Channeling Beyonce

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Tuesday October 23, 2018
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I Can't Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I've Put My Faith in Beyonce by Michael Arceneaux; Atria Books, $17

Houston native Michael Arceneaux's debut memoir "I Can't Date Jesus" is bold, brassy, and unapologetically frank. Nothing related to the self-admitted "recovering Catholic," blogger, and media columnist's life is sugarcoated here. Instead, it's open and honest, hilarious and bitingly real. It's the kind of memoir that can be read speedily, but packs in the memorable life lessons and the laughs.

A collection of 17 personal essays, the book opens with the author's conservative religious upbringing and the torturous years dealing with his burgeoning homosexual feelings. When his drug-addled uncle died of AIDS in 1990, which revealed his father's staunchly homophobia attitude, it also instilled fear in Arceneaux as he tried to understand his own same-sex attractions in the face of a Catholic-Southern childhood and fiercely religious yet understanding mother. This fear kept him from openly expressing his feelings with other young men, and brought him face-to-face with a recruiting priest's "sales pitch on why I ought to consider making a white collar a permanent staple of my wardrobe."

As he grew up, idolizing and lusting after screen actors like Ryan Phillippe (his "ass played a pivotal, defining role in my development"), the author experimented with other boys at Howard University, but never officially came out as gay all at once. Instead, Arceneaux dipped his feet into the boy pond in stages including trips to gay clubs, awkwardly fumbling sexual encounters, and interning at MTV.

In his relocations from Houston to Los Angeles and then New York City, he finally grew into his own identity, accepted himself, and found the courage to live freely, without regrets. From this point on, Arceneaux's knack for humor and witty prose begins to color the narrative. Sections on sex, "learning how to ho and date," why "men are fucking awful," and trips to "wildly unwelcoming" black barbershops hilariously fall into step with pop culture's effect on his self-acceptance, tolerance, and personal pride. Finally, in Chapter 15, Arceneaux explains his personal obsession with Beyonce, and why she has become his ultimate muse as well as his self-professed "lord and gyrator."

Sharing his "gay black man" perspectives on diversity, gay marriage, black homophobia, and sexual racism for media outlets may have held little excitement for the budding journalist, but these introspective articles began a career which remains prominent to this day. By committing his history, loves, and disappointments to the page, Arceneaux wants readers to discover their true selves, and to allow that identity to shine. Collectively, his essays are about "unlearning every damaging thing I've seen and heard about my identity, and allowing myself the space to figure out who I am and what that means on my terms."