Swiping through dating apps can feel like a mindless activity, but one quick flick of your finger could land you a spouse.
That sounds like the opening to a cheesy Hallmark movie. When your name is Chasten Buttigieg, though, it is reality. The 31-year-old middle-school teacher happened to swipe right on the Hinge profile of Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, several years ago. He would go on to become the first out gay man to run for president from a major party.
But enough about Pete (or “Peter,” as Chasten calls him). Chasten Buttigieg spoke with USA TODAY from South Bend, where his husband had been doing a ton of work for the Democratic National Convention. Chasten Buttigieg, meanwhile, had a lazy morning with his dogs Buddy and Truman, drank iced coffee (“obviously”) and fielded press interviews for his new memoir, “I Have Something to Tell You” (Atria Books, 237 pp.), out Tuesday.
The title is appropriate: Buttigieg does indeed have something – many things, from the hilarious to harrowing – to tell us that go beyond his prolific Twitter account. The book covers his upbringing in Traverse City, Michigan; his senior year of high school in Germany; coming out; stints at multiple universities; teaching; moving to South Bend; and a presidential campaign. And that’s barely the half of it.
‘I wanted to write my real story’
Buttigieg has touched on his sexual assault in the past but is disclosing the full story for the first time in his memoir for a larger audience.
“He grabbed at my clothes and body, and when I tried to move my hands, he forced me back down,” Buttigieg writes.
He discusses another physical altercation with a partner, shedding an uncomfortable but important light on domestic violence, as well as previous suicidal thoughts and thinking constantly about his dad’s gun stored in the basement.
“In politics, you’re not supposed to open up about those things,” Buttigieg says. “It seems like people don’t share their vulnerabilities because if you were ever vulnerable or something happened to you, then somehow it makes you weak. And I just don’t understand that and I don’t prescribe to that thinking.”
Opening up through writing scared him. “I wanted to write my real story. And some of that was being really honest about what I thought, what I went through and what I experienced and navigated and some of it was heartbreaking.”
Chasten Buttigieg talks the ‘boundaries of queerness’
Like many a queer memoir before it, Buttigieg’s story covered the coming out process. “I just grew up in a bubble that told me everything about me was wrong and twisted and sinful, and it never felt like there would be a solution,” he says.
Coming out to his parents was initially rough – his mother asked him if he was sick, for example. “I think she might have thought I had AIDS,” he writes.
But he’s proud of how they’ve handled it over time: “I’m so grateful that I have a family that takes feedback. And they asked a lot of hard questions. But they also took a lot of hard feedback, because they were operating in the same bubble I grew up in, and they just didn’t know.”
Before Pete and Chasten Buttigieg went on their first date, they FaceTimed several times (something the world understands a bit more now, given the pandemic). Remember: They lived in different states at the time.
“I was loving those conversations, which is why I ultimately decided to drive over to South Bend just because he was so interesting,” Chasten Buttigieg says. “I had just gone on a lot of bad dates and kind of seemed like people weren’t really interested in me for me, and that’s what pushed me to come to South Bend to meet him, because I was just so struck by his inquisitive nature and charm.”
Democrats and the LGBTQ+ community, obviously, are not all fans of Mayor Pete from a policy perspective. But one criticism that some people lobbed at him is that he was not “queer enough” – and that did not sit well with his husband, who had been actively talking with queer youth.
“I would be sitting in these LGBTQ centers, with young queer people who are really trying to determine whether or not they want to exist, opening up about their mental health, opening up about their struggle and their journey to finding shelter. And then I see people policing the boundaries of queerness, deciding there is a right way and a wrong way to exist and to present as if queerness was performative,” he says.
Buttigieg thinks this type of thinking is “really dangerous, especially for people in rural areas, really conservative areas whose lives are still in danger simply for existing.” The queer community has gone (and will forever) go in circles on this topic.
How has quarantine been for Pete and Chasten Buttigieg?
Quarantine for the Buttigieg family began shortly after Pete ended his campaign for president in early March. Pete guest-hosted for Jimmy Kimmel and the pair traveled to Los Angeles. “We had a really big vacation planned because throughout the entire race, I kept joking with him win or lose, we’re getting a vacation because we didn’t really get to see each other very much,” Chasten Buttigieg says.
You know how the rest of the story unfolds, as the pandemic unfolded: Vacation canceled. Still, it gave the pair a chance to reconnect and work on their respective books – and actually spend time together. (Pete Buttigieg’s book, “Trust: America’s Best Chance,” comes out Oct. 6.)
“We get to see each other for dinner every day, and we get to walk the dogs together every day,” Chasten Buttigieg says.
He has also binged his fair share of shows: “Schitt’s Creek,” plus Ryan Murphy staples “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” and “The Politician”; he also started Murphy’s “Hollywood.”
“Netflix is like, ‘Just keep watching this, you Ryan Murphy gay,'” he says.
Chasten Buttigieg talks Joe Biden, political future
Pete Buttigieg has been doing work for the Biden campaign, though Chasten Buttigieg says, “we’re both going to make sure we do everything that we can to make sure that he wins in November.”
Buttigieg has enjoyed hosting events with Jill Biden and in the immediate term plans to do whatever she asks of him.
What’s next for the couple, though? Besides long walks, the pair are exploring the possibility of starting a family, which Buttigieg notes is a confusing process but one they’re excited about.
“We have quite a few friends in our circle who’ve navigated that so we’ve just been having a lot of conversations with friends and started trying to figure out what will work for us,” he says.
He isn’t back in the classroom this fall (nor are many others). But he hopes that whatever lies in the future includes contributing to efforts he began on the campaign trail regarding education, the LGBTQ community and homelessness.
Regardless, at least he’s told his “real story.”
If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online.
Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.
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