Michael Arceneaux

Alicia Menendez interviews Michael Arceneaux, author of the bestselling memoir, “I Can’t Date Jesus.”

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The title of this book says it all it is.

I Can't Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race and Other Reasons I've Put My Faith in Beyonce.

I asked Michael about what inspired the title.

Thank you so much for joining me.

Thank you so much for having me.

I think it would be easy to read the title of this book and assume that you were deeply irreverent about religion right when in reality you have great respect for faith.

I do.

A lot of the book is about forging your identity and expressing your sexuality to live a complete full life and if you grow up particularly in a church like the Catholic church you might grow with a lot of resentment and if you're a queer person who's been made to feel isolated you carry with you a lot of contempt and a lot of it is justified.

But I think for me just knowing how much religion has.

Helped my mom I love my mom dearly.

But this was in part for me and she is the inspiration actually the title I Can't Date Jesus.

We were having a conversation as you know that you were born gay but I shouldn't act on it because I might get hit by a bus and go to hell because apparently it's such a it's such a grave sin and it's just like well girl I can't date Jesus what do you want me to do.

I didn't want to be angry at religion.

I think.

I let go of the anger about my dad.

I let go of this anger I had with my mom and I want to let go of my anger towards religion because I just felt like if I carried all that anger with me if I didn't tame my inner Chris Brown it would kind of like devour me.

And I said this is someone like you're either going to follow down that path you're going to forge on and figure it out.

And I chose to figure it out.

You were a devout Catholic.

I was a devout Catholic myself.


Because I was raised.

I was indoctrinated well.

And I said that with all due respect in the world I think religion is very important.

I think it has a lot of value.

It doesn't really fit in my life anymore.

But at the time yes I was very much ingrained in the church to the point as I write that I've got approach with a preferred at 20.

Not a little lightweight recruiting.

So you have a pivotal life experience at the age of six.

We have an uncle who dies of AIDS and in many ways your family's reaction to that gives you a window into how they feel about difference right.

So it's 1990 around the same time that I was at a daycare center and you know people play doctor.

I played but I've played them more so a little boys during that time so.

I honestly didn't have the language I had.

I knew I was more attracted to boys and girls because I try to girls and it just wasn't as fun for me.

And while I was understanding that my uncle died of AIDS and I as I write in the book how I went to the funeral and in the aftermath my father had a visceral reaction of how to describe it.

And my mom.

Didn't necessarily confirm his sexuality because my dad did with more than enough but she put into context because he did of a drug addiction.

But he was also gay.

But this is like 1990.

So the reactions to AIDS were a testament to the Toms.

But when you're six years old you know you like boys and you hear a slur that speaks to people like that.

That's all I remember in that mean came up when a reference and said Did you hope that you would change.

Yes my.

Literally is to pray it away.

I mean thankfully I didn't have any.

My parents didn't pick up on it that much.

I mean they picked up on I believe but they didn't want to send me to some kind of camp.

When you grow up thinking that you can either die or go to hell and around this is also when you only see Pedro Zamora he'd you know he died of AIDS.

I see films like Philadelphia.

He dies of AIDS.

I see it live in color.

The sketch with mental film it's men who are overly feminine and they're just mobbed.

Those are my only point of reference as to what it means to be gay.

So it's like you die you go to hell and you're shamed and then you start living your life again and you come out to some of your friends yes.

But it's five years before between when you start coming out and when you finally tell your mom yes.

How did you break it down for her.

I mean being gay was a struggle for me.

But the chaos in my home kind of took precedence over that so I was just a lot of.

Mixed emotions and ask because your dad was drunk or my I was a drinker or my parents would get into arguments my dad could become very volatile.

I love my father dearly but at the time I was afraid of him.

There And so you know beyond being gay to be honest even about a girlfriend.

It would have taken me a lot to.

Let my parent inside of that because I think they were my point of reference where I didn't.

I never want to marry or be with anyone I saw companionship was it was a detriment to someone than anything.

But when I was 21 I came out to my friends because my friend had become like my chosen family.

I came out to my brother and sister later it was very important that I came out to my sister because she's nine year old her and I'm obsessed with my sister.

And finally at 25 I came out because around the time there were two young black boys who were waiting to have committed suicide because they were being bullied in school for being perceived to be gay or gay.

And so I wrote about my experiences and this is pre Twitter.

So the word viral wasn't really used but the article was everywhere for it that day with the subsequent day which is still a big thing for like the Internet.

So at the time I didn't really want to write about my life I want to keep that part to myself and just so other people.

And so I felt like it was at that point like this is bigger than me and.

Even it was only 25 but I had a platform or even a teensy one like if I could use it for the greater good and I might as well use it and so then I had to tell my mom and love my mom.

She had the kind of reaction.

It's hard because I'm so protective my mother.

She's the most amazing person.

I don't know anyone stronger at the same time.

Her religion.

Has kept her alive.

Her interpretation of religion pithily Catholicism just in general makes me not want to live or at least that's how I was raised in the church and the churches overall teachings about my kind.

I don't find it to be like a safe space for me.

So what I'm hearing is.

With your parents you're living in a space that is neither acceptance Nor rejection.

And I wonder what it is like to live in that space with the people you love most and that's that think so.

So often I think in the narratives about you know people coming out.

It's usually these extra each extreme you're either welcomed with open arms and your mom is talking with you at the Pride Parade or she sends you to I don't know a camp or she just doesn't talk to you at all.

So what about that middle that I didn't realize a lot more people lived in than I thought.

Because love you have reached out to me to say they understand the way I write about my parents is that I wanted to make peace with just how we grew up and made peace with.

Why they feel the way they feel about my sexuality.

Actually thanks to my sister I got an education about my father.

You know my dad is actually less bothered about it than my mom is.

I think you know some of you have to create your own closure.

I would love to have that conversation with my mom.

I don't think it's ever going to happen.

I would love to have that conversation with my dad Wiberg known as how it made us feel when we were in this house.

But you have to meet people where they are.

And I don't think.

And I don't mean to be insulting.

I don't think.


They don't have the language to have the kind of conversation I want to have and know that they're willing to have it.

I've taken qualities from my parent that I really like a game of the strength or humor or candor My dad just I like this great energy and he knows how to charm people I've taken things and he's such a hard worker.

I take things from my parents that I can a part of my life but the things that I.

Know didn't want to repeat.

I'm good.

I think I've changed.

Do you feel that he's created that closure for yourself.

I think I have created as much closure as I can in this situation.

I think.

In a few years I get a call me like I finally read it.

This is how I feel.

That would be great.

I actually don't think that's going to happen.

I think what can happen is that.

I can you know.

As I write in the book.

I can call my dad to see how you're doing in the car what I love you.

And he says it back but that's already better than relationship with his dad.

I can.

Talk to my mom.

Maybe not about everything which still bothers me to some extent but it just it kind of is what it is.

She loves me as best she knows how to and her heart of hearts.

She thinks she's protecting me.

And frankly that's probably as good as it's going to get if I get a man or something we'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

But I think that's a lot better than a lot of people I know because they don't even get that.

Your book.



It's funny it's probing.

The writing is excellent.

But the real miracle is that you got it published.

Yes yes it is.

What was the feedback you were getting when you were going around trying to sell this.

was this idea that you're black and you're gay so you're at ultra niche.

And I also think typically when people consume otherness especially if you're a black person it is largely in terms of pathology as it's so awful to be you.

And so my book is like a mix of humor and patios.

I don't pretend to come from the nicest background.

But I don't write about in this way that I'm trying to invite pity.

Again that's typically how.

Particularly my kind is consumed and kind of being gay black country all that you don't.

Again I'm not really supposed to be in these spaces because one person told me flatly in so many words it was where we got white people didn't care about black people in black who were too homophobic.

And I reject both of those notions because I don't think black people and morasses more homophobic than anyone.

A lot of gay queer men have reached out to me but I've gotten a lot of e-mails from my white evangelicals from older people younger people people of all types of backgrounds.

I knew I had wide appeal.

I think.

They didn't.

A lot of them didn't think this act would have as much appeal because of the identity.

You realize now what your success means.

I mean for you to end up on the New York Times bestseller list is a great personal achievement.

I don't know.

I'm very grateful that I made the life you're not supposed to care that you made a list but I knew what I wanted to.

I wanted my money the next home office put it out there.

I also just wanted to prove that I could be myself.


Sell books because so often black people people who are not white anyone you're told to just kind of dilute some of your culture in order to kill other people cause I think it'll scare folks off.

Like I wrote a country black book and.

It's with the references I like.

And if you don't know where you'll look it up from our book from White author of I don't know something I use my Googles.

And so you have been using the Googles and they still like the book because it's I think it's funny and well done.

But there was this idea that I really just thought I couldn't go further than I don't know priapic of the month.

I usually just act like I'm the party of like I have a little pill for everybody does the story you tell about yourself not the story that other people tell about you.

I am grateful for anyone that has helped me spread the word about the book.

But at the same time I do question some of the things I've seen because what did you really read the book or did you really take it in because one person tried to describe me as poor I didn't say I was poor or working class.

That I mean like you I'm from the hood but I'm like.

And I think even just respecting my parents is like you are trying to put me that poor downtrodden Poblete gay black boy in the south looking at cows and Catholic and wishing he could just have a man because all these black people are so awful and told me going to hell.

I've already I've seen some of that already and I've had like and sometimes in real time shift that like slowed down.

That's not what I meant.

But no.

I think I told my story exactly I wanted to.

Tell it.

I think for the most part people have.

In the press have.

Led with what I said.

And the reality is much more complex.

As one of the things that you talk about very openly that I wish more people talked about is the reality of student debt that makes the choices that we make.

How you get to spend your book advance.

Yeah I'll be honest because of my private student loans and the way they're set up I haven't really gotten a chance to enjoy the moment or taken the moment is everyone is saying it's like I have a book to promote but I also have to be writing because I need payday loans because I don't live in New York Times bestselling author who defaults on his loans.

Life is changing very rapidly.

But at the same time I carried a big wagon on my back and it has not changed overnight because now more people know who I am.

I want to expand on that and really speak to I think with a lot of millennials in particular going through because so much of the narrative is we avocado toast and we're not buying homes that were ruined the economy.

We don't go to chain restaurants in malls or the like.

We're the fault of everything but no one is talking about that.

Most of us were told in order to attain social mobility we need to do X Y Z and if we took out all this debt it'll pay off because you'll get that that and the other none of those things really exist.

But a lot of us are going through it and we're also out of the 30s.

Yeah I think people here millennial and they think that we're all children.

Yeah I'm 34 now.

I I know now that I'm going to be OK.

But the reality is is that I'm taking this long.

It shouldn't have been this difficult.

That debt is just so much.

It literally alters how you see yourself and how your life goes.

I'm depressed not just talking about it because as I mentioned the book I should have been escort in college.

This honor from Olguin now if there is someone watching particularly young person particularly young person of color who the way they are.

And the way they has been taught to be are in conflict.

What do you want them to know.

If he were other you are going to be told your entire life to conform.

The thing about conformity is particularly you're a black person or a queer person or a combination or just again any other that no matter how much you conform.

If someone had an innate prejudice about you there's nothing that you can do to alter that.

It doesn't matter how you speak to them and how you dress it doesn't matter.

Target doesn't matter right.

Doesn't matter you perform.

None of that matters because if they have this ignorance and contempt for you based on this nothing you can do you can shake that.

So you might as well just be yourself and be the best you that you can be and focus on the work whatever it is and let that carry you through.

It might take longer.

It might be harder.

It might drive you insane but when you get to the point where you can fully be yourself and be given opportunity to do that it will feel more rewarding.

I wrote the book I wanted to write not the book people wanted for me.

So if there's anything you can take from me to a young person watching is to be yourself and be the best you can be because no matter what you change to someone dumb they're going to be dumb.

You can't control that.

Michael thanks so much for being here.

Thank you so much for having me.

It has been an honor and a full circle moment.

About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane Amanpour interviews Jerry Brown, Governor of California; Lisa Brennan-Jobs, author of “Small Fry” and daughter of Steve Jobs; and Paul Krugman Nobel Prize-winning Economist and New York Times columnist. Alicia Menendez interviews Michael Arceneaux, author of “I Can’t Date Jesus.”