Both sacred and profane, “If Jesus Were Gay and Other Poems” by Emanuel Xavier is a new book that expresses Christ in a refreshingly queer way.
Xavier makes sweet poetry out of his experiences as a gay Latino whose painful past includes sexual abuse at age 3 and rejection by his Catholic mother for being gay at age 16, leading to homelessness, drug dealing, prostitution -- and at last to poetry. His background is Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian, and his poems are sprinkled with Spanish.
The title poem “If Jesus were Gay” (reprinted in full below by permission) questions whether people would still love and worship Jesus if he was gay. But Xavier also uses that title for the whole first section of the book, more than 60 poems comprising three quarters of the volume. Many of them do not specifically mention Jesus, although their soulful and spiritual quality is palpable.
While reading “If Jesus Were Gay and Other Poems,” I found myself caught up in the tragic sense of a life being wasted, a kind of crucifixion. If Jesus were gay in America today, would he do more than just hang out with prostitutes as he did in ancient Israel? Would anti-gay abuse actually turn him into a street hustler, as Xavier openly and graphically describes himself in these poems? Jesus is without sin, but the poet-prostitute who wrote this book seems “more sinned against than sinning,” as Shakespeare put it.
At least for this reader, the unspoken question that enlightened every poem in the book was, “Could this be Jesus speaking?” For example, if Jesus was gay in America now, would he say these lines from “FYI:”
I don’t really care to know how many others you have been with
or how many times you have fallen in love.
I just need to know that you will hold my hand
as we are both being stoned for our sins without regret.
Religious insights sparkle from certain poems, such as the black female God in “Lifting the Veil” and the chilling advice in “The Fourth King.” The poet warns the baby Jesus, “If any of the other magi touches you inappropriately, cry until they are deafened by their sins.”
Just the existence of a book like this, with a traditional Jesus on the cover and graphic gay sex inside, is a breakthrough in integrating sexuality and spirituality. And yet I sometimes got the sense that Xavier can’t really believe that Jesus could be gay or even sexual. As the imaginary fourth king, he brings various gifts to the baby Jesus -- including condoms. But he stops himself, saying,
Never mind… I’ll just keep these
Since they will be useless to a poor carpenter
Who believes in abstinence.
After the gay Jesus section comes a set of 18 “other poems” with a stronger Latino flavor. They are featured on the album “Legendary: The Spoken Word Poetry of Emanuel Xavier.”
I wouldn’t recommend this book for everyone because some poems do describe gay sex in x-rated detail. As Xavier laments in one poem, “We still live in an America where writing about prostitution is considered trashy and profane.” On the other hand, the graphic gay sex is a plus for the right readers.
I perceived the face of Christ in his poems, even the “trashy” ones. The book’s implication is that the rejected gay Jesus might turn to sex, drugs and prostitution to survive in America today. And our Savior would still embody love and beauty amid the muck.
In interviews, he credits poetry with saving his life. “Fortunately, I walked away unscathed,” he told CNN. “I thought that God had given me a second chance, and I felt like I had to do something with that.” Since 1997, he has written several books and his poems have been widely published. He lives in New York City and curates a spoken word poetry series at El Museo del Barrio.
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
If Jesus were gay,
and still loved by God and Mary
because he was their child after all
hailed by all angels and feared by demons,
would you still long to be healed by him?
take him into your home and comfort him?
heal his wounds and break bread with him?
Would wars be waged over religion?
Would world leaders invoke his name
Would churches everywhere rejoice
and celebrate his life?
Would rappers still thank him
in their acceptance speeches?
If the crown of thorns
were placed on his head
to mock him as the “Queen of the Jews”
If he was whipped
because fags are considered
If he was crucified
for the brotherhood of man
would you still repent?
Would you pray to him
when you were dying?
If he didn’t ask for you to be just like him,
If he only wanted you to love yourself,
If he asked that you not judge others,
Would you still wait for him to come back and save your soul?
Would you deny him?
Would you believe in peace?
Would there still be hate?
Would there still be hell?
Would there be laws
based on the meaning of true love?
What would Jesus do?
What would you do?