I just read some profiles of Michael Arceneaux to prep for interviewing him because I’m a moron who has no idea how to actually interview people. The first one I read compared his work to mine and I thought, Why? He’s so much better!
Michael is an absolute joy and his shiny new memoir, I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé, out tomorrow from Atria/37 INK, is a hilarious and moving exploration of race, faith, sexuality, and identity. You need to read this book, immediately. It’s what God, aka Beyoncé, would want you to do.
Michael and I recently discussed writing a book versus freelance writing, his current relationship with religion, and who he hopes the book will reach.
The Rumpus: How did the book process differ from your approach to writing your columns? Was it easier or harder to have so much time to let your work cook?
Michael Arceneaux: I was initially incredibly excited about the opportunity to work on a project that would require me to move at a much slower, more introspective space. Writing for Al Gore’s Internet is challenging—especially when you have been doing it for a decade. When you have to spend so much of your time writing about awful people and the garbage things they have done or said at largely lightning speeds, you end up so mentally tired.
And for a while, I was trying to write a book and write full-time—not because I was trying to prove something, but because I had to. It wasn’t going well, so ultimately, I had to stop being Hot Take Teddy and focus on the book. Once I got to do that, I really enjoyed it—even the parts of the book that were most challenging to write. Time was an asset. It allowed me to perfect my shit. Quick turnarounds can yield good writing, but overall, it’s whew chile, the ghetto (Hi, NeNe Leakes fans).
Rumpus: What do you need when you write? I like to have a blanket across my lap and a cold Diet Coke, plus I usually light some incense and I put a collection of crystals that are supposed to help jerks who need to unlock creative energy. And, I don’t know if I believe that they’re effective? But now I’m too afraid to not have them nearby.
Arceneaux: You so classy and caffeinated, girl. So, I used to be able to write late at night, but that’s not the move for me anymore. I’m not getting any younger so I need to sleep and drink water, which means I get up as early as possible. And once I actually shoot up, I go get some caffeine—some energy drink that I hope isn’t destroying my insides or some overpriced coffee they sell to folks who hate the taste of coffee, but don’t want to get the sugar. Then, I sit at my desk and try to get it going. I may turn on some music. I cannot really write to music, but I usually need something.
I may turn on Sade or Mary J. Blige’s My Life album. If not that, I turn on Brazilian jazz or some video game score music—a suggestion from a guy not that into me but did me a solid with that type.
Rumpus: Was it hard to dive deep and really excavate after so many years or cultural commentary? How hard was it, if at all, to turn the lens on yourself?
Arceneaux: I cherished every moment I didn’t have to talk about some celebrity or some pop cultural moment that actually wouldn’t be a moment if there wasn’t an insatiable need for content and folks like me with bills. Because I have wanted this opportunity for so long, it wasn’t hard at all to turn it off for a second. I want to create culture, not just critique. This was a major step in my quest to do more of that.
Rumpus: What is your current relationship with church? What does God mean to you?
Arceneaux: This is the part in which I really want to invoke Mariah Carey’s “I don’t know her,” but as you read at the very beginning of the book, we recently had a brief reunion so I am still familiar. Am I going to go to hell for describing it as like sex with an ex? Actually, never mind, because we both know that wouldn’t even make the top ten of my sins.
But to answer your question, I don’t have much of a relationship with church anymore. I think it still has value for those who need it, but I have my own sense of right and wrong now. I still pray and I believe there is something bigger than us, but I don’t think God is a man and I don’t believe an omnipotent being has all of those gross human characteristics subscribed to God in the Bible. I do think God would bop with me to the chopped and screwed version of Mary Mary’s “God in Me,” though. It slaps. Amen.
Rumpus: Gimme a THOT BOP playlist right quick.
Arceneaux: I tend to skip around decades for thot bops, but to keep it 2018, here goes:
Megan Thee Stallion – “Big Ole Freak” and “Freak Nasty”
Cardi B – “Bickenhead”
Beyoncé and that man who cheated (but she forgave him or whatever) – “Apeshit”
Lyrica Anderson – “Pretty Lil Thing”
Drake feat. Static Major & Ty Dolla $ign – “After Dark”
Christina Aguilera feat. XNDA – “Pipe”
Goldlink feat. Miguel – “Got Friends”
City Girls – “Runnin”
Janine the Machine – “Mañana”
Huncho Jack – “Black and Chinese”
Rumpus: If you could take Beyoncé to dinner and you had to pay for it with your current salary/checking account balance, where would you go and why? What would you ask her?
Arceneaux: We would go to the Pappadeaux’s off of 610 in Houston and we would go there because it is the OG locale where all of the Black folks on that side of town (southside still holding!) went. Like, folks back home literally refer it to as Niggadeaux’s—or N-Worddeaux’s if you’re not Black. We would share multiple servings of alligator and I would probably ask her when are we finally getting the Beyoncé rap album? She likely already assumes I want to be besties so no sense in asking the obvious.
Rumpus: Who are you hoping to reach with this book? Whom did you have in mind as you were putting it together?
Arceneaux: I wrote the book I wish I had when I was trying to figure myself out. I hope anyone who has struggled with reconciling who they were taught to be with who the person they were meant to become to find it. I am not pretending I invented self-discovery, but I will say you haven’t heard from my country, Black ass, queer perspective. There are folks who think those double minorities make me ultra niche. That is such a crock and anyone who reads my book will see that.
Rumpus: Did you enjoy writing I Can’t Date Jesus? Would you do it again? Are there other areas of your life you’ve left untapped?
Arceneaux: I didn’t when I was writing full-time and having to do all that freelancing; it got better once I was able to pour myself into the book. Many parts of the book were fun to me because all I want to do with anything I do is make people laugh and make people think. I already have a second book in mind; it’s called I Don’t Want To Die Poor. It’s an extension of some of the themes I touched on in an essay I wrote for the Sunday Review about my struggles with private student loans. So, it deals a lot of subject matter related to that plus some other themes, but ultimately it is about control, and what it is like to struggle with feeling stuck and not being exactly where you saw yourself getting to at certain stages of your life.
Rumpus: Has your family yelled at you about the book yet? My family leaves me alone about my work in exchange for my never painting any of them in a negative light. WHAT DID YOUR MAMA SAY?
Arceneaux: They have not and I am honestly not sure how that will go. I wrote about my life, and obviously that includes them being apart of it, but I was raised not to “tell your business” under the notion that the information shared will be used against you. There are a lot of things I kept out because it wasn’t my place to share, but I was telling when necessary. My dad isn’t going to read it. My sister likely will. Maybe my brother. An auntie or two may. I don’t know about my mama, though. I love her so much, but the title of the book is a chapter related to her feelings about me being gay and public about it. She loves me and I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without her, but it is still such a divisive topic for us. Will she slap me with the Bible? I don’t think so, but the last time we talked about it wasn’t the best convo, so I have left it alone. Maybe if she did read it, something may change. Who knows? Either way, I did the right thing as respectfully as possible.
Rumpus: How is your love life? When you go on tour, would you bang your fans? Do you have groupies?!
Arceneaux: My dick is dusty, but hope springs eternal. I am open to whatever opportunities life presents and will measure them accordingly. Now that I have reread that sentence, I see why you call me a ho ‘cause that was a ho ass answer. But you know what? I did meet someone recently in New Orleans, and while that was all of three seconds ago, it was the first smooth while in which a man left me speechless. It also reminded me that as great as sex is, I really want someone who makes me want to get my shit together in order to have something tangible that finally feels like mine.
I don’t think I have groupies. Maybe Jesus will send some soon enough?
Photograph of Michael Arceneaux © Steven Duarte.