August 10, 2018 at 10:40 am EST | by Kathi Wolfe
New Arceneaux essay collection finds humor in autobiography
Michael Arceneaux, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Arceneaux brings dead-pan humor and self-deprecation to his new book of essays. (Photo courtesy Atria)

‘I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé’

By Michael Arceneaux


256 pages

Maybe you’re among the unenlightened. Flea-infested hookups don’t make you smile. You don’t genuflect before Beyoncé. Don’t worry. Dive into “I Can’t Date Jesus,” a debut essay collection by writer Michael Arceneaux. You’ll emerge laughing out loud at post-hookup fleas and worshiping Beyoncé.

Literary mavens talk of  “original,” “wryly humorous” and “insightful” authors the way politicos spit out talking points. Yet with Arceneaux, no other words will do. What else can you say when a book’s dedication alone makes you check your privilege while laughing? 

“Once an old high school classmate told me … in Houston that I would end up working in Burger King,” Arceneaux writes, “because I had majored in journalism. This book is dedicated to dummies like that who don’t know when to shut the hell up.”

“Also: pay fast food workers livable wages,” he adds. 

Arceneaux, born in 1984, raised in  Houston and a Howard University graduate, is a black, Southern queer man. His funny, spot-on work has been published and heard widely.

Arceneaux’s bio is dizzying. He’s a regular contributor to sites from Essence to Into to the Root, and has written for publications from The New York Times to The Washington Post to Vogue to NPR’s Code Switch to Buzzfeed to Comedy Central Online. His fans enjoyed his political and pop culture commentary on his humor blog The Cynical Ones. Essence magazine called Arceneaux one of the top #BlackTwitter voices. He’s been featured on media outlets from MSNBC to NPR to BET to Viceland.

It’s no wonder that Arceneaux aficionados are happy to see “I Can’t Date Jesus,” a compilation of 17 of his essays, in a book. There’s the pleasure of not only reading his pieces in book form but of learning more about Arceneaux’s personal life. The volume is a memoir and commentary on being a black, Southern, queer, recovering Catholic chock full of biting, often hilarious takes on politics and pop culture.

Arceneaux grew up in a working-class family. His dad drank too much and abused his mom. His mother loved him, but believed that homosexuality goes against the teachings of Christianity and the church. Even at age 5, Arceneaux, though he didn’t have a name for it, knew he liked boys. When he and another little boy at the daycare center found that their tickling game is “fun,” Arceneaux got nervous. “Fun came at a price, however,” Arceneaux writes, “if you were caught.”

Once Arceneaux was caught behind the playground pulling his pants down in front of another boy (who responded in kind). 

“It was like show and tell: the remix,” he writes. “I knew that I had enjoyed what I was doing, but I also knew that others — namely my parents — wouldn’t share my enthusiasm.”

At age 6, Arceneaux learned what his feelings for other boys could be called. But, it wasn’t a Mister Rogers teachable moment. His Uncle Daniel (his dad’s brother) died of AIDS. In response to Daniel’s death, his father said “Fuck that faggot.”

“That slur is what will always hit me in the pit of my stomach,” Arceneaux writes. “More important, this is how I learned how being different could lead to your demise.”

Coming out for him was a long process involving awkward attempts at sex, running away from and then greeting his Howard classmates at a gay Pride parade and Beyoncé. Why is Beyoncé his “lord and garroter?”  Because, Beyoncé, who like him went to Welch Middle School in Houston, is “home” to Arceneaux. 

“Beyoncé’s stance on remaining exactly as she’s always been no matter what is happening around her,” he writes, “has instilled in me the strength to remain the Gulf Coast ratchet bird I am.” 

Arceneaux writes about the personal and the political — from racism to marriage equality to Madonna to Donald J. Trump — with David Sedaris’ blend of humor and pathos and James Baldwin’s dazzling, lacerating honesty. Woe to any white editor who tries to box him into writing about “black homophobia, AIDS, sexual racism.”

You leave “I Can’t Date Jesus” wanting more and that’s a good thing.

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