In 2017, writer John Paul Brammer started an advice column. In his words, “it would be more of an advice column spoof than anything else, and it would tackle all the common LGBT issues: dating, insecurities and petty drama.” He pitched his idea to Grindr’s LGBTQ+ outlet, INTO, with the title “¡Hola Papi!,” inspired by the frequent messages he received that started with those exact words. While the column was first met with hesitation and his own self-doubt, Brammer’s column quickly exceeded his expectations: “I didn’t receive a few letters, Reader. I got a flood.”
Four years later, Brammer’s column moved from its original platform to Substack, where he still invites letters and inquiries from readers. On Substack, he publishes a larger variety of work from blogs to illustrations. His book follows the same advice-column format where he answers questions from “How do I let go of my childhood trauma?” to “How do I overcome my imposter syndrome to live my life as an authentic Latino?,” drawing on his own experiences to craft introspective, humorous and intimate responses.
But while many of Brammer’s responses relate to his experiences as both a Mexican-American and member of the LGBTQ+ community, his accessible writing provides numerous opportunities to connect with and learn from Brammer even without sharing those identities. Brammer’s advice and lessons might ring true for those who do identify with him, but reading his work will appeal to any interested reader seeking sincere wisdom.
In all his personal essays, Brammer breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the reader about his identity struggles being young, closeted and biracial and how he found ways to accept and love these aspects of himself. While I usually prefer to listen to memoirs as audiobooks and hear the author’s story in their own voice, Brammer has the ability to achieve this sense of authenticity and presence on the page.
His voice is remarkable; as I soaked in his advice and life lessons, I struggled to set the book down. His charisma seeps through the pages, and his humor had me laughing out loud. These fits of laughter happened frequently throughout the book, encouraged by Brammer’s amusing quips: “I’d once admitted to actively listening to Kelly Clarkson, a miscalculation with devastating results.”
Yet, Brammer leaves room on the page for more serious discussions. He doesn’t hesitate to share his vulnerabilities with the reader, nor does he shy away from his depressive periods as both a child and adult:
“Trauma lives in the body long after the events that birthed it go away. It builds a home for itself in our memories, where it asserts itself as reality: I was treated this way because there is something wrong with me, and if I am to protect myself, then I must carry a healthy, vigilant sense of paranoia with me at all times. Never again, it says.”
If the book were denser and not divided into fulfilling but short essays, it might’ve been too difficult to read. His honesty is admirable, but it was grueling to delve deep into memories riddled with suicidal tendencies and destructive thoughts. Nonetheless, these darker moments served to bridge the gap between Brammer and the reader because his vulnerability made the essays what they needed to be — real.
For those finding it difficult to read in arduous times, “¡Hola Papi!” is the perfect solution, not only because Brammer is sure to elicit a giggle, but also because the short essays encourage a sense of accomplishment for having finished a section. Readers will come out on the other side of this book more emboldened and more hopeful. This lingering effect seems to make Brammer the perfect advice columnist contender, though I hope to read another book of his soon.
Daily Arts Writer Lilly Pearce can be reached at email@example.com.