A few days ago, I finished Chasten Buttigieg’s autobiography, I Have Something to Tell You. I loved it, and I think you will too.
Chasten James Glezman was born on June 23, 1989. He shares his birthday with legendary bisexual sexologist Alfred Kinsey upon whose research the modern gay rights movement was built, and math-computer genius and gay martyr Alan Turing. During Pete Buttigieg’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Pete’s husband Chasten quickly became the campaign’s “not so secret weapon.” I followed Chasten on social media throughout Pete’s campaign and saw a few interviews with him especially those after his brother attacked him on Fox News. I found him charming, sweet, and funny, and I wanted to know more about this middle school drama teacher. That’s why I wanted to read his recently released autobiography, I Have Something to Tell You.
His story verifies much of what I thought I knew about Chasten. From his public appearances, social media, and broadcast interviews, he appears to be intelligent and funny, given to emotion, and passionate about kids especially LGBTQ+ kids, and his love for Pete. I think you too will find the book reinforces these impressions. I listened to it as an audio book; reading a physical book is often difficult because they tend to exacerbate my headaches, and it becomes difficult to focus my eyes to the words on page. Chasten narrated his biography. I think listening to him gave the book a richer meaning. You may remember I originally came to Vermont from Alabama for a position as an oral historian. Oral histories allow you to hear the person’s emotions, and that is precisely what you get with the audio version of I Have Something to Tell You.
Throughout the campaign, Chasten and Pete were criticized by groups like “Queers Against Pete” who trolled Pete and Chasten around the country from one campaign event to another always trying to shout them down. They gave various excuses for not liking Pete, but #1 among them was that the couple was not “gay enough.” What a crock of shit! They are two men married to each other. How much gayer can you get? Just as sexuality is on a spectrum so are gay men. Chasten and Pete are identified with a gay sophistication often derided by some in our community; however, Chasten’s roots are surprisingly middle America. He was reared in Chums Corner, Michigan (population 946), “a hop, skip, and a jump from rural farmland.” Both his parents had to work hard to make ends meet. He recalls simple meals like meatloaf, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, canned tomato soup, peaches, and pears—and his mom Sherri, “in a bathrobe, her hair still wet from the shower getting her purse and writing us a check for school lunches in the mornings saying that it might not be enough.”
Growing up in rural Alabama, there are a lot of things I felt a connection to with Chasten’s story. He writes, “When fair time came around, I always felt so nervous and conspicuous. As you might suspect, the typical 4Her is a tough guy or wants to be. They present as very masculine, and I never did.” My parents forced me to play sports, but I was not the typical athlete. I was never very masculine, and like so many young sensitive boys who grew up as Chasten and I did, other boys noticed and pounced.
Also, like Chasten, I don’t remember “seeing” any gay people in person growing up. Just as Chasten relates in his book, I remember vividly the words fag, faggot, and sissy, and all the many other descriptors for boys who were different, feminine, and soft. I remember being pushed around in the halls and treated differently from other guys. Chasten says in the book, “The classic move was to push me into a locker while calling me a “freak,” but the comments about my sexuality were much more hurtful than this general term. Something in those insults told me other kids knew more about me than I did myself, and I didn’t like it….” I remember feeling the same way.
The combination of terror in the hallways and the locker room, the dogma of Catholicism (for me it was the Church of Christ), our Republican communities (Alabama began to be more Republican as I got older), the country, and the world in general were all things with which many of us can identify. The constant message of what we were expected to be, but knowing we were different led to deep emotional scarring of our sense of self that negatively impacted our lives in multiple ways. Much of the first chapters can be summed up in this passage: “Fighting the waves of exclusion, I often felt like an undertow was pulling me away from everyone and everything.”
Chasten also struggled with student debt something he and Pete talked about on the campaign trail. I understood completely. After nine years of graduate school, I racked up massive student debt and couldn’t pay them when I got a job as a teacher which paid barely minimum wage. Chasten has also struggled with medical debt, something I too know very well as I have searched for treatments for my migraines. Before the Affordable Care Act, most insurance wouldn’t cover migraine medicine because it was a preexisting condition. And let me tell you, migraine medicines are expensive.
As painful as these struggles are to read and identify with, there were many funny moments. Chasten can throw shade. From his Tales of a Starbucks Barista: “Caramel Frappuccino perfectionists are a whole breed of human being [but they were] preferable to the Foam People….” There were fewer laughs regarding his doubts and fears from all the dead-end dates; like many of us, he was initially surprised to discover most men he met through apps had no interest in a committed relationship and family. We all know what most guys on apps really want even if they start out by saying they are looking for more.
The story of meeting Pete and their relationship was so sweet. You got a sense of just how laid-back Pete really is, but also of just how much they love each other. The two are quite different, but they seem a perfect match. They both had struggled with coming to terms with their sexuality, something many of us have experienced.
One of the remarkable things about the book is the campaign. You get to read about Chasten’s experiences trying to help LGBTQ+ kids accept themselves something still difficult for many in 2020. The Internet is full of pictures of young kids on the campaign trail locking eyes with Pete (who leaned over or knelt to their eye level as Chasten taught him to do). During the campaign, Chasten visited over 100 LGBTQ+ centers across America. Some of the campaign stories are extremely emotional; I was teary by the end of the book.
While I don’t see Chasten getting into politics for himself as he seems to prefer teaching, I do hope one day we see Pete serving this country in a greater capacity perhaps even as president. If you have any interest in Chasten or Pete Buttigieg, I urge you to get this book. It is beautifully written with an appealing and witty approach that comes across easily. It’s the story of a life that wasn’t always charmed or humorous, but instead a life with which I think many of us can identify. It’s just a damn good book, and I think you’ll enjoy it.