The interview series “How Are You So Hot?” is a thirsty journey into the minds, tastes, and attractions of foxy people we like. [Disclaimer: John Paul Brammer has contributed writing to VICE, but was selected independently for this series.]
The writer and artist John Paul (aka JP) Brammer originally pitched “¡Hola Papi!,” his beloved advice column, as “queer Latino ‘Dear Abby’ huffing poppers.” According to Brammer, as he wrote in the ¡Hola Papi! book published by Simon & Schuster this month, he was at first interested in writing “more of an advice column spoof than anything else.”
Instead, and almost instantly after he started writing it in 2017, “¡Hola Papi!” became too meaningful, kind-hearted, and warm to read as parody. Yes, it was full of gay character assassinations—in his very first column, Brammer responded to a man worried about fetishizing Latino men by referring to him as “chipotle mayo”—but it was also principled, trustworthy, and patient. (“Chipotle mayo,” for example, got the feedback, “You were with them because you liked them, and they were with you because they liked you back.”) Brammer is a maestro of the under-cutting joke, deployed with only the best intentions for advice-seekers.
The ¡Hola Papi! book, subtitled How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, is a study in these kinds of perfect punctures that burst up like wildflowers throughout Brammer’s more straightforward advice: They make the whole of it pretty, novel, and worth remembering. Brammer’s work says, Stop taking yourself so seriously! Gas yourself up; develop phenomenal communication skills; crush away on the world around you. While deeply attending to LGBTQ concerns, Brammer encourages people to feel like they, themselves, are the hottest, most self-possessed thing around.
When we chat on a video call, Brammer’s lounging in a yurt in the hills of Los Angeles on a short trip away from his current home in New York. Where he’s staying, there’s a dramatic view and incredible Tiffany-style lamps hanging from the white canvas—and lots of laughter. Truly, who better, and what better setting in which, to answer a different kind of reader question: How are you so hot?
VICE: In some ways, your book traces the evolution of your seduction strategy. You move from light bullying into more straightforward flirtation: In one little romance, you two make Brokeback Mountain jokes and riff about his wearing cowboy boots—and when he shows up at your door without the promised boots, you insist he not return until he has them on. Tell me about figuring out this line between teasing and affection.
JP BRAMMER: It’s a trust thing. You wouldn’t push someone’s buttons unless you know exactly what buttons to push. It feels very intimate to know I can lightly joke about this thing. If we were strangers it would feel pretty unacceptable, but because we have this dynamic, it becomes safe. I think that’s what intimacy is, as a whole: This thing I wouldn’t ordinarily share, I feel like sharing. It feels like we’ve both been exempted from the regular obligations of being an uptight, anxious person. You know what I mean? It’s like playing hooky from that together. It feels, to me, very playful.
Since the early days of “¡Hola Papi!” on Grindr’s website INTO, you’ve been flooded with questions from LGBTQ readers. Have you noticed any broader themes in the specifically queer concerns you’ve fielded over the years?
The most common thread uniting all the different letters is people wondering if they are enough, and if they are allowed to call themselves something. Am I dressing gay enough? I’m a bisexual cis women and I’m attracted to men—this makes me feel like I’m not queer enough. Am I passing as a woman enough?
It’s a lot of people wrestling with this idea that they’re imposters. It’s people assuming everyone else is inhabiting themselves more fully and in a richer way than they are—and what would really help them is if some authority figure reached out and said, “It’s OK! You’re allowed in! I’m opening the gates! You can stop worrying about this!” That’s really upsetting to me. I don’t think that’s what we have the acronym for, or identities for: It’s not about perfectly inhabiting this identity so people grace you with the official title: “Yes, you’re a real bisexual! You’re a real gay man.” They think that language can perfectly accommodate them and accept them and tell them, but language is imperfect; identities are imperfect; labels are imperfect.
There’s a chapter in your new book about dressing “queerer” and dressing to tell a story about yourself through clothes. What have you been into wearing recently?
I’m very into linen things that flow, that move while you move, like they have their own personality. I got this linen blazer that’s like a cardigan. It’s just this drape-y fun: Is he here for business? Is he here for pleasure? Who knows! He’s intriguing! This is a breezy person. This person isn’t troubled by too many things, a person who moves through life easily.
I like moving through the world pretty silently, not because I’m shy or I have low self-esteem. It’s just, I like the feeling of being able to melt into crowds and being anonymous. I don’t enjoy people looking at me too much, so I enjoy clothes that are pretty muted in terms of their color. They don’t stand out if you’re scanning a crowd, but if you look harder, they’re made out of something nice, or they have weird intricacies to them. I love textiles. I love the feeling of putting my hands on something that feels like it was expensive to make or a lot of care went into it. I love clothes you have to be up close to and touch to appreciate.
Like: No one notice me, but if you do notice, it’s very beautiful.
I love that feeling! It’s so nice. I’m in the process now of A/B testing my new personality post-COVID and I’m excited to after a few trial runs to start going to events and meeting people out in the wild.
Tell me about this new personality!
You know, I always make these grand designs for myself. I enjoy thinking about, What sort of person should I be? And then I get out there, and I just forget all that. I’m such an instinct-based creature, and I wish I wasn’t. I just do things in the moment as part of the vibe. I can’t mediate my actions. In the ideal world, I would just be a person who, like: He’s fun! He wears jorts! He’s out here. He’s one of the guys. Here’s JP. We love JP. He’s funny. I’m going to start wearing a lot more tanks and crop tops. That will be great. That will constitute a personality. Why not? What else have I got?
When do you feel most like yourself?
I need to be in conversation with someone else to really understand myself. The way the inside my head runs, I start to feel like I’m six people or 12 people. I have a lot of different personalities—a lot of ways of thinking and seeing myself. I lose the core of the matter quite a bit, so I need to be around someone who knows me.
When do you feel least like yourself, but it’s exciting?
Hmmm… probably when I’m having sex. [Laughter] Oftentimes, when I’m having sex, it means I met someone off an app, or it’s a chance encounter, or a random hookup. They are projecting a lot of things onto you, whether they know that or not—you are a very flat narrative to this person. I remember when this one British guy I hooked up with one time and he said something slightly offensive, like, “I can’t wait to tell my friends in London I hooked up with this hot Latino guy in Queens!” And I’m like, That’s weird.
But that does speak to the thesis I’m getting at: To these people, you are a little bit more one-dimensional. There’s something really nice about that. I do not feel like myself at all, but I do feel like I’m wearing a disguise or a costume or something. And I get to have sex in it! So that’s a lot of positives all happening at once.
You have a response to someone who wrote into your “Papi” column for advice about not feeling hot enough. You write about loving when people boost themselves up to feel attractive, or as you put it: like “a sight.” What scenarios incubate that feeling for you?
Hooking up with someone! [Laughter] I really enjoy actually meeting someone and sort of seducing each other. Sometimes I’ll go on dinner dates with friends and it feels really good: Oh, I’m an ornament! We’re at this table, we’re outside! I feel pretty! But, like I said in that column, the reality is, those moments really come and go. People really punish themselves for not being able to inhabit them or stay in them longer, but it’s just not how we work. We don’t constantly feel pleased with ourselves.
So, I very much believe you and agree and understand—but if I pretend I don’t—what do you recommend doing to just feel hot?
Honestly, playing dress-up is really underrated. Go into your closet and put on that thing that makes you feel good. We all have something like that. I have a few shirts where I put it on and I’m like, Oh. Cool. I like my chest! I like the way I feel in this. Even if it’s not for anyone else, even if you don’t go anywhere.
Throughout your book, you examine how Grindr has informed different parts of your life. Are you still on the apps?
My relationship to Grindr right now is one of magical realism. I need to never have expectations. I am going to be having a full-fledged conversation with a sentient ass. I’ll talk to this photo of an ass for 30 minutes, as long as I’m willing to accept it’s maybe a waste of time. Or a lottery! When I start falling for the illusion, or once I start tying my self-worth to it, or when the rejections actually sting: that’s when I need to take a break from it.
What are you intrigued by online—and what stands out as a hard pass?
I really enjoy earnest people. I like people who seem like they’re honest and can’t help it. I’m attracted to people who seem like they’re very normie, they have a regular life, they have their likes and dislikes. People who are like, “I’m not sure what I’m looking for. Love video games.”
I really hate the phrase “to the front of the line.” Like, “Latinos to the front of the line.” “Daddies to the front of the line.” There is no line! People aren’t lining up for you!
And I don’t know if people beyond gay men do this—but they’ll use the red pin emoji to be like: “Hong Kong. Beirut. San Francisco. New York.”
Oh yeah, there are dykes, and I think straight people, who do that too.
It’s like, What are you running from? Why can’t you stay in one city for longer than two months! The pandemic must have been really hard on those people.
They’re an international playboy, and they need you to know.
“I’m all over the place!” It’s just like, that sounds hard! What if we fall in love, Roberts, and you’re everywhere but where I am?
In “Six Sentences I Can’t Forget,” a piece on your Substack, you recount your life’s greatest syntactical hits—things people have said that have stayed with you in a lasting way because they’re hilarious, or poignant, or rude. If you had to offer a seventh, sourced specifically from Grindr, what would it be?
I have so many of these! I actually took a screenshot of one I received yesterday—let me read it: [Clears throat] “Can I ride you until… tu polla comienza a escuperier leche.” The Spanish there is pretty screwed up. This person is not Latino or anything, it’s just a person who saw I was Latino and decided to add some “spice” to his message. I’m obsessed with the Spanglish—it’s, “Can I ride you until…” Then it becomes Spanish after? [The Spanish roughly translates to] “…Your dick starts to leak?” It’s a work of art to me. I just stared at it for a long time. I’ll remember you forever; I’ll never reply to you.
So, not for problematic Spanglish reasons, but do you hope you’re screen-shotted? That you’re like a surprising, unexpected jolt in someone’s messages?
I’m sure it’s happened. My texts very much read like those serial killer letters—these clippings, where one letter is big, one letter is a number. I just enjoy that! I don’t know why it makes me feel like, HAHA, decipher this!
You write about being an “affirmation junkie.” What’s your favorite compliment to get?
My favorite compliment is something I didn’t think anyone else would appreciate. I have things that people tend to compliment me on, and it’s nice, but it’s just, I’m used to, “Oh, your muscles. Oh, your lips.” Yeah, I have nice lips, I know. But I had someone compliment my hair. My hair?! I cut it so short that I barely have any to play with! It’s surprising. I like that because it reminds me there are so many people out there—and they can find something to appreciate about you. It’s nice to know we’re not constantly toiling under the system where you’re only allowed to like one or two things.
It feels like the world and its tastes are more expansive than you assumed.
Yes, and that’s very comforting! Maybe there are things to like about me that I haven’t even thought of.
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