Advice columns like ‘Dear Abby’ or ‘Miss Manners’ don’t have quite the caché they had in previous decades. But people still need – and sometimes even crave – advice from an objective source. That can be especially true for people in marginalized groups, like those in the LGBTQ community.
That realization helped JP Brammer create an advice column for those who wanted to feel heard, and were seeking perspective and connection from someone with whom they could relate. The column, “¡Hola Papí!” which Brammer had self-published through an online newsletter, is now the name of his new book: “¡Hola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons.”
Brammer told Texas Standard he didn’t intend to become the “Chicano Carrie Bradshaw,” which one book critic called him. He says he thought he could take the responsibility of giving real advice off his shoulders by setting the column up as satire.
“There is a kind of media out there where people supply you with a writing prompt every week. It’s the advice column,” he said. “And to sort of compensate for that I said, ‘Okay, it’s going to be a satire; it’s going to be a parody advice column where the joke is sort of like, what if ‘Dear Abby’ was Mexican and on Grindr?”
But things quickly became serious.
“I really didn’t think I was going to give people any legitimate advice because they didn’t see that as my role,” he said. “I was like, okay, but I can make my little jokes; it’ll be sort of a funny kind of thing. But when I started getting the letters, they were very serious or very earnest, they were very heartfelt, and I realized very quickly I kind of have to take this job more seriously.”
The letters came flooding in, and a part of what Brammer says has been the appeal is how the column resonates with people.
“It’s a very sort of impersonal kind of world that we live in on the internet. And I think that part of the appeal is, what if I could be more specific? What if I could actually write a letter to the media that I’m consuming and it actually answered me back personally?” he said of his followers.
Brammer uses stories from his own life to help answer readers’ questions.
“The book is sort of about taking your life experiences and tilting your head a little bit and trying to find something new, and trying to find agency in the way you tell the stories to yourself about the things that have happened to you in life,” he said.