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Growing Up Black, Gay And Catholic In Texas, Memoirist Put His Faith In Beyoncé
Without are a host of different reasons. And so this was your first time, and you need violated and you speak like it wasn't actually either. And it then new of virtual my journey into athletic of fully joining standout and sex and - for at least a relative more choices.
The world of this book is about as far away as possible from where you grew upYonkers, right outside New York Cityand the New York world you've lived in your whole adult life. Where did this book come from? Several different things came together over time and snowballed into what became the character and the book. I wrote a first novel that didn't get published, and some of the reaction from publishers was that they just didn't like the main character. So I thought, What if I wrote a character like Gary, whose big problem is that he wanted to be liked? Then once when I was traveling with ERS, I thought, what if we weren't a theater company but an international terrorist organization posing as a theater company?
So I started this story about a mime troupe that had a residence at an amusement park, and that Gary was involved in the group somehow. Then that mostly got removed and it became Gary's coming-of-age story. But mainly the book is about a guy who desperately wants to lose his homosexuality and who thinks God is forsaking him in not letting him overcome his gayness. It seemed kind of an unfashionable thing to write about, but when I thought about it -- I mean, I have a certain friend whose family is from New Jersey, not the South, and yet they're Pentecostal and he was not out to them even though he was Even in places where we say we're enlightened, like the northeast, it's always somewhat of a struggle to be raised by heterosexual parents -- even the ones who profess to be okay with it.
But why did you write this big pathetic mess of a character? There are a bunch of different reasons. He's kind of a strange negative image of me, because I'm not all that interested in writing about myself. I was raised in the north and I wasn't raised any religion and only went to church for weddings and funerals. But I'm like a lot of black Americans in the northeast in that I'm only a generation removed from the south. My mother was from Georgia and my father's family was from the Carolinas. There was no real Jesus presence in your childhood? On my mother's side of the family, art is much more their religion than Christianity. Did you ever want not to be gay? I have to say, when I sort of figured it out for myself in high school, it kind of turned me on.
My dad would take us down to Greenwich Village all the time. I never had that sense that a lot of gay people talk about of being the only one. I knew it was something I didn't want to deal with in high school, but I pretty much decided I would the second I got to college. Within days of being there, I had lost my virginity. Still, why were you drawn to writing the journey of this big schlubby guy? At first I thought I was a writer who wrote out of a profound understanding of the world because I'd done so much nonfiction. But then I realized that I got a different kind of inspiration when I wrote as someone filled with a sense of confusion and wonder about the world.
For some reason, that felt a lot more like who I was. A lot of the book reminded me of A Confederacy of Dunces -- the sweetness along with the outrageousness and a lot of the subversiveness. That's one of my favorite books. I'm sure some of that probably filtered in. Who would play Gary Gray in the movie? A younger, fatter Forest Whittaker maybe. You did a lot of research on ex-gay conversion camps for the book and almost went undercover at one. And your father told you he died of AIDS because he was gay. Your mother told you he died of AIDS because he shot heroin. Who did you believe?
So my dad didn't necessarily directly tell me. He just yelled a slur. Thankfully, while I was writing, I had a very honest conversation with my sister. I later learned that that was particularly just my dad's way of communicating his hurt and that my dad actually probably didn't have as big an issue maybe as I thought. But at the time, all I heard was the word faggot. That's all I heard repeatedly so - and a lot of gay bashing. So in the heat of the moment, his anger, however he chose to handle it - I believed him. I just believed him because he was so angry. And one thing that I will say about my parents, particularly my father, is I found so much about them largely through their fights.
When my dad is his angriest and when he would drink, that is when the truth would come out about a lot of things - and not to say that my mom is a liar. She's usually very direct and blunt. But she was always more protective. So like, it wasn't that difficult a decision to figure out who's telling the truth. I'm like, when he's mad, he's going off. That's what he does. And so I believed him. And that's when my paranoia about AIDS started and being gay. Oh, one more thing about your mother - when she told you that your uncle actually died because he shot heroin, do you think she already knew that you were gay and wanted to protect you from the fear of AIDS?
Or do you think that she thought like being gay was worse than shooting heroin, and she wanted to protect you from the fact that your uncle was gay? Well, it's interesting about my mom. I don't think she did the false equivalence. But I do think her belief in her religion steers so much of her thought process on things like this. So I think she let that drive her. As far as my mom knowing, in hindsight - actually, not in hindsight - I knew as a child. My mom clocked me. I remember one time we were driving home from school. And out of nowhere, my mom just, in her gray Impala, was like, yeah, Michael, I know some people probably make fun of the way you walk and talk.
And I'm in the back of a car like, girl, no, they don't. I mean, maybe a few people, but it's not like a thing - not like you seem to think. But, you know, as I got older, I'm like, oh, she probably saw very early - like, oh, here we go. I got a gay child. Like, she's been around a lot of gay people in spite of all this. Like, I'm sure she clocked me very early. But we didn't - we never talked about it. It wasn't until I brought it to her attention that she addressed it directly. But there were little hints along the way that I think she put - she picked up what I was putting down. But the thing is she picked up really early that you were probably gay.
But when you actually came out to her - and you did this after writing, you know, an article that you were pretty sure she would see - she didn't accept it. So how do you kind of reconcile that she knew and was able to articulate it - although she withheld it from you, she knew really early on that you were gay, that that was just your nature. At the same time, she couldn't accept it. That initial revelation and her reaction was very painful to me. As to why she didn't bring it up sooner, I think - my mom comes from - it's a very kind of very older black, particularly Southern kind of way where you don't really dive into the personal like that.
You keep your business to yourself. You particularly keep your business if you think it's something like being gay, which she thinks is an affliction of God or whatever.
So I don't think she wanted to tackle it directly because it wasn't something that she Fat black gay to address. And I don't think it's something that she wanted to gat particularly because, if I run blac, mouth about it, then that might be a Fay of her. And maybe that makes her feel a way. I do know she loves me. I do know she doesn't approve. And to be honest, I'm not sure how this book will go over. I've been wondering that Fqt. How your parents will deal with your book. My dad is not going to read it. I know that he's not going to read it. He might hear something. And at best, he'll go nlack my sister to maybe communicate a concern. For me and my dad now, we've kind of reached a peace accord as much Fat black gay humanly possible.
I've learned to forgive him for things. I reach out to him when I can. On that front, I've done the best that I can do. My mother is a bit trickier. I actually didn't tell her the title of the book until I turned in the first draft. Fst she didn't react that well. I just need to like - it's not - I'm not making fun of Jesus. And she's like OK. And she said, well, you know how I feel. And I just - I couldn't do it. And then there was something earlier in the year where I was really excited about something like that's related to the book - like another dream that I have, a part of this. And her response was, well, if that's how you want to live your life.
And after that, I just decided that I'm not talking to her about this anymore. And it's not like I'm afraid of her. I'm just - I've been wanting to have a conversation with her for years. I've wanted to have, like, a theological conversation. I've wanted to like maybe have people come in and maybe talk to us. Like, I've really tried to make some real efforts in trying to find some kind of resolution. But I don't think one is available. And I think with her I'm worried how she will react, but I knew I needed to write this. And I knew I needed to do this because one thing I wanted to do was kind of like break the cycle of silence that both my parents have perpetuated.
And it's not something I wanted to continue because it brought us all so much pain. So why would I continue to be silent? Why would I allow you to let me feel like something is wrong with me? So you mentioned your mother really hates the title of your book. The title of your book is "I Can't Date Jesus. What does that title mean to you? The title's about her laughter. So that's the thing. Like, despite my own kind of misgivings or concerns, like, doubts about religion, I really do respect the role that faith plays in people. I think that's one reason why so many Christians still like me.
I really - like, for my mom, my mom is the strongest person I know. Her faith is what has kept her alive. And I respect that, and I admire that. But what she doesn't seem to understand is that the faith that she was raising may keep her alive, but it makes me want to die or, at the very least, not lead a full life. And what point is living if you can't lead a complete, full life?
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And so the chapter is named after an exchange that we had. So I had already told her previously that I was gay. And then we left it alone, and then it came up again. And we had this conversation where she says, I know that you're born gay. I know that you can't help it. But if you have sex and get hit by a bus, I don't know where you're going to go. My mom can be morbid. And my mom - when I was going on, I was like, well, girl, I can't date Jesus. And so that is when the title happened. Like, I think the thing about religion sometimes that does bother me is that I find my mom to be such a smart person, such a very thoughtful person.
Like, I wouldn't be as analytical as I tend to be, and critical, if not for her. But I think in order for her and for her faith to keep her going, she has to kind of suppress, maybe, her better urges. I mean, like, it's like you Fat black gay that I'm gay. You know that I can't help it. But you don't want me to act on my natural urges on the basis of a maybe - that if - I don't know - a bus hits me or some - I don't know. A bike might take me out in New York That I might die and maybe go to hell, which is just - I mean, I'm sure that makes all the sense in the world to her and quite a few people.
But it just sounds so ridiculous to me. So I'm like, so I should just let all of that area down there just turn into, like, I don't know the cold, whatever, and not have a full life? Like, why would I do that? What sense does that make to me? And so, yeah, I can't date Jesus. I would love to kick it with him maybe at a bar. But other than that, we're good. If you're just joining us, my guest is Michael Arceneaux, and he's a writer and advice columnist. And now he has a new memoir, called, "I Can't Date Jesus: And if you're just joining us, my guest is Michael Arceneaux.
He's a writer who contributes to The Root and Essence. He's an advice columnist for the site Into. And he has a new memoir called "I Can't Date Jesus: And, you know, kind of always has since the Destiny's Child era. So you know, at the risk of stating the obvious, what does she mean to you? And what did she mean to you when you were young and trying to figure out who you were and to understand your own sexuality? Oh, Terry, I'm about to testify. Beyonce is, as I write in the book, my lord and gyrator - the end, the beginning, the body roll. She's everything to me. Like for me, it was like love at first south side.
And that's the dance that they were doing at the beginning at the "No, No, No" video. They were from Houston, Texas. And they looked like people that I knew. I had just missed Beyonce. We went to the same middle school. But she was like one grade out. And then they got that label deal. So you know, that was my chance to be her bestie, and it didn't happen. But one thing I initially just loved about them is that they were from Houston. So we didn't have groups like that blow up from Houston, Texas. And then now - I got to make sure I don't sound like Yolanda Saldivar. But there's just always been something about Beyonce that I've been drawn to.
I love the way she talks. And also I love the fact that, you know, she and her family is from Louisiana, moved to Houston. So we have that shared thing. Just the way she sounds makes me happy. But specifically with my sexuality and me being at most comfortable myself, there was this album - the "B'Day" album. And one thing about Beyonce now is that, in recent years, everyone talks about how pro-black she is and what that means. And I think that's more so because it was, I guess, outwardly intellectual. But what pro-black often means to me too is that this is a Southern black girl who was very country - like country as hell.
And she owns every bit of that.
She is very much from Houston, Texas. Like even if you don't necessarily get the references, as someone from Houston, I do. So to me, she's always been subversively sneaking a lot of subcultures into the mainstream. Like for "B'Day," for example, those are queer black men who are choreographing the stuff. There's like slang in there. One thing that I've always wanted to do - and even actually in the journey in trying to get this book sold, that there was this idea that because I was both black and gay that I was niche, Fat black gay I was very limited, that I didn't have as much appeal as someone else and that I often would have to dilute myself to be able to reach the masses.
When the biggest pop star in the world is a country black girl named Beyonce from Houston, Texas, who outside of maybe the first half of the "I Am Sasha Fierce" album where she did Fat black gay kind of, like, Sarah McLaughlin thing, which is fine, just not my - you know, I want to bop to Beyonce usually - but she's pulled the masses to Fat black gay being exactly who she is this entire time. And for me, that has just been so inspirational. And, again, with the "B'Day" album - you know, this is around the time that I came out, and I was starting to go to clubs. I felt a little out of place 'cause people were clearly more advanced than me, more comfortable with their bodies.
But that album was a very big hit in the gay black clubs. And I remember actually going to the bar, and I was like, just have another drink, and chill out, and have fun. Stop worrying so much about how you dance, how you look, how you talk, your mannerisms. Just enjoy the moment. And through that album and just dancing to it, particularly, like, the bonus tracks that they kept playing at the gay club specifically, I just felt freer. And so for so many reasons, but I feel, like, connection to her. Like, she makes me feel really good about myself.
And I know that might sound whatever to certain people, but, you know, there's always someone in your life that is influencing you. And even if I don't know her, she's been very impactful in my life. She let me know that I could be myself, and she let me know that being myself could reach as many people as possible, that you don't have to dilute, again, who you are to reach everyone, that you can just be yourself and be very good at what you do, and then the people will come to you. And that's a lesson I'm going to carry with me for the rest of my life. Well, I think you've not only testified to the importance of Beyonce in your life but also to the importance of popular culture in the lives of a lot of us in helping us understand ourselves and the world we live in.
So thanks for that. He left the church about 16 years ago, unwilling to remain in an institution that didn't accept him for who he was. He writes for The Root and Essence and has an advice column on the site INTO, which describes itself as a digital magazine for the modern queer world. So we've talked about how when you were young, realizing you were gay, not having people you could really talk to about it, you turned to popular culture for, you know, images of gay men and for a better understanding of that and for - just for things you could really just connect to on some deep level.
You came of age during the era of HIV. Your uncle, the first person who you knew of who was gay, died of AIDS, so you just grew up naturally scared of what consequences sex could have for you. You had an article a few years ago, from, like,that you've incorporated into your book that was headlined then, "At 30, I'm Finally Tackling My Intense Fear Of Sex. I just immediately saw sex as something that could kill you. So it's something I've had to really wrestle with. I think - I just think there came a point that I couldn't deny myself pleasure anymore. And there were always methods of safe sex. I think I just kind of develop some early trauma and never really tackled it.
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And it controlled my life far longer than it should have because the reality is it hasn't changed as a queer black man. Like, there's still a problem, but now I'm just safer and less afraid, or at least Fah really, really try, Terry. So did Faf have anybody to tell you about safe sex when you were coming of age sexually? My mom at 12, as I was casually walking blackk the kitchen to gayy something to eat and Blaack think - was it - it wasn't "Donahue" - "Oprah" - one of those - she's just like, yeah, you know, she was explaining how to put on a condom on a banana.
And I was like, girl, I'm 12, and I just started getting breasts and I'm chubby. Who am I having sex with? But yes, she definitely let me know how to have sex. I just - I think we just both knew it wasn't with the person she wanted me to have sex with eventually. Was she telling you about condoms for safety or for birth control? Maybe that was not for birth control. Well, my mom is also an RN who takes care of new mothers, so she sees plenty of moms of all ages, so that's always on her mind - no grandbabies around her house, at least not from a teenage boy. So what do you think her motives were in showing you the condom?
I think she just wanted me to be safe. My mom told me about sex when I was, like, 3.