For the past four years, Chasten Buttigieg—husband of former presidential candidate and current U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg (featured in our last issue)—has proven to be one of the LGBTQ’s community most inspiring advocates, tackling some of the toughest issues facing our country, while also being a teacher, spouse, and father of twins.
This summer, Simon & Schuster is releasing a newly revised edition of his best-selling memoir, I Have Something to Tell You, aimed specifically at young adults. In it, he honestly—sometimes painfully—describes his struggles of coming to terms with his sexual identity while in a small, conservative Michigan town. His stories prove to be relatable to many people (LGBTQ+ and otherwise) of all ages.
Buttigieg recently spoke to Connecticut Voice about the book—and an upcoming book tour (which will stop in Connecticut)—as well as the importance of teachers, the dangers of social media, and the reasons we still need to celebrate Pride in an increasingly dangerous society.
CV: I think this book will inspire anyone of any age who feels like a fish out of water and is trying to discover their own path to self-acceptance. How important was it to you to convey that message.
CB: That was the goal from the start; I wrote this version for LGBTQ youth who are questioning whether they fit in, as I did. I wanted to hand my story down, not just for that reason, but because it also emphasizes that if anyone fights for us or shows up for us, it can help any of us find where we do fit in! I truly wish I could have handed this book to my eighth-grade self.
CV: You talk in the book about the importance of self-advocacy in seeking acceptance and representation as a teenager. But as recently proven, self-advocacy also remains important to adults, including you and your husband. What should we all be doing about sticking up for ourselves?
CV: We often get tied up in the issue of what’s right and what’s wrong, but just because someone says or does something bigoted or homophobic, the law and justice don’t always see it that way. So doing the right thing, which includes speaking up, is so important even though some people will get away with doing the wrong thing. I also believe in something bigger than myself. When I speak up, I am also advocating for the health and safety of my husband, my kids, and my community. And that can be especially hard when dealing with people who offer nothing but hatred. Those people think we are weak, but many members of the LGBTQ community are among the strongest people I’ve ever met.
CV: What about having other people stick up for us? Do we need that?
CB: I hope that parents and teachers see they are being called on more than ever for their roles as allies. Teachers not only don’t get enough pay or respect, but they are on the frontlines of so many different things, from balancing lockdown drills to dealing with book bans; you understand why people are stepping away from the profession. The teachers who stay are among the most dedicated people on the planet.
CV: You advocate for finding your own “people,” which can be very hard for anyone of any age in the LGBTQ+ community. Do you have specific advice on how to do that?
CB: I agree there’s a bit of bravery at any age in making friends. I do want teens to know that school makes it easier to find your tribe, but you have to stick your neck out, put in the effort, and, yes, do it where it is comfortable for you. You also have to remember your immediate surroundings aren’t your permanent surroundings. You don’t know where you might end up or who might find you five or 10 years from now.
CV: You seem very attuned to the dangers of social media, especially for younger people. Do you think all of us need to spend less time on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram?
CB: I think social media can help LGBTQ people—especially teens—find community where it does not exist or if someone believes they are the only person who thinks or acts like them. But the thing that worries me about social media, especially Twitter, is so many people assume the people on it are talking for the entire school cafeteria, when they are just one table. It’s a very small group of people partaking in a large conversation, and whatever they say is not the entire national narrative. And yet, too often, they get to sway the popular opinion. So, it doesn’t have to be abandoned, it just needs to be given the appropriate weight.
CV: I think many of us are a little concerned about celebrating Pride Month, not for fear of being outed, but fear of “retribution”. How do we navigate the current state of homophobia in this country with our belief in Pride?
CB: I love this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” Of course, it’s important to protect yourself —both your heart and your safety. On the other hand, being yourself boldly in public is an act of bravery and rebellion, and in doing so, you’re making a statement that your personal joy is celebrating you. The goal of these haters is to make us go back quietly into the closet. It’s a scary time now because they want to make it a scary time. Our fear is what they want from us. I refuse to give it to them.
CV: Your book tour includes a stop in Connecticut (June 16 at the Ridgefield Playhouse with Harvey Fierstein and Richie Jackson). But you’re also going to the “red” states. Are you looking forward to meeting this cross-section of America?
CB: Hopefully, the book tour is different than the presidential campaign, but one of my favorite parts of that adventure was meeting so many different members of the LGBTQ community. I don’t know what conversations I will have in Texas, Utah, Florida, but I want anyone who shows up to know I won’t turn away from the hard conversations. Honestly, I would do this tour for a month or two, but free time is scarce, and I have to go home and help take care of our twins.
For more information on the Ridgefield Playhouse event, visit: https://ridgefieldplayhouse.org/event/i-have-something-to-tell-you-chasten-buttigieg-in-conversation-with-harvey-fierstein-richie-jackson/
—Brian Scott Lipton