‘If Jesus Were Gay’ by Emanuel Xavier

A survivor of the gritty NYC streets, Emanuel Xavier shaped the troubling details and experiences of his past into arresting spoken-word performance pieces that were first published as Pier Queen in 1997. Since then he has undertaken other challenges–novelist, editor, and literary activist–building a strong reputation as a writer who is frank about sex and sexuality, and critical of the hostile environment that gay Latinos must endure from their many environments.

His most recent publication, If Jesus Were Gay, announces his most daring premise–holding the Latino community accountable for its homophobia, such as in the poem “Passage”:

Though I was raised on these streets
there is no right for me to walk them
Someday I will truly get what I deserve
Men like me looking for trouble, converting little boys,
destroying family values,
luring husbands to sin against wives
This is not the world where we belong
We are not entitled to protection

The provocative title of this book might suggest that Xavier is taking a confrontational or aggressive stance, but that’s not the case. The title poem is actually an invitation to take pause and think:

If Jesus were gay,
would you tattoo him to your body?
hang him from your chest?
pray to him and worship the Son of Man?
would you still praise him after dying for your sins?

If it was revealed Jesus kissed another man,
but not on the cheek,
would you still beg him for forgiveness?
ask him for miracles?
hope your loved ones get to meet him in heaven?

But these moments of politeness do not mean that Xavier has compromised his penchant for the suggestive. From the opening poem, “Just Like Jesus”:

Just like Jesus,
I want to be nestled half-naked against your chest
even after my time spent with a dozen lovers
Claiming your spirit when I come
Baptize you with the promise of salvation

Xavier’s complex navigation of religious tropes is informed by the conflicted relationship gay Latinos have with Catholicism, the cultural cornerstone of the Latino family. This love-hate dynamic means that questioning the actions of a higher power is not blasphemy, but par for the course: “if there is a God/ he has disregarded our prayers/ left his angels behind to journey along with us/ –none of us knowing exactly where we are headed.” And to avoid a self-righteous tone, he allows his voice to slip into moments of pathos, such as the one-line zinger “TO THE BAPTIST MINISTER I BRIEFLY DATED: Hey, don’t sweat it! At least Jesus loves you!”

If ever there was an effective strategy to dispel the perception of gay man as moral danger, Xavier has mastered it: humanizing the gay male by presenting him honestly as a flawed individual with universal emotions, desires and a very real history. At times the delivery is shocking, such as in the poem “Awkward”:

I enjoy sex with insignificant strange men
whenever I am lonely
I’ve had many lovers
Sometimes I fall asleep in their arms with great ease
This is because I am searching for my father
He disappeared when my mother refused
to have an abortion

At other moments, the delivery is humorous (“I look underneath the covers/ a mess of lube stains and used condoms/ His cock is so Friday night/ It’s Saturday and I’ve got things to do”) or devastatingly heartbreaking (“The only friend I was never selfish to was a mirror/ and the emptiness it reflected”).

Readers familiar with Xavier’s work will be pleasantly surprised at the conciliatory voice in many of the pages of If Jesus Were Gay (“we are all just children/ searching to be held by our fathers/ hoping they remember our names”), signaling a positive turning point for a poet whose verse is usually characterized as “Raw, unapologetic like an erection.” Indeed he’s a more seasoned writer with a richer appreciation for the contradictions and conflicts he encountered earlier in life. But no worries, his trademark wit remains perfectly in tact:

No mas
Changing my Facebook and Adam4Adam pics
every other day
with the hopes of attracting Mr. Right,
Mr. Right Away, Mr. Right for Tonight, Mr. Just Call Me Sir,
“Hey You, Mister!”
I must say goodbye to all those memorable
“What was his names again?” moments
Forget all about the tattooed vato
I fell in love with down in Texas
and that awesome hick in Kentucky.
It’s been a long lovely journey
from the days I used to make money from sex.

Simultaneously flirtatious and sincere, Emanuel Xavier has managed to capture the mixed emotion of adopting a new disposition in life–the moment every gay man must contend with when he looks back one last time before moving on. If Jesus Were Gay, a book of fierce poetry, is the ultimate communion between a hell of a past and the heavenly relief at the prospect of a better future.

By Emanuel Xavier
Rebel Satori Press
ISBN: 9781608640324
Paperback, $14.95, 135p