Zibby is joined by New York Times bestselling author Chasten Buttigieg to discuss I Have Something to Tell You–For Young Adults: A Memoir, a poignant, charming, and joyful adaptation of his bestselling memoir about growing up gay in a small, conservative Midwestern town and slowly learning to embrace his identity. Chasten reveals he wrote the book he wishes he’d had growing up and then shares some of his difficult childhood memories. He also shares his first coming-out story, his experiences connecting with teachers and LGBTQ+ youth on the presidential campaign trail, the joy of being a new dad, and the children’s book he is working on now!


Zibby Owens interviews Chasten Buttigieg, about his new book, I HAVE SOMETHING TO TELL YOU – FOR YOUNG ADULTS: A Memoir.

Zibby Owens: Welcome, Chasten. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss I Have Something to Tell You – For Young Adults: A Memoir.

Chasten Buttigieg: Thanks for having me.

Zibby: I read the tutorial in the book on how to pronounce your name and your whole saga with your name. I have an odd name too, obviously. Not that yours is odd, but unconventional. Whatever. I don’t know. I’ve always had to spell and respell. I’ve gotten so many different things from — anyway, I relate.

Chasten: We’re unique.

Zibby: Yes. It’s amazing. Memorable, in fact. Can you tell listeners, please, why you wrote this memoir? Why share your story? What are some of the things about it that you really want to get across?

Chasten: I’ve been working on this book for the last couple years and did not anticipate that this book would be coming out during such a tumultuous moment in American politics. I knew I wanted to write a book that I wish I would’ve had when I was younger, a book I wish someone could’ve handed me and told me that it was going to be okay. I had that in mind. Then I became a dad during the process of writing this book. It changed everything that I wanted to say, everything I wanted to hand down to my kids one day, but also just a generation of young Chastens out there who are watching their government attack their dignity and their human rights and wondering whether or not people are going to show up for them and fight for them, if we all truly belong in this country. I had a lot of things in mind. As a parent, as a middle-school teacher, I knew how important it was to have a resource like this. Then the meaning just kept building as I became a father and as our politics ravined into the ridiculousness that it is right now with LGBTQ rights and book bans. I knew that I really wanted to say something that would mean a lot to younger Chasten.

Zibby: It’s amazing. It’s a great book and a great story. You have so many funny anecdotes in here about growing up. I think my favorite — this sounds mean. Not favorite. It was obviously not good, but when you got whacked in the head during a theater performance and blacked out on stage, oh, my gosh. It didn’t deter you, apparently. You just kept at it for a while.

Chasten: It did not. It was important for me to have a lot of humor and a lot of lighthearted moments in the book because so much of my story is also heartbreaking. There was a lot of pain that didn’t need to be — there was a lot of unnecessary pain, I should say, growing up when you think you’re the only one. You think something’s wrong with you. You’re just trying to find your way. I didn’t want the whole book to be depressing. This bad thing happened. Then another bad thing happened. Eventually, it was fine. There’s a lot of funny stuff in there too.

Zibby: It’s a good mix. I’m sorry that your bicycle ride did not lead to a lifelong TV career or whatever, but that’s still pretty cool.

Chasten: That’s a fun video to bring out at a party.

Zibby: Oh, man. I should’ve googled it or something. I only read about it. Is it up? It must be up somewhere for people to .

Chasten: I don’t know if I found it on the internet. It was on a VHS tape at my parents’ house. I recorded the television on my phone so that I can show it to other people. It’s pretty funny.

Zibby: That’s great. Going back to, not the funny parts, but some of the harder parts of growing up where you grew up with your family and the community and feeling like what you felt inside was a sin and that it was wrong and not accepted, how do you get through something like that and not let it permeate everything forever? How do you put it in a bucket even just to talk about it or write about it? How do you process it and all of that?

Chasten: In many different ways. Some parts of the book were really hard to write. There were days when I didn’t want to think about it or didn’t want to even start to go down that road to think about what I wanted to say and come back to some of those feelings. My story certainly has a happier ending. After I ran away from home, I got to come back home. Of all the feelings of guilt and shame, I did fall in love one day. I did get to become a dad. I did start a career. All of these things I thought I never would have. It certainly makes it easier to go back and think about what that young person was going through. There’s that part in the book where I talk about what I wish I could go back and tell my younger self. Certainly, a lot of that trauma is made lighter because I am loved, because I do have a community, because I do have people remind me that I am worthy of love and acceptance. Those things certainly wouldn’t be as easy to carry around with you if you didn’t have that.

Part of the privilege of being in this role is to be able to process those thoughts and those experiences and turn around and share them with another generation in hopes of inspiring them not to make things heavier than they need to be, to believe in a brighter future, to believe in a more inclusive America, and to see the goodness in all people. I grew up thinking that I had to be one very specific way. I hate that young people still believe that they have to achieve the standards of other people or meet the opinions or other people or that they are defined by the opinions of their peers or their surroundings. This book is a way to say you are not. Even if you might be the only one, you might think you’re the only one that feels different, this book is a reminder that you don’t have to care so much about what other people think. I wish I would’ve allowed myself to love myself much earlier, embrace all the things that make me quirky or different or unique and creative and lean into all of those abilities because they wound up being talents. I wish I wouldn’t have been so ashamed of them or scared of them because other people didn’t like them.

Zibby: I had dogeared that passage of your book, along with others. Of course, you frame all of your advice with a page of funny banter, which I love. There were two parts that were particularly good, I thought. It said, “It might seem impossible right now, but there will come a day when you will stop caring about what all these kids think about you, and that secret you’re doing your very best to hide will one day be the thing that helps you make a tremendous impact in the world. In fact, once you embrace that secret, you’re going to fall in love both with yourself and with someone else. ‘Oh, gross,’ younger me says. I know. I laugh. A few times, actually. And you’re going to get your heart broken into a million little pieces, and that’s just fine because you’ll pick yourself up, glue your heart back together, and be better for it. And then you’ll go do impressive things that mean so much to so many people. And you really do meet a prince. ‘Okay, now I know you’re not real.’ Well, he’s technically a mayor, but stick with me.” You’re so funny. That’s awesome.

Chasten: When people ask you that question, “What would you say if you could go back and tell your younger self something?” I always laugh because I feel like young Chasten — that whole premise of that chapter is like, am I ghost? Is it a premonition? I feel like young Chasten would not believe it at all.

Zibby: That’s the crazy thing about life. We never do get to go back and reassure ourselves at a younger age. I’m sure there are things we would love to know now that our older selves would be able to tell us. Oh, well. It is what it is.

Chasten: I taught eighth grade. I kind of know what my audience is here. I know that teenagers don’t like to be BS’d. I wanted to pepper in the appropriate amount of humor but also acknowledge that nobody likes to be lectured, especially teenagers. I also didn’t want to write a self-help book that’s like, everything will work out just fine. I wanted to sit in some of that heartbreak too and process some of that trauma with young people in hopes that they wouldn’t have to go through so much with themselves, but also just to acknowledge, you know what, sometimes it sucks. It’s really hard, but we’re better off for it.

Zibby: You also had experiences that didn’t exactly help your feeling other than, by living in Germany, for example, and being actually different in other ways from the majority of the population or everybody you were with at the time. Take me back more to that time of your life and how you navigated all of that.

Chasten: Going to Germany?

Zibby: Yeah.

Chasten: Germany was my escape. This scholarship popped up, the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange program. It’s a joint scholarship between the American and German governments. My high school German teacher one day was telling everyone about this program. All the kids were shoving their backpacks full. The bell’s ringing. They’re all leaving the classroom. I felt like I was the only one that heard what she was saying. It’s like, free golden ticket. Come grab it. Everyone’s rushing out the door. I was like, hold up, so you’re saying that I can go study in Germany for free? We didn’t have a ton of money. They definitely couldn’t afford an exchange year. I knew that would be a big sell to them. As I talk about in the book, I forged my dad’s signature on the application. It was my first big act of rebellion. Then obviously, wound up getting it and got their permission to go. It wasn’t so much that I was interested in going to Germany. It was just, I needed to get out. I just needed to get out of Northern Michigan. This was the way. I was thrown into a different culture. I had host families who didn’t really speak much English. I had four years of German in America, but nothing ready to go, conversational German, on day one.

Zibby: And a host family who went swimming naked. I would be like, okay. All right, amazing.

Chasten: It’s Freikörperkultur culture, free body culture, there. It’s not a big deal. You just go swimming. Then you go about your day. There were all these funny little cultural anecdotes that I was shocked about. The best part about it was that I started to meet friends who didn’t care that I was gay. I was able to come out to a friend. Once I did, I felt like I was able to just live this double life. My family back home in America had no idea that I was coming out of the closet and feeling stronger and more confident and more alive. Then as soon as all of those changes started happening, it was time to get back on an airplane and go back home and graduate high school. I basically went back into the closet. Had I not had that year, I don’t know what it would’ve been like for me. The school was fine. The travel was incredible. You take this kid out of Northern Michigan who had never seen all of these beautiful, incredible things, and I was just amazed by everything, an entire world out there that showed me it can be a different way. You can make friends. You can be yourself. You don’t have to be defined by that little town back in Michigan.

Zibby: That and Will & Grace, there you go. It was everything you needed.

Chasten: Exactly. Will & Grace, it was like trauma and therapy at the same time. I loved it, and I was so afraid that if I laughed, my family would know that I was gay. It certainly felt like you could be gay in New York, but you couldn’t be gay in Michigan. It was something that people on TV could have, but not this farm kid in Northern Michigan.

Zibby: I appreciated all the photos of farm animals in the back. I was not expecting those. I’m like, okay, I’m done. Oh, look at this. It’s the actual goat.

Chasten: I feel like people who’ve gotten to know me do not expect to see little Chasten with goats and cows.

Zibby: That’s good. Always nice to have unexpected things popping up. Then of course, you end up on the presidential campaign trail, which is not necessarily how conversations like this typically go because what are the odds? How was that? What was the most surprising? What was something that you shake your head and laugh at even now or something that cracks you up or the whole experience? Obviously, you can’t sum it up.

Chasten: I still struggle with imposter syndrome every now and then. Am I truly worthy of this platform? Why is it me? How did it become me? The presidential campaign trail was a whirlwind. At the beginning of it, I thought, there’s no way that I can fill these shoes. You look at people like Jackie Kennedy and Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. You think about all of these powerful political spouses. At that time of my life, I was like, I feel like I just started my career. Saddled with student debt, really, really rocky start through college, had just come into my being as a gay man and got there with all this baggage and trauma and felt like my life was just beginning with Peter. Then we’re out there. I’m so embarrassed by all these things. If you’re successful, then you wouldn’t have been a victim of sexual assault. If you’re successful, you wouldn’t have a mountain of student debt. If you’re a successful person — these are obviously air quotes — then you wouldn’t have this rocky past of having your heart broken and keeping three jobs to stay afloat. I quickly realized the more I talked about those things, the more people resonated, the more the campaign resonated, and the more people felt a connection with you. I just opened up about it all. I think at the end of the day, we all just want to be seen and understood and feel like we actually belong and someone gets us.

I started having these incredible roundtables with teachers and LGBTQ youth and their parents and just talking with people. Of course, you come in, and you’re the spouse of the presidential candidate. They’re a little intimidated. I’m a little intimidated because I’m there, and I’m trying to figure out what to do and who to be. There’s no playbook for that. It helped me see that maybe I’m not in the classroom now, but I’m sort of in the national classroom. I get to be a teacher for a lot more people. I had inspiring conversations with parents who are still struggling to figure out how to support their kid and teachers who are trying to figure it all out. I realized I don’t have to go out there and pretend to be anybody. I can just go be myself. I can just go talk to people normally. I don’t have to be this prince or princess figure. That was the best part about it, was just bringing the visibility to issues and to communities. Pete and I basically spent the year, year and a half apart. We were pinballing all over the country. I got to go to some really cool communities and meet some really great people and learned a lot about myself too, especially that in order to tell this story, I had to embrace it, which is what led me to writing the YA book. All of these things don’t define you. They’ve just helped shape you into who you are today.

Zibby: I love that. Then you also had the introduction of kids. Talk about — is somebody awake?

Chasten: Buddy the puggle is awake. He’s probably barking at a mailman or something.

Zibby: You said you thought you would never end up being a dad. Now of course, you are. What is that like? I have four kids. I can relate to new parenthood very well and all of that.

Chasten: It’s chaos. It’s everything I’ve wanted it to be and more. It’s messy. It’s sticky. I feel like I cry every time I talk about my kids. I love them so much. I miss them every day when they’re in day care. I feel like I’ve finally reached a thing in life that I knew I was meant to do. I wanted to be a teacher. I was a really good teacher, but it never felt like it was the thing I was put on this earth to do. Writing a book, helping my husband run for president, they were all things that I did and appreciated and succeeded at. Then I became a dad, and I was like, oh, my god, this is what I’m meant to do. All of these other things prepared me for this. Teaching middle school definitely prepared me for being a father of twin toddlers. Every time I get lost in the chaos of life and the silliness of politics, I try to be really present with my kids because they remind me of what I’m here for. They are such good reminders of what matters in this world. Some mean-spirited, homophobic thing on Fox News doesn’t get to come to the dinner table. You turn your phone off. You look around. Your kids are just sitting there trying to eat their mac and cheese and drink their milk. You focus on that. This is the good thing. This is why you’re here. This is all that matters. The opinions of those other people don’t matter. It’s showing up for your kids every single day. I love it so much. They also have an incredible way — I know I’m preaching to the choir.

Zibby: No, keep going.

Chasten: They have such an incredible way of showing you all of the tiny, beautiful things in the world that you stopped noticing, like birds. Gus is obsessed with birds. You start to realize how many birds are around you because he points out all of them, and the magic of a bus or a truck. Gus waves at everybody. It’s incredible. It’s Gus on parade every time we’re walking through the neighborhood. He’s, “Hi. Hi. Hi.” We walk past the firehouse, and he says, “Hi, truck.” It’s like, look how happy he is just taking in the world. “Hi, bird. Hi, bird. Hi, truck.” I just sit in that and stop thinking so much about the world being on fire. We have to tackle that too. We’re taking that on too. I try to be so present with them because they have a way of reminding me of all that is good. There’s nothing like reading a book with Penelope. She does this cute little thing. Do your kids ever do this, where they go pick a book and then they back up into your lap?

Zibby: Yes.

Chasten: It’s the best thing in the world. She gets the book, backs up into my lap. Plop. We look at two pages. Then she rolls off my lap, takes it back to the bookshelf, gets another one. It’s like, this is the best thing. It’s the best thing ever.

Zibby: Now my kids are so big. They’re squashing me, some of them. I did survive having twin toddlers as well. It does get easier. I know everybody says that. I was complaining about how busy I was or something. I was thinking about how I thought I was so crazed when I had kids. They were like, but now you’re really busy. I’m like, no, I was way busier and more stressed out and crazy because when you’re chasing people down and so worried someone’s going to — there’s always the fear of all times. This staircase — everything is also a threat.

Chasten: Constant fear.

Zibby: I’m on high alert. Oh, my gosh, now at least it’s manageable. It’s not such a physical job.

Chasten: You really do wear your heart on the outside of your chest all the time, so in love and just absolutely terrified all the time.

Zibby: What can go wrong? Now my fear is I can’t let anything happen to me. Not because I care about me. I can’t let them not have me around. That’s my other thing. I’m on a plane, and I’m like, you can’t do this today.

Chasten: I’ve never thought about that stuff, ever.

Zibby: It’s terrible. Anyway, so are you going to do make books? What do you think? How else are you going to continue nurturing your platform, helping people? You’ve done so much already. What’s in the cards for you next ?

Chasten: I started working on a kids’ book. I’ll focus on this one for now. It is a very fun little noodle in the back of my head. I’ve slowly been working on these characters. It’s also a book I want to read with my kids, a book that features two dads. The book’s not about having two dads. It’s just a family doing their thing. The kids get into trouble. There’s great lessons. Just playing around with all these storylines. I have tons of books. I’m so grateful for all these books that our friends and our family give us. Very few of them look like my family. That’s really important to me. I’m thinking about all of the things that I want them to see right now because they can’t read this book for another ten years or so. I want to develop that a little further. I’m sure my publicist listening to this will be like, oh, my god, focus on this one. It’s really fun. I was a theater kid. I love noodling with stories. It’s a fun daydream. What book would I want Penelope to go get off the shelf and back up into my lap with? We’ll see.

Zibby: If all else fails, you have a fabulous voice. You should do a side hustle as a voiceover actor. You have the best voice. I feel like it’s so calming too. I bet your kids eat that up, which is great.

Chasten: Thank you. I did the audiobook for this one. It was important for me that it be my voice. What a demanding job. It’s very annoying.

Zibby: All the stopping and starting.

Chasten: Yeah. Stop, start, stop, start. It was a lot.

Zibby: I’ve done a couple audiobooks. After the first one, I was like, wait a minute, maybe this should be my job. Maybe I should just do this, just read all day, read great books. This is pretty great that you could get paid for this. I don’t know.

Chasten: It’s also incredibly invasive. They’re like, “Oh, you got to start over. I heard your stomach growl.” I’m like, did you? Then you feel it, and you’re like, did they hear that one? It’s a very intimate process.

Zibby: I was totally crying through some scene. They’re like, “Can you just take that from two sentences?” I’m like, “Okay, I’ll do it again.”

Chasten: I was crying through that whole part about coming out to my grandma. I had to keep starting over. Eventually, I feel like they were like, okay, get over yourself. Take fifty.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. Thank you so much. Thank you for coming on and chatting with me today. Thanks for helping so many people with all the things you do and your book, I Have Something to Tell You. Thank you so much. It was great.

Chasten: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Zibby: My pleasure. Take care. Buh-bye.

Chasten: See ya.


Chasten Buttigieg, I HAVE SOMETHING TO TELL YOU – FOR YOUNG ADULTS: A Memoir by Chasten Buttigieg

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