Mr. Arceneaux and I are opposites. Outside of both of us being raised in then leaving Catholicism, we have as much in common as fireworks being compared to rice cakes. He is a gay single African-American in his thirties living in New York City. I’m a pasty-white, 58-year-old Mainer who’s been happily marriage for almost four decades. The title of his work got my attention. The book’s description and mostly positive reviews sealed the deal. Back in 2010, I read a memoir entitled ‘At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life’ by Wade Rouse. That book was about a gay urban couple moving to rural Michigan. It was very entertaining but a bit over the top reinforcing the gay stereotype. I was wondering if ‘I Can’t Date Jesus’ was more of the same. It was not as flamboyant but still in the same ballpark. Being gay defines the entire work.
Some of Mr. Arceneaux’s introspective pieces remind me of David Sedaris’s work. However, while Mr. Sedaris focuses a great deal of his material on outward quirky observations around his daily life, ‘I Can’t Date Jesus’ is fixated mostly on the repercussions of Mr. Arceneaux being gay in contemporary America. The stories and his observations are frequently funny, thoughtful, and mildly sarcastic. The first line in the book made me laugh. A few aspects of the author’s work stood out beyond him regaling about being a gay African-American. This ole heterosexual Maine duffer is clearly not in tune with the younger generations’ vocabulary or pop references. Mercy, I lost count how many times I looked up a word on my dictionary app with no success and resorted to googling the terms. Words such as thot, wore a grill, saddity, bugawolf (boogawolf), thirst traps, act like a stan, HBCU, and cat daddy. Then there were pop-cultural references that also kept my fingers busy trying to understand who the hell were these people named B2K, Chingy, Teena Marie, Ronnie DeVoe, and Iyanla Vanzant? If we were not in the age of the World Wide Web, I’d be friggin’ lost on some of the author’s statements. He does use profanity and some sexually explicit material but not, in my opinion, excessive. Mr. Arceneaux also covers growing up Catholic, his complex relationship with a religious mother and an abusive father, the struggles of finding a good barber, racism, some of his more outrageous dates, being raised in Houston, then moving to Los Angeles and finally settling in New York City, and Trump winning the 2016 election. Some pieces are simply stories while others are introspective musings.
Overall, I found ‘I Can’t Date Jesus’ to be an uneven work. I feel bad for the guy and anyone who has similar experiences. The book was published in 2018. There is more acceptance of the gay lifestyle in America today but it’s still no picnic. That’s for sure. Mr. Arceneaux gives a lively retelling of his life and insight into a world that is very foreign to me. I’d imagine the book may help some young men struggling with their sexuality while living in an environment that frowns upon it. The author has done a public service in being so honest and blunt about his struggles. Good for him.