Editor’s note: As often as is possible (pitch me!) I will be handing over the keys to this newsletter. These special editions, which I am calling The After Party, will be available to all subscribers. As a reminder, I’m donating all revenue earned in June from $ subscriptions to the Trevor Project and the Transgender Law Center. - smi
This installment of The After Party is hosted and written by Nicole Froio, a Colombian-Brazilian journalist, researcher and writer. Nicole writes about pop culture, violence against women, inequality, Brazilian politics and news, LGBTQ issues, digital cultures and books.
When John Paul Brammer started his ¡Hola Papi! advice column for Grindr’s INTO in 2017, he hoped it would save him from the precariousness of freelancing, writing porn recaps and op-eds and set him on a path towards publishing a book.
Four years later, after winning the hearts of thousands of readers, Brammer is claiming the space he always wanted. His queer, Latinx-focused column has become a memoir-in-essays by the same name: ¡Hola Papi! How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons.
Brammer originally pitched his advice column to Grindr’s editorial brand, INTO. He brought complexity, tenderness and humour to ¡Hola Papi!, engaging in a vulnerable exploration of his own emotional life through his responses to LGBTQ readers from all over the world. After many migrations across publications, his column has been syndicated by The Cut.
“This is something that I’ve lived most of my life hoping to do,” Brammer said about publishing his first book. “Since high school, I’ve been like, I want a book. My whole media career was just a pretense to having a book. So to see me reach the finish line that I’ve been running towards since I was a kid is just bizarre, and good, and wild.”
In the book, Brammer explores loneliness, the confusion of racial identity, and the complexities of compulsory heterosexuality.
“How do I make peace with the years I lost in the closet?” one reader asks, to which Brammer responds with the story of his first girlfriend and how she touched his life before the eventual reckoning with his own sexuality.
“I was so nervous about publishing an excerpt of that essay online,” he said. “Because it very accurately portrays how I feel. Having an identity as a gay man doesn’t necessarily mean that I knew that’s what it was from the beginning. It was more like — I’m using language to arrange myself and figure myself out, and try my best to map out what my desires are, what I want out of my life, and how I want to live moving through this world.”
Brammer is committed to avoiding common narratives of queerness and identity, and examining and deconstructing the stories we tell ourselves to survive. This book of answers seems to pose the question: What can be uncovered if we challenge these stories?
In an essay about his Mexican identity, Brammer meditates on the difficulties of keeping in touch with his roots in rural America. “I’ve come to understand that race is a lie,” he writes. “But it’s a lie like money is a lie, which means it’s real because it’s a system. You can’t really opt out of it.”
For Brammer, this lie is the core of what he’s trying to get at. “I’m trying to say that identity, trauma stories we tell ourselves about our own lives — these are more or less hallucinations,” he explained. “Identity is a hallucination, but it’s very real at the same time, and everything is a story. And that means we’re storytellers, which means we do have at least some degree of power over how we tell our own story and how we let it affect our daily lives.”
Brammer is very intentional about escaping the clichés and “hot takes”. Before submitting his manuscript, he went through every chapter and removed social justice buzzwords, deliberately eschewing simplistic identity-based arguments.
“My original freelance days started out in the Trump era, where I had more work than I’ve ever had before,” he said. “And it kind of seemed like people wanted me to be outraged Mexican a lot. And I really became averse to that because I think I am at my core a nuanced thinker.”
Marginalized writers are often forced to mine this mainstream public desire for outrage and tidy narratives to get published, which leaves little space for more textured stories. “So much of our work is defined by those appetites, because that’s how we tend to get work,” Brammer said.
“We have to sort of mentor ourselves toward corporate ideas of diversity or corporate ideas of what would constitute representation in a newsroom or publishing house. But these are goals that we shouldn’t really have to keep in mind when we’re writing something. Because we are our own officers, we have our own bonds, we have our own ideas that we want to bring to life.”
Brammer maintains this sense of integrity and curiosity even when excavating some of his darkest memories. In a chapter that navigates an instance of sexual assault and a toxic relationship, he examines what happened and why it happened without falling into recognizable #MeToo narratives.
“When I was writing that chapter, I didn’t want to say, ‘[this person who harmed me] is an evil monster, and I was pulled into his orbit,’” Brammer said. “I don’t see cycles of violence that way. I’m more interested in trying to figure out, why did that happen? How can two people come into each others’ orbit and hurt each other in these different ways? And can I look at something that happened to me in my path and rethink it in a different way? Or is that trying to rewrite history? Those are the questions I’m really interested in.”
And what’s next for the queer internet’s favourite advice columnist? First, enjoying a wild post-vaccination summer. “I don’t know if my body and mind are ready for what I’m doing to them this summer,” Brammer said. “Even just seeing people out in the park has felt like doing hard drugs. It’s like, oh, my God! I’m touching people, people are touching me!” And then, bolstering his online art print shop and enjoying the process of writing a potential new book without having to work three different jobs to support himself.
“I continue to look forward to taking baby steps away from Digital Media because I think publishing is more my style,” Brammer said.
“I like the idea of being able to have the breathing room for that flowery, fruity language that I like to use. I think my next book will probably be fictional. I like the idea of being able to take my time with writing something and see what I can do because ¡Hola Papi! was very much made during coffee breaks between my three other jobs. I actually have the time to write something on my own terms on my own timeline.”