All Episodes

April 16, 2024 42 mins

On today’s episode I talk with a dear friend and acclaimed writer Jonathan Merritt about the power of owning your story, about sharing your story even when it alienates you from your community and about his new beautiful children’s book called Me and My Guncle. If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to share the FULL, REAL you with the world, you aren’t going to want to miss this powerful conversation.  


Please pre-order a copy of Jonathan’s new book Me and My Guncle wherever you buy books.

See for privacy information.

Mark as Played

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
Pick up the pieces of your life, put them back.

Speaker 2 (00:04):
Together with the word you write all the beauty and
peace and the magic that you'll start.

Speaker 3 (00:09):
Too fun when you write your story.

Speaker 2 (00:13):
You got the.

Speaker 4 (00:13):
Words and said, don't you think it's time to.

Speaker 3 (00:16):
Let them out and write them down and cover what
it's all about.

Speaker 2 (00:22):
And write.

Speaker 1 (00:22):
You write your story.

Speaker 2 (00:25):
Write you write your story. Hi, and welcome back to
the Write Your Story Podcast.

Speaker 4 (00:31):
I'm Ali Fallon, I'm your host, and on today's episode,
I have such a special special treat for you. I'm
talking to my friend Jonathan Merritt, whose reputation proceeds itself.
I'll read to you a little part of his bio.
Jonathan Merritt is an award winning columnist and commentator on politics, spirituality,
and culture. He's the author of My Gunkle and Me

and a contributing editor for the Week, and has been
featured on prominent national outlets including The New York Times,
USA Today, the Washington Post, and CNN. Jonathan has authored
four critically acclaimed books and has also served as a
ghostwriter on dozens of others, many of which became New
York Times bestsellers. Jonathan is a proud biological gunkle to
five little ones in Georgia, and a proud adoptive gun

call to ten nephews and niece's in the Chelsea neighborhood
of Manhattan, where he currently resides. I'm sure you can
tell by just that short introduction why Jonathan and I
get on like a house on fire. And I'm so
excited for this conversation today. I know that we're going
to have no trouble covering a myriad of topics.

Speaker 2 (01:31):
So I'm so excited to have you here. Thanks for
joining us, Jonathan.

Speaker 3 (01:34):
Oh my gosh, it's so good to be with you
and all of your folks listening in.

Speaker 1 (01:39):
Thanks so much for having me.

Speaker 2 (01:40):
Can you give us like an introduction to Jonathan?

Speaker 3 (01:43):
Yeah, oh gosh, that's a really broad topic. You know,
I was raised in the South. I went to college
to be a doctor, actually, and had a calling moment
when I was getting ready to head to medical school
and was like, I don't want to do this and
felt this sort of calling, you know, a voice inside

me that that said you're gonna write.

Speaker 1 (02:06):
And I was like write what? How? I don't you know?

Speaker 3 (02:09):
It was so confusing to me, and so I really
set out to do that. I knew that I wanted
to write about religion and spirituality, so I went back
to school for that, and slowly, slowly, slowly, you know,
started working my way up writing for these little, tiny,
teeny tiny Christian publications all over the place, denominational magazines,

and then eventually like made the jump to mainstream publications
and books, and of course now I've written a children's book.

Speaker 1 (02:37):
So it's been a.

Speaker 3 (02:37):
Long, long road to writing over the last you know,
fifteen or or more years, but also really rewarding. And
it's been rewarding to see my parents, who originally were like, wait,
you're not going to medical what is happening? Are you
losing your mind, to sort of watch my life and go, oh,
we see, we see now you were actually following something that.

Speaker 1 (03:00):
We couldn't hear.

Speaker 4 (03:01):
Can we talk about your parents for a second, because
I feel like it's important for listeners who don't know
you or don't know your family to understand the context
in which all of this is happening, because your parents
are recognizable public figures or your dad especially, So tell
me who your parents are.

Speaker 3 (03:17):
I always say, I grew up in the inner sanctum
of the religious right. So my dad is a megachurch pastor.
He lives in Georgia. Their church is outside of Atlanta.
He is a televangelist, so you can watch him on
Sunday mornings in all fifty states and one hundred and
twenty two countries. He is an author himself of many

many books and was the president of the Southern Baptist
Convention when I was growing up, so we were very,
very conservative. My dad used to lovingly describe himself as
to the right of Ronald Reagan. And that was sort
of the water that I swam in and the world
that I lived. And I went to college at Jerry

Falwell's Liberty University because my dad was on the board there,
and you know, doctor Fallwell really put the squeeze on
me and said you have to come here and paid
for my education. And so that is the world that
formed me and shaped me. It's the soil from which
I have grown, and it's a mixed blessing, right like anything.

There were a lot of gifts that came from that,
and also a lot of things that I've had to
pay a lot of money to get a therapist to
help me kind.

Speaker 4 (04:29):
Of untangle at what point in that experience, did you
start to feel yourself at resistance to that upbringing? Like
what age were you or what was happening that made
you go like, I don't know if this totally fits
for me.

Speaker 3 (04:42):
You know, I think it was looking back, and I
didn't feel it at the time. The resistance maybe was
always there. The question is more, when I gave that
resistance permission to be known? Yeah, and I gave that
resistance permission to be known. It started right before twenty twelve.
Twenty twelve was a really big year in my life.

I was very publicly outed for being gay, and it
was the lead up to that. I was a teaching
pastor at my dad's church and was already kind of
having to preach things that I secretly questioned, that I
secretly doubted, and so I kind of knew say, in

that twenty ten to twenty twelve window, I was sort
of starting to give that resistance permission to be known.
And then it all happened in a very punctuated way.
Of course, after being outed, when you know you're given
a choice, you can choose to keep living in this
community and enjoying all of the perks, or you can

you know, you're shown the door, and I eventually, over
a long period of time, realized.

Speaker 1 (05:54):
I had to go.

Speaker 3 (05:55):
And it was at that point that resistance sort of
stepped into the light in full.

Speaker 4 (06:00):
And like, when I think about how I view you
as a writer or what the voice that I know
to be you, if I think of that split like
a choice, you can either sort of continue to go
with the flow, or you can show up in the
fullness of who you are and use your voice. You
have done such a good job of showing up in
the fullness of you and using your voice. And I

think for so many people, myself included, those words have
been like a life raft to give us permission to
also allow ourselves to be fully known and to use
our own voices in our own communities. And yet, you know,
like so much of the writing that you've done has
not been necessarily sharing your personal story. You've done that too,
but you've also done a lot of like political and
religious writing that you wouldn't at first blush say, oh,

this is Jonathan sharing his story, but it is you
sharing your viewpoint and your perspective.

Speaker 2 (06:47):
So what has that been like for you, you.

Speaker 4 (06:50):
Know, to talk about religion to talk about politics, there's
no way for you to separate that from who you
are as a person or what you believe.

Speaker 2 (06:57):
You know.

Speaker 3 (06:57):
It's sort of like when Emily Dickinson talks about storytelling
and has that famous quote about you know, tell it,
but tell it slant, like you.

Speaker 1 (07:05):
Know, comm at.

Speaker 3 (07:05):
It's sometimes you come at your story and you enter
through the side door. And I had an editor early
in my career when I was like, you know, it
was like an adolescent as a writer, you know, trying
to find my voice, and it was sort of warbling
all over the place and trying to modulate my emotions
as well. Because I'd been given this this big platform,

I would oftentimes write in almost a polemical way about issues.
And I had an editor tell me years later, you know,
I always loved getting first drafts of your articles, But
when I would read them, I would always think it
felt like a tiny act of patricide, which I thought
was really interesting, Like there was something about my upbringing,

about my parents, about the things that I had been told,
about the wounds that I had experienced from the church,
that even though I was writing about something sort of
seemingly unrelated or tangential to that context. I was really
writing about that context. I was kind of processing that
by using these other kind of newspegs and news hooks

as a proxy. And I didn't realize that, of course,
you know, until until much later, that I was sort
of interfacing with my story and I was doing a
kind of storytelling without ever explicitly telling my story when
I was writing those pieces, which is sort of interesting
looking back.

Speaker 4 (08:28):
So, at what point did you decide that you wanted
to share that story with the world. I don't know
if it's like the story, but the story of your
coming out definitely feels like a really important part of
your evolution and part of your showing up fully in
the world. At what point were you like, I think
I'm ready to tell that story.

Speaker 3 (08:46):
Yeah, I've heard people say before that more than coming out,
it's really inviting in and inviting people into your story.
And you invite people in waves. You become more comfortable
with your story as you actually come to truly understand it,
because you've you've got enough distance from some of those

key events and so and so your story gains clarity.
And then as you learn to trust certain people, you
invite people in in waves. So you know, some of
the storytelling I did in the moments after I was
outed was really messy, and you know, I was using
a lot of cliche phrases to kind of push people

back and keep them at bay, because a part of
being outed, it's an act of narrative burglary. Somebody has
has has sort of broken into your innermost parts and
they've stolen your story and now they've taken it out
into the world and they have released it without your permission,

and now it's it's now become kind of mixed up
and garbled, and it's not the way you would have
told it, and it's told, you know, in these other forms,
and now it's got all these comments and other people's
kind of context and perspective like attached to it, and
your story gets lost. It's why, you know, outing is
so controversial even in the LGBT community, because it's so

traumatic to steal a person's story and then to tell
it for them without their consent. So that kind of
unconsensual storytelling that happens is so deeply traumatic.

Speaker 1 (10:28):
And so it actually took me a really.

Speaker 3 (10:30):
Long time to kind of untangle that because I started
to think, well, I can't trust people with my story
because look what happened when I trusted this person with
my story. So I began to tell people kind of
curated versions where I would leave out pieces or I
would add certain phrases that would tell them that I
was I was okay, or I was trustworthy, or I

was faithful or whatever. And it took me me moving
to New York City, for one thing, Moving from Atlanta
to New York City, where I could find communities that said,
in various ways like we accept you as you are
and not as someone else thinks you should be. To
be in those communities gave me a kind of freedom.

It allowed my nervous system to kind of slowly come
down and normalize. It allowed me to trust in really
small ways that became really big ways. So I would
say it happened over a period of time. It happened
first in like my inner circle. Then I had a
kind of professional moment where I several years ago posted

online on social media and said, hey, this is who
I am. It's like, you know, the greatest showman, Like
this is me. And that was a really big moment.
And then I think, I think a kind of bookend
to this entire process is the publication of this children's book,
which is also it's not just an act of telling
a really fun and beautiful fictional story, but in many

ways that fictional story is a mirror of the factual
story that's my life.

Speaker 1 (12:01):
I am not with experience.

Speaker 4 (12:03):
Yeah, so much of what you said just now is
so important, and I definitely want to get to talking
about the book, but first I want to linger for
a minute on this idea of a narrative being stolen
from us, because I think a lot of people, even
if they don't identify personally with the LGBT community, as
in they're not like trying to come out as gay,
we resonate with this concept of a narrative being stolen

from us. And I think, you know, this happens to us,
maybe even unconsciously, where we maybe it's not so much
the narrative being stolen from us, but someone sort of
imprinting a narrative onto us, Like we've been told who
we are or what our story is by our parents,
by our spouses, by our siblings, by religion, the church,
the media, you know, advertising, whatever, Like all of these

external influences have imprinted on us. This is who you are,
and this is what your story is. And it's a
really big wake up call and a waking up moment
to finally say, like, no, that's not how I'm telling
the story. I'm going to tell the story this other
way instead. And it's one of the reasons why I'm
such an advocate for everybody picking up the pen and
recording their story, even if they don't plan to publish it,

because it's a moment of taking back the narrative. And
I don't know if you would agree with me. I'm
saying a lot, but I just want to hear your
take on this.

Speaker 2 (13:24):
And I don't know if you.

Speaker 4 (13:25):
Would agree with me. I'm saying a lot, but I
just want to hear your take on this. That there's
an element when you publish your story where you do
release the narrative into the world, and it almost is
like a willing release where people are going to say
what they're going to say, They're going to make up
stories about you, they're going to add to the narrative,
and there's nothing you can do about that. But it's
a much more empowering way to do that when it's

you who wrote the story and you're releasing it versus
someone else telling the story for you.

Speaker 2 (13:51):
But I'm just curious to.

Speaker 4 (13:52):
Hear your take on all of that, because I think
it's such an important piece to the puzzle for people
who are considering sitting down to write their own narrative.

Speaker 3 (13:59):
First of all, like part of it is just like
an active individuation. Like gus, we become fully adult, and
that doesn't always happen like you go to college at eighteen,
get right. For many of us, it happens much much later.
And it also tends to happen in stages and phases
over time where we first begin to kind of awaken

to our story. We hear someone say something that we
have assumed to be true that now suddenly sounds unfamiliar
because we've gotten to know ourselves in a more intimate way,
and we go, oh, my gosh, my mom always told
me I had a bad attitude, or my mom always
or my dad always said to me that I was

overly pessimistic, or they always told me that, And I
don't actually think that's true. I think that was someone
else's projection onto me, or somebody told me that this
thing happened to me because I did a bad thing, right.

Speaker 1 (15:01):
I mean, like, I know a.

Speaker 3 (15:02):
Lot of people who grew up in physically abusive households
and they were told a story that they were rebellious
and disagreeable, and you know that they were kind of
like a problem child, and they were offensive, and they
started to realize that that wasn't the truth, that actually

they were just a person who had enough courage.

Speaker 1 (15:27):
To tell the truth.

Speaker 2 (15:28):
Yeah, And as a.

Speaker 3 (15:30):
Result then sort of bore the weight of their parents' ire.
And I know in my own life it was a
real process of awakening to my story. And then you
have to kind of make peace, I think with all
the ways you've made decisions you wouldn't have otherwise made
because you were living into someone.

Speaker 1 (15:51):
Else's story about you.

Speaker 3 (15:53):
Yes, And I know that's happened to me a lot
of times, like oh, this is the reason I married
that person, I moved to this city. I didn't say
yes when I should have to this thing. And so
you have to deal with maybe some regrets. You have
to deal with sadness, end and loss that you have
as a result of living in to someone else's story

about you rather than the story that you know to
be true. And that I think is one of the
hardest parts. But you can't do it until you own
your story, until you tell it yourself. So I actually
agree with you. I've had people go, you know, what,
I want to write this book. I want to write
you know, I want to write my story, blah blah blah.

Speaker 1 (16:35):
Should I do it?

Speaker 3 (16:36):
And what they really want me to tell them is
that you can sell your memoir to a traditional publisher.
And what I have said to people so often is
you should do it anyway.

Speaker 1 (16:46):
You should do it anyway.

Speaker 3 (16:48):
That's another positive thing that might come from this. But
there's a first thing that has to come first, which
is this will be an act of clarity, an active reclaiming,
an act of healing. It's a door that opens to
a door that opens to a door right that you.
Once you step into telling your story, all kinds of

things will open to you. And that's a good in
and of itself, even if you take it and burn
it the second that it's written.

Speaker 4 (17:16):
Yeah. Absolutely, I could not agree with you more. The
New York Times published an article a while back that
said eighty five percent of Americans say that they have
a book in them And my take on that is
the reason why there's such a huge percent of people
in this country in particular who say they want to
write books. It's people saying they want to write their story.

They want to better understand their place in the larger
spectrum of things. They want to know what makes their
life matter. They want more clarity on what they're here for.
That's my take on what those people are actually saying.
And you mean there may be some measure of them
who are like hoping for the fame, fame, you know,
quote unquote fame and glamour that comes from being on
the New York Times list. But I think most people

are just it's genuinely a human instinct to want to
own your story, to share it with other people, to
connect to other people through our shared experiences. I think
that's such a human instinct.

Speaker 1 (18:08):
Yeah. No, I couldn't agree with you more.

Speaker 3 (18:10):
Which is which is a lot of the work that
you do, and it's some of the work that I've
done as well, and part of what we know which
we can tell, but other people you have to almost experience.
It is when you're in the room with someone and
you have a really specific process that you've given us

a little bit of a glimpse of on social media,
but you know you're rearranging the cards, you're putting things
in order, You're getting the internal and making it external
so that someone can reckon with it. You've been in
that room time after time when you've seen the light
come on.

Speaker 1 (18:47):
You've seen those moments of awe.

Speaker 3 (18:50):
And wonder and awakening and epiphany, and you've been in
the room, i'm sure with people who've cried and who've
experienced deep, deep, deep emotion. And then you want it
for everyone because you're witnessing sort of the liberation of
a human being in real time, and you go, everybody

should have this, everybody should do this, and everybody can
do it, which is the amazing thing.

Speaker 1 (19:15):

Speaker 3 (19:16):
It's not like everyone should go to Paris. I wish
everyone could. Paris is wonderful, but not everybody can go
to Paris. Everybody can take the time to narrate their
own story and to reclaim their own story. All it
takes is time, which is something that you know that
most of us have, and so I think that's it's

a real gift that people can give themselves.

Speaker 1 (19:39):
And most people don't do.

Speaker 3 (19:40):
It either because they're too afraid to confront white men
what might be living under the bed or because they
don't actually believe what we know to be true, which
is that this is one of the most powerful.

Speaker 1 (19:51):
Things you can do.

Speaker 2 (19:52):

Speaker 4 (19:53):
I think that's a big, big piece of it. One
of the many things that you and I share in
common is that you've done some ghostwritings. You've worked with
people to help pull out the most interesting parts of
their story and put it into a format similar to
the way that I do. I mean each have our
own processes, but it's the same idea. What has that
been like for you to witness other people owning their

story and have you seen a similar kind of empowerment
and change and transformation in them as they've shared their
story more publicly.

Speaker 3 (20:22):
Yeah, I always see a transformation. And my goal whenever
I'm ghost writing has always been look at the end
of this, if your name is the only name on
that cover, then we have to make sure that that's honest.
And how do you make sure that's honest? I tell people, Look,
I won't write for you, I will write with you.

I'm not going to give you something to say, but
I can extract what you already have to say, and
hopefully help you order it in a way that makes
sense and to say it in the best way that
it can be said. And so it's more like mid
wifing right then like surrogacy, and that's really what I
hope for.

Speaker 4 (21:04):
Yeah, you're not responsible for the baby, but you're responsible
for getting the baby here safely.

Speaker 1 (21:09):
Right and that way.

Speaker 3 (21:10):
You know, there are a lot of people that do
it differently. They go somebody comes and says, write me
a business book, and somebody gives you a business book
and then you put your name on it, which is
different than what we do, which is really helping people
to get what's inside of them on the outside and
then to make it beautiful.

Speaker 1 (21:28):
And we do that in.

Speaker 3 (21:29):
Partnership with other people so that once it's done, they're
able to own it and take it out in the world.
That for me, is always a beautiful process. I think,
you know, it comes with challenges. I think about a
lot of people that I've worked with who they want
you to make them sound like someone else.

Speaker 1 (21:48):
Sure, that's something we can do.

Speaker 4 (21:50):
Which is funny because the process of writing is about
owning who you really are and owning what you really
sound like and making peace with that and also seeing
the beauty in it and coming to really love who
you really are. So it's about seeing yourself honestly on
the page and going like, actually, I love that person.
And maybe there's some evolution involved too, where you transform
or change in ways that are needed. But yeah, I

think it's a thing that all of us bump up against.
To choose to share our stories publicly is reckoning with
the fact that there are aspects of the story that
we would probably rather keep private or keep to ourselves
because they're embarrassing or they're you know, they don't paint
us in the best light or whatever. And I always
tell people those are also the most interesting parts of
your story, the parts that you think you want to

hide because you know no one else is going to
understand them, or they're going to judge you or whatever.
And I'm sure you could speak to this. Those are
also the parts where people go, thank you, thank you
for saying that in that honest of a way, because
you're not the only one who's feeling that way totally.

Speaker 3 (22:47):
And then and then I think, you know, for some people,
and I know this is this is true for you.
We just have a gift for sort of an ear
for how someone sounds and then helping them to replicate it,
so you can hone that gift, I suppose, but you
know it either you either have the ability to do
that or not. It's really really hard.

Speaker 1 (23:10):
I don't do it often.

Speaker 3 (23:12):
You don't ghost write a lot anymore, but I used
to do it a lot, and it was really really hard.
And if you're not careful, then you can kind of
lose yourself because you've been replicating all.

Speaker 1 (23:23):
These other people's voices.

Speaker 3 (23:24):
It's like, you know, Julia Cameron talks about in the
artist's way, he talks about like shadow work, where you know,
if you're not careful, you suddenly are just helping other
people do the thing that you really want to do yourself.
And so for me, I have found it a kind
of way to use my creativity and gifts and take
a break from what I do, but not as a

replacement for my own artistry. And that's something you have
to keep in mind if you do that kind of work.

Speaker 4 (23:52):
I think, yeah, that resonates on a deep level. I've
told my husband before because from the outside looking and
it seems like, oh gosh, it takes you, you know,
three to six months to write a book and then
you get paid X amount of dollars for it, Like
that seems like a really good living. And I'm like,
it's not the way that it seems, because a book
that I'm ghostwriting for someone sort of takes over my
brain for like a year of my life. And so

it's not just the hours I spend sitting down to
the keyboard, you know, working on the actual writing. It's
also the way that I like live inside of their brain.
It's like a takeover of my life kind of for
a year. So yeah, it's it has been a gift
to me too. But I'm similar to you where I'm like,
I can see how you could get so comfortable in
this role where you get to kind of hide behind

a curtain a little bit that you would never step
out and do your own creative work. So I'm very
very glad that you're doing your own creative work too. Okay,
one more question before we talk about the new book.

Speaker 2 (24:54):
This is connected to the new book too.

Speaker 4 (24:56):
Being more honest about who you are and telling your
story in your own words PubL. I mean, I know
some of this from talking to you and some of
it's just from speculation. It has cost you some things,
and I'm curious for you to talk about that and
specifically as it relates to your faith. It's kind of
two questions, but like what does it cost you to
tell your story publicly? And then the second piece of
this is like, how has that impacted your faith? What

does your faith look like for you?

Speaker 2 (25:19):

Speaker 1 (25:20):
It's cost me a lot.

Speaker 3 (25:21):
It's like, I try not to think a lot about it,
because you know, there are things that you lose that
you can never get back, and once you say goodbye,
it's like self flagellation to sit around and think about
how you don't have that thing anymore and never will.
I had a career that was exploding, and you know,

I was being invited to the big, the big stages
at the big Christian conferences to give these big talks,
you know, to thousands of people. And that was my trajectory.
And I was writing a book every two years. And
there's a real market for someone who's able to kind
of live within the confines of that evangelical industrial complex.

Speaker 1 (26:11):
It's not all bad.

Speaker 3 (26:13):
There are people who experience all kinds of wonderful gifts
within the confines of that space. But if you break
certain rules then you're no longer welcome, and being gay
is one way to break those rules really quick. You know,
can't you can't be here and be that, and you

need to choose. So walking away costs me opportunity and revenue.

Speaker 1 (26:43):
You know.

Speaker 3 (26:43):
One of the reasons why I really started doing a
lot of ghost writing was because the market for my
work began to shrink. I realized I could use my
gifts with someone who was still welcome in those spaces,
and so I was writing, you know, all of these
books for people on this listening to this podcast would

know their names, they listen to their music, they have
gone to their churches and have read their books, and
so I was able to still use my gifts while
I kind of figured out what it would look like
to reinvent myself and for me, a natural fit for
me was becoming a journalist, which is something I've done

a lot. It was becoming a literary agent, which is
something I've done a ton of. It was beginning to
sort of develop this like multi vocal writing and speaking
platform and to develop a diversity of revenue streams. And
that's just the reality, you know, Like I feel sad

about that, but I don't feel bitter about that, yeah,
because people will say, well, you know, they've come out
and now they're angry that they've lost these opportunities. And
the truth is that every time you make a big decision,
there's gain and loss, and that's a net gain. I'm

happy that I've embraced who I am, and so it's
a net gain.

Speaker 1 (28:14):
It doesn't bright side it.

Speaker 3 (28:16):
It doesn't, you know, wipe away those lost opportunities or
the lost friendships. I've lost a huge amount of friendships,
people who've just sort of faded away and now or
you know, won't support me. You know, we talk about
this children's book. There are a lot of people who
text me regularly, who I hang out with regularly, who

won't have me or can't have me on their podcasts,
who won't share my book on social media, who will
quietly and privately congratulate me in some way, and that's
the most they can do. And that's okay, Like I've made.

Speaker 1 (28:50):
Peace with that.

Speaker 3 (28:51):
But it is a loss, yeah, And so there is
a kind of bucket of losses that I've had to
make peace with. But in the end, I'd still do it.

Speaker 4 (29:03):
I mean, sadly, this is part of one of the
rules of that evangelical complex you talked about is you
also can't support the LGBTQ community publicly. Most practicing Christians
that I know actually behind to the scene, I would
say eighty percent of them behind the scenes actually do
support their LGBTQ friends. But you can't publicly support that

community or you're ostracized. And yeah, similar to you. I
mean again, so much of what you were saying resonates
where my moment of truth came in twenty fifteen when
I filed for divorce. But the divorce for me was
like the scarlet letter. That felt like it kind of
broke me off from that community. But even before that,
like you're saying, there were so many things happening where

I felt like I either I had to choose between
either following the rules or fully aligning with who who
I am as a person. And I mean, I lived
a whole period of my life where I planted a church,
and I I felt like at such odds with the
idea that I had to publicly refute my LGBTQ friends.

I had so many close friends who who were gay,
and yet I wasn't allowed to publicly support them or
even I remember I was telling someone the other day
even and this is right after my divorce, so I
was like coming out of the fog. But I remember
taking a photo with a gay friend of mine and
being afraid to post it on Instagram and tag him

because I knew the implications, Like I knew what that
would mean for me, And I mean, like I regret
to say that and even admit that now, but it
speaks to the pressure that there is for people who
are involved in that community to not just.

Speaker 2 (30:44):
Align, but align publicly.

Speaker 4 (30:46):
It's so important to align publicly with the ways of
the church that there's not space for you to have
your own opinion or deviate in any kind of way.
And so what you talked about that I think is
so important is that the trade off is worth it.
The trade off of owning your story and owning your
voice and owning your truth is worth it for no
matter what you lose in the process, the revenue, the friends,

the community. It is devastating. It's sad to think that
there are people who won't talk to me or who
cut me off because of how I align myself now.
But the sense of power and ownership I have for
owning my life is worth everything that's right. So talk
to us about how this book evolved. Because we were

talking before we started the recording, and you were saying,
like you set off to basically write your memoir about
being gay. I assumed that was kind of the thread
of the memoir, and tell us how that evolved into
this children's book.

Speaker 3 (31:40):
I was working on a book. I was under contract
with a publisher. I've now joined a club that you
are also in, which is where we had to give back,
you know, who had to cancel contract with a publisher
because we were just sort of at odds and it
wasn't an issue. The publisher wasn't trying to silence me
or anything. It was just a book that, like I

had tried to write a hundred different ways, and it
wasn't being written.

Speaker 1 (32:05):
And it was a book.

Speaker 3 (32:06):
About sort of the spirituality of trauma and how those things,
how spirituality and trauma kind of interface. It was sort
of chugging along. I was not enjoying it at all.
I was dreading the possibility of finishing it because I
didn't want to go and promote it, because I didn't

want to sit around and talk about these things or
be asked about these things and be cross examined about it.

Speaker 1 (32:32):
Yes, I was feeling.

Speaker 3 (32:34):
Pretty pretty bad about myself because I'm like, I can't
get it over the line. Have I lost my gift?
Have I lost my ability or to like write? Have
I lost my passion for the thing that I want
to do?

Speaker 4 (32:48):
You know?

Speaker 1 (32:48):
I felt really ashamed. And in the.

Speaker 3 (32:51):
Midst of this, as a literary agent, I had started
representing children's books, which most of what I represent is
adult nonfiction, virtuality or general market.

Speaker 1 (33:01):
I do a lot of general market books.

Speaker 3 (33:03):
Now, I had said to our senior partner at the agency,
I said, hey, I think I want to start selling
children's books. I just feel the stir to sell children's books.
And he was like, yeah, that's the one genre we
don't do. It's totally different, and I don't know how
to do it. We don't have any relationships. I said, well,
I'm going to do it, and I'll save you the details.
But God started opening these doors and I started meeting people,

and I started selling children's books. And then I took
a course on how to write children's books that was
really amazing and eye opening, and I learned a lot.
And then I was down at a happy hour. I
live in this seminary complex with a bunch of other people,
including some writers, and I was sitting with my friend Shauna,
who's a writer, and I said.

Speaker 1 (33:45):
Shawn, I think I think I want to write a
children's book.

Speaker 3 (33:48):
I've never said this, but I think I would be
good at it and I think I'd like to do it.
And she was like, well, what would you write it about?
And I was like, well, that's the thing I don't know.
And she said, well, why don't you write about being
a gunkle. I knew in that moment that that.

Speaker 1 (34:04):
Was the book.

Speaker 3 (34:05):
I've lived in this place. These people have invited me
into their homes and they have said this seat is
your seat at the table, and you're a part of
our family, and we want you involved in the lives
of our children. We want you to go to their
school plays and their soccer games and their dance recitals,
and take them to coffee when they're struggling with something
that you're uniquely qualified to help them with. And growing

up in a context where I was sort of taught
that gay people were threats to families, it has been
an experience that I can't even describe not just to
embrace who I am, but to embrace who I am
in context to other people within a family unit. And
it's been profoundly healing for me. And so the next

day I was like, I don't want to do anything
else but write a book about being a guncle and
I sat down at a coffee shop and over the
next weeks and months, I wrote it out and I
actually took it back. This relates too to maybe the
story you've told where you brought something to your publisher.
I brought back to my publisher. I said, hey, I'm
not going to write the book that we thought I
was going to write, but here's a children's book. And

they said, that's wonderful. We don't want that book. We
want your adult book. And I said, well, I'm not
going to give you that book, so I'm going to
give you your money back instead. And I took the
book out and shopped it and this wonderful children's publisher
named Running Press, which is a division of a bigger publisher,
they said, we want your book, and so now it's

going to exist, which is just sort of blowing my mind.
There's a quote some of your folks will know Madeline Lingle.
Maybe you've read some of her books or her novels,
but she has a quote. I always thought it was
silly and trite and fake and not real and not true,
but now I know that it's none of those things.

She said, you have to write the book book that
wants to be written, and if the book will be
too difficult for grown ups, then you write it for children.
There's something in that that really awakened in me, and
I was like, you know, rather than have a debate
about who I am and who people like me are

and whether we should have a place in the world
with adults who've already made up their minds, I can
just tell a really beautiful story to children who can,
through this story, realize that what makes us unique is
beautiful and it's our gift to the world. And So
this isn't a book that tries to teach kids, you know,
that what is right and wrong, where it doesn't you know,

dive into you know, sex engagh.

Speaker 2 (36:42):
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1 (36:43):
It's not like that at all.

Speaker 3 (36:44):
It's really about a kid who's who's learning to embrace
his own difference and to realize that that's what makes
him uniquely himself.

Speaker 4 (36:54):
Yeah, which fits with everything we've talked about today. And
I was just thinking, there's this cool through line of
the visual that I got was the two kind of
pathways in the church, like being a part of a
church community, even deelical community, where you can either align
with your truth or you can align with the rules
and the way things are supposed to go. And choosing
to align with your truth and how empowering that is.

And then same with the publishing experience. And I talk
about this a lot with people who are aspiring writers.
This is not a morality issue. I really don't think
it's like moral or whatever. I just think it's a
moral But you can either align with what the publisher
wants you to write, or you can align with what
you know needs to be written. And I always fault
on the side of writing what I know needs to
be written, trusting that the publishing stuff will work itself out.

There will either be another publisher that wants to publish
what you have to say, or your work will find
another way out into the world. Or maybe that work
wasn't meant to be published more broadly and was just
meant to heal you. But I think your story does
such a good job of demonstrating that, and just over
and over again, you choosing to align with your truth
and who you know yourself to be. And I really

believe this, and this is so reflected in you that
the more we do that, the more of a gift
we become to the people around us. You know, your
voice in the world is a gift to so many people,
myself included. It's a lamp post on issues of politics
and faith. In particular, when there's something going on that
I don't quite know how to get my head around it,
or I can't quite figure out where I land, I
can look to you and to your voice as such

a steady light post, you know, just sort of like
the way he said it, that's what I've been trying
to say, or that's how I feel about that topic.
And even if the way that I feel is not
exactly the same as yours, the way that you communicate
with such integrity and clarity helps me to find my
own integrity and clarity. And I think that's the mark
of a really gifted writer. So I'm really glad that

you have made that choice and shared your words over
and over again.

Speaker 3 (38:46):
Well, first of all, I love all that, and I
receive every one of those words. I'm going to take
those and put those in my pocket for the rest
of the day. Going back to what you just said,
there's a scene in the book that I thought was
really important to include, dud where the gun call in
this story goes on an adventure with Henry, who is
the title character, who's a name that I.

Speaker 1 (39:07):
Borrowed from my y, her.

Speaker 3 (39:11):
Oldest son, and they sort of go on this adventure,
and part of the adventure is they go to church.

Speaker 1 (39:18):
And a publisher was like, they what it's so weird.

Speaker 3 (39:23):
In fact, I'll read it to you because I've got
one copy of this book, and this is what it says.
It says at church the next morning, my gun cale
sings loudly, he prays and gives thanks, and he does
it devoutly. His bright colored outfit makes two women stare
when we pass. They both snicker, but he doesn't care.

And I wanted to show two things there. I wanted
to show one, you don't have to choose between your
faith and who you are. And that's been a part
of your story and it's been a part of my story.
And just because someone else says that you have a choice.
That things are irreconcilable doesn't make it true. And I

also wanted to demonstrate that sometimes when we show up
in spiritual communities and in faith communities as our full selves,
we are met with misunderstanding and even judgment, and we
don't have to take that on. We can lift our
head high and we can say I am both of

these things at once, and I can hold them together
even if you can't. And so I wanted to show
that because what I really hoped, you know, going back
to this through line of this entire podcast, the power
of storytelling, that if we can tell our children better stories,
then they can live into those stories when they're grown ups,
and that then they can go tell stories that will

make our world a better place. And I think that's
really what I hope to do with this book.

Speaker 4 (40:54):
What a beautiful, beautiful way I received that like a
benediction almost like at the end to this episode, And
what a perfect way to end the episode. Just before
we started recording, I pre ordered my copies, so I've
got a copy coming for my two kids. They have
a gunkle who they love, who you also probably know,
JJ Peterson.

Speaker 2 (41:11):
Oh my gosh, it is like the world's best going.

Speaker 1 (41:14):
I love him.

Speaker 3 (41:14):
I hope he gets to read this book to them.
I bet he would be a great narrator.

Speaker 4 (41:18):
I will make that happen, especially now that you said it.
I'm going to arrange that. Yeah, we were just with
him last night, Uncle JJ. They love him so much.
So yeah, so they'll have a copy of the book.
Where can my listeners go find a copy of the book?
And what does it officially come out?

Speaker 1 (41:32):
Facially comes out May the fourteenth.

Speaker 3 (41:33):
I would love for you to buy it or pre
order it from Target, because Target's always a great retailer,
or Barnes and Noble somewhere like that. But you can
also get it right off Amazon. So if you're like
an Amazon person, that's the thing you love your two
day shipping, boom, nail it, get it. But I like
to spread things out among my retailers. It makes a
difference because right now, these stories they need to be told,

and people are afraid of them. And the only way
to convince retailers to stock a book like this is
to order copies of it.

Speaker 1 (42:02):
And so that's what I hope people will.

Speaker 4 (42:03):
Do, and my listeners know because I have a book
coming out my seventh. They know the importance of pre orders.
We've been talking about that a lot, so please, if
you're going to order this book, don't wait until the
day it comes out. Just order it now and it'll
just show up as a happy little present on your
doorstep when it does come out.

Speaker 2 (42:18):
So yeah, we're so lucky to get to hear from you, Jonathan.

Speaker 4 (42:21):
Thank you for spending this time with us, thank you
for sharing your insights, and thank you for sharing your
story and yourself with the world.

Speaker 1 (42:27):
My pleasure. Thank you,
Advertise With Us

Popular Podcasts

Dateline NBC
Stuff You Should Know

Stuff You Should Know

If you've ever wanted to know about champagne, satanism, the Stonewall Uprising, chaos theory, LSD, El Nino, true crime and Rosa Parks, then look no further. Josh and Chuck have you covered.

The Nikki Glaser Podcast

The Nikki Glaser Podcast

Every week comedian and infamous roaster Nikki Glaser provides a fun, fast-paced, and brutally honest look into current pop-culture and her own personal life.

Music, radio and podcasts, all free. Listen online or download the iHeart App.


© 2024 iHeartMedia, Inc.