¡Hola Papi! is the preeminent deranged advice column from writer and author John Paul Brammer, now living on Substack! If you’ve ever wanted advice from a Twitter-addled gay Mexican with anxiety, here is your chance. Support this column by sharing it and subscribing below, and send him a letter at email@example.com
I'm a college student, and I was studying abroad this semester before I was sent home because of the coronavirus. I went from gallivanting around Europe with a cool group of new friends to being trapped in my parents’ house in my small hometown again. I have no idea when I'll be able to afford travel like that again. On top of that, I went from being out for the first time in my life to being back in the closet for the duration of this seemingly endless quarantine. It feels like I'm in high school again and I hate it.
How am I supposed to cope with the loss of what was supposed to be the coolest time in my life and with being forced back into being someone I'm not?
Closeted in Quarantine
Hey there, CQ!
Ah, yes, remember gallivanting? I used to do a fair bit of it myself in my day. Sometimes I feel like weeping, but I haven’t cried yet. Not once! Hmmm.
Anyway, have you ever played with an Etch A Sketch? It’s this drawing toy with knobs on it that allow you to, well, “etch” a “sketch.” I did my first illustration ever on one. I drew a revolver, I’m sad to say. I really should have been canceled at age four. For my politics.
The most prominent feature of the Etch A Sketch is of course the ephemeral nature of “the sketch” in question: if you shake it real hard, your drawing is completely erased. Not only that, but any shakes and bumps hold the power to partially cover up any lines you’ve made, thus ruining your masterpiece. It’s why you really shouldn’t use one in the car, if you’ve endeavored to draw something important.
One of the most human of all silly human fantasies is the notion of an undo feature: time travel, rebirth, the very idea of a phoenix. The concept proliferates our art and technology, two realms we have a high degree of control over. To other animals, for whom absolutely everything is additive, layers upon layers of birth and death and evolution, it would probably seem especially ridiculous. If we explained it to them.
I, for one, make liberal use of the “undo” in my writing and drawing. Because they are my creations, and thanks to technology I have the privilege of bringing them under the tyranny of my preferences. In all other cases, however, this isn’t true. There is no erasing, no undoing, no retreading the lines of my life. They are set. I can only make new ones.
For many people, CQ, this is a prison: a fair number of us live our lives attempting to repress, forget, or escape the inevitable fact of the past. But there’s a bright side too, one that I think might help you in your situation. While your circumstances aren’t preferable right now, they do not hold the power to revert you back to high school.
We are beings in motion. Even if it feels like we’re standing still. That’s what it means to be alive, and so we like all living things are defined by addition: things happen, and we respond. We adapt. We shift our weight. We rearrange. You are not “going back,” CQ. You are going forward, albeit in a deeply unpleasant, less than ideal direction that probably looks and feels awfully familiar.
Unlike the Etch A Sketch, where bumps and jumps detract from your drawing, nothing has been wiped away in your case. All the progress you’ve made, the friends you’ve met, the people you’ve come out to (including yourself), those still exist. That’s all still there. You couldn’t go back to being the person you were in high school even if you wanted to. That’s simply not how it works.
I feel like a broken record saying “this is temporary,” CQ, but it bears repeating: this is temporary. You will, at some point, get to live your life again. But meanwhile, you hold all the new experiences that have shaped you. You have a better idea of who you are, what you want, and how to be.
My advice for coping is to rely on your friends (and non-parent family members) who understand you, people you can confide in. They’re only a text or phone call away. Those relationships can help see you through these difficult times.
You have a lot to look forward to, CQ. So take heart. Draw some stuff. Read a really gay book. Stream “Go Fetch the Bolt Cutters” by Fiona Apple. Read and share ¡Hola Papi!. OK, I think that’s enough guidance for today.
Con mucho amor,