Hemoglobin Goblins

How do people play with blood in public? Jack Boulware counts ze vays.

"I get really high. Time stands still. I don't worry about paying my mortgage at that moment."

He feels his blood images, like his earlier photos of tattoos and piercing, seem freaky because of cultural and racial biases. Anything that happens to white kids is horrifying, he suggests, but if African natives are seen engaging in similar rituals, they seem wise and beautiful and interesting:

"We romanticize the noble savage, as long as we can marginalize them and keep them out of our psyches. 'That's cool because he's doing it in New Guinea, and he's black, and he's got a bone in his nose and doesn't threaten me; that's cool.' But that's because we can keep it in a safe area of our psyches, and know that we're not going to have to come anywhere close to what he's doing."

So why does he think people engage in blood rituals?
"This is primal. This touches some deep places. I think the impulse to wake up by any means necessary is a healthy impulse. When you're desperate, and you don't see any options, and you're trying to find a way out of the nightmare of modern society, you use whatever means you have. A lot of people feel numb, especially young people. They don't want to feel that way. They want to wake up, to throw off conditioning from Big Brother and Madison Avenue and decide for themselves what's important and what's real."

He stops and gazes across the cafe at a young girl with tattoos, sitting by herself. One of his models, somewhere in the past.

"I thought she was dead," he says.
Eventually his blood documentation was extensive enough to publish. He showed sample images to Ron Turner, owner of Last Gasp Comics (publisher of underground comics since the 1960s), and explained the idea: a full-color coffee-table book of in-your-face blood photos, unrelenting crimson close-ups of seeping wounds and splattered breasts, with text supplied by Danielle Willis and David Aaron Clark.

"I want it," Gatewood remembers Turner saying. "Let's do it, and let's get it on the press before the Commies take over Hong Kong."

The book, True Blood, is scheduled to be unveiled this week, precisely three years after Gatewood helped unleash the blood phenomenon by premiering his short videos at the Artists' Television Access (ATA) space in the Mission. In the audience that night was a 23-year-old kid who had just moved to the city from Arkansas.

Carrying a tray of grapes and cheese cubes, the handsomely androgynous Clint Catalyst glides through the crowd at "Roderick's Chamber," a weekly South of Market goth club where he is co-host. He is featured in the True Blood book, and has been involved in blood sports since seeing Gatewood's video at ATA.

"I was floored, and everyone around me was, too," Catalyst says. "I felt uneasy, but in a good way. It was so beautiful, the movement, the flow, the way the blood was being flicked around."

And just months after leaving his parents' house on a dirt road outside Conroy, Ark., Catalyst was in the Mission doing his first public blood performance: 13 cuttings on his shoulder, administered while he sat on a chair constructed of 10cc hypodermic needles.

"It was a psyche fuck," he says. "I consider my cuts injuries, but they were injuries that were done for a sort of empowerment."

Catalyst says he knows exactly why he is attracted to blood. He was sexually abused as a young child by neighborhood boys. For years, he says, he had no way out of the pain. Then, one Tuesday night, as his parents watched a TV movie of the week in the other room, he locked himself in the bathroom and deliberately cut his finger with his father's razor.

"I felt I was carrying round all these fingerprints of other people for so long, so in wanting to claim my own flesh, I had to begin digging for my own answers."

After finishing college, Catalyst moved to San Francisco, and immediately settled into the goth scene, working at the House of Usher club and publishing the literary zine As If. He is frequently seen posing for magazine fashion shoots, while working on a master's degree in writing from the University of San Francisco.

He seems torn about sensationalism in the blood scene. Although he performs with blood, and takes those performances seriously, he knows that blood sports can also appear cheesy:

"Of course a lot of people scoff at it. Come on, I scoff at a lot of this stuff too: 'Oh my god, that's so sensationalistic. That's so ridiculous. That's stupid.' But blood is a very salient topic, particularly for the '90s. I consider blood a symbol of the life force. The initial cut hurts, definitely, but then there's the rush, and it definitely gives me energy. If it makes people think, then I feel I've accomplished something.

"I mean, who hasn't had sex unprotected? And is that any more dangerous than some sort of blood sports?"

Catalyst feels that a cultural emptiness propels people to search for meaning through blood ritual, the goth community, or, in his case, both.

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