Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts monthly. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.
And we’re back, starting the new year with a bang. Sometimes it takes me a while when I’m scrolling through the new releases before I find something that really jumps out at me: “Say, maybe this zomromcom set during the Watergate break-in will be fun,” I mutter to my cat, all too often my substitute for an actual voice of reason. “Or this one, in which the minimalist prose of Jack Kerouac is combined with a shoe fetish.” This time I didn’t have to scroll very far before stumbling onto a winner. Get your membership in the Metropolitan Community Church up to date, because Gay Jesus is a queer erotic short story by Alex Asgarde presented from the perspective of our lord and savior Jesus F. Christ.
The story revolves around Jesus of Nazareth, a rabbi in his early thirties living under Roman occupation. He wanders around, preaching this and that, until the Romans crucify him and he dies. The central conceit of Gay Jesus is the question: what if Jesus’s relationship with one of his disciples, John son of Zebedee, was a romantic and physical one?
Those questions you have? I had those too. I came into this wondering what the overall vibe was going to be. The description mentions Jesus’s unique love for John, and presents the prospect of Jesus listening to his own ankles as a question of biblical history. I had the image in my head of a DaVinci Code style history mystery, in which evidence would gradually unfold of Jesus knowing suspiciously too much about sandals. By the end of the book I expected to have a cork board covered in red string where “bread and fishes” has “bread=beards=apostles? Jesus=very fish?” scrawled under it in the handwritten equivalent of a ransom note font.
Alas, it was not to be. Asgarde’s Jesus is very much the Jesus of kitsch and cliche, like unicorns or Coca Cola Santa. This is a literary figure that has been tossed into the laps of our collective cultural literacy by tradition, and you don’t ask why he’s washing somebody’s feet any more than you ask why leprechauns have pots of gold. This gives a certain randomness to the sequence of events. There’s a sermon and a mount, of course. But you’re not going to see Jesus toss a herd of pigs off a cliff, because nobody really remembers that part. There’s also a curious sort of modern agnosticism about Jesus’s ministry, but projected back onto what were presumably solid facts at one point. For example, J. C. admits that he doesn’t really know exactly what he’s preaching, or if anyone should try to know; they’re just “fables” to be loosely interpreted, like he’s a beat poet.
OK, so is it a David DeCoteau book? Is it silly exploitation with this week’s installment differentiated from last week’s installment by a picture of Jesus hastily glued over a fireman or HVAC repairman? Another disappointment: no. Asgarde does seem to feel that the particular hermeneutics of Jesus getting absolutely slammed is worth thinking seriously about. We’ll get into that in a minute, but I’ve deprived you long enough, and it’s time we get to the dicks.
Gay Jesus is rewardingly horny. As in, dudes whip it out and just start cranking hog no matter where they are or what they’re doing. For the most part, the language is clear; there is the usual thesaurification around “his manhood” and “his pole,” but aside from one injudicious use of the word “crotch” (kill it with fire!), the diction is well done, and evocative. Say what you will about “the ripe apples that were his balls,” it’s certainly an image. I think Asgarde might also have a sweat fetish, but the weirdest part is definitely the jizz tree. There’s a jizz tree in this book, and no I will not be explaining that, because to explain it to you I would have to understand it better than you do right now, and I don’t.
So we’ve got romping and rutting deities and devotees, but what does Gay Jesus have to say about religion and homosexuality? I think I have to start with the snake. The devil is a snake in this, full time. I know, I was also hoping that Asgarde was a big fan of the Call Me By Your Name music video, but no. Still, the snake, who self-identifies as The Devil, has a lot to do in this book. He’s constantly taunting Jesus while openly admitting to being the bad guy, like a Captain Planet villain. Also, it’s the snake who gives Judas the idea to betray his friend. Except Judas was already pissed because he wanted to be the one to bone Jesus. I guess gay desire giveth, and gay desire taketh away. Jesus knows the snake is up to no good, and apparently can hurt the snake by sweating on it (exhibit B), but he lets this whole betrayal play out, because his dad told him he has to.
Right, so Dad/God talks to his son from time to time, when Jesus isn’t getting the holy spirit syphened out of him. I can never predict if the things God is telling Jesus are things he already knows, or not. God drops the bombshell that Jesus has to die, and Jesus is like “the fuck?” But from the first page Jesus seems to understand at a very factual level that he is the son of God and is tasked with spreading the word across the land. The family dynamic is very matter of fact, like he’s got a divorced dad who lives in the next state over, but Zooms him all the time. The weirdest surprise (for both The Lord and yours truly) was how Jesus comes to embrace a more um-galla-galla style of Abrahamic religion. Between fuck sessions, John shows him Leviticus, apparently for the first time, and Jesus is appalled by the bits where you get to stone people for cussing or whatever. This is the level of biblical knowledge a thirteen year old doing a d’var Torah would be expected to have, but sure I guess literacy rates were lower back then. So Jesus starts a new Christianity with blackjack and hookers, and most importantly, gays. It’s just taken for granted that gay stuff is forbidden in Second Temple Judaism (though now that I think about it, maybe that’s just a commentary on Jesus’s ignorance of scripture) and Jesus wants to make all love sacred. When he comes out to his dad, there’s an awkward pause followed by a generic positive response, which… is a fantastic coming out to your divorce-guilt-riddled father simulator, but also casts some doubt on how homophobic Jehovah was in the first place.
What this all adds up to is a vague rebellion against an undefined homophobia, where the religious associations of both are based on nothing. Asgarde’s Jesus is just a horny Hebrew himbo who can’t read, who has a fun relationship with a dude and a weird relationship with a snake, and who intends to make the world better for someone, somewhere, somehow. It’s a confused mess, much like the jizz tree. What partly saves it is that the dirty parts are frank and uncluttered. We get right down to business every time, whether it’s gargling wangs on the Sea of Galilee, or getting ploughed in the desert. Gay Jesus is short, sweet, and three dollars on Kindle. If you like “Here comes gay [blank]” books, and you’ve cycled through every noun from “pirates” to “kangaroos,” this could very well be worth your time. A cautious recommendation, for the discriminating dong enthusiast.
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