The Banal and the Profane: Emanuel Xavier
Author: Edit Team
November 20, 2011
“I started writing because all odds were against me and I wanted to share my own unique experiences so that others like me would know they are not alone in this world.”
“The Banal and the Profane” is a monthly Lambda Literary column in which we lift the veil on both the writerly life and the publishing industry. In each installment, we ask a different LGBT writer, or LGBT person of interest in the book industry, to guide us through a week in their lives.
This month’s “Banal and Profane” column comes to us from Emanuel Xavier.
Emanuel Xavier is author of the poetry collections If Jesus Were Gay & other poems, Pier Queen, Americano, the novel, Christ Like, and editor of Me No Habla With Acento (all from Rebel Satori Press).
My alarm is set every weekday morning for 6:15 am and, on this morning, the random track that plays from my iPhone is “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha. Wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy . . . He may happen to live in the building where I work but I have no idea what he feels like in the morning. Alexis, my boy cat with the drag queen name, is cuddled next to me appropriately black in celebration of Halloween.
I open my bedroom door to discover two half naked Belgian boys sleeping in my living room. Michiel and Denzel arrived the night before and will be staying with me for the week. I met Michiel, now an English professor, in Belgium. He was a student at Ghent University and I was one of several speakers brought in from North America for a queer literary symposium. Michiel was assigned to be my handler and entertain me as a guest of the university but I had traveled with my boyfriend at the time and we had plans of our own. Nonetheless, Michiel proved to be quite helpful in directing us to the best places to visit and eat in Brussels and Bruges.
Throughout the years, Facebook proved handy in keeping us updated on the progress of our lives and we hung out every time he visited New York City. This time I offered him a place to stay during his vacation along with his friend, Denzel, another cute twenty-something Belgian boy who happened to be straight. Perhaps it was my limited American experience but I wondered about his name as the only Denzel I was familiar with is the famous black actor, Denzel Washington. However, it is actually a Cornish surname originating in the 16th century from Denzell, a place in Cornwall.
They have keys to my Bushwick apartment and both know their way around the city. So I go about my morning ritual of feeding Alexis and getting ready for work and leave them to their own devices.
Once I’m in the city, I use the Starbucks gift card I won for Scariest Costume at our department Halloween party last week and pick up an Iced Salted Caramel Mocha which will have enough caffeine and sugar to get me through the morning. I had dressed as a Puerto Rican vampire from the 70s with an afro wig, long leather jacket, sunglasses, and fitted fangs, only to be confused for Lenny Kravitz. In any case, I played The Exorcist up on the screen and put together a funky music playlist as the designated DJ for the event.
I get through the work day by finalizing our 2012 Gift books catalog. I’ve only been here for little over a year and I can actually say I enjoy working for this company. It is a great publishing house and I seemingly fit in quite nicely. Never mind all the great books and perks I get. I’m finally breaking out of my shell and it was being part of their It Gets Better campaign video about a month ago that welcomed all of my co-workers into my private life.
After work I meet up with the guy I am dating and we go for a few drinks in Chelsea before meeting up with Michiel and Denzel for The NYC Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village. There are tons of people in fun costumes. My favorites were the guy who swore he looked like Che Guevara but looked more like the recently killed Colonel Qaddafi, and the Addams Family complete with a sexy Cousin It. My friends always joke that every time we have to dress up in costume for a party or something, I have to make it ‘sexy’- The Sexy Nurse, The Sexy Drag Queen, The Sexy Kitten, The Sexy Refrigerator- whatever it might be.
The parade is fun and we go out to dinner for Thai food at SEA in The Meatpacking District afterward. We leave the Belgian Boys in the city to party as we head back to our respective apartments to rest for another work day.
One of my co-workers watched a video interview I did for a web series titled SIGNIFIED where I openly discuss my experiences as a former homeless teen hustler and drug dealer living at the West Side Highway piers during the late 80s/early 90s. She asked if this was true and her eyes started to water but, thankfully, she held herself back as I was about to start crying myself, mostly from embarrassment.
I knew sooner or later people around here would discover my secret identity as ‘Emanuel Xavier’ and, frankly, it’s still a bit awkward but nobody forced me to make a name for myself as an artist. I’m more concerned that people might judge me because of the mistakes I’ve made in the past but the fact that I’m here proves I can overcome great obstacles to find happiness and success. I feel funny whenever someone I know asks what it was like sleeping on the streets or what my relationship is with my family these days. Sometimes I regret being so open and honest about my past but those feelings quickly wither away every time I hear of some kid kicked out by his parents for being gay or getting bashed or killed. I feel lucky to be employed by one of the largest publishing companies in the world and have learned so much in the short time I’ve been here. I don’t really know where this road will take me but I know where I have been and I am happy to be alive. Now if only I could write something that is not so controversial and sell some of my own books.
Two new poems, “Mariconcito” and “A Reading from the Book of Xavier” are published in the debut of a new gay literary magazine, Chelsea Station, which includes fellow writers I admire. I often feel like I really don’t belong but either I’ve been around long enough to be taken seriously or my peers are simply tired of me trying to get attention. In any case, it’s rewarding to be included in anything that includes my street poetics alongside the work of established writers.
“Mariconcito” was tough to write as it was a repressed memory from childhood about my stepfather. The poem was written shortly after writing a full essay with the same title for an anthology of queer men of color due out next year edited by Keith Boykin. My stepfather and I have a somewhat strained relationship to this day but it’s much better than it was when I was younger and he has come a long way in his acceptance of my life as an openly gay man. I know if he fully understood how much I have written about growing up with him as a stepfather he might be hurt but I can’t compromise my personal experiences out of fear. Besides, even he would admit he was a real dick to me.
“A Reading from the Book of Xavier” will definitely not get my publisher any new religious accounts or get me an invitation to the Vatican. I have a scheduled reading event at Canisius College in Buffalo for World AIDS Day and I have to decide whether or not I am going to include this one with my set list. It’s a Jesuit school and this is going to be their first gay themed event, featuring an author who coincidentally penned a poetry collection titled If Jesus Were Gay & other poems. I received the promotional flyers for approval and there is no mention of this book. However, students will have read it for class and, though I expect an intriguing Q&A and lively discussion about my personal views, I have been promised an audience consisting of students and teachers with an open mind. Jesuits are pretty cool.
I make a quick dinner after feeding my feline husband. I’ve been juggling a few books lately but I’m trying to get myself inspired by reading more poetry. It’s incredible to come across something that excites you so much a spark ignites within you and you feel the need to get some writing done. I love fiction and enjoyed Anthropology of an American Girl by Hillary Thayer Hamann so much that picking up anything else after that book seemed daunting. The Secret Lives of Great Authors was my fun trashy quick read and the fact that Toni Morrison once worked for a publishing company was a cool discovery. I’ve been mentioned in or had short stories and poems published in anthologies that I have yet to get to and my queue is growing daily. I should really get to reading one of these soon.
Alexis wakes me up by purring in my ear and pushing his wet nose into my mouth. I swear sometimes my cat just wants to make out with me. He’s twelve now and I’ve had him since he was six months old. He’s been my longest relationship by far. His twin brother, Sable, passed away a few years ago from diabetes. I don’t know how I ever had two cats while trying to have any sort of love life. Madonna’s “Drowned World/Substitute for Love” comes to mind but, instead of a child, my video ends with two black cats and a single man.
At work, November and December were supposed to be my quiet months but a Children’s catalog has been added to my workload and, though I just finished the Gift books catalog, I have a new project to work on with the Promo department. I really like putting the catalogs together and the fact that a new one is being produced hopefully means they like what I do and are considering keeping me around a bit longer.
On my way home, I take in the fall season and purposefully step on the crunchy leaves on the ground. I’ve enjoyed doing this even as a child and it’s one of the few pleasant memories I have.
The guy I’m dating spends the night with me as he has a rare day off tomorrow and I’ll be taking a vacation day to spend with him and my out-of-town guests. I don’t know what I would do if I had to work for a regular company. The one I currently work for is owned by a private European media corporation and is quite generous with their days off. I went to London and Paris over the summer and still have days left to use before the end of the year.
The Belgian boys get up early to head out to the Museum of Natural History. My overnight guest and I linger in bed and he feels comfortable- even Alexis cuddles next to him. He wants to take me back to visit his Greenpoint apartment for the first time so that he could shower and change. We grab brunch at a Polish diner where I enjoy Babka French Toast before heading back to his place.
I’m excited and nervous because I think this is a really big step for us. He has a really cute apartment. He shows me old Polaroids and photographs of himself throughout the years. He was always handsome and his mother is beautiful. It’s nice dating someone my own age and we have a lot in common as we both grew up in the tri-state area and share many similar regional experiences. I like that we can be ourselves around each other and everyone else falls to the wayside when we’re together.
I’ve spent too much of my life being selfish or feeling the need to entertain others. You get so caught up being ‘the clown’ or ‘the slut’ or whatever else you’re supposed to be in a group that just getting attention for being yourself feels incredible. Especially when they work at getting to know you and not whoever you’re supposed to be to the rest of the world. It’s refreshing getting to know someone the old-fashioned way and not through Google or a social networking site. Don’t even get me started on researching someone with a Wikipedia page.
This is also that much more meaningful to me because my last relationship was long distance and I can’t imagine how we ever made it for as long as we did traveling back and forth and without being able to just take a walk or go out for dinner at whim.
Afterward, we all meet up at The MOMA for the De Kooning exhibit. I don’t know much about him or his artwork but am genuinely impressed. I like a lot of it and the exhibition was much better and bigger than we expected it to be. I make a mental note to maybe come back sometime with a pen and notepad and see what I could come up with. There are too many people even though it is not a weekend and it would be difficult to try to pen a poem with friends around. The rest of The MOMA has many hidden treasures but my favorite museum in New York City remains The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I could always get some writing done there and I always walk away inspired.
We get dinner at Angelo’s Pizza in midtown and Michiel has a craving for NYC Cheesecake. We wander aboutTimes Squareand I take them to Junior’s which has the best cheesecake I have ever had in this city. Everyone orders their own which is a big mistake as each one of us ends up with a huge slice and the Belgians are introduced to the American concept of doggie bags. We leave behind a nice tip and an artistic collaboration made with crayons inspired by our visit to the De Kooning exhibit.
That night, I dreamt I met up with Basquiat at the De Kooning exhibit. The exhibit at the MOMA is empty except for the two of us. I probably read somewhere that he was inspired by De Kooning’s work. In the dream, I am a teen and he is the way I remember seeing him down at the West Side Highway piers. I remember hustling early one morning and seeing this sort of handsome black guy wearing sunglasses staring at me for a long time. I thought he was a potential trick and flirted coyly from a distance. I probably came on too strong or depressed him to see an underage Latin boy trying to sell himself at the piers. I never saw him again until his picture was splattered all over the newspapers the following week. He had died of a drug overdose and been a very famous artist. I often wondered what it would have been like to spend some time with him. When I attempted to be taken seriously as a poet hailing from the streets, I took much inspiration from Basquiat. His death might have inadvertently also encouraged me to stop doing drugs myself. It was funny to dream of him tonight.
I had scheduled myself for another vacation day but go into work anyways as Michiel and Denzel did not get home until5:30am, which means they’ll be passed out unconscious for a few more hours. It’s a quiet day and a lot of people are out. I get to catch up on stuff.
I read a fan email in my personal account during lunch and almost want to cry as it is so beautiful and heartfelt. It’s so easy to forget you might actually inspire others when you’re so busy looking for inspiration yourself and you’ve spent most of your career defending yourself.
I know I am not considered one of the best contemporary poets but I have something to say and that means a lot to me and maybe a few others. However, I often feel bypassed in so many ways. The U.S. Latino literary community does not truly recognize me as I am neither academic enough nor ethnic enough and they don’t know what the hell to do with me. I am not 100% Puerto Rican and therefore might as well be Russian to the Nuyorican community. I am also gay and perhaps write too much about it to be fully embraced by the Latino community.
Interestingly enough, in the gay community I am perhaps too ethnic to be as widely read as others and, without any formal education as a writer, I’m an easy moving target for criticism. Add to that my rather controversial views on sex, religion, and sometimes even words, and I’m basically a literary outcast.
I never imagined becoming a writer. When asked for advice for aspiring poets, I always encourage them to be genuinely passionate about their work. It could be a struggle financially and emotionally- being so often rejected- but the greatest reward comes if you are able to touch the life of someone you have never even met in a positive way. I started writing because all odds were against me and I wanted to share my own unique experiences so that others like me would know they are not alone in this world.
I head out to Williamsburg with Michiel and Denzel to have a farewell breakfast and we walk around the neighborhood. It’s funny how much this area has changed and I know they are impressed by the hordes of hipsters hanging around the hood. We snap some pics at the Williamsburg Waterfront and I leave them to venture into the East Village as I go back to my apartment to try to catch up on some light reading.
My only plan for after they leave is finally getting around to We the Animals by Justin Torres. I’m excited for his success as an openly gay Latino writer and have heard so many great things about his book. However, after only a few pages in, the guy I’m dating calls happy to announce that he will be off work tomorrow which means we could spend some time alone together tonight.
Once the Belgian boys are dropped off at the subway and we exchange some sad farewells, I get some food shopping out of the way and meet him back in Williamsburg for Mexican dinner at Taco Chulo.
Afterward, we stop by The Metropolitan, a gay bar inWilliamsburg, for a drink. He mentions something about his past and I catch myself joking about being a club kid drug dealer. I reminisce about the heyday of NYC nightlife and reveal the real reason I left the scene. It wasn’t just because I was getting too popular and felt I was being set up to get arrested during the Giuliani era. It was finding out that fellow dealer Angel Melendez had been killed only a week after we had finally made peace with one another. Angel sold me out once to someone I was dating and, besides the fact we competed for customers, we didn’t care much for each other. However, one night we ran into each other and shared a moment as colleagues, if you will, and fellow gay Latino native New Yorkers. By next week he had gone missing with all kinds of rumors swirling and his family posting flyers all over the city looking for him until his chopped up body was found in a trunk off the Hudson River.
The guy I’m dating stares at me silently and, the more I open up about my past, the more I’m afraid of losing him. I realize I need to shut up. It’s nice that he hasn’t read any of my work and is only familiar with whatever his friends might have heard or said about me.
I notice he makes every effort to stay on my left hand side. It’s hard enough having a conversation in a noisy, crowded bar but I am completely deaf in my right ear due to a now infamous incident I survived several years ago which resulted in the discovery of an acoustic neuroma which had to be surgically removed. As if I hadn’t already been through enough. He jokes about it trying to make light of the situation and my laughter hides the fact that I feel completely insecure on the inside about being partially handicapped. It would be nice not always having to be on the right hand side of people in order to hear what they are saying. It makes me feel inadequate and it must be annoying having to remember that you could only talk to the guy you’re dating on one side.
The worst is when you find yourself talking loud in public spaces and somebody asks you to keep it down or when you’re not quite sure if the music coming from your headphones is bothersome to those around you on the subway. People who know often forget because you look rather normal and those who don’t have no idea until you mention it. I’ve never been anything close to ‘normal’ but being half deaf for the past several years has definitely changed my life in so many ways. Yet I refuse to get a hearing aide and manage to get by without much notice.
I don’t take it for granted that he hasn’t been scared away yet and can only hope that he realizes that everything I’ve been through in the past has only made me stronger. Our upbringing and youth could not have been more different and, even now, our lives are quite distinct. However, we share a lot of common interests and seem to really like each other. He makes me laugh and I can picture myself writing poems about him. I think walking in on him singing “The Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga to Alexis one morning convinced me that this could actually work.
We slept in late before I got to up to make us breakfast. Even with the extra hour we get this morning for Daylight Savings Time and the beautiful day outside, we decide to spend more time in bed. I listen to his stories about his grandfather and father, a bit jealous that my grandfather died when I was ten and I never even met my father. It’s not like me to want to linger between the sheets but I just want to lie next to him and play with his chest hair as he tells me about his family.
We decide to finally watch a Netflix movie I’ve had for weeks gathering dust. Neither of us had ever watched it and as a gay camp classic it somehow made its way to the top of my DVD queue. We watch Mame with Lucille Ball and are both brilliantly surprised to find out Bea Arthur is in the movie. They both look like drag queens. Madonna’s look at one point in her career was obviously influenced by Lucille Ball in this movie. I had seen the Rosalind Russell version, which I liked much better, but this was a fun musical version and the best part was cuddling in bed with him and Alexis. As a gay artist, I suppose it’s important for me to know as many camp culture references as possible. It’s also interesting to see how other artists are influenced in their careers.
We only get up later in the afternoon to have Japanese dinner near his apartment in Greenpoint and I come back to Bushwick to spend my first night alone with Alexis. Alexis does not mind company but seems exceptionally happy to have the apartment and me all to himself. He’s been my muse for so long and I don’t even want to think what I’ll do when he’s not around anymore.
I confirmed an event at The Monster to promote the music video for “Legendary” which was based on a poem I wrote with the same title. That was perhaps one of the most interesting projects to work on as two worlds which had such influence on me collided to create something creative and unique. I was a big fan of “Dis Poem” by Mutabaruka, a poem used as a House track that I danced to in the clubs in the early ‘90’s. I met him briefly while filming for Russell Simmons presents Def Poetry and knew that someday I would at least try to fuse these two scenes together myself. The video has been up on YouTube for over a year now with little fanfare but it’s nice to have the work finally get some notice. We had a shoestring budget but a bunch of great and talented friends ready and willing to help put this all together. It was disappointing when LOGO decided not to air it. It was either because it was not really a song just a House beat with some words repeated throughout for good measure, or some said they still had a long way to go before featuring the transgender community as it is owned by Viacom. Whatever! It was a great experience and a lot of fun and it hopefully meant something to someone somewhere. I just have to come to terms with the fact I’m too gay for the mainstream and not mainstream enough for the gays. Someday maybe I’ll get it right.
Photo Credit: Stephen Churchill Downes for A&U magazine