    "GAY" was the word i was called as kid, getting slammed into lockers, and having things thrown at me as i walked home from school.

    does that mean i get to be an insecure ninny and tell you all to stop using "GAY"? No. and i wouldn't. because i'm a man with a spine.

    if my use of the term "queer" is holding anyone down, how come i'm so Out and Proud and you're not?

    i'm not holding you down. your own insecurities are holding you down. and thankfully, your insecurities don't affect my queer @ss one bit :D

    *elegant curtsy*

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Jul 27, 2013 3:24:17 PM

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