Queer culture has a rich history of elders mentoring younger folks and guiding them through a way of being that’s still far too stigmatized. The millennial authors of these books are hardly elders, but neither had the LGBTQ+ resources they needed until college. Now their books leave a path of breadcrumbs toward authenticity for their less experienced peers, or any individuals seeking insight, solidarity and guidance.
If you started reading John Paul Brammer’s advice column in the Grindr digital magazine INTO, consider yourself lucky. The column, “¡Hola Papi!,” now exists on the platform Substack, as well as between the pages of his first book, ¡Hola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, where new readers can fall in love with Brammer’s writing for the first time.
Although ostensibly an assemblage of advice columns, ¡Hola Papi! reads more like an essay collection. Each submitted question becomes an entry point for Brammer to share a story from his life as a young queer writer and artist. Growing up in rural Oklahoma, Brammer learned to live a small life so he wouldn’t attract attention. Middle school classmates tortured him with homophobic bullying, so much so that he harbored a desire for suicide in the eighth grade. Branded by this trauma, Brammer remained closeted until college.
But coming out doesn’t provide all the answers. If anything, looking for love and connection on apps like OkCupid and Grindr can make life more confusing. In each essay, Brammer explores his negotiations with himself and others to exist as a queer, biracial man and the universal struggle of wanting to be accepted. Anyone who has grappled with their own identities will relate to Brammer as he wrestles with insecurities and forges ahead through the haze of depression.
Brammer’s talent as a storyteller lies in extracting profound meaning from seemingly minor events and feelings. One particularly tender essay, for example, revisits the time a former middle school bully hit him up on a gay dating app when they were adults. ¡Hola Papi! is a testament to turning past struggles and humiliations into fuel for a brighter future, and to owning your experiences by reframing the narrative and finding agency in the retelling.
The Ex-Girlfriend of My Ex-Girlfriend Is My Girlfriend: Advice on Queer Dating, Love, and Friendship is based on a zine that author Maddy Court created in grad school. Now in book form, her advice is accompanied by lively Day-Glo art and comics by illustrator Kelsey Wroten. Court primarily explores the experiences of women who are lesbian and bisexual, as well as those of people whose genders have been historically marginalized. But her advice—gentle nudges toward therapy or research about attachment theory—could help anyone who needs a compassionate ear.
Of course, there are the usual advice column staples—heartbreak, rejection and jealousy—but Court also addresses problems as varied as painful sex, being new to polyamory and coming out at a Christian college. She’s sensitive and loving as she addresses questions from people who are still in the closet, like how to find closure with people you never actually dated. And when she’s not the best person to provide counsel about a particular issue, she calls in advice from others, such as Le Tigre musician JD Samson and Wow, No Thank You. author Samantha Irby.
Court makes clear that finding queer community and consuming queer media are vitally important, because of how crucial it is to see yourself represented. By its very existence, The Ex-Girlfriend of My Ex-Girlfriend Is My Girlfriend accomplishes this, too, as it assures us that our problems are not so uncommon and we’re all less alone than we think.