How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons
By John Paul Brammer
I first became aware of John Paul Brammer because of his Twitter account. It’s a feed that shines with subtle and riotously strange queer humor, and because of that, his tweets frequently found their way into my group chats. Brammer is a queer, mixed-race Mexican American journalist who writes about race, gay love and poppers. He also uses Twitter to share his work, which is how I first stumbled on his advice column, “Hola Papi.”
Each week in “Hola Papi,” Brammer shares a letter from a reader facing a quandary about modern queer life — not feeling gay enough, falling in love with straight men — and then he doles out his best guidance in response. His answers include both jokes and insights from his own experience. In the years since it launched (it first ran in Grindr’s digital magazine, Into, and now publishes on Substack), it has become the rare email that I genuinely look forward to. Brammer’s journey from reluctant self-parody to a full embodiment of his Papi avatar has been remarkable and enviable. (How I, too, wish to be so fully myself that I can find gems of wisdom in my trauma.)
And thus, my expectations for Brammer’s debut book, “Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons,” have been lofty since its existence first came to my attention — where else — on Twitter.
The book contains 12 essays, each framed as an advice column in response to a question: how to reckon with years spent in the closet, how to cope with childhood trauma and more. Brammer’s voice will be familiar to fans of his column. He is both kind and piercingly funny, often in the same sentence. He slips in and out of queer slang without pause; he is just as sure-footed in contemplating the awkwardness of gay sex as he is in describing his family in Oklahoma. Brammer’s tone lends levity to the weighty subjects he extrapolates upon. “She asked if there were any straight men in the room, any straight men at all, and I was among the dozen or so who clapped,” he writes. “Cognitive dissonance is an old friend of mine.”
Brammer has been honing his sharp-witted persona for years online, but here, in book form, unbound from the constraints of a column or character limit, his queer advice is more personal and affecting. His voice is intentional, considered and more intimate than ever, but he does not lose the directness and clarity he’s spent so long cultivating. “My middle school was my antagonist, the big bad wolf that I would have to spend my whole life getting strong enough to overcome,” he writes. “But it was just a building.”
“Hola Papi” isn’t really a book of collected advice columns; it’s a memoir through essays, and he uses the form to mine the depths of his own experience. With that comes a vulnerability never clearer than in the first and last chapters, each titled “How to Write a Letter,” which seek to answer the question: “Are you even qualified to help me?” Brammer is quick to answer in the negative. It’s only by admitting to his amateurishness that Brammer finds the source of his queer power. He is forced to look inward, to ask: What can I find within myself to help others? The book as a whole works through Brammer’s genuine discomfort with being looked to for sincere advice.
“Hola Papi” is a master class of tone and tenderness, as Brammer balances self-compassion with humor. Throughout, Brammer bridges his identities and his sensibilities; he is at once the self-deprecating Papi and the kind sage John Paul. He leaves his beloved reader with the solace that, by practicing kindness in our reflections, we can find lessons for ourselves and teach others to do the same.