Michael Arceneaux says he was all about Beyoncé for years before that was cool.
“Long before you other folks banded together to launch the BeyHive, I was setting the stones for the building that housed our meetings with the other true believers,” Arceneaux writes in his new book, I Can’t Date Jesus. Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé.
Arceneaux, a 34-year-old Houston native, attended the same middle school as Beyoncé. But he says it’s their intense, shared beliefs about being true to themselves that makes him such a BeyLiever.
“Choosing to stand firm in who you are and the culture that shaped you is a testament to caring about Blackness, Black culture, and Black people,” Arceneaux writes in the book. “Beyoncé’s stance on remaining exactly as she’s always been, no matter what is happening around her, has instilled in me the strength to remain the Gulf Coast ratchet bird I am.”
In addition to Beyoncé, Arceneaux has written about culture, sexuality, religion, race, and other topics for outlets including the New York Times, The Guardian, New York Magazine, Complex, The Root, and Essence. And he has appeared on MSNBC, VH1, NPR, Viceland, and SiriusXM, among other media outlets. He champions young people “who feel both marginalized and denied the chance to pursue their dreams.”
Arceneaux, who identifies as gay, tells OutSmart that I Can’t Date Jesus is the book he wishes he had growing up. He hopes it will make people laugh and think. He also hopes it will resonate with readers who have struggled with their identity, as that is unquestionably his story.
These days, Arceneaux lives in Harlem and visits Houston occasionally. As a child, he attended Windsor Village Elementary, Welch Middle School, and Madison High School. He graduated from Howard University in Washington DC before returning to Houston for a year. Then he headed to Los Angeles before returning to Houston for over a year. Finally, he made the move to New York City.
“Houston prepared me for other cities more than I thought it did. It’s very diverse,” Arceneaux says, explaining that while other cities are more segregated, “in Houston we’re all lumped together.
“Houston is the first city to elect an openly gay mayor, not New York or L.A.,” he adds proudly.
“Choosing to stand firm in who you are and the culture that shaped you is a testament to caring about Blackness, Black culture, and Black people.”
In some ways, Arceneaux’s devotion to Houston is surprising. He endured a difficult childhood thanks to an alcoholic, abusive father and a zealously religious mother. When Arceneaux came out to his mother, he says she responded by saying, “Well, that explains why you and your brother’s lives have gone the way they have.” Nevertheless, he says Houston remains home to not only his family, but also his oldest friends. “No matter what happened in the past, where you grow up is home. Houston is always home.”
As a child, Arceneaux carved “DIE DAD AND MOM” into the wall of his bedroom. While those words remain there to this day, Arceneaux says the feelings do not.
“Select members” of Arceneaux’s family have read I Can’t Date Jesus, including his mother, but he says it has not changed her views. “My mom is in the same place. I was hopeful, but this is not unexpected. It comes from a place of concern. I understand that. People are who they are, and you have to take people where they are.”
I Can’t Date Jesus is a personal story, but because Arceneaux is a proud gay black man, it is also very political.
“If I experience prejudice, it will be about race first,” he says. “It’s always there, but because it’s so pronounced now, it feels overbearing. People feel more permission to be direct.”
Arceneaux says President Trump is certainly to blame for this, but so are those who voted for him and continue to support him.
“There is a reason an incompetent bigot scammed his way into the presidency. [Fear of minorities] propelled him into office,” Arceneaux says, adding that people were worried about the country becoming “blacker and darker.”
“It should not have taken a loudmouth showboat to show us,” Arceneaux says. “People don’t want to acknowledge white privilege, but they vote to preserve it. We like to pretend we are more evolved than we are. But 52 percent of women voted for a man accused of sexual assault.”
There is hope, though, and that is something we simply cannot afford to lose, according to Arceneaux.
“Problems seem longer than they actually are. This is temporary. We have to be proactive so this doesn’t happen again. Be hopeful and productive.”
Above all, I Can’t Date Jesus is a call to the disenfranchised, the unrecognized, the forgotten, and the maligned. The book has a simple message, and it is a rallying cry.
“You don’t have to dilute who you are to appeal to the masses,” Arceneaux says. “Beyoncé makes the masses come to her. I was told I had to write my story in a different way, [but] I don’t have to dilute who I am. What’s new about me is my perspective. [My book] is about universal things. I’m here for everybody.”
This article appears in the January 2019 edition of Outsmart Magazine.