Thomas Glave, an activist, writer, and gay man of Jamaican descent has fulfilled a dream that has been in the making for 5 and half years. The dream? To compile the invisibilized voices of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered folks from around the Caribbean. Voices that he says have also long been "separated by language and the sea". The book Our Caribbean: A Gathering Of Lesbian And Gay Writing From The Antilles is the actualization of that dream. It is the first book of its kind, and includes the works of 37 writers from 14 Caribbean countries, and some of the entries are published here in english for the first time. It includes the works of Audre Lourde, Andrew Salkey, Makeda Silvera, Helen Klonaris, Achy Obejas and many more including works from Thomas Glave himself. The literary works in here are as varied in style as they are in perspective, from journalistic academic essays, to poetry, to bittersweet humorous narratives and more. The anthology embodies a "wild salad of all the ways of being" as Thomas Glave describes it in his NPR interview. There are many perspectives, but many entries also share a thread of commonality around struggles with family, community, Christianity, and navigating love and desire against the tidal wave of invalidating cultural taboos.
On the topic of religion and sexuality, Thomas Glave has called himself a "living breathing paradox: A Rasta Battyman." This was in an interview in the premiere Jamaican newspaper too, The Daily Gleaner. And i gotta say, as a Jamaican man, that phrase falls on my ears as a cultural impossibility! Nuff props to him for walking that path and holding the complexity. Though not as culturally visceral for me on a personal level, this paradox reminds me of a conversation I had with my friend and creative collaborator, the super talented and wonderful Meshell Ndegeocello. With a smile she spoke about her journey as a tattooed, queer Muslim. She told me that she expressed this personal navigation in her mostly instrumental album, which is subtitled "The Dance Of The Infidel", since she is considered an infidel on many levels in the faith that she belongs to. Glave's book also documents similar journeys of being a member of a religion that has moral stances from thousands of years ago that condemn same-sex love.
So far, i have found some positive responses in Jamaican blogs that cover this book, including BonitaJamaica, Geoffrey Philip's Blogspot, and i was pleased to find a review in ForeWord Magazine that focuses on the piece contributed by my Bahamian friend Helen Klonaris, "Independence Day Letter." Go Helen! Also check out her blog, she is a great writer.
It is definitely worth noting that Thomas Glave is a co-founder of J-FLAG, the sole Jamaican LGBT advocacy group. They are an important resource that among other functions, essentially operates as an underground railroad for queer Jamaicans. The straight/gay alliance group I belong to (and Helen Klonaris as well!) Love Liberation Collective has had events where we do book drives and raise funds for JFLAG. Thomas Glave, in accordance with his activist work, recently issued a statement that was directed towards Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who as i recently blogged, stated that he would never have a homosexual in his cabinet. Glave's response:
As a gay man of Jamaican background I am appalled and outraged by the Prime Minister’s having said only three days ago on BBC-TV that homosexuals will not have any place in his Cabinet and, implicitly, by extension, in Jamaica. I guess this means that there will never be any room in Mr Golding’s Cabinet for me and for the many, many other men and women in Jamaica who are homosexual. And so I now feel moved to say directly to Mr Golding that it is exactly this kind of bigotry and narrow-mindedness that Jamaica does not need any more of, and that you, Mr Golding, should be ashamed of yourself for providing such an example of how not to lead Jamaica into the future. And so, Mr Golding, think about how much you are not helping Jamaica the next time you decide to stand up and say that only some Jamaicans – heterosexuals, in this case – have the right to live in their country as full citizens with full human rights, while others – homosexuals – do not. That is not democracy. That is not humane leadership. That is simply the stupidity and cruelty of bigotry.
Woy! Ah some real talk dat... I wonder if we will ever get a response.... you know i will blog it if THAT happens!
In closing, I wanted to post a quote from the book that I think essentializes the struggle that us Jamaicans have at this point around homophobia in our culture. Because impositions from other countries on Jamaica (other countries with their own institutionalized heterosexism and cultural paradigms) without dialogue or understanding of Jamaica and Jamaicans aren't going to create change in Jamaica. I think that can cause more harm than good. I would more so see change happening from within, with assistance from outside that is specifically asked for from queer Jamaicans. Any ally to queer Jamaicans can't run tings, you know? But first, on the internal tip, i believe this is our task at hand:
Even as we seek to restore "indigenous knowledge" systems, we must simultaneously seek to sharpen an "indigenous" criticism.
- Charles Carnegie, anthropologist. pg. 80