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Writing helped save one queer poet's life—now he wants to help others feel seen & heard

Writing helped save one queer poet's life—now he wants to help others feel seen & heard

Writing helped save one queer poet's life—now he wants to help others feel seen & heard
Ryan Clemens; Simon & Schuster

Author Christian Weissmann chats to Out about his upcoming poetry book Her, Him & I.

Writer and actor Christian Weissman (2020's Saved By the Bell, Dear White People) has been publishing essays for the Los Angeles Times and HuffPost for years. Now, Weissman is releasing their first-ever book, Her, Him & I: Poems, with a release date set for June 11, 2024.

Her, Him & I is a collection of poems by Weissman that explores themes like toxic masculinity and heartbreak, all with a coming-of-age throughline centered on a bisexual man. "Her, Him & I is a love letter to queerness," the book's synopsis reads. "The joy, grief, ecstasy, and hope that accompanies it."

In an interview with Out, Weissmann discusses how he came to terms with his sexuality, explains the background story for writing the book, and talks about the messages and themes explored in this collection of poems.

Out: Most people probably still think of you as an actor, so what made you transition to the writing world and made you want to pull your thoughts out and explore your artistry that way?

Christian Weissmann: I've always been writing little short stories and poems since I was a kid, and it wasn't until 2019 when I was in a long-term relationship and I was struggling with my sexuality and my therapist actually suggested that I start writing journal entries about my sexuality. He was the only person I was out to, and I was really hesitant to do it at first because I was like, 'Oh my God, this is written.' But after I kept pushing myself to do it, whenever I was feeling anxious or unsure of the future, I think it actually gave me some solid ground. It made me feel like I was on solid ground for once and two years later, I looked at all those journal entries and I was like, 'I think I have a book of some sorts.' I can take all of these little stories from my life and turn it into a queer coming-of-age story.

Was it poetry or was it a narrative?

I would say it was both. It started out just as kind of journal entries about how I was feeling, and then I would bring it to my therapist and he'd be like, 'This is cool. You should keep doing this.' And I was like, 'I know I'm actually kind of enjoying it.' Weirdly enough, this is fun for me. I'm adding little lines here and there and adding rhymes and keeping it interesting. It's not just getting out my feelings, it's also making something exciting out of it. So then it turned into full blown poetry.

Why poetry?

I think as a isolated queer kid, growing up in a conservative town, I really didn't have a lot of media or outlets to understand the spectrum of my sexuality. As a teenager, I got really into reading because I felt like it was the only place that I could really explore what the bounds of being gay, being bi, being queer, being pan meant. I came across this book many years ago called Crush by Richard Siken and oh my God, the way that he wrote about vulnerability, the way that he depicted queerness, was written in a way that I'd never seen before. I felt so represented in his art that I just wanted to make stuff like that.

Christian Weissmann

Ryan Clemens

Are there any other queer authors that you look up to or whose work you admire?

Another queer one that I love is Frank O'Hara. He's incredible. I love his Lunch Poems and he has one in the book called "Steps" and it says something along the lines of like, 'It's so beautiful to wake up and drink so much coffee and smoke so many cigarettes and love you so much.' When I was a fresh queer kid at 20 years old exploring my first homosexual relationship, I felt so represented in his work.

I also love Orion Carloto and Madisen Kuhn. Those are two newer poets that I definitely got so much inspo from. As a poet you have to just read obsessively to stay inspired to write because if I notice that I'm not reading for a couple weeks, I'm not picking up my journal or my notes app to writing a poem. I would definitely say staying involved in the writing and keeping all my favorite books close to me has really helped the process.

I'm sure it was an interesting thing to navigate, pouring your heart and soul on paper. Is it scary being vulnerable now, and then when your book comes out in a few months, having people read that vulnerability?

It is. It's scary. I think I feel the most me I've ever been though. I just turned 24 and I started essentially writing this book when I was 19. But I felt petrified when I first started writing the book. But even though it is scary, I feel more empowered than I ever have been. So it's scary, exciting.

Her, Him & I by Christian Weissmann

Simon & Schuster

There's a big ongoing debate about whether you make art for your audience or art for yourself. I want to know what your take on that is.

This book is definitely for me. I was in some real pits of depression and anxiety when I came out, and then when I got out of my first long-term relationship with a guy, writing this book saved my life. It gave me hope to keep pushing and keep being creative because I felt so burned in my newfound vulnerability. The only way that I restored that love for being open and being vulnerable was writing this book and sharing all of my experiences no matter how beautiful or how ugly they are, because I feel like something that I always struggled with as a kid was I didn't understand that men could be vulnerable and men could be honest. And I felt like I didn't know how to talk about my sexuality. I didn't know how to talk about my emotions. And all I hope and try to do in this book is that anyone, regardless of gender, but specifically men, can pick up this book and be like, 'Wow, I need to be better at letting myself be vulnerable in my life.'

How did you come to that conclusion? How did you let yourself become more vulnerable?

I think I started my real journey with vulnerability right in the heart of lockdown and the pandemic. I was living with my parents and my older brother again in a small house and I didn't know how to be me because I just came out of the closet and now I'm locked in. I think I resorted to art, to music, to poetry, to television, and film, and I saw the influx of queerness just taking over the media I consumed, and that made me feel more inclined to be vulnerable.

There was a night a couple months after I came out where I was just struggling. I was upset, I was having a bad day, and I was sitting outside in the backyard and I was just reading a book. And my dad, who is a very macho guy,, I'd come out to him at this point, but we hadn't really had a heart to heart yet. I just got over crying a little bit and I didn't even know he was there, and I just felt this massive hug from behind me. That was something that even though there was no words exchanged, it meant the world to me because I've always looked up to my dad and this version of what a man should be. When I was just being vulnerable and letting my emotions fly and he, without even saying anything, just validated it in a way that wasn't like that before, I think it really pushed me to keep being vulnerable.

With a title like Her, Him & I you obviously talk about sexuality and love a lot. Can you talk about letting people into that glimpse of yourself, especially since a lot of people view love as something very intimate, very private. You're letting people in, and that's another form of vulnerability. So can you talk about those aspects of your life and letting people in that way?

I didn't know until I was in my first relationship that I was such a romantic because I remember having lots of friends as a teenager that were just dating and hooking up, and I was literally just staying home watching my TV hanging out. That was it. When I finally allowed myself to, or was lucky enough to date somebody for the first time, it was so scary and she was so kind and so welcoming, even though I did feel like there was a part of me that was hiding because of my sexuality and I wasn't out yet. I was really lucky to be in a situation where I was with someone that welcomed open conversation and emotion from a guy when other people may not be inclined for that. But I think when I came out and I was scared of opening myself up to the queer community and dating, I think the first thing I did was I had an older queer friend and I just kind of talked to him for hours about how scared I was and I really leaned on him and he just gave such incredible advice and just let me vent and told me that even though is so overwhelming and scary to be queer in America and in this world, to go out there and be proud and be confident and put yourself in a queer space and be like, 'Look, I'm interested. I want to date and I want to explore who I am.'

It is never going to feel exciting and amazing and the perfect, 'Oh, this is easy!' But if you keep pushing yourself to do it and you have friends that you can lean on that also are in similar situations, it gets so much easier and it gets so much more fun. I think I have one queer friend that we came out around the same time and we're like brothers now, because the way that we were just on the same trajectory, on the same path, it was like I just had a little buddy that I could go out to the gay bars with and be like, 'Okay, we're doing this together.' So I think really trying to find that community, whether it's at bookstores or at queer focused events or making friends online, no matter what it is, search for that community and doing it when you're not alone makes it so much easier.

I feel like queer artists are naturally very poetic, naturally very romantic. Why do you think that is?

I think it's because we've been through so much pain that we then realized we got to make something beautiful out of this or else what was it for? I remember when I was 13 years old and I was first auditioning for agents in LA, I got to pick a monologue from a book that my mom gave me, and she wanted me to pick one from Disney Channel or whatever, and I ended up picking one from Law and Order: SVU. She's like, 'You're 13 and why are you going for this dark, deep story?' And I was like, 'I don't know. I just feel like I can bring something to it.' I don't know, I think it was an outlet for me to express all of these emotions I didn't know how to define yet. I think that's something that I'm going to do for the rest of my life in all creative mediums, take my personal experience, good and bad, and put it into something that I can pass it on and hopefully someone can connect with it and feel a little less alone.

Are there any particular entries or poems in your book that you're waiting on bated breath for people to read?

Yeah, totally. There's a poem in the beginning of the second act called "The Divine Sacrament" and that's kind of my intro into being with men. That's kind of how I organize the book, where it's in three acts. The first act is some limericks from childhood and me exploring love with women, but not yet out of the closet. The second act is me finally letting myself free. I call it "setting myself on fire" as kind of a religious play on words where you're finally exploring your queerness. And then the latter half of the second act and the third act is just kind of picking up the pieces from heartbreak and figuring out how to just love myself in the process. There's another poem in the third act called "Man Enough" that is all about my experience with sexual assault and toxic masculinity. It's probably the longest poem in the book, and I am very nervous, but really, really excited to hear people's thoughts on that one.

Christian Weissmann

Ryan Clemens

When I was in school, poetry was very Shakespeare, very old school. Now, especially with the Tumblr generation, it's become something to love again and people are openly pursuing careers in the written word and in poetry. So can you talk about just being a part of this current wave of young, out queer poets?

It's so cool. I mean, I was a Tumblr kid in 2011, 2012. I was posting the cryptic stuff and listening to "Ride" by Lana Del Rey and just in the thick of it. I remember when the Tumblr poets and the Insta poets kind of came on the rise, I was too young to actually post anything, or I was too scared to, but I remember that growth of it. It was so cool because, like I said before, I wanted to be vulnerable, but I didn't know how to express it. Now, looking back 10 years ago of who I was as a 14-year-old kid, I had a lot of feelings. I was very emotional. Getting to have an outlet that is popular in media with poetry becoming popular again when it wasn't as mainstream for 10, 15 years, I think is so incredible.

And there are so many different mediums and variation of poetry, and I know a lot of people have different things to say about styles of it all, but I think it all is such a positive thing. At the end of the day, poetry is about feeling. It's about emotion. I think in our current day, so many people in the world just lack expressing their feelings, emotions, and leading with their heart. They lead with their head. Poetry really pushes people to lead with their heart, and that's what I love about it.

On the flip side of that too, in the midst of all this hater culture, people like to just shit on things. What do you say to people who are like, 'Oh, poetry is so cringe-y.'

I say, that's totally cool and you are entitled to your opinion. I'm sure that there's things in media and art that I look at and I'm like, 'Oh, that is definitely something that somebody loves, but that may not be for me.' There's so much noise on social media especially, and because it's so much more saturated than it ever has been, I think the hate and the negativity can just drown everything out. But there is so much positivity as well. I think you just got to look for it, and you got to choose what you're going to consume online.

Her, Him & I reads like a classic coming-of-age story, and that's also one of my favorite genres of all time across all mediums, film, books, etc. What are some of your favorite coming-of-age stories?

Honestly, Lady Bird. That film still wrecks me to this day every time I watch it Another one of my favorite favorite films is Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and I'm from Chicago originally. I've always wanted to make a fun, coming-of-age story, whether that was in written form or in a film, that emulated just an ounce of the magic that was in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

In terms of queer coming of age stories, I remember when I first watched Love, Simon when I was a teenager. I watched it in the movie theater with a bunch of friends in a group. I was closeted at the time, and I was like, 'What is this movie? This is so weird.' That was definitely so cool to see as a teenager, stories like that getting told on a wide release mainstream level. So that was really special to see.

Do you still believe in the romance and the poetry of it all? I know it's so cool to be jaded and nonchalant and indifferent to everything nowadays. I probably can predict your answer, especially since you wrote a book of poetry after all, but do you still see the world through a poetic lens?

Yeah, I think there have been moments where I have temporarily lost the drive to look for relationships or look for love, but I've never lost the hope that's buried inside me. And sometimes it's more pronounced and sometimes it's not. But I don't know. I know that I am a queer, hopeless romantic at the end of the day, and no matter how many failed relationships or situationships I have, I am always going to be looking for love, whether that's in a short-term or a long-term thing, because the ability to connect with another person and be vulnerable and be intimate with them in any capacity is, I think, what life is all about. I just hope that, as a person putting out a book, that people can read Her, Him & I and be more inclined to explore their own romanticism, whether it's with themselves or with other people, because the way that this book ends is me on my own romanticizing what I have with me. Love with other people is so special and so intoxicating, but none of that is going to last if you don't have that with yourself.

And I remember when I was writing this book I decided that it was going to end with me alone picking up the pieces, but putting on a brave face and being like, 'Hey, this is my life and I'm the only one that's going to make it better at the end of the day.' I turned on my record player and just danced around and poured a glass of wine and just looked in the mirror. I was saying the cheesiest things, but I was literally just looking in the mirror dancing, and I was like, 'I love you, I love you.' And I remember feeling so silly about that, but looking back, that was what you need to do to heal that inner child and to give that romantic feeling back to yourself when you lose it from time to time.

Christian Weissmann's Her, Him & I is scheduled for a release on June 11. The book is already available for preorder now at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Bookshop, and Simon & Schuster's website.

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Raffy Ermac

Raffy is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, video creator, critic, and the digital director of Out.

Raffy is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, video creator, critic, and the digital director of Out.

Bernardo Sim

Bernardo Sim is a writer, content creator, and the deputy editor of Out. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.

Bernardo Sim is a writer, content creator, and the deputy editor of Out. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.