With Hola Papi, advice columnist John Paul Brammer brings his readers into his life
The author speaks to EW about the journey from an advice column on Grindr to his first published book.
John Paul Brammer has always wanted to write books. He just never thought his first would happen like this.
Brammer's column, "Hola Papi," was born in 2017 when LGBTQ dating app Grindr began creating editorial content as news site INTO. Instead of pitching a series of freelance articles, Brammer came up with the idea for an advice column where the submitted letters could cover the topics he wanted to address. "It was more of a useful format for me than it was a lifelong dream," he explains to EW. The initial plan for the column was to be a piece of satire where he'd be a gay, Mexican "Dear Abby," but then the letters started coming in. He found a niche audience in the LGBTQ folks looking for advice – some about very heavy topics – who were looking for someone to connect with and guide them.
"I realized in that process that I wasn't qualified to do that, and that's what the book is about," he says of memoir Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons (out June 8). "It's about trying to, as best as I could, figure out what my credentials were to help another gay person or queer person, and sort of both falling short and making it work at the same time."
He says with Hola Papi he wanted to make people laugh and help them better understand themselves, so he chose not to delve into the heavier moments of his life that weren't essential to his journey of figuring out his identity. "What would it look like if this book itself was a letter to my readers? I reverse-engineered the questions based on prompts I received throughout the years," he explains of the story collection.
The book covers topics of loneliness, doubting one's authenticity, and struggling to find your place in the world — and Brammer uses the stories to work through memories from his own childhood and adolescence. "How untrustworthy narrators we can be when it comes to traumatic or foundational experiences," he notes. "It was illuminating about how humans are such story-based creatures and how we need them to survive, and in being cognizant of that, we can tell a different story than the ones we tell ourselves every day."
For those who have followed the column along its journey across homes – from its launch on Grindr to Out Magazine to Conde Nast's LGBTQ website Them and, finally, Brammer's own Substack – the author hopes they get a kick out of having the additional context of knowing who Papi is and getting to know him in a new way. Writing the column, Brammer has distance from anyone submitting a letter, but he intentionally wanted to be the one opening up with the memoir. "I hope the book totally rearranges the relationship between me and my readers," he says.
Over the course of writing his advice column, Brammer also became interested in the format's history. While it started as an art form full of educated, older men, it quickly evolved into one of the few mediums where women could become household names as professional writers "and really acquire notoriety and capital through writing," he explains. Brammer wanted to create a space for LGBTQ folks in the world of advice, which did not have many queer people in it. "It's keeping with the ongoing evolution of the advice column as a place where marginalized people can walk in, do their thing, and find success where in other areas of media they wouldn't be allowed to do so," he says.
Looking back at Hola Papi from the vantage point of his book's publication, Brammer is reassessing what the future of the column is — it's not something he sees himself doing forever. He says he wants to have a strong legacy and has hopes of the column being "cemented into the queer canon," offering empowerment for anyone interested in taking on a potentially-scary new project, but eventually he'll have to stop answering the letters he continues to receive daily. "There's still more to say and do, but we might be saying 'adios Papi' at some point in the future," he says. "And it won't be a bad thing. It'll just be a different thing."