The landmark book that established Robert Reid-Pharr as one of America's most exciting and challenging left intellectualsAt turns autobiographical, political, literary, erotic, and humorous, Black Gay Man spoils our preconceived notions of not only what it means to be black, gay and male but also what it means to be a contemporary intellectual. Both a celebration of black gay male identity as well as a powerful critique of the structures that allow for the production of that identity, Black Gay Man introduced the eloquent voice of Robert Reid-Pharr in cultural criticism. At once erudite and readable, the range of topics and positions taken up in Black Gay Man reflect the complexity of American life itself. Treating subjects as diverse as the Million Man March, interracial sex, anti-Semitism, turn of the century American intellectualism as well as literary and cultural figures ranging from Essex Hemphill and Audre Lorde to W.E.B. DuBois, Frantz Fanon and James Baldwin, Black Gay Man is a bold and nuanced attempt to question prevailing ideas about community, desire, politics and culture. Moving beyond critique, Reid-Pharr also pronounces upon the promises of a new America.
Dean Browning, a white political activist from Pennsylvania, acknowledges he accidentally tweeted about being \"a black gay guy,\" but his explanation as to why has only further deepened an internet mystery into how the now-deleted tweet came to be.
\"I am a black gay guy and I can personally say that Obama did nothing for me,\" the Tuesday tweet read, as shared by multiple journalists. Many observers initially suggested Browning had meant to send that message from another account, rather than his own.
He was a gay black man, tall, with high cheekbones, and a gifted singer. He played a bit part in a Broadway musical alongside Paul Robeson, and Rustin often sang for his audiences as he toured the country, conducting race-relations workshops.
He had two strong mentors. A.J. Muste, the head of the pacifist organization the Fellowship of Reconciliation, hired Rustin as a youth secretary to conduct workshops and demonstrations against war and segregation. Rustin's other mentor was A. Philip Randolph, the head of the first predominantly black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
According to the report, black people in the U.S. will continue to be the most at risk racial or ethnic group in the country, with one in 20 men and one in 48 women facing an HIV diagnosis within their lifetime.
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest Michael Arceneaux has written a new book whose title will give you an idea of his sense of humor. It's called \"I Can't Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, And Other Reasons I've Put My Faith In Beyonce.\" It's a collection of personal essays about his early years growing up in Houston black, Catholic and gay. Arceneaux abandoned the Catholic Church about 16 years ago, in what he describes as an act of self-preservation after deciding he was no longer willing to be part of an institution that condemned him for who he was. Over time, he says he's tried to unlearn every damaging thing he's seen and heard about his identity. He writes for The Root and Essence and has an advice column on Into, which describes itself as a digital magazine for the modern queer world.
Michael Arceneaux, welcome to FRESH AIR. So you were raised Catholic, and you say the traditions associated with the black church were different from the church traditions you grew up with. What were some of the differences
MICHAEL ARCENEAUX: One thing I will say about the Catholic Church that I actually enjoyed was kind of the pageantry of it. It's a beautiful service. But, you know, it can be boring when most of your friends - well, I'm black. I'm around black people. They go to Baptist churches. They have gospel choir. They have the singing, and they have the praise dancing. They have all this celebration, which I wasn't really familiar with. It's just different dynamics because the Catholic Church, to me, is far more formal than any other kind of Christian sect there is. And, yeah, it was boring (laughter).
ARCENEAUX: I actually don't. I understand why a lot of people who kind of maybe miss certain parts maybe have that - they feel like they don't get all the blackness. But I've never struggled with being black. I come from a very black family - a very southern black family. I just think that strain that my family is from - like French Creole, like the Louisiana-type stuff. Like, a lot of them were traditionally raised Catholic. I think that was the only difference that I really had from most people. But, you know, my dad is very black. My mom is very black. I grew up working class, to say the least. My high schools were predominantly black - very sometimes school-to-prison-pipeline-type black. So I didn't feel foreign to blackness. I just think that was just one aspect that I couldn't really relate to. And it was fine. That actually didn't bother me as much. I think some people - the only thing, I've had to sometimes convince people that I don't worship the Virgin Mary or something - like some stereotype associated with Catholic. But other than that, it was fine. I've never questioned my blackness.
ARCENEAUX: That initial revelation and her reaction was very painful to me. As to why she didn't bring it up sooner, I think - my mom comes from - it's a very kind of very older black, particularly Southern kind of way where you don't really dive into the personal like that. You keep your business to yourself. You particularly keep your business if you think it's something like being gay, which she thinks is an affliction of God or whatever. So I don't think she wanted to tackle it directly because it wasn't something that she wanted to address. And I don't think it's something that she wanted to address particularly because, if I run my mouth about it, then that might be a reflection of her. And maybe that makes her feel a way. I do know she loves me. I do know she doesn't approve. And to be honest, I'm not sure how this book will go over.
And one thing about Beyonce now is that, in recent years, everyone talks about how pro-black she is and what that means. And I think that's more so because it was, I guess, outwardly intellectual. But what pro-black often means to me too is that this is a Southern black girl who was very country - like country as hell. And she owns every bit of that. She is very much from Houston, Texas. Like even if you don't necessarily get the references, as someone from Houston, I do. So to me, she's always been subversively sneaking a lot of subcultures into the mainstream. Like for \"B'Day,\" for example, those are queer black men who are choreographing the stuff. There's like slang in there. Like, there's a New Orleans bounce record that she made into an R&B song.
One thing that I've always wanted to do - and even actually in the journey in trying to get this book sold, that there was this idea that because I was both black and gay that I was niche, that I was very limited, that I didn't have as much appeal as someone else and that I often would have to dilute myself to be able to reach the masses. When the biggest pop star in the world is a country black girl named Beyonce from Houston, Texas, who outside of maybe the first half of the \"I Am... Sasha Fierce\" album where she did that kind of, like, Sarah McLaughlin thing, which is fine, just not my - you know, I want to bop to Beyonce usually - but she's pulled the masses to her being exactly who she is this entire time. And for me, that has just been so inspirational.
And, again, with the \"B'Day\" album - you know, this is around the time that I came out, and I was starting to go to clubs. I felt a little out of place 'cause people were clearly more advanced than me, more comfortable with their bodies. But that album was a very big hit in the gay black clubs. And I remember actually going to the bar, and I was like, just have another drink, and chill out, and have fun. Stop worrying so much about how you dance, how you look, how you talk, your mannerisms. Just enjoy the moment. And through that album and just dancing to it, particularly, like, the bonus tracks that they kept playing at the gay club specifically, I just felt freer.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Michael Arceneaux, author of the new book \"I Can't Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, And Other Reasons I've Put My Faith In Beyonce.\" It's a collection of personal essays about his early years growing up in Houston black, Catholic, and gay. He left the church about 16 years ago, unwilling to remain in an institution that didn't accept him for who he was. He writes for The Root and Essence and has an advice column on the site INTO, which describes itself as a digital magazine for the modern queer world.
ARCENEAUX: I just immediately saw sex as something that could kill you. And the inconvenient truth is if - as a queer black male, there's still very much an HIV/AIDS crisis for people who look like me. So it's something I've had to really wrestle with. I think - I just think there came a point that I couldn't deny myself pleasure anymore. And there were always methods of safe sex. I think I just kind of develop some early trauma and never really tackled it. And it controlled my life far longer than it should have because the reality is it hasn't changed as a queer black man. Like, there's still a problem, but now I'm just safer and less afraid, or at least I really, really try, Terry.
ARCENEAUX: I'm very adamant about improving the image of queer black men and probably to a fault in that - well, for the most part, I was only social - I was really around black people, so that's all I saw. That's all that I was around, so that's all that typically attracted. And then when I moved to New York five years ago, something different happened where I wasn't really - because I'll usua