JFLAG – Reviews Body and Spirit Religion and Spirituality

The following reviews have been contributed by volunteers and patrons of our library. If you would like to contribute a book or movie review, please send it to admin@jflag.org

Boy Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualitiesby Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe (Editors)

Among the many myths created about Africa, the myth that homosexuality is absent or incidental is one of the oldest and most enduring. Historians, anthropologists, and many contemporary Africans alike have denied or overlooked African same-sex patterns or claimed that such patterns were introduced by Europeans. Among African Americans questions surrounding sexuality and gender in traditional African societies have become especially contentious. In fact, same-sex love was and is widespread in Africa. Boy-Wives and Female Husbands documents same-sex patterns in some fifty societies, in every region of the continent. Essays by scholars from a variety of disciplines explore institutionalized marriages between women, same-sex relations between men and boys in colonial work settings, mixed gender roles in East and West Africa, and recent developments in South Africa, where lesbians and gays successfully made the nation the first in the world to constitutionally ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Also included are oral histories, folklore, and translations of early ethnographic reports by German and French observers. The first serious study of the subject, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands is a significant contribution to anthropology, history, and gender studies, offering new, often surprising views of African societies, while posing interesting challenges to recent theories of sexuality. An invaluable resource for everyone interested in the continent’s history and culture, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands reveals the denials of African homosexualities for what they are–prejudice and willful ignorance.
Historians, anthropologists, and many contemporary Africans alike have denied or overlooked African same-sex patterns or claimed that such patterns were introduced by Europeans. Among African Americans questions surrounding sexuality and gender in traditional African societies have become especially contentious. In fact, same-sex love was and is widespread in Africa. Boy-Wives and Female Husbands documents same-sex patterns in some fifty societies, in every region of the continent. Essays by scholars from a variety of disciplines explore institutionalized marriages between women, same-sex relations between men and boys in colonial work settings, mixed gender roles in East and West Africa, and recent developments in South Africa, where lesbians and gays successfully made that nation the first in the world to constitutionally ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. An invaluable resource for everyone interested in the continent’s history and culture, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands reveals the denials of African homosexualities for what they are – prejudice and willful ignorance.

GAY SOUL Finding The Heart of Gay Spirit And NatureAuthor: Mark Thompson
Reviewed by: Nietzsche

“To achieve their aims, gay people have infused themselves with the resilient spirit of the disenfranchised, the empowering spirit of pride and hope. But too much spirit without enough soul is like an automobile running with a tank near empty. … What is needed to refuel our progress is not more spirit but a deeper understanding and embracing of soul.” – Mark Thompson
GAY SOUL, stands out as an epitaph among books on gay issues. It provides a lively forum in which sixteen prominent and thoughtful gay men, in taking the time to consider the deeper possibilities of their lives raise substantive issues about our lives.
It is a pleasure sharing their experiences. It is easy to relate to the road they have traveled and revealed in their expressions. Their expressions give us a chance to agree and disagree, to argue and debate, to remember important things that we tend to forget as we explore the contents of our souls as gays and lesbians trying to remain soulful or simply just trying to survive. Finally we are left on the frontier of understanding how flesh and spirit can be integrated into a soulful life as we continue on the journey to spiritual strength and personal joy.

“Not Following The Rules Can Be Liberating.”
Thomas Glave breaks the rules in his writing and his politics as he creates language
Author: Sidney Brinkley

“He’s taller than I thought,” was my first thought as writer Thomas Glave stood to greet me. Not that he’s “Tall,” just that the photograph I’d seen gave the impression of a smaller man. I had interviewed him by phone a few weeks earlier and we were meeting for the first time in San Francisco as he swung through the Bay Area to promote “Whose Song?,” his collection of short stories. Keen featured and reed thin, he had that mismatched, rumpled look that has become the stereotype of university professors: a well-worn gray tweed jacket, a yellow plaid shirt and brown slacks. But where he departs from the model is his hair, a mass of dreadlocks, wrapped in a beige scarf. Not the mannered style seen on Blacks here, but the thick unruly ropes more common in Jamaica.
He was born in the Bronx thirty-five years ago but has dual U.S. and Jamaican citizenship. He spends several weeks each year in Kingston where his family has roots. “I have the best of both worlds,” he said. “African American through cultural adoption and Jamaican by heritage. I have access to both languages.”
Language is a word, a concept, that pops up frequently in conversation with Glave. Such as, “I take great care about the craft and the skill of working with language.” And, “I haven’t watched TV since the age of eighteen. It was beginning to effect language.”
It’s his way with language, with words, that got him published in literary journals such as, “The Massachusetts Review,” “Callaloo,” and “The Kenyon Review.” Nadine Gordimer, Clarence Major and Gloria Naylor are just a few of the writers that have noted his talent. He says writing is something he’s been doing all his life; he can’t remember a time when he didn’t write.
“I started when I was around four-years-old,” he said. “My aunt would buy books that came with records, ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘Winnie the Pooh,’ and the English classics. I started memorizing the books.”
Despite being at it for many years now, he doesn’t find writing particularly easy, but he is a disciplined writer. He will sit down and do it.
“I don’t write everyday except when on a special project,” he said. “But I try to be a disciplined writer; I use different tricks. One is, I’d go running in the morning for five or six miles, then work. I’d tell myself, ‘I did this hard thing [running], now I can this hard thing [writing]. Writing is not glamorous if you sit down and do what you have to do.”
Reading Thomas Glave can be challenging. His style is moving further towards the unconventional, an onslaught of words. There are no cues to when a sentence ends, if they exist at all. A period isn’t seen for pages at a time as in his novel in progress “Hurricane.”
Who could have stopped them, who could have, so much smoke and flame, so many mouths groaning open on the floor, red gums and black, white teeth, redteeth and white gums making colors all over the: but the gags didn’t always succeed, no nor the billy clubs dipped in (uh huh), people either lived or they died, livedied as I did and lost their teeth and all sense of time, who could tell what time it was, who wanted to know, the passing of time helped only if it passed into silence that loved the darkness not with them beating us again, shouting question at us again, what do you know, what do you not know, how long have you been the cocksucking son of a bitch you are. . .
“I look at African American literature in the past and don’t see wild experimentation,” he says. “I wonder if that’s because writers were concerned with dealing factually, convincingly, with the problem and experimentation didn’t come into the picture. There’s a freedom with dispensing with punctuation. I wanted to retain the way memory works in non-linear work, to suggest the rhythms of a hurricane, the problems that enter into a journey where you smash language apart. Not following the rules can be liberating.
While it may be liberating for him, it can prove frustrating for readers who are accustomed to more linear work. But he admits he does not think about the reader while writing a story.
“[Considering the reader] happens once I start working with the editor,” he said. “I do try to step back, ‘is this getting across what I want to get across?’ But I can only think and speak from my own point of view.
“Hurricane” shows he’s continuing to explore a theme seen in some of his short stories, torture and a level of brutality that may leave some cringing. Limbs are hacked off with machetes; women, children, and men are raped and beaten. Other degradations are described in graphic language. Glave can be unrelenting in the brutality heaped upon his characters. But it’s not the musings of a creative yet twisted imagination. Glave says his stories are rooted in the everyday brutalities that many in the world live with, that we, rather naive Americans, barely glimpse on the evening news.
“I traveled extensively through Guatemala in 1991, during one of the ‘calmer’ periods in their severely violent history. The year before I went there, a civilian had been decapitated by the army, and his head stuck on a pole in front of a local church, as a warning to that area’s residents not to engage in anti military or insurgent activity. Four months later I went to Chile; the seventeen-year Pinochet dictatorship had just ended. It was a uniquely strange experience to walk around in a country, in such a gorgeous country, seeing so many people smiling and going about their daily business, knowing all the while that some of the most horrendous human rights violations had taken place there. There’s a very thin line, or no line at all, between a regime like Pinochet’s, or Hitler’s, or Duvalier’s, both of them, or Abacha’s in Nigeria, or Idi Amin’s, or Rafael Trujillo’s in the Dominican Republic, and this country’s lynchings. I feel that, as a writer of conscience – and that’s what I consider myself to be, what I feel I have to be – I have to document some of these things. I have to bear witness to them, even if only through the paltry, poor representation of fiction.”
In 1997 Thomas Glave became only the second Black Gay writer to win the O’Henry award for fiction. The first was James Baldwin. “It was totally unexpected,” he said. “It’s not something you apply for. I always thought it was an extremely august award and not given to a Black Gay Writer. Of course, Baldwin won it – but that’s Baldwin. I was excited about it for Black Gay writers, that a Black Gay theme was recognized in that venue.
He won the O’Henry for “The Final Inning,” one of the stories in “Whose Song?”. It’s based on a true event that occurred at the funeral of openly Gay writer Donald Woods, who died of AIDS, and is now part of the lore of Blacks and their attitudes about homosexuality.
“The story developed out of [writer] Assotto Saint’s telling me about the funeral of Donald Woods,” Glave said. “He told me how he’d attended Donald’s funeral, and how, as “Out” as Donald had been in life, his family refused to deal with his sexuality in any way during the funeral. Assotto sat there in the church feeling more and more incensed. Since he owned the deed to Donald’s grave, he decided, spontaneously, to get up and verbally challenge all of Donald’s family on their hypocrisy and silence. Donald’s family was furious, but what could they do? After telling me this, Assotto said, ‘There’s the story, dear. Now go write it.'”
Glave says his own family has no problems with his being Gay.
“I came out when I was twenty-two. My parents suspected I was Gay and they’ve been very accepting. Living [in the U.S.], tempered their attitude. I’ve seen homophobia in my family but I don’t feel I’m in exile.”
Jamaica, however, has not been so embracing. He is not yet well-known to the general public. “Literacy is a problem there,” he said. “Many in Jamaica don’t have access to books. They would not be pleased at the stance I take politically. Many of the [Jamaican] writers who are ‘Out’ like Michelle Cliff, Makaeda Silbera and Patricia Powell, live abroad.”
Among Jamaicans who are literate he has created a sensation on that small, socially conservative island, where anti-Gay sentiment is part of the culture. Angered by the vicious homophobia of Jamaican singer Buju Banton’s dancehall hit, “Boom Bye-Bye,” in which Banton urged that “battybwoy” (Gay men) be killed, Glave wrote an essay, “an open letter to the People of Jamaica,” titled “Toward a Nobility of the Imagination: Jamaica’s Shame” in which he took Jamaican society to task.
Because in fact we are not noble. We are cowards, hypocrites. Hysterical in our hatred and ignorance, seeking to cast aspersions and impose ostracism via state and social persecution–death sentences–upon those whom we consider already damned. Upon lesbians and gay men: those whom we would briskly vilify as “sodomite” or “abominations” — denunciations heard in recent public discussions about homosexuality in Jamaica. But how swift and smug our judgments. How devoid of simple human compassion. How shallow our reasoning.
“I am Gay. Jamaican. And proud to be both.” Glave boldly stated. The essay was printed in two Kingston newspapers.
“Some people were outraged,” he said. “Some people appreciated it. The fact that they printed it at all is positive. I don’t think it was printed to cause scandal. It was printed to engender sympathy.”
Glave is, at this moment, in Jamaica for the seven week break between semesters. He will be working with the Jamaica Forum of Lesbian, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG), of which he is a founding member. In January he returns to the State University of New York in Binghampton to teach his course on Black Gay writers, while doing the second leg of his book tour. He’s appears calm despite facing what seems to be a hectic schedule ahead. “I’m very pleased with life as it is,” he said. “I’m very grateful for the simplicity of my life. Quiet and uncluttered.”
Simple? Quiet? Uncluttered?
Taking on the Jamaican status-quo, shouldering the expectation (the burden?) of being the next big thing — the “Village Voice” voted him a “Writer On The Verge” and compares his work to early Toni Morrison — along with the challenge of turning critical acclaim into popular, would not appear to be ingredients of an uncluttered life.
In any case, “Whose Song?” has arrived to good reviews – “gorgeous prose” gushed one reviewer – and his appearances this fall were well received. He’s not at all self-effacing; he never gave the impression that he does not deserve it all, but at the same time there’s no posturing, or attitude, an easy conversationalist. There was, however, a hint of the inscrutable; I sensed much more going on in that brain than he’s articulating.
ESP 101 aside, he clearly has a respect for the “craft” of writing, as well as a reverence for many Black Gay writers. He can also reel off a list of names of writers from around the world that he admires.
“When I begin to think about what it means…to think about the craft and practice of writing, the ego leaves,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “The world of literature that’s out there humbles you.”
By Sidney Brinkley

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Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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