endless sex and fierce, shady egos.
Emanuel and I discussed Christ Like’s
resurrection and what gets him going
as a gay Latino writer.

CV: I wasn’t living in New York in the
1990s, but remember catching
glimpses of your fierce, gay street
warrior characters on my frequent
trips back. What do you think was the
allure of engaging in crime, for
minority, inner-city queer kids? The
1990s are documented as being a
time of economic expansion, but not
for everyone, right?

EX: Growing up in a city like [1970s-
1980s] New York exposes one to far
more violence than say growing up
in Beverly Hills. Developing a thick
skin is crucial for survival wherever
you grow up, but for minority inner-
city youth, options are sometimes
limited, so crime has a natural
appeal. Rebellion is in the air and queer youth are already supposedly going to
www.ambiente.us  JUNE | JUNIO 2009

Emanuel Xavier on Growing Up, the Ballroom Days and the
Resurrection of Christ Like
by Charlie Vázquez

I met Emanuel Xavier shortly after moving back to my native New York City in 2006 and I’
m constantly floored by his gentle and sincere demeanor, considering all the horrors
he’s survived as a former hustler, drug dealer, and victim of sexual abuse. The
charismatic and prolific Mr. Xavier has crafted the self-published poetry volume Pier
Queen, the much-acclaimed Americano (Suspect Thoughts, 2002), edited the
Bullets and Butterflies: queer spoken word poetry (Suspect Thoughts,
2005) and
Mariposas: A Modern Anthology of Queer Latino Poetry (Floricanto, 2008)—
as well as the titan erotica collection
Best Gay Erotica 2008 (Cleis Press, 2007). Xavier
is celebrating the ten-year anniversary reprinting of his 1999 breakthrough novel
(Rebel Satori 2009), a semi-autobiographical account of the myriad difficulties
plaguing “Mikey X”, his literary doppelganger.
Christ Like follows Mikey’s labyrinthine
journey; from dealing with his teenage homosexuality to being introduced to the 1990s
Manhattan “pier” and “ballroom” cultures—with all of their prickly side dishes of
muscular heartthrobs, awkward heroes, plentiful drugs,
hell. Throw in a broken childhood, a dash of prejudice, and the hustle and bustle of one
of the most infamous cities of the world and self-destruction is quite seductive. The
1990s may have been a great economic time, but not for those marginalized because of
skin color or sexuality.  

CV: I take it that the ballroom scene still exists to a degree? How involved are you and
how different is it nowadays, as compared to the 1990s?

EX: The ballroom scene is very much still alive. Like any community, great leaders have
passed away or moved on, but there’s always going to be someone ready to step into
the limelight. It’s just different because there are more safe spaces, visible role models,
and opportunities to communicate and create relationships for queer youth. There will
always be, however, a need for support and self-expression. Trying to carve out a niche
for myself as a writer does not, unfortunately, lend itself to being more actively involved
in the ballroom scene. But I like to think that pursuing my dreams might inspire
someone in the ballroom scene to recognize that there is more to life than simply
winning a trophy for walking a runway.  

CV: You mention (in the book’s introduction) your insecurity as a fledgling writer when
Christ Like together ten years ago. How do you feel about it now? My theory is
that a great storyteller is a great storyteller, period.

EX: I had no formal training or experience except for a self-published poetry collection. I
was written off as a ‘flash in the pan’ and I’ve never had an agent to guide my career. I
only had thick skin to survive the critics and convinced myself that this book was worth
publication. Before some privileged white artist stepped in to exploit my life, I wanted to
share my own experiences. They probably would have reaped more benefits than I ever
would, but I do feel grateful to have been genuinely welcomed by the queer literary
scene, let alone having gotten this book published. I think it’s incredible when you get
the chance as a writer to revise something you put out in haste, because you were given
a unique opportunity. I don’t think I changed it much, just tweaked it here
and there, and I’m excited about giving it a second chance.

CV: Any advice for young, aspiring writers whose odds seem against them?

EX: (Laughs) I always get that question. Nobody wants to hear that you should just be
passionate about your work because there is little-to-no money made from publishing
for queer writers, especially of color. Unless you could be the next E. Lynn Harris or get
your book optioned for film like Sapphire’s “Push”, it’s best to keep writing for the sake
of documenting our histories and enjoy whatever comes from it without further
expectations. The greatest reward is inspiring others to share their own voices. Anything
else that comes along is that much more appreciated. I was supposed to end up a
washed up pier queen, but I was just in Belgium for a queer literary kinship symposium!
I suppose I could say that my life is a testament that anything is possible, no matter
what limitations are imposed on you by others.  

CV: So tell us what we can expect from Emanuel Xavier in the future.

EX: I have a new poetry collection coming out this fall and, if things work out, I might
have other opportunities for reaching a wider audience. I’m still as ambitious now as I
was when I first started. The only difference is that I no longer have to prove I could
change my life around and that I am serious about becoming a writer.

Amen, hermano.
Christ Like can be purchased at the Rebel Satori store: www.rebelsatori.com/shop
Photo by: © Shirley Miranda-Rodriguez, Somos Arte, 2009   www.somosarte.com

CLICK HERE for more Charlie Vázquez

Copyright 2009|Ambiente.  Do not reproduce without prior authorization.

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