¡Hola Papi!: How to Come out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons by John Paul Brammer is a collection of essays set up as answers to agony-aunt questions–Brammer started ¡Hola Papi! as an advice column on Grindr.
Although the questions aren’t real (at least I don’t think they are?), the structure works because each essay centers on an experience in Brammer’s life that taught him something. As you might have guessed from the title, many of the essays deal with Brammer’s coming out as gay and how he navigated the transition from straight-passing to openly gay.
As you might guess from the cover, Brammer does not take himself too seriously, and he’s a funny writer. But the essays themselves deal with serious topics, including the severe bullying Brammer faced as a child and teen that caused him to be suicidal. The humor doesn’t take away from the power of the story at all–I think it keeps the reader’s mood up without diminishing what Brammer experienced.
The essays that stuck with me the most were the ones about the school bullying and then one later in the book in which Brammer has a difficult time letting himself dress the way he wants to–he wants to embrace the variety and style of gay culture, but as someone who grew up as straight-passing, he has a hard time figuring out what to wear and then feeling comfortable with it. It’s a perceptive essay about how childhood experiences manifest later in life and also about the difficulty in breaking free of cultural strictures.
Brammer’s willingness to open up about personal and not-always-flattering episodes from his life is a real gift. It’s hard to understand what other people go through without hearing about it, and these aren’t experiences that everyone wants to tell. Recommended.