Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Southern Decadence in New Orleans” by Howard Philips Smith and Frank Perez— A Long Time Coming

Smith, Howard Philips and Frank Perez. “Southern Decadence in New Orleans”, LSU Press, 2018.

A Long Time Coming

Amos Lassen

A couple of weeks ago I posted a short note about this book relying on what I heard about it from the publishing house and from a friend who had seen an advance copy. My copy just came and I spent the whole day reading in and reliving memories of Southern Decadence. After all, I am a New Orleanian in my blood and although I now live in Boston, I am still a New Orleanian. There are not words to describe how much I enjoyed this book (which I think is fascinating since I was always too much of a prude to truly enjoy Southern Decadence. I so loved Howard Philips Smith’s “Unveiling the Muse” that He really not to go some to better himself with this and he did. I gave a rather poor review to Frank Perez on his previous book but he has redeemed himself here. If I have just one word to describe this book, it would be glorious.

Begun in 1972 as a modest celebration among residents of the French Quarter, the Southern Decadence Festival in New Orleans has since then grown into one of the city’s largest annual tourist events. Now a Labor Day weekend tradition, the festival regularly attracts over 100,000 participants, predominantly gay and lesbian, and generates millions of dollars in tourist revenue. Nonetheless, “Southern Decadence in New Orleans,” is the first serious study of the event. Compiled and written by Howard Smith and Frank Perez, the work brings together an astounding array of historic materials, including rare memorabilia from the event’s founders, early photographs and film stills, newspaper and magazine accounts, and interviews with longtime participants, to offer a comprehensive history of the celebration. Along the way, Smith and Perez explore the myth and conjecture that have followed the often derided festival as it has grown from a small party in the Faubourg Tremé to a world-wide destination for gay men that is now lauded by the Mayor’s office as the second most profitable festival in the city’s history, only outshone by Mardi Gras at the other end of the calendar.”

While the holiday is a bit too wild for my taste (and age), it was always a special time in New Orleans and even though I was not around the area for most of the celebrations, the few that I did witness were almost beyond imagination. It is so good to have this volume and I really enjoyed looking at the photos and reliving some of my life. There is not a boring word on a page here and I felt that I was also improving my gay New Orleans history by reading this. It has been quite a year for books about gay New Orleans with this and Robert Fieseler’s “Tinderbox”. Hopefully the definitive gay New Orleans history is also being written.

“Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man” by Thomas Page McBee— Written With Strength and Love

McBee, Thomas Page. “Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man”, Scribner, 2018.

Written With Strength and Love

Amos Lassen

When I first heard that “Amateur” was being published, I knew that the name of the author was familiar to me. I had reviewed his earlier book, “Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness, and Becoming a Man” and I was blown away by it. At the time that it came out, my niece was transitioning from female to male and since I had been out of the country for so long, I was totally unaware of this aspect of her life and I realized I was going to have to begin thinking in a completely new direction and that pronouns were going to change. I began to read every book about being transgender that I could get my hands on and McBee’s was one of the first as well as the first book on transgender issues that I ever reviewed but then again there were not that many. I was profoundly affected by the strength and the love that the first book was written and just as I expected the second book was written with the same two qualities.

Thomas Page McBee was the first transgender man to ever box in Madison Square Garden and e also happens to be a very fine writer and gives us a new look at masculinity, violence and society. It is through his experience as a boxer that he looks at both violence and masculinity and their relationship to each other. He “confronts the betrayals and strength of his own body” as he “examines the weight of male violence, the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes, and the limitations of conventional masculinity.” What he finds is a new kind of masculinity. He first thought that men are drawn to boxing by what he calls bloodlust. Then he discovers mentorship among men overcoming weaknesses. It is in the vulnerability of guys that there is hope. Here is a man who examines his own masculinity and privilege. While this a story about boxing, it is also a trans narrative and a look at what makes a man. It is the honesty with which this is written that makes it such an amazing read. As we explore male-female power dynamics, we are treated to the story of someone who becomes a new man “in ways even he couldn’t anticipate.”

McBee gives us an honest look at the problems with masculinity and also adds hope, possibility and happiness. Yes there are fears but we can learn to face them in ways we had not considered. and joy, and possibility. There is no shame in asking the difficult questions and often the answers lie within each of us—we just need to probe. 
“Thomas Page McBee is a fighter—and not only in a ring in Madison Square Garden.”  He is “a warrior of the human spirit, courageously investigating masculinity itself. His prose—both fierce and delicate—reveals a struggle to become a better man, and to create a better self.” McBee’s journey is our journey and now having taken I feel more of a man than ever. To liberate others we must first liberate ourselves and here we learn how.

“In Search of Pure Lust” by Lise Weil — A Visionary’s Memoir

Weil, Lise. “In Search of Pure Lust”, She writes, 2018.

A Visionary’s Memoir

Amos Lassen

The seventies were quite a time in this country and those of us who were there remember the decade as one of pulsing sexuality. This was the world that Lise Weil came out in. She founded “Trivia: A Journal of Ideas”, a radical feminist literary and political magazine, in 1982, which she edited for nine years and brought her into the worlds of publishing, writing and activism. Her memoir is so much more than just her story; it is also a look at the 70s and 80s as experienced journalistically. After living in that world for 15 years, a friend invited her to a Zen retreat and big changes were soon underway. She began to self-examine and she learned a different approach to desire than the one she was used to. She realized that she was not only on a search of pure lust but also in search of pure love.

This is quite a candid memoir and Weill has something to say about everyone including herself. She was a visionary feminist and as we read we share that with her. We get a mixture of the personal and the political and understand that it is impossible to split those with Weill. She came into what was known as the golden age of the lesbian feminist movement, a time “when we lived the belief that we were reinventing culture and society from root to flower.”

Weil’s memoir is both a history of an age now gone and a tribute to a time when one could become someone just as she did. I found it fascinating how the intellectual and the erotic come together in the women’s movement. It was a time when women embarked on their quest for freedom from the patriarchy they felt roped them in. The revolution of that movement was shared by women who have become icons. Weil has recreated vivid scenes though which she often moves through time and space freely and we follow her easily. We also see her transformation when she eventually finds her way to meditation and self-reflection.

It was Lise Weil and all the other radical feminist writers of that time who pushed the envelope after having challenged themselves, each other and the world. The battles that were fought often brought forth freedoms including the freedoms that we have today. I feel so much wiser for having read this.

“The Paradox of Porn: Notes on Gay Male Sexual Culture” by Don Shewey— Porn: the Role and the Paradox

Shewey, Don. “The Paradox of Porn: Notes on Gay Male Sexual Culture”, Joybody Books, 2018.

Porn: the Role and the Paradox

Amos Lassen

I am sure that many will agree that porn has been an integral and important part of gay life for years. It has taught us what desire between two men looks. Porn has gotten us through times of loneliness and isolation, disease and disconnection, and it has contributed to our pleasure. At the same time, the images from porn have shaped and often distorted how we think about sex, what normal bodies look like, how we make connections, and how we feel about ourselves. “It’s been hugely liberating and hugely oppressive. And that’s the paradox of porn.”

Don Shewey’s “The Paradox of Porn” is an excellent analysis of what gay porn means to gay men, and, to go a step further, by extension, the state of sexual culture in America today. By following what Shewey has to say here, we begin to think about porn in different ways— psychologically, aesthetically, ethically, and socially Shewey excites the reader to think about porn – and culture – in new ways. Like many other gay men, I enjoy watching porn every once in a while and I thought that I understood why I found porn interesting and entertaining. “The Paradox of Porn” has much to say about pornography, about the lives and imaginations of gay men, and about the state of erotic gay culture.

Don Shewey is a writer, a therapist, an activist for pleasure and a gay man who has written a comprehensive history about influence of porn. I do a lot of reading and I cannot remember ever having read such a complete look at porn before. We read of both the positive and negative influences that porn has on one’s life. Without question, eroticism is “titillating, transformative and transcendent.” As if we did not know, we read here that for many men porn is much more than just a masturbatory experience. Porn can be educational and liberating as well as cause insecurity, inferiority and self-doubt. Shewey shows that porn can reveal our inner desires and thus empower us to accept ourselves and become “sexually enriched men.”

Many have love/hate struggles with porn. The knowledge, humor and wit that propels this study makes this an enjoyable read. I identified with so much that I read here. The serious and frank discussions about how porn has affected our own body images, and influenced our insecurities regarding sex about performance. For many, porn is a taboo subject; a topic that is rarely spoken about. Shewey opens a dialogue that we are all part of.

“A Queer Way Out: The Politics of Queer Emigration from Israel” by Hila Amit— Queer Resistance to Zionism

Amit, Hila. “A Queer Way Out: The Politics of Queer Emigration from Israel”, SUNY Press, 2018.

Queer Resistance to Zionism

Amos Lassen

Hila Amit’s “A Queer Way Out” greatly interests me in that I am one of those who left Israel but I do not fit her formula that “queer Israeli emigrants interact in a intentionally unheroic type of resistance to Zionism.” I do not believe that leaving Israel is an abandonment of Zionist ideas. According to Amit, “

the very language of Zionism prizes the idea that of immigration to Israel (aliyah, actually ascending) whereas stigmatizing emigration from Israel (yerida, descending).” There is no question about Zionism favoring immigration to Israel but I am just not sure that leaving the country is regarded so negatively, although I do remember a time when emigration was a “dirty” word.

Hila Amit explores the stories of queer Israeli emigrants. She looks at the reasons for leaving Israel as well as the feelings of those who left and who are no longer a part of Israel. She shows that both sexual orientation and left-wing political association play important roles in determining to leave the country but I must say that sexual orientation as a reason by itself is not nearly the reason that it once was before the year 2000. Today there s a large and vibrant LGBT community in the country but basically centered in Tel Aviv. We especially saw the power of the community when it led a countrywide strike as a protest to the country’s new surrogacy law. It is estimated that 100,000 people participated in the strike.

Amit attempts to show that emigration itself is not just a political act but one that “pioneers a intentionally unheroic type of resistance to Zionist ideology.” The study “explores the activities of (as well as the discourse used by) queer Israeli emigrants, before, during, and after departure.” The research here investigates the connections between the Israeli collective and its outcasts, and between social exclusion and departure. Amit argues that queer Israeli emigrants, in their decision to depart, undermine Zionist ideology, and therefore change the obvious paths of resistance to Zionism. By being away from the physical territory of Israel, “they avoid the Zionist demand to perform as strong, masculine Sabras.” She goes on to add that

“emigration is subversive in that it symbolizes a refusal to answer Zionism in the currency of heroism and active resistance.” Amit claims that the decision to leave comes from one acknowledging his own vulnerability and “the recognition that they can no longer tolerate the hardship of life offered to them in Israel.” By one’s announcing of personal vulnerability the system is weakened. “In their passivity and unheroic behavior, emigrants threaten to undermine the entire Zionist project.”

It all sounds very nice and Amit has indeed done excellent research.. However, I agree with very little here and I am sure that my group of Israeli gay friends living in America will have a greet deal to say about what is written here. Yes perhaps my American Zionism is different than what my Israeli Zionism would be (and still is) but even living somewhere else, my Zionist feelings are very, very strong. Nonetheless, this is a fascinating read.

“Of Kings and Things: Strange Tales and Decadent Poems by Count Eric Stanislaus Stenbock” by Eric Stanislaus Stenbock— A Decadent Writer

Stenbock, Eric Stanislaus. “Of Kings and Things: Strange Tales and Decadent Poems by Count Eric Stanislaus Stenbock”, MIT Press, 2018.

A Decadent Writer

Amos Lassen

“Of Kings and Things” is an introduction to the decadent writer Stanislaus Eric Stenbock for the general reader. It is made up of morbid stories, suicidal poems, and an autobiographical essay. W. B. Yeats, the poet, called Stencock a “scholar, connoisseur, drunkard, poet, pervert, most charming of men,” Count Stanislaus Eric Stenbock (1860–1895) is the greatest exemplar of the Decadent movement of the late nineteenth century.

He was a friend of Aubrey Beardsley, patron of the extraordinary pre-Raphaelite artist Simeon Solomon, and contemporary of Oscar Wilde. Stenbock died at the age of thirty-six as a result of his addiction to opium and his alcoholism, having only published three slim volumes of suicidal poetry and one collection of morbid short stories. He was a gay man and a convert to Roman Catholicism who owned a serpent, a toad, and a dachshund called Trixie. It was said that toward the end of his life he was accompanied everywhere by a life-size wooden doll that he believed to be his son. His poems and stories are filled with queer, supernatural, mystical, and Satanic themes and original editions of his books are highly sought by collectors.

“Of Kings and Things” is actually the first introduction to Stenbock’s writing for the general reader, offering fifteen stories, eight poems and one autobiographical essay.

“Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation” by Robert Fieseler— Love, Faith, Death and Grief (THE REVIEW)

Fieseler, Robert. “Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation”, Liveright, 2018.

Love, Faith, Death and Grief (The Review)

Amos Lassen

Some of you might have noticed that I have already written about “Tinderbox” but part of my title said “This is not a review” but in many ways it was. There are only so many ways that you can write about something and I used a fair share of glowing material back then so that will not change. I have since reread “Tinderbox” twice and I am a bit stunned at how much I did not catch inn the first reading. Hence we now have my “real” review and it will be every bit as glowing as my “non-review”. (Warning: Some of this might sound familiar).

As many of you know, I was born and raised in New Orleans and until I moved to Israel in the mid-60s, I was fairly active in the New Orleans gay and literary communities. That might help to explain why I try to read whatever comes out about the Crescent City. Robert Fieseler’s book is not only about New Orleans, it is also about gay New Orleans and when I first heard about it and that the author, like myself, was living in Boston, I knew that not only did I have to read the book, but that I would have to meet the author.

I was a bit surprised about what Fieseler chose to write about to be his swan dive into the swimming pool of gay literature. His book “Tinderbox” is an in depth and intense look at the fire at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans that killed 32 people in 1973. There were already two books written about it, one in the last few years as well as documentary film that was making the rounds of the LGBT film festival circuit and is available on DVD and Blu ray. I wondered if there was a need for another book; it seemed to me that everything that could be said had already been said. When Fieseler told me why he wrote this, he totally pulled me into himself. It was not that long ago that we had the terrible shootings at Pulse in Orlando and what I did not realize was that until that horrific incident, what happened at the Upstairs Lounge was the most brutal crime against gay people in American history. New Orleans had long ago closed the case and then we had the Pulse as if history was repeating itself.

“Tinderbox” looks at what happened at the Upstairs Lounge and incorporates it into the American civil rights movement. As we read we never lose the grief that came with what happened that Sunday in New Orleans. It is interesting that this horrible event has re-emerged as a catalyzing event of the gay liberation movement. Fieseler takes us through the tragic event that claimed the lives of thirty-one men and one woman on June 24, 1973 and what had been, until 2016, the largest mass murder of gay people. He gives us a look at “a closeted, blue- collar gay world that flourished before an arsonist ignited an inferno that destroyed an entire community.” That event alone was traumatic but so was what happened afterwards. Families were too embarrassed and ashamed to claim the bodies because the dead were gay people, the Catholic Church refused proper burial rights, the city of New Orleans was impervious to the survivors’ needs and we become aware of the total intolerance and prejudice that was part of the city, a place where whites and blacks got along but where straights and gays could not. The fire took place after Stonewall and during the beginnings of gay liberation in this country. There was a new kind of activism that came into being after the fire and it was the basis for a young gay liberation movement.

For those of you who are unaware, the arson of the gay bar the Up Stairs Lounge in New Orleans sees to have been an act of revenge, allegedly committed by a small-time crook and alcoholic gay hustler by the name of Roger Dale Nunez. Nunez had tried to hustle one of the clients at the bar and in doing so he broke the no hustling rule and was asked to leave. He became very angry and an altercation followed resulting in Nunez being punched in the face and then physically removed from the bar. Two patrons claim they heard him yell, “I’m going to burn you all out,” or “I’m going to burn this place to the ground.” Apparently, Nunez certainly came back later that evening to set fire to the bar but that was never officially proven. Due to the ineptitude and prejudice of the times, and because he committed suicide years later before he could be arraigned and justice served, the case was closed. How Nunez managed to elude the law, many times over is fascinating but it is so discouraging and disgusting the New Orleans Police Force was so inept regarding this case.

Fieseler writes not just about the fire but also about the world that allowed it to happen. New Orleans has always been a center of gay life and there were certainly no surprises about it. One would think that with the open and carefree lifestyle of the French Quarter that no one would really care about anyone’s sexuality yet the gay life of the city remained in the closet and a world of paradox replaced what we might have thought of as tolerant. We see here the furtiveness of gay life in a tolerant city as well as the official culture’s hostility to it. I have always found it interesting, however, that New Orleans drew famous people into its gay scene. I met and saw out frequently a world famous playwright, a major television star and a major film star not to mention closeted members of Congress, a famous district attorney and a mayor who drove around the French Quarter picking up boys.

What happened that Sunday afternoon was one of the worst outrages against gay people in modern America, and here Fieseler relates it to us in all that it was. In effect, he is restoring a chapter of history that was once lost to us because those involved did not matter enough to be included. We become very aware of the depth of prejudice that was and there are no exceptions and that includes the media that covered the story when it happened. And yes, there are surprises here. More than once I had to stop reading to either dry my eyes or to sit back and think about something I had not heard before and this was the community that I had once been a part of.

Fieseler brings the tragedy to life again through his meticulous research and survivor interviews and in doing so he damns homophobia and the comfort some found in the closet. He analyzes the event from many angles and as he does, he shows the failures of the New Orleans police department, the fire department, the mayor and the mayor’s office, the local and national press, the Church and so on. The broader political, spiritual and personal implications are still in effect today.

The Upstairs Lounge fire was the largest mass murder of gays in American history, until 2016 in Orlando, Florida. And yet, in 1973, Fieseler shows how the Lounge disaster for the most part was swept under the rug because you cannot have mass deaths if you want the good times to roll. Everyone in command was part of the negligence and indifference to the fire codes in the French Quarter, “the gay ghetto”; the investigation was a disaster due to the ineptitude and bias of the police and fire departments; the local and national American press buried the story on the back pages; the mayor who stayed mostly silent and away; and the closeted gay community was too afraid to take a stand. As if that is not enough— the slow response from the fire department ended in confusion over the location of the bar, its layout, its fire exits, and the need for proper equipment to help the victims escape. The burned remains of the victims were left on display for hours due to the thoughtlessness of officials and first responders, and the press corps was free to mosey through remains of the site and take photos. There was infighting, misconceptions, and a New Orleans mentality that plagued the New Orleans gay community, a community which suddenly had to now deal with the beginning of a national gay protest movement and the Metropolitan Community that now wanted more visibility and more congregants. Important and recognizable gay figures were treated with mistrust and scorn and their intentions were questioned when they tried to call national attention to the Up Stairs Lounge fire. Families too ashamed to claim their loved ones and the Catholic Church refused proper burial rights.

Fieseler is a wonderful and powerful storyteller. I watched him as he addressed the Boston History Project about his book and everyone was mesmerized. He comes alive when he speaks and when alludes to the lying implicit in the enforcement of “the closet,” and how lying causes more lying. He tells us that in New Orleans “The closet grew to function as a governing institution for non-heterosexual life in twentieth-century America, which explains precisely how a makeshift bar like the Up Stairs Lounge could burn to its foundations and, in so doing, disappear from memory.” Having come out in New Orleans, I have to rubber stamp what he said.

This is a painful book but a necessary one. We must never allow ourselves to forget that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Unfortunately those who came before us in New Orleans had to deal with trauma, pain, and emotional shock and we become truly aware of human frailty, moral weakness, evil, and bigotry. It is not too late to accord those who needlessly died the honor they had in paving the way for the rest of us and they paid the ultimate price. “Tinderbox” will become even more important after we synthesize all that it has to say. I am in awe of the research that was conducted, I am in awe of the beautiful and informative prose with which it has been written and I am so glad that honor has been restored to a forgotten generation of civil-rights martyrs. We all owe Robert Fieseler a great deal for all he has done with this, his first book.

“Gay, Inc.: The Nonprofitization of Queer Politics” by Myrl Beam— The Nonprofit Structure

Beam, Myrl. “Gay, Inc.: The Nonprofitization of Queer Politics”, University of Minnesota Press, 2018.

The Nonprofit Structure

Amos Lassen

Writer Myrl Beam gives us a bold and provocative look at how the nonprofit sphere’s expansion has both helped and hindered the LGBT cause. She argues that the conservative turn in queer movement politics is due mostly to the movement’s embrace of the nonprofit structure. Through oral histories, archival research, and her own extensive activist work, “Gay, Inc.” looks at how LGBT nonprofits in Minneapolis and Chicago deal with the contradictions between radical queer social movements and their institutionalized purposes.

Beam outlines the” emotionally compelling but politically compromising role of nonprofit organizations in LGBTQ life.” We see the conflicts between mission and fundraising, between participants and donors that influence our commitments to social justice. This is the book to read to find out how social change works. “Gay, Inc.” helps us understand queer and trans resistance in and brings new insight into social movement debates about the role of nonprofits using grounded histories of resistance and conflict within queer politics.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Neoliberalism, Nonprofitization, and Social Change
  • The Work of Compassion: Institutionalizing Affective Economies of AIDS and Homelessness
  • Community and Its Others: Safety, Space, and Nonprofitization
  • Capital and Nonprofitization: At the Limits of “By and For”
  • Navigating the Crisis of Neoliberalism: A Stance of Undefeated Despair
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index

“Christianity and the Limits of Minority Acceptance in America: God Loves (Almost) Everyone” by J.E. Sumerrau and Ryan T. Cragun— Christian Tolerance and Minority Rights

 

Sumerrau, J.E. and Ryan T. Cragun. “Christianity and the Limits of Minority Acceptance in America: God Loves (Almost) Everyone”, Rowman and Littlefield. 2018.

Christian Tolerance and Minority Rights

Amos Lassen

 “Christianity and the Limits of Minority Acceptance in America: God Loves (Almost) Everyone” looks at the ways Christian women in college make sense of bisexual, transgender, polyamorous, and atheist others. explores the ways they express tolerance for some sexual groups, such as lesbian and gay people, while maintaining condemnation of other sexual, gendered, or religious groups. In so doing, this book highlights the limits of Christian tolerance for the advancement of minority rights. 


Writers Sumerau and Cragun chose to study how religious people make sense of the increasing visibility of transgender, intersex, bi+, poly, and non-religiously unaffiliated individuals in their midst and it fills a void in the understanding of how traditional, established gender and religious norms shape civic life in the United States. The dominant narrative in the sociology of religion claims and lauds the limited acceptance of gay and lesbian people within Christendom, the authors show that beneath this “veneer of progress”, there is unchallenged disdain for those outside mono-, hetero- and “cisnormativities.” Through the use of ethnographic interviews, the contours of this intolerance come to light and describe how it is constructed and maintained.

For many years, sociologists of religion and sexuality faced problems asking what American Christians thought about homosexuality. As Sumerau and Cragun show us here, it’s time to ask new questions and they go into topics that are usually not included by fellow sociologists of religion. They explore the far reaches of American Christian assumptions that privilege monogamy, monosexuality, and cisgender reality and that leave out bisexual, nonbinary, and nonreligious people. This book is a necessity for the understanding of the complete landscape of religion and sexuality in America today.



What
Sumerau and Cragun have found has much to say about the ideological assumptions that still inform much social research on attitudes—that male and female are two mutually exclusive categories, that sexual orientation must reflect this dichotomy, that religion is the sole source of morality, and that being cisgender in lifelong monogamy is necessary to demonstrate it. They show that the stereotypes that used to trouble gays and lesbians (being immature, sick, and/or untrustworthy) have not gone away but have been displaced onto less conforming categories of people: bisexuals, trans people, polyamorous people, and atheists.

Table of Contents

Introduction: What God has joined together: Gender, Sexual, and Religious Intersections in America

  1. It Is God Who Works In You: Religious, Gendered, and Sexual Attitudes

  2. Male and Female He Created Them: Christianity as Cisnormativity
  3. 
3. And They Become One Flesh: Christianity as Mononormativity

  4. The Fool Says In His Heart: Christianity as Religio-Normativity
Conclusion: So Are My Ways Higher Than Your Ways: Normativity and Emerging Movements in America

“I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé” by Michael Arceneaux— Essays

Arceneaux, Michael. “I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé”, Atria, 2018.

Essays

Amos Lassen

Michael Arceneaux has not had an easy life and he shares with us what it is like to grow up a as a creative, sensitive black man in a world that constantly tries to deride and diminish his humanity. He does this in a collection of very funny and soul‑searching sensitive essays. I think it is fair to say that we are all well aware that equality for LGBTQ people has come a long way yet voices of people of color within the community are still often silenced, and being Black in America is very definitely not easy. Those of you who are regular readers of my reviews know how often I bemoan the fact that we really do not have much writing from the Black LGBTQ community.

Michael Arceneaux writes with passion and freshness while still maintaining a sense of humor and he has no borders. He shares his journey of learning how to accept and embrace who he is even while the world told him not to do so. He shares his coming out to his mother and growing up in Houston, Texas where he was approached for the priesthood; he writes about his obstacles in embracing intimacy and the challenges of young people who feel marginalized and denied the opportunity to pursue their dreams. He is outspoken and I love him for that because you get nothing by being quiet.

Arceneaux tells the stories that need to be told and he writes about his life as he is— a black gay man with a strength of conviction and such fine wit. Here he struggles with the very things that shape our lives – “faith, family, and finding a way into the world he wants to be a part of.” His observations are keen and he sees beauty in ugliness and then puts it on paper. We see him in totality and we join him on his journey “toward contentment, wholeness and reconciliation with faith and family as an unapologetically black, queer and Southern man.” 

Arceneaux strips bare his humanity and his hilarity revealing who he is and who we are as he carefully explains why it is important to be black, gay, young, and human today. He takes directly to the core of intersectionality to reveal personal and religious trials of faith