Series 08: For the Love of Exploring Our Faith | Episode 08
Advocating For Humanity: Blue Babies Pink’s Brett Trapp On Reconciling (and Honoring) Who He Is
It’s the final episode in the “For the Love of Exploring Our Faith” series, and you guys begged to hear from this week’s guest. Not that we blame you—we love him, too! Brett Trapp is a marketing consultant and storyteller who lives in Atlanta’s Cabbagetown neighborhood. The son of a Southern Baptist preacher from small-town Alabama, for more than a decade Brett kept a journal on being Christian and being gay. One morning in 2016, Brett hopped on Facebook and began sharing the story he had been writing privately for so long. In his forty-four-part series, Blue Babies Pink, Brett recounts his journey of growing up, coming out, and reconciling his faith. It’s equal parts whimsical, harrowing, hilarious, and wise.
Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people, every week, on this podcast. Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey everybody, it’s Jen Hatmaker. Welcome to the show. This is the For the Love Podcast, and today we are wrapping up our amazing series called “For the Love of Exploring Our Faith.” This has been one of my very favorite seasons on the podcast thus far. So if you don’t know this, at the end of every series, we crowdsource an episode. We’re like, “This is what we’re talking about, this is our thing.” You guys tell us who is somebody that you know, who is somebody that you want to hear from in this space. So when I put this out universally, everyone has said, “Please, please, please, you’ve got to put on Brett Trapp!”
So Brett has been my friend now for one year, and you are absolutely going to love him, and I am so thrilled he was nominated. He’s a marketing consultant and he’s a creative. He lives in Cabbagetown, this really cool, historic, culturally rich neighborhood in Atlanta. So recently, Brett walked away from this 9-to-5 gig with corporate America and went on to pursue his dream of storytelling.
Here’s what we’re going to talk about today: for nearly a decade—well, really more than that—Brett kept this journal of thoughts on being gay and Christian, and a pastor’s kid. And one morning in late 2016, he logged onto Facebook and he started telling this story, in this basically web series, a written web series called Blue Babies Pink. It’s the most delightful, whimsical, engaging, often hilarious account of what it was like being the son of a Southern Baptist pastor in a small Alabama town, and gay. We’re going to talk all about that and we’re going to link to that.
So Brett’s 36, he grew up in went to college in Alabama, and he has later settled over in Atlanta. His mom was a teacher, dad a Southern Baptist preacher. He’s got two older brothers, and he grew up fully immersed in Christian subcultures. His story is warm and generous. He is super funny, which is a major bonus. I’m so excited for you to get to hear his story today: his story of coming out, his story of reconciling his faith. Ultimately, his story of getting married.
This is not really his attempt . . . it’s not Brett’s way to convince, or approve, or defend. That’s just not the way he is, and you will see that if you don’t already know him. This is just his story. It’s a human being’s story. So I am so excited for you to pull up a seat to his table today, and take a listen. If you don’t already love Brett Trapp, you are about to fall in love with him. I’m so thrilled to welcome him to the show.
Okay, so it is my delight to welcome to the show today my friend, Brett Trapp. Hi.
Brett: What’s up, Jen?
Jen: I’m so happy you’re here!
Brett: How’s it going? Thank you, I’m excited to be here.
Jen: You’re such a gamer. You’re just like, “Sure, why not, I’ll come on your podcast.” I have been so lucky to get to know you in the last . . . when did we meet first?
Brett: 2017, I believe. Maybe April.
Jen: Yeah, yeah, yeah, so just it’s been about a year. A friend of mine put your story in my hands and said, “I just think that you will love to read this. I think that you’re going to love this person,” and I surely did. I think I reached out to you not long . . . I mean, I read it probably in March and I reached out to you in April.
Brett: I think something like that, yeah, or maybe a little before that, perhaps.
Jen: Okay, maybe it was, but I appreciate so much you just jumping in the fray with me and being my friend. We have since spent time together in, like, at least three or four times. Some of my people . . . so my listeners know who you are. They know about your story because I introduced you to my entire tribe last year, but we’ve got new people listening in for the first time.
If you don’t mind indulging me, I want to go backwards with you a little bit.
You’re a preacher’s kid, I’m a preacher’s kid. Now, my dad was not a super straight-laced preacher, but he was Southern Baptist, as was your dad, right?
Jen: Yep, and so both of us grew up a little bit under a microscope, if you will, and in the South, no less. Then later Midwest for me. So I wonder if, just, you can talk a little bit—before we move forward in your story—about your perspective growing up as a “PK.”
Brett: Thanks, Jen. I loved it, to be honest, I thought it was the best. I grew up at Woodmont Baptist Church in Florence, Alabama. Just a fantastic, pretty traditional faith community in the South, in the mid-90s. Being a pastor’s kid in a small town, in the South at least, it’s like a Southern form of royalty, almost. I took pride.
Jen: That’s true.
Brett: I took pride in being the preacher’s kid, and seeing your dad up on the stage every week was really cool. Obviously, he had a key to the church, so we’d be in the church when no one else was there. I really loved it.
I think to be honest, Jen, I was so well parented. I never felt the pressure of having to be a certain way. I have some friends who were PK’s who that was a huge issue for them, where they had a lot of pressure to look right, act right, stand right, talk right—or else. My parents just never did that, which I view that as such a huge blessing. I had the freedom to be a kid, to make mistakes.
So, yeah. All of my memories from back then are of Fourth of July picnics, and church league basketball, and church youth group trips. I have a ton of great memories and though it was traditional—again, very traditional conservative church—it was not overly rigid. And I really attribute that now to, I think, the church was a reflection of my dad’s spirit. My dad was a very a great man, sort of a soft-spirited person but very loving, very kind. And I think that the church reflected that, and I’m sure they shielded me from typical church drama that exists.
I don’t have memories of that, which I think, again, that’s . . . I chalked that up to truly good parenting. But looking back, I am just so thankful for that church experience, for that group of people at that time of my life. For me, I think my 20s were sort of about being critical of that: you know, how I grew up of that church environment. But in my 30s, it’s been about how grateful I’ve been for that, and the investments that came into my life from that experience, from those people. I think I’m such a better person, I think a lot of my character integrity was forged in that environment. Yeah, I’m just, I’m really thankful for that now.
Jen: This is one of my favorite things about you, and we’ll get to it, but you’re—you’re so generous toward your childhood, toward your parents, toward the church that raised you. You and I actually share that in common: my parents did not put any weird pastor kid expectations on us, so we didn’t grow up under that yoke either. And one of the most fun things about having a pastor as a dad is we played hide and seek in our church—it was my favorite memory—because we could.
Brett: All the time.
Jen: I really love that you said that.
And so, moving forward, you had been privately journaling—years, really—about your story of this very normal boyhood, full of sports and brothers, and your Christian parents and upbringing.
And then slowly—and I would love for you to walk us through this a little bit—coming to this realization that, You know what? I don’t . . . I’m not attracted to girls like my brothers, and like my guy friends.
So this led . . . beginning to wrap your mind about the possibility of what that meant that you might be gay. So that had to have been, I don’t know what: isolating, lonely, probably scary in the context of the world that you were living in? I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that season, that reckoning, that portion, specifically, when this was internal and private, and maybe even unsure. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Brett: Yeah, I had what I would consider a traditionally masculine Southern upbringing. There was high school basketball, football, in college I was in a fraternity. I had lots of close female friends all through life, particularly in high school, but they never really evolved into much more than that. I wrote about this in Blue Babies Pink, the blog, but there was a book that came out calledI Kissed Dating Goodbye, which I’m—
Jen: Dude, don’t I know it.
Brett: Right, were you in the dating zone when that book came out? Was that part of your . . .?
Jen: I was just north of it, but it was everywhere. I mean that’s what everybody was reading, written by a 21-year-old author.
Brett: Exactly, that’s another podcast.
Jen: Yes, it is.
Brett: Back then, it was viewed as virtuous if you did not date in high school. It was a sign of your godliness, and so that, to be honest, created a smokescreen for me.
Jen: Yeah, a cover.
Brett: Because I didn’t really have the pressure, because I was the youth group leader who was setting an example for the others. So I didn’t have time to be distracted by girls because I was so focused on God. So looking back, I sort of cringe at that—
Jen: Right, it was a delightful cover.
Brett: Yeah, exactly, it was very convenient. Looking back, it’s cringe-worthy but now I definitely began to notice them like . . . I just, I loved girls. I still love girls, but I’ve described it as I found girls—and still today—find them as beautiful, but not sexual or sexy. I just wasn’t attracted to girls.
And so high school turned into college, and it really was this slow, creeping revelation of like, Wait a minute. I’m not into girls. And obviously I began to notice guys, and I was like, Wait a minute . . . am I gay? I can’t be gay. Gay is this thing way out there in another universe. I’m in Florence, Alabama.
There were no gay people, there was nothing pro-gay. This was still a very different time, obviously, in the mid-90s, and so I just, I think I went into just total denial. It was just like . . . bury that little thought as deep into the back recesses of my soul as I could, and just forge ahead. And, obviously, to create even more smokescreens, and so doing more increasingly masculine things to try to keep people from noticing this.
Jen, you asked about a support system. At that time in my life, there was no support system. It was me and Jesus. I came to faith about the age of 14 at a charismatic revival and just, for lack of a better term, was radically saved. Fell in love with Jesus, began to get to know him, was discipled by my youth pastor. So for me, the gay thing, it was actually a very motivating thing to be like, Alright, Brett, if you focus and if you get super focused on Jesus, that thing will go away. That is a tumor that you can kill with enough prayer and fasting, or whatever.
Brett: That was all internal. It was all just me, and that really is one of the really dark sides of being in the closet: you are bearing a thousand-pound burden all alone.
At that time of my life, there was no one that felt safe to come out to because . . . and for me, it wasn’t worth it. Because in my mind, that was like, Well, this is going to go away. This will correct itself, this will eventually work its way out of the system, and so there’s no point in bearing that burden in the shame of being gay in a culture that worships masculinity.
Gay, at that time, and still is in some ways, is the opposite of that. And I wanted no part of that.
Jen: That’s right. I want to press into something you just said. You talked about grappling with these two conflicting parts of yourself. Being in a state of denial, seriously thinking, Well, somehow I’ll just act a certain way or lean into certain things. Or I will cure myself, or some cure will magically appear from the outside or something. Like, somehow this will not be true for me. Somehow this will not be my reality.
You did a TED talk a couple of years ago about this, and I actually just watched that a couple weeks ago, and it was so good. It was just so good, I wanted everybody in the world to see it. You’re such a, well, you’re a gifted communicator, but it was just really profound.
It was really hard to hear you talk about that and how you coped. As you just mentioned with all these very masculine endeavors, and all the while telling yourself—and it was just so sad to hear you say it—but just, I don’t need love, I don’t need love, I don’t need it, I don’t need it.
That just felt so lonely, and my heart just shattered when I heard you say that. I wonder if you could guide us through that season right there: how you finally went from telling yourself that, or trying to convince yourself that, to reaching the point of acknowledging your very human, ordinary need for love and human connection. Can you walk us through the first early steps of how you began to reconcile that very normal human part of who you are, against this faith portion that’s telling you you could not have both?
Brett: Yeah, I really created an ecosystem of distractions, for lack of a better term. At this time, in my mid-20s, I was convinced that, obviously, being gay is wrong, acting on it is wrong. So I had . . . I just went all-in on, You know what? I’m going to be single and celibate. This is my calling in life. This is how I’m going to honor God and that, Brett, that’s just your lot in life. You need to accept it, you need to make peace with that.
So to be honest, Jen, I think I did everything right in that season, really, for about 15 years: Bible study, prayer, fasting, I traveled a lot, had incredible friendships. I had a great job, it was fulfilling. I made good money, and my greatest strategy in the midst of that was community. To me, community was the antidote to say, Brett, you’re not going to have these needs met, but if you have really healthy community around yourself, that will be the . . . not the cure to take this way, but that will be what sustains you.
So I made that, Jen, to this day—
Jen: Well, and even, obviously, you know that people are still saying that. That is still something that we hear a lot of people of faith say: Well, this is your lot in life, and this is what we’ll do to solve it. It’s just come around you and be your church family.
So I’m interested to hear you talk about this, and how that, ultimately, it’s just not enough. It isn’t.
Brett: Right. Listen, I am pro-community to this day. I think it is the one of the keys to emotional health. One of the keys to life is having people in your life who know everything about you. They love you, they’re there for you, the whole thing. And so that was my plan.
As I got into my late-20s, that loneliness, that sense of loneliness increased. You begin to lose friends to marriage and family. Your single buddies, once they get married, they don’t hang out as much. I got to a point, to be honest, where I could barely even be around groups of married couples. It wasn’t, like, a spiteful thing, but it was just the crushing sadness of seeing people do life in what, at that time, seemed to be the right and healthy way. And in the back of your mind to hear that voice that says, Brett, that is not for you. You’ll never have that, stop desiring that. In fact, even you desiring that is filled with wickedness and evil.
So that’s where in the TED talk, I talked about this little mantra, where it was just this little self-speak of, Brett, you don’t need love, you don’t need love, you don’t need love, you don’t need a companion, you don’t need a family, that’s for . . . It was just a self-brainwashing. And what happened over time, that metastasized into anxiety. You want to talk about a person, Jen, who should not have been dealing with anxiety. When it comes to the privilege like I have—I have had all the privileges, I’ve had them all, a great family . . .
Jen: Yes, you really did. Friends who loved you.
Brett: That’s it, right?
Brett: Right, but when you live under this cloud of shame non-stop, it wrecks your body. So, literally, I had two trips to the a hospital with these . . . I was having all the symptoms of a stroke at one time. Another time I thought I was having a heart attack, and I’m literally thinking, You’re cracking up, and you’re not even 30 years old.
What I’ve learned now, Jen, is this is not uncommon. Lots of LGBT people go through some phase like this, of just tons of anxiety. So I got to a point where I was like, Brett you can’t do 50 more years of this. You’re cracking up now. And so I realized I just could not live that way anymore. And that was really, to be honest, the first time I allowed myself to question the theology side of this.
I had not—honest to goodness—I had not been out trying to justify, like, researching different things. I pushed all that out of my life because I didn’t want, again, to go down this path. When I came to this breaking point, I just realized that the more . . .
What I’ve learned previously before this was the more I walked with God, the freer life became, the more joy that kind of burst forth. But for whatever reason, with this piece, it was like the more I leaned into this thing I thought God wanted me to do, the more crushing that it was.
Jen: Yeah, interesting.
Brett: And that’s when things began to change for me. And that’s when I began to open up the theology piece, to really investigate that more closely.
Jen: Can you talk about that a little bit, because I think a lot of people are listening who have also never opened up the theology piece for investigation or for examination. And they might be surprised to discover that there is an enormous body of very robust hermeneutics, and theology, and interpretations out there to study and to learn from that might really surprise them from what they’ve always just been handed.
I know in my life—this is probably same for you—we didn’t even, this wasn’t even a conversation. We didn’t even talk about this. It was just a foregone conclusion, and it wasn’t something we examined or studied.
As you know, I’m obviously affirming, and taking a turn into that body of scholarship was, for me, stunning, and shocking, and surprising, and very disorienting. So I wonder if you wouldn’t mind talking for just a few minutes about when you finally even gave yourself permission to even take a peek at that—what you found, what you learned, what you discovered.
Brett: Yeah, it’s been several years of submerging myself and all that stuff.
To be honest, Jen, I have researched and read, and listened to so much. I can make a case on either side of the canyon and be fairly convincing, because I’ve consumed so much. It’s relevant. This is relevant to me. And this is what people forget is: this is not what I, or this is what I call “sidewalk theology.” There is a category of people in evangelicalism who, they do theology recreationally, even though it has no bearing on them, their person, their livelihood. And listen, when you do theology that way, you can come to very easy black-and-white conclusions, particularly for things that don’t fall in your orbit, so to speak.
Brett: So for me it was the process of getting to read some of those things. And personally, I don’t get into the long-form theology, just because others have done it so much better—books that you and I have both read, and you can literally Google that stuff.
But I will say this: for me, it really came down to a lot of very practical things. The fact that humans are universally designed for companionship. This is undeniable. As soon as we reach basically middle school, people begin compulsively looking for someone to pair off with. This is human nature, and this debate is often framed in terms of sex, but that’s not the primary thing.
Brett: We are programmed to desire companionship, to desire intimacy and here’s . . . I look at it this way. We’ve heard, you and I both have heard so many stories at this point of what this theology, how it plays itself out in real people’s lives. I view it, it’s like a dangerous curve in a road. And a lot of us are watching, we’re watching cars go around this curve. And every now and then, a car speeds around the curve and they go off the road into the ditch. They blow up, it’s a fatal accident. A lot of us have been watching cars come around this corner, time after time, crash after crash.
The metaphor I’m using here obviously are the LGBT people, who are devastated and hurt by some of this thinking. Some of us are just saying, “Maybe it’s time to look at this road, look at that curve. To look at the speed limit.” And I really questioned.
I think that’s what a lot of us have been doing. I think, Jen, when you started a couple years back to say, “Can we just have a conversation about this particular turn in the road?” And that’s not to invalidate all the other pieces are connected to that, but for me it really came down to just allowing myself to ask why, if this is such a true thing and if God is behind it, and the Jesus that I believe in that is so full of joy and grace and mercy, why is that thing causing so much destruction in so many people’s lives?
So I just came to a belief that God is against any theology that institutionalizes suffering for an entire class of people.
Some people might think that’s a dramatic statement, but to be told and to be forced to be single and alone for your entire lifetime, I do think that is an institutionalized suffering for an entire class of people.
I’ve been told, I was told and still told, “Brett, you just need to take up your cross and bear it.” I say, “You know what? I do. Number one: I do take off my cross in lots of ways, and I deny myself and am a follower of Christ.” I said, “But we are not called to take up a boulder or to take up a house.”
That was a boulder that I tried to shoulder for a long time, and it did not reap. It did not reap that positive thing in my life, it only reaped increasing amounts of sadness and anxiety. Again, this is repeated in the lives of LGBT people time and time again.
So this is, yeah, it’s a long journey and a long story. That’s just a tiny snapshot of how I’ve processed it.
Jen: For me, when I first gave myself permission also to examine the curve, it was exactly what you said to me. It was the carnage, and not the occasional carnage. The near-constant carnage on that bend in the road that just, as a human being, caused me to go, Something here is not right.
It was, frankly, to be honest with you, it was stories like yours specifically that drew me in even tighter because you were in the LGBTQ category in which you were very actively—if not denying your sexuality, at least denying yourself permission to be fully who you were. You were celibate. You were single. And you were trying to be faithful and godly. And even there, even you, to somebody submitted to Christ, to somebody submitted to obedience and trying to work this out in a way that seemed faithful at the time—it was breaking your heart, and it was breaking your mind, and it was breaking your body.
So everything that I’ve ever known about God says that what it looks like to be in a flourishing space with God is actually flourishing. So that faith on the other side of faithfulness is . . . it’s wholeness, and it’s health, and it’s joy, which is not the same thing as happiness, but there’s joy in it.
What I saw with my eyes around that curve was the constant opposite, even from people like you, trying with all their might to follow what they considered to be a faithful line of celibacy. So one thing I really respect about you and your story—well, there’s so many things, but as you said earlier, you looked at life like a dual citizenship.
One of the reasons you waited so long to share your story was that so you could figure out—and this just goes to your integrity—but so you could figure out how to tell your story of being Christian, and gay, and honor both groups. Which is quite a fence to straddle, especially just right now, it’s so charged. I wonder if you feel like you accomplished that, and how would you . . . how would you discuss your very sincere endeavors to honor both? Because I think that you have.
Brett: Yeah. It’s super weird, again, dual citizenship. I’ve got passports and the gay tribe, and the Christian tribe. These are two tribes that historically have not gotten along real well.
This was one thing that I . . . it’s one reason I delayed into my 30s before coming out because I’m watching the carnage. I’m watching these two tribes fight each other to the death, and I’m feeling super conflicted in trying to just figure out how am I going to navigate that.
So before I came out to be honest, things were pretty easy. Like, when I was just in that white male Christian camp meeting and that’s how people viewed me, particularly people from back home, that was a pretty good gig. It’s the best gig around, to be honest.
And I didn’t want to own my gayness. I didn’t want to own my sexuality. At that time, I was more familiar with Albert Mohler than I was Harvey Milk. Those were the people I was reading, all of the leaders in that space.
So episode 35 of the Blue Babies Pink, I read an article called “Becoming Minority.” And it really was me trying to describe the story of letting go of my own pride. I had my own crap to deal with through this whole journey, and that was one of them, was, Brett, why are you so fearful of this? And why don’t you want to be thought of as a gay man?
Again, I’m super embarrassed to admit that now, because that’s . . . that’s indicative of the pride that I’ve carried. But all along I’ve known there are great people in both camps. Wonderful people. I have fantastic, lovely gay LGBT friends, and I’ve got amazing Christian friends.
So, yeah, it’s been hard to be in both of those camps. But to be honest, it’s been a really fun adventure. I love advocating for faith, for Jesus, for grace, for forgiveness, the core parts of our faith that are so beautiful and so true.
Then I also like advocating for the humanity of LGBT people, to try to convince people of faith to be more caring and more empathetic in how they engage those.
So my goal in writing Blue Babies Pink was to try to honor both camps. Everyone wants to jump into this conversation pointing fingers, and I tried not to do that. I tried to say, “You know what? Both of these groups have really lovely people in them.”
What’s interesting is both of them view themselves as an embattled minority, which is also kind of interesting. They kind of both have a chip on their shoulder, but we’re all . . . I view it as we’re all doing okay. In America, I got married a few weeks ago. Like, how many times in human history could you publicly get married to another man, and not be burned at the stake? That’s good! And then on the flip side of it, for all the fears around religious freedom . . . my friends of faith, they’re doing okay. They’re not locking the Christians up in jail.
So for the most part, both of these groups, we’re doing okay. And that’s not to say there’s not still tons of work to do in both of these groups. But at the end of the day, I think we have a lot to be really, really grateful for. So that’s how I try to approach a lot of this conversation.
Jen: So I want to go back just a little bit because I want to get us all the way back up to . . . I want to go before Blue Babies, and then I want to get to Brett and Brett.
If we can go backwards just one click, can you talk just for a minute about what it was like for you—and anybody who’s read your work knows this already, but just for the listeners—when you initially came out, who did you come out to, and how was that season of just slowly emerging in truth and in honesty? Then move us forward into Blue Babies Pink.
Brett: So my strategy . . . I had a lot of time to think about it, so I had a strategy. My strategy was to first—and I recommend this to other people who may be closeted—first come out to your A-Team.
Jen: Yes, good. I love that.
Brett: Who are the people in your life you’re like, they have your back no matter what? Like, if the world just is burning around you, you can count on these four, six, ten people to have your back.
So in my late-20s, I began to have my first coming-out conversations with some of my closest friends: a few fraternity brothers, a few friends from back home. People who, I knew, would not flip over the table and run out of the room and freak out. So, yeah, that I think was a smart move because it gave me someone to confide in.
When I was then beginning to consider, Okay, Brett, how are you going to just come out more broadly?
And I don’t think everyone has to do a big, dramatic coming-out thing. But for me I needed to because it’s such a mental burden to just constantly be thinking about it. To constantly have that little tape playing in your mind is really burdensome and stressful.
So for me I needed to just, like, level the playing field and just feel like, “Guys, this is me. Love it or hate it. If you hate me now, that’s fine, you can just move along.” LGBT people, we play this mental game of constantly trying to figure out how so-and-so is going to react.
So for me, it was part of my healing to make it a big, more public thing.
Then I did make the decision—which I don’t recommend to many people—of writing 90,000 words about it on the internet. That’s what I did.
Jen: That was unusual, in your case.
Brett: Yeah, it was a little bit much, but I felt like that was a calling thing. I felt like God wanted me to do that, and I cringe saying that because I cringe when other people say that they think God told them things. But I do.
I felt deep in my spirit that this is a story that needed to be out there, and just to own that in a really private way, and to give people the chance to understand. We live in such a knee-jerk society that, for some, if they hear that so-and-so is gay, they write them off. I wanted to say, “Hey, write me off if you want. But if you don’t want to do that, I’m going to give you the chance to re-walk with me down all these little roads for the last 20 years of my life.”
And I’m really, really happy with how it turned out, and I would not change a thing.
It feels so good. It feels so good to just have that part of my story out there and to just have no more fear around what so-and-so is going to think. You can Google me, and you can see it, and I’m fine with that. It’s just, it’s so okay.
Jen: That was my first introduction to you, with Blue Babies Pink, which you wrote as a series. You released it in a series. It was 44 parts? Do I have that number right?
Brett: Yeah, 44, yeah.
Jen: Yeah, just rolling them out one at a time, and I was struck by so many things when I read Blue Babies Pink last year. What pulled through for me first, right out of the bat, was how incredibly funny and whimsical and generous it was
Because sometimes coming-out stories are devastating—and it’s not that your story didn’t have some devastating parts, because it did—or they’re just so sad or they’re so angry, which all of that makes perfect sense to me. That is not me criticizing, it’s just me saying when I read your story, I just couldn’t believe how generous and spirited it was. How funny it was.
I didn’t know you, and I’m like, This guy’s funny. Gay or not gay, he needs to be a writer.
It’s got some really beautiful photography, it was beautiful to look at. And I powered through it, I think I told you, in a day. That’s all I did for a day.
And it was so, you really told it . . . you should be proud. You should be proud of the way that you told your story, and the leadership that you showed with it because of course now, at this point, do you have any idea how many people have read that thing?
Brett: I think about 100,000 people have engaged with it on some level, based off of—because it’s a blog and it’s also now a podcast. So I’ve looked at all the numbers, and I really don’t know, to be honest. But I’ve heard from lots and lots of people.
So it’s been really, really sweet to see people read that story. And I was clear from the beginning that the point of the story was not to sway anyone in theology, that really was not my point. The point was just to say, “Hey, it’s worth looking at the stories of people who are walking a different road.”
I felt like I’m a storyteller by trade, that’s what I’ve done from a career perspective. So I felt like, Brett, you have a unique position to tell the story in a way that—I love hearing you say—you’re laughing one moment, maybe crying the next. I wanted it to have some emotional texture to it, so that people could really see that, hey, this story is hard. It was dark at times, but there’s a lot of light. There’s a lot of light, and there’s a lot of light in my story. There’s a lot of light in all of our stories, and so there’s different times where we have to engage with the darkness or the light, but I wanted both of those things to shine through.
Some people have really traumatic stories, and like you said, I have tremendous compassion for that. My story was . . . I would not call it traumatic. At times, it was hard, difficult, challenging, with a bout of anxiety. But all in all, I had a lot of grace, and a lot of people who loved me really well and got me through those tough times.
Jen: We’re going to have—obviously, everybody listening—we’ll have all these links available for you over on the transcript page on my website for Blue Babies Pink.
What you did with the very masterful hand, which is not easy in this particular space, is you’ve essentially given everybody—no matter who they are, where they are on LGBTQ inclusion, or affirmation, or just theology in general—everybody across the spectrum has an entry point into your story, and it doesn’t exclude anybody.
You’ve somehow set a table where people can pull up a chair, no matter what they believe, or what they’re not sure about, and feel very welcomed into your life and into your story. It was so moving, and so human, so very, very tender.
Before we move into new Brett, one more thing about Blue Babies Pink: you said that one of the goals behind the blog, and now the podcast, was to encourage other people who are struggling—not just necessarily with an LGBTQ story, but honestly with anything they’re ashamed to talk about. Because in your story, that’s where you have seen all the healing and the flourishing take place, was in the telling, in the transparency.
I wonder if you could talk for just a second about that, and tell us what kind of response you got when you first began launching Blue Babies Pink. I wonder if you were surprised by that, and what you have learned in saying something that seemed really, really scary and hard, but you said it out loud.
Brett: Yeah, Jen, we are all so addicted to what other people think of us. This is not a uniquely evangelical addiction. Everyone has an element of that, but it is so deep in us to just crave and to mull over and to obsess over the validation, or the affirmation we receive from others. So this was my story all through my 20s: just this crippling fear of my life on the surface was so . . . was going so well, and looked so pretty, but deep down this horrible fear of people finding out my true story. I am just so blessed that I had the chance to just burn that fear to the ground.
Jen: I love that so much.
Brett: We live in fear of the gossip mill. And I’m like, “We need to just burn the gossip mill down.” Just sneak in at night and burn it down because we’re, so many of us are held captive by what so-and-so thinks. Whether it’s Mom, or Dad, or Susie at church, or Bob at work. It’s a terrible American addiction, and so I have just been on this journey of just trying to unravel that out of my soul.
Proverbs 29:25, I loved this verse in high school, I love it now: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord has kept safe.” Fearing what people think, and it’s an obsession in this day and age, particularly now with Instagram putting all the pretty images in front of us.
And so it has just been so freeing to just, again, let that cat out of the bag. Let that secret out and to just fully own my past, and my weaknesses, and my struggles, has just been the best. So yeah, I’m on a big vulnerability kick right now, just encouraging people to be as vulnerable as they possibly can. Brené Brown, bless her heart, she’s been—
Jen: She’s our queen.
Brett: . . . pounding this drum. We need more people actually living this out, because the addictive nature of social media is forcing everyone to constantly put forth their best self. I think we’re actually be putting forth our realest self because that is where, man, the emotional health really takes off. I’ve gotten to live that out the last couple years, and it’s just been the best.
To your question about what was the initial response like my first published Blue Babies Pink: to be honest, it was pretty positive. I got gobs and gobs of messages from some kid I went to seventh grade with and, like, some old lady who played the piano at church. Most of them were really kind.
For all of the negativity around the gay conversation, most people are still mostly open-minded about it, and of course there are those who are not. And so I got tons and tons of unfriendings on all the social media feeds. It’s funny: it came in waves. Some people would leave me, like, they left whenever I came out. Then some people left when I announced that I was dating. So it’s just funny like that, how people can’t handle various degrees of the gay experience.
But, yeah, it’s really been . . . I’ve been very blessed that most people have been very loving and supportive.
Jen: I’m watching you in front of my eyes just flourish. It seems to me like you are living your very best life, and that has to have something to do with Brett Harman. Just at least something. So I am just overjoyed for you that you have found love, and that you have found marriage.
Tell everybody a little bit about Brett, and who, consequently, now you guys . . . I don’t ever know what you settled on, on your names. Did you ever come to a conclusion on that?
Brett: I did, yeah.
Jen: And tell everybody just a little bit about your really fabulous wedding. It was just such a joy to watch. We were coming, except that we were hosting a wedding in our backyard at the same exact time, as you know.
Brett: You were so missed. The Hatmakers were missed, for sure.
So Blue Babies Pink ends with me making the decision to begin to date, or how I worded, “opening myself up to love.” I jumped into the dating pool in my 30s, so for the first time in your life to begin dating in your 30s is really weird.
Jen: You’re behind.
Brett: Yeah, but the advantage I have that you and Brandon did not have is we have the internet, which has online dating, which is one-part amazing and one-part awful because it can be super stressful. I did the online dating thing and just really was trying just to see what it was like.
Did that for a couple years and met a boy from Alabama named Brett. And I am a boy from North Alabama named Brett, which is super weird but we had the same name. His name was Brett Harman, and we went on the first date—it was sort of a disaster, but then three months later we went on a second first date, and we began to date.
He was like me: he had been closeted really up in his late 20s as well. Oh man, I can’t even—to talk, Jen, about just how sweet that has been. I think there was a fear that I had in all those closeted years of this little voice that said, Brett, if you were to date, if you were to date a man, that’s broken. That’s backwards, it would not work. It would be a terrible thing. And when I found that the opposite was true, it was just so sweet to have a companion.
Jen, I wrote in Blue Babies Pink about back in my really dark days, I would just imagine coming home from work and having someone there. Having someone in the kitchen and so, literally, last week, like, I had this moment. I walked in and Brett Harman is in the kitchen, and he’s cooking a roast chicken.
Jen: Sorry, I’m crying my eyes out.
Brett: Yeah, that sounds so simple, and for so many people listening to this, that’s their everyday life. But for someone like me and Brett, who we never thought there would be a chance of love, or of companionship, or a family.
. . so my gratitude for the life I live now is just, it could not be higher to just have someone to share life with, have someone to come home to, and to do dishes and laundry with.
Brett: It has been . . . to talk about emotional health, it has just righted my spirit in the most joy-filled and holy way, and has given me just a new outlook on life. He’s such a kind and loving person, and we’re just doing our best employ all that marriage advice that we heard from the church growing up. Serving each other, and loving each other, and being faithful to each other.
So we are just in Marriage 101, so if you’ve got any tips, I’ll take them all.
Jen: I’m just so happy for you both. Brett Harman is so delightful, he is so dear. You have found such a wonderful companion. And I’m just . . . it’s so wonderful to watch you both just flourish. And it’ll be so great to watch your marriage unfold and deepen and grow just like all of ours did, because right now you’re just flying high.
Okay, what did you decide on names because now you’re both Brett and Brett. And so, what, is this private?
Brett: It’s funny, Jen, I was—actually, this has been private because to be honest, me and he, we did not know for the longest because it’s so confusing when you have the first name. Being gay is already hard with the name thing because are we hyphenating? Are we joining? Are we just coming up with it?
Anyways, I actually decided I’m going to announce this on the For the Love Podcast with Jen Hatmaker.
Jen: Wow. This is exclusive today? Okay.
Brett: Yeah, this is it, you’re getting the scoop here. Long story short, I am becoming a Harman.
Jen: You are?
Brett: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I couldn’t totally settle in with just being, like, “Brett Harman.” So I’m going to go by, at least online and then hopefully in person, “B.T.” That’s my initials, Brett Trapp, which I have been called my whole life. People call, “Hey, B.T.,” so I’m going to be B.T. Harman.
Jen: I like this.
Brett: Yeah, it’s a big change. But at the end of the day there’s a lot of reasons, but Brett loves his last name. He doesn’t have other kids carrying on in the name, and so it was great and I’m excited, and it’s really fun. So yep, I’m a Harman.
Jen: Okay, this is so exciting, that was a wonderful decision.
Okay, so listen, a few weeks ago on the show, I had a new friend on. Her name is Sara Cunningham and she’s behind what she calls “Free Mom Hugs Movement.” They’re doing this most basic thing: her son came out to her years ago, which spurred this on. It’s making these huge ripples in communities, really all over the country. So she’s going to Pride parades all over the place with a little homemade button—this is not high tech, this is very low tech—a little button pin on her shirt and it just says Free Mom Hugs.
She’s offering hugs to just whoever wants them, and that’s just it. That’s the beginning and the end of the story, because she says everyone deserves a mother’s love.
As you know a lot of people have lost their mother’s love when they came out, and so I wonder: what would you say are some ways that we as a church, as a society, as neighbors, as family members, friends, classmates, co-workers—whatever the relational connection is, how can we love the gay community better? How can we love LGBTQ kids better, and adults, and their families? How can we do this better? Give us some ideas.
Brett: Well, I’ll say this: I love what Sara Cunningham is doing, it’s super inspiring. I’ve not had a chance to connect with her but love it.
I have a soft place in my heart for parents on this journey, parents who are of LGBT kids. And I lead a small group called Harbor that some of those parents are involved in. This is the conversation we’re having every day is: how can they love and connect with their kids better? So I think the question you’re asking—how can we the church, individually, how can we love better?
In the broader culture we all know why that is and things that have happened. Despite this, I am just amazed that the kingpins of that world—the writers, the authors, the thought leaders, the pastors—it seems that they’re still waging this war against LGBT people. I still see articles written on a weekly basis. Of all the things that we’re dealing and grappling with, there is still this fixation on opposing gay marriage, gay whatever. It can be super discouraging at times. Of all the time that was spent and invested in the late-90s opposing gay marriage, and as a gay married person, I’m thinking all of the prognostications about how this was going to be “the great fall of society.”
I know only three years into the gay marriage ruling, but I’m not seeing that. What I’m seeing in my friends who are gay married is an incredible amount of flourishing. It’s people living incredibly boring lives, they’re literally your next-door neighbors.
That all we want is to live a normal life, the vast majority of us. Most of us are not out looking to sue cake bakers, we’re not looking to oppress and oppose people of faith. We are literally just trying to live the most normal life that everyone else wants.
I say that today, on the macro level, there is still these things happening. And so that does create, again, a new generation of fear in current LGBT people, particularly those who are younger and more vulnerable.
So I’m a big fan of, though we cannot control the macro, we can control the micro.
So obviously if you’ve got LGBT people in your orbit, in your ecosystem, love them. Reach out to them, take them out to dinner, just ask them what they need. A lot of these people have been abandoned by their families. Super tragic. And to just be invited into your home for a meal would mean so much. To just be asked, “Hey, tell us your story,” free of judgment, would be quite healing for a lot of these people.
You’ve also got people listening, and in your life, maybe there are gay people of faith who are on that single and celibate track that I was once on. I feel very strongly for these folks. I don’t hit them over the head and say, “Get over yourself, and just go date and that’ll fix your problems.” They authentically think that, that’s what they believe God wants them to do. I have respect for that. Those people, they need your support. If you’ve got someone like that in your church or in your community, they need a sense of family, and they need someone to love them as well.
Honestly, Jen, I think if you live in a small town, I think you have the most important role to play.
Jen: Hmm, interesting.
Brett: Because our big cities have an infrastructure in place where you can find some sense of community or support. There’s social services that can help if you’ve been kicked out of your home.
But in small towns I cannot say enough how . . . there’s some little community of LGBT folks in your town, no matter how small it is. If you look hard enough, you’ll find it. Maybe it’s the gay-straight alliance at your local high school. Go sit in on one of their meetings. If it’s only six kids in a classroom, bake them some cookies. Open up your home for a meeting, do something just to try to reach out to them and just to love these folks, because that is really what they need.
Jen, go to a freaking Pride parade. There’s such a disconnect, and even Pride itself has such a stigma around it. I’ve been, it’s not that bad. And if you see a guy in a thong, you will survive. You will not die, it’s okay. Maybe you’ll see some stuff that’s weird, maybe you’ll see some stuff that you won’t agree with. But maybe you’ll meet some people and do what Sara’s doing and attending these events, and giving hugs, and just being the face of Christ in a non-judgmental, loving way. Because I’m just . . . that that is the jam. That is it.
And I think end of the day, I also talk a lot about the issue of disgust. I think we all have internalized disgust around this topic, and I say that because I had it. I had a sense of self-loathing because what the culture has taught us about LGBTQ people has been so toxic. Jen, 50, 60 years ago, it was criminalized. And granted, we’ve come a long way and I’m so thankful for the positive strides. But that disgust runs really deep in all of us, in our communities.
So I think the more that we can just talk people off that ledge, and open up new stories to get people’s . . . the compassionate parts of their hearts to engage and to engage in a healthier and better way.
Jen: That’s so good, I’d never actually thought about the distinction between being just an ally in general in a small town versus a big town.
You’re right. In a big city you can find your people, but that is a really important distinction to make. I think what people will find, and this is true, is that if at this point you are not deeply connected to any gay people or gay couples, and it feels like a mystery to you, and it’s sort of a caricature in your mind of what that means, and what that looks like, I think what people will discover is when they begin to sincerely love and then ultimately do life with their gay neighbors and church friends, and family members, and co-workers, it might shock you how wonderfully nurturing and flourishing those relationships can be.
I think a lot of the preconceived ideas that have been built into us that you are referencing just fall away. They just fall away. It’s just like you said it a minute ago: we have a ton of gay friends here in Austin, and they’re just mostly boring. They’re, like, accountants. They’re, like, nurses. We’re just all paying our bills and going to dinner.
So it’s not some big othering that you think it is. It really isn’t. These are just our ordinary friends and neighbors, and loving one another is healing for all of us. Not just the gay community, it’s good for all of us. It’s good for the church. It’s good for our own stubborn hearts.
Let me ask you one last question, because you mentioned this: there’s still such a, just, intense oppositional space that is alive and well, especially in a faith context. Your faith—obviously, you’ve made it perfectly clear—is a huge part of who you are both then and now. And yet there are people in your life who share the faith who may not share how you live your faith, and your sexuality, your marriage. So there are people in your life, in your faith life, with whom you deeply disagree on things. Things that they may be holding up a Bible to say, This is why you’re wrong, and this is why I’m right.
I wonder if you could just give us a little bit of advice or counsel on how you have learned to get along with people, or honor them in some way, or who are in staunch disagreement with you. How is it, or do you maybe keep them in your life in any meaningful way?
Brett: Yeah, Jen, I think it’s time. I am just everyday crushed by the finiteness of time. We are all dead fairly soon. 100 years from now—
Jen: We’re all dead.
Brett: Everyone listening to this will be dead, unless maybe there’s an infant in the car of somebody who is still alive, but we are running out of time.
I am just saying, so many people waste so much time in their anger. And I think there’s a time to be angry, and there’s a time to fill the streets with our righteous anger, but I think we have got to just be so careful with that.
I have tried and worked really hard on my own soul to stay in a really healthy place and avoid the path of bitterness. I see a lot of people going down this path where they have been wronged, and they have been treated unjustly, and I have so much compassion for that. But it is leading them down this dark, dark path. When we dwell and when we simmer on those things, that can really begin to infect our character.
And so I just don’t think we have time to sit around all day hating other people. I think we have gotten to the day we’ve got to give people the space to believe how they believe. Even when they . . . we disagree with them, even when we are convinced that they are wrong and we are right. People are doing the best that they can with the knowledge that they have and, yes, sometimes that leads down some bad paths. But we don’t want to allow oppression and injustice.
In our personal lives, if we just know that someone mentally or ideologically disagrees with us, I take the position that I’m going to give them the space for that. I’m not going to hold that against them, I’m not going to assume they’re a terrible, mean, hateful, or bigoted person.
I think the second part of that is resisting the desire to change people. I did this for so long. I tried to pound the table, and make my case, and use the best argumentation that I could to change people. Jen, I just came to the point—I feel like it was God teaching me this—it’s an unhealthy compulsion, it’s an idol, whatever you want to call it. The compulsive need to set people straight, to change them, it’s just not healthy. So I have just given up on that. I don’t have a desire to change people.
I would like to think that I can be a person of influence. And if I am telling the truth in a respectful way, maybe over time they will choose to change. That’s not my job, and so I just think a lot of us, we’ve got to stop wandering in the desert looking for validation from everyone.
I’m that way. For so long, I wanted so-and-so to validate this, and that’s just not what I need. I’m not addicted to validation and affirmation anymore, and so the online piece complicates this. I do think that everyone’s living two lives: there’s their online persona and their real persona. What I’ve learned is I despise some people’s online version of themselves, and in person they’re really lovely and really great.
So I try to just remind myself of that these are real people, and that they have their own problems. A lot of times they’re just lashing out. They’re lashing out against something in their own life. I think the greatest battle is the temptation to let hate roost in our own hearts.
So I am just constantly on guard to try to keep that, and I’m not perfect at it. Some days I get really pissed off, and I will tweet on those days and I regret that. Just keeping all perspective and having that outlook, I think, is helpful.
Jen: Well said, spoken like the son of a preacher.
Alright, we’re asking everybody in this faith series—which has been amazing, and you are the grand finale so unanimously chosen by my tribe, they wanted to hear from you, so we thank you so much for your just generosity of spirit and coming to tell your story—so we asked everybody in the faith series this: I wonder if you could give us either a quote from someone who has deeply inspired you, or it could be a scripture that helps you keep your feet on the path, that gives you strength or encouragement. Something that you just reach for.
Brett: Jen, I knew you were going to ask this, because I’ve listened to your other episodes, and I’m so excited.
I am late to the party on Thomas Merton: Catholic, writer, activist, theologian. He’s deceased now, but I discovered a quote recently by him, and this is what I want to share. This has just been healing to my exhausted cultural soul. Here it is. He says:
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom, which makes work fruitful.”
Jen: Wow, it’s powerful. That’s so good.
Brett: If you’re like me, I feel like I spend my day just hung up on all the things that are wrong and things that are making me increasingly despairing at times, and it’s not my job to fix all that. And there’s times for self-care and to just disengage from that and to just focus on all the positive things around us. That’s been speaking to my soul.
Jen: That is fabulous. You guys, we will write that out in its entirety over on the transcript, because that is worth saving. That is a beautiful end to this amazing conversation.
My friend, I am so glad to know you. I am so lucky that you have come into my life. I’m so lucky to know Brett Harman. And I am, just, I’m thrilled to watch you.
I want to thank you for what you’ve taught me and what you have shown me. What you’ve demonstrated, not just with what you’ve written, but your character and the way in which you write it. The way in which you tell your story and the way in which you hold tension. And it is really marvelous, it really is. And I find it almost rare to see somebody with your caliber of integrity, and truthfulness, and kindness.
So you are a gift to us, to all of us. And I can only imagine what it was like when you were younger and on the threshold of telling all these things and saying all these things out loud, but we are immensely better for it. It has been a gift to our community that you’ve done it.
And so I just commend you in every way for your courage, and your vulnerability, and your contagious joy. It is just really something to watch, and so thank you for coming on today. Thank you for telling your story to my listeners.
He is so dear. He is so, so, so dear.
Thank you for listening today. I hope you loved his story. If you have not already read Blue Babies Pink, I promise you, it is worth your time. You will enjoy it, you will laugh, you will cry. It’s such a good glimpse into such a lovely person’s story.
We’ll have all of those links, as always, over on my website at jenhatmaker.com underneath the Podcast link. We have all kinds of stuff over there. I know I always bang this drum, but that is the most amazing page that my assistant and partner, Amanda, builds out for you. There’s all these links, and all these quotes, and additional resources, and the whole thing is transcribed. So definitely be using that resource if you are not already, and so we’ll have all of Brett’s information over there for you.
So, you guys, this wraps up our “For the Love of Exploring Our Faith” series, and I have just loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it.
I’m excited to invite you back next week into our next series—so much fun—”For the Love of Summer.” We have some of the most amazing guests lined up. We’re going to talk about everything you want to talk about: travel, kids, summer fashion, vacationing with children, all sorts of things. Food. It’s all in there. All summer, all the time, and I’m tickled pink about my guests. You are not going to want to miss it. Come back next week, and we’ll kick that series off.
You guys, thank you for being such good listeners. We’re about to hit 6 million downloads. I mean, that is just no joke. You guys tuned into this, we have a lot of subscribers. And somebody who knows something about the internet, which is not me, just told me this week that of our subscribers, almost 90% of you download every single week’s episode. That is really high.
Thank you for being so committed. Thank you for coming back week after week. It’s literally our joy to bring this to you. Between me and my producer, Laura, and my assistant, Amanda, we work so hard on this podcast because we love it, and we love bringing it to you. Thank you for listening, that makes it worth it.
If you haven’t already, go over and subscribe, and give it a little review. Give it a little rating, that’s helpful for our podcast. We appreciate it.
Then, also, we’re always listening guys, so let us know what you’d like to hear. Let us know what series you’d like to see, what guests you’d like to hear from. We’re always working in advance on that, so we are paying attention to what you love.
We look forward to starting “For the Love of Summer” with you next week! Have a great one, you guys.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!