Thursday, July 26, 2018

Book Review: "I Can't Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I've Put My Faith in Beyoncé" by Michael Arceneaux

"It's often said that knowing who you are, or at the very least possessing a sneaking suspicion of such early in life, is a blessing. The people who share this sentiment need to write it on a piece of paper, ball it up, and then proceed to pour barbecue sauce all over it as they eat it. Early self-awareness is a blessing only if who you are comes with a support system and an education. If you don't have those, it's easy to find yourself feeling stuck and sullen. I learned a certain part of my identity very early, but it was met with a near-instant confirmation of how unwelcome that part of my identity was to those surrounding me."

At turns poignant, sharply insightful, and utterly hilarious, I Can't Date Jesus is Michael Arceneaux's collection of essays about what it's like to be a young black man growing up knowing you're gay but trying to do everything to hide it from your ultra-religious mother, your homophobic father, and a society that embraces masculinity and toughness. It's a book about self-acceptance, self-worth, and the need to live your life on your own terms, no matter what others may think or expect.

Arceneaux approaches each aspect of his life with humor and sensitivity, and a healthy dose of self-deprecation. From being recruited for the priesthood at a time when he wasn't willing to accept who he was to numerous attempts to date (or even just hook up), from coming out to friends, family, and his mother, to his struggles with self-esteem (especially his hair), he doesn't play it all for laughs, but he's not afraid to tell it like it is—even his encounters which left him attacked by fire ants and maybe even fleas.

"The pattern that required my real attention was my turning to sexually confused men for sexual exploration. It was like my turning to someone who can't figure out 'there,' 'they're,' and 'their' to edit your essay."

The book delves deeper than simply exploring a man's journey to find himself and his place in the world. It's also a look at our current political situation, as well as a paean to his ultimate savior, Beyoncé. With each essay he makes you laugh, but he also makes you feel and he makes you think about things a little bit differently than you might have when you started reading.

There were times when this book absolutely clicked for me, times when I thought, "Yep, that happened to me," or felt the same embarrassment or emotions that Arceneaux recounted. At other times I couldn't quite identify, since while I faced my share of bullying and disapproval related to my sexuality when I was growing up and moving into adulthood, those feelings weren't also couched in the expectations of an entire race or the devotion of religion.

Arceneaux's voice is so vivid in this book; it almost felt like he was reading the essays to me at times. (I'd imagine if he reads his own audiobook it would be quite fun to listen to.) While he has faced many challenges in his life, in part, they made him the insightful, emotionally astute, and funny-as-hell person he is today, and I'm thankful he was willing to share his story with us.

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