Let's make our backpacks lighter
I find myself on a plane, a sleeping child tucked next to me, heading back to New York after a few days in Mississippi and Alabama. I’m trying to reflect on what the last few weeks have felt like, and it’s hard to sum up. The photo above was taken last Saturday at Thank You Books, a phenomenal women-owned independent bookstore in Birmingham, AL, where Frances and I are flanked by co-owner Elizabeth Goodrich (left) and Frances’ cousin, Kirk Forrester. A day earlier, several dozen people gathered at The Gumtree Bookstore in Tupelo, Mississippi for a midday conversation and signing.
The book events have been wonderful, but they make me feel vulnerable in ways I didn’t expect. I worry no one will come, or that I won’t know what to say. Then I arrive, and I discover again and again that people always show up. And speaking is not nearly as important as listening.
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People bring their books to me, and they bring their stories. One woman told me about her very young grandchild, coming out as trans, and her own efforts to learn more about the experience and show up for her family. One man told me that he feared his grown sons wouldn’t talk to him when he came out, at 56, but instead, it made them all closer (and one of the boys came out). At a conference, a woman—a well known and publicly out tech executive—pulled me aside to say, simply, “That’s how I felt at 13, too.”
These stories all have pain in them, but a lot of them have growth and optimism as well, a sense that honoring a part of oneself or one’s family has led to feeling closer to others, not more distant. Sometimes, in the process, we lose everything we thought we had. There is sadness that we can’t dissolve. There is loss we must learn to live with. But in the loss, we also discover freedom.
When I think about this, I sometimes think about a trip I took with my friend Heather through Nepal and India. We were 23, and we set off with heavy packs to hike, beginning with the Annapurna Circuit. Our belongings weighed us down, and we kept discarding items as we went—a worn-out pair of pants, shoes we didn’t use, books we’d finished reading—until we had only one outfit each, our strong and sunned physical bodies, and a new perspective on how little we actually needed. I think about how light our backpacks felt by the end of that trip.
Frances, Uncle Jack Reed, myself and mother-in-law Camille Sloan
📘The Family Outing Events!
If you’re in New York this week, join me at the Montauk Club on Thursday, November 3 at 7pm. Our conversation will be informal, and I expect we’ll have it over wine. Later this month, I’ll be at the Miami Book Festival. Let me know if you’ll be there. You can find other events here, and if you’re interested in talking about an event, hit me up! I have plans to attend several book clubs, PFLAG meetings, and corporate events, and am looking forward to all of them.
As always, if you’d like to grab a copy of the book, you can do so here. And, if you prefer to read with headphones, I also read the audio version of the book.
📘The Family Outing Debut!
In case you are interested in checking out some of the press from our first couple weeks, here are a few of my favorite pieces:
💡On National Coming Out Day, I spoke to Al Roker on The Today Show.
💡 WNYC also aired an interview on The Takeaway. It was long and thoughtful, and host Melissa Harris-Perry asked me about our own children.
💡 In the podcast If These Ovaries Could Talk, I speak with hosts Jaime and E about our first pregnancy.
💡 In The Good Life Project, Jonathan Fields digs in to the feelings behind the feelings involved in this memoir. He’s a gifted interviewer, and a friend, and we found quite a bit of common ground in our experiences of growing up.
💡And leave it to Kwame Christian to tease out exactly how coming out is a skill that requires negotiation skills in his show, Negotiate Anything.
💡The FT Weekly Magazine ran portions of two early chapters as the cover story in early October. It was dreamy to read my work in a print magazine again, and I’m grateful to Matt Vella and the incredible team who put it together.