In This Episode
Former mayor of Tallahassee and Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum joins to talk about how recovery influenced his perspective on politics and his own sense of self as a former politician, bi-erasure, and what Matt Gaetz’s behavior can tell us about projecting. Then on “With Adorables Like These” Pod Save America co-host Jon Favreau tells us how his dog Leo made him a better flyer.
Ana Marie Cox: Hi, I’m Ana Marie Cox. Welcome to With Friends Like These. I am especially excited for this week’s show. I got a chance to talk to Andrew Gillum, the man who came within 30,000 votes of becoming Florida’s governor, who was a rising star in Democratic politics until he crashed in a tawdry and public way last March. If you follow politics, you probably remember some of that. It involved drugs, a male sex worker, and photos. And all of that was leaked to Twitter by Trump fan Candice Owens. If you don’t follow politics, well all of that is pretty easy to find. Today, Andrew is 14-months clean and sober. He’s walked away from politics and embraced being of service in a different way. He wants to destigmatize addiction and mental health struggles as a person in a community, not necessarily leading it. He has a great podcast called appropriately “Real Talk.” And that’s what I got on this show too. Stay tuned for some frank discussion about sexuality, spirituality, hitting bottom, rising up, and what he thinks about another Florida politician who’s going through his own sordid scandal, Matt Gaetz. One of my favorite conversations in a long time, Andrew Gillum. Coming right up.
Ana Marie Cox: Andrew, welcome back to the show.
Andrew Gillum: Yes, thank you for having me. Of course, this ain’t Texas, but I don’t have any shoes on right now, so I’m not complaining.
Ana Marie Cox: [laughs] Yes, I talked to you, Gosh. Now, probably like two years ago.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah. Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: Things are real different for you now. That’s, that’s for sure.
Andrew Gillum: Yes. Yeah. In some ways for all of us. But yes, for me particularly.
Ana Marie Cox: I actually wanted to start kind of with today, because you know, people who follow politics might think they know you, they might think they know your story, right?
Andrew Gillum: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: And I think the thing about stories like yours is that, is the only part people know is the part that gets covered, right?
Andrew Gillum: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: So I kind of want to start with who you are today.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: Like what do you want people to know about you today?
Andrew Gillum: Well, today—and I appreciate the thoughtfulness of that question—and you are right, what people often tend to know about you is what gets covered. They make up in their minds a whole bunch of things as a derivative of what they have seen covered as who you are. And some of it hits close to home and some of it is far off base. But I am really happy to say that today I feel more in my skin than I have ever felt in my life. I, I do what is in my pleasure. The reason why you and I are talking today is because it is in my pleasure. It is, and some may hear that and misinterpret this as some sort of epicurean thought, do what makes you feel, whatever. But for me, it really is, do the thing that allows me to be in my skin. Do the thing that allows me to be at home in myself, because as I have gone back and traced a lot of where I have gone off track or off the rail, or off the path, or whatever, it’s been when I have been in performance of something that may be a part of me, but isn’t at home with me. And I don’t want to sound too, like weird and esoteric, and like, you know, crazy for folks, but I just, a lot of people will think about Miami and what happened in Miami as my downfall, and I have to admit, Miami was not my downfall. I was well on the way to that before Miami. Miami was my salvation. Now, admittedly, it was the, I would have preferred a quieter, less sensationalized, you know, less publicized, much more—
Ana Marie Cox: [laughs] Maybe no pictures? That just—[laughs]
Andrew Gillum: You know maybe quiet in between just me, you know. But in some ways, Ana I have to tell you, it needed to be loud in order to get my attention. I’ll never forget Tyler Perry calling me a few moments after Twitter exploded, wanted to check on my well-being, and then he said: brother, I’m so sorry that this has happened, but you have no idea what God may have been saving you from. And it immediately sort of started to frame for me everything that then flowed from it. And so the short of it is, I am in my pleasure, and I am as much in my body, in my seat, and in my being as I have ever been.
Ana Marie Cox: You just gave me chills. So in recovery, in our rooms—
Andrew Gillum: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: We have this like, standard format that people used to tell their story, and I think it would be a good place for us to begin. So people know, it’s um, pretty classic arc, [laughs] what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like today.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: So I wonder if you could just take us through your recovery journey in that format, and if I can ask a favor about the what it was like—you don’t have to start with adulthood. [laughs]
Andrew Gillum: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: I mean, I think that our stories start—
Andrew Gillum: Because that not where it begins, actually. It actually is not where it begins.
Ana Marie Cox: Exactly. I think our stories start a long way, a long time before that, so—
Andrew Gillum: They start not only a long time before adulthood, they start a long time before our birth. I will also not forget this, and that was on Friday, the 13th of March, 2020, my Salvation Day, I got a call from Iyanla Vanzant, who told me, baby, just remember, this ain’t personal, this is ancestral. And what she was helping me to realize is that while I was in this moment of chaos and crisis and all of this, that there have been generations of trauma and harm that have gone unspoken to, undealt with, pushed under the carpet, under the rug, that deserve a voice. And if I love and care about the three children that I’m raising today as much as I say so, it’s my job to disrupt it. It’s my job to wrestle with the intergenerational, so that my children aren’t fighting that same battle. And I’ll be more specific about it.
Ana Marie Cox: Yeah, let’s get started with the, what it was like generationally.
Andrew Gillum: Well, I will tell you, my father was an alcoholic growing up. His mother an alcoholic. I kind of remember vaguely when we would take those trips and I would visit her and she would be in her nightgown all day. And she would have, she was a ferocious reader of books everywhere, but would always had this clear glass, no ice—I didn’t know what it was, but it was her medicine, also known as vodka. And it would move her through the day. Angry, mad. Nothing ever seemed to be pleasing. And of course, she, she got on a road to recovery and stayed on that road all the way through her death. And then there’s my dad, Charles Gillum, now deceased. He actually died after my 2018 race for governor. Was a soldier and stuck it out with us. We didn’t even know how ill he was. My dad, was on street corners holding signs. And in February of 2019, I was a fellow at Harvard, teaching in the Kennedy School and lecturing, mentoring, whatever in the Kennedy School, and got a call: hey, Dad’s been hospitalized, is not looking good, you know, we think you should come home. And by the time I got there, when he was, when he first went in was responsive and communicative. And when I got there was not. His eyes were barely open and, you know, that’s, that’s a story for another day. But I remember, far too vividly growing up with my dad stumbling in the house drunk. With him placing physical hands on my mother. As one of seven children in the household, all boys, one girl, my baby sister, she’s the last of the seven, I know that my mom and dad were dealing with what it meant, him as a construction worker and her as a bus driver, part time presser in a dry cleaner. That there were always fights about bills. There was always fights about who was contributing what and not doing enough. And I remember my dad, you know, with these big red, you know, they weren’t Red Bulls, but they were these blue and silver can—it was like the king version of it. And he would just throw them back and went back to going back—at some point in him, throwing them back, he became really fun. He would toss us up and play with us. And I kind of like love that about him. And then at some other point, he would become really mean and really angry mostly toward my mother, but short tempered with us. And I didn’t all the way know what it was at that age, but I would come to learn that obviously it was alcoholism. And his siblings tried to intervene and he went away to rehab. He lived in group homes. He did all of that. And undoubtedly he come out and eventually it would catch back up with him. Right? And so Ana, to be honest with you, I actually had no relationship with alcohol when I could legally drink. I just I just avoided it. I mean, I remember watching Daddy. I remember grandma. I remember all the harm that it caused our family. And I didn’t want anything to do with it. And I actually didn’t drink in college, like, really at all. Part of that had to do with the fact that I was a student leader. I was student body president, I was a board of trustees. I was always trying to be the model and, you know, exhibit good behavior. And so I didn’t do it. I didn’t start drinking, and drinking really socially until after I got elected. And I got elected when I was 23.
Ana Marie Cox: I was going to say, you’ve been elected to office for a real long time.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah. It was, it was a minute, right? And all the way through my elected office life, I kind of, my relationship with alcohol was very event related. It was when I had a weekend and we went to a football game, I was always the guy who never knew the bottom. So I was never like a comfortable drinker. I would always at that time, I was always going to the edge. Somebody would lecture me afterwards. They would tell me how my behavior was bad and a bad example. And this, that and a third. But then on a regular basis, I wasn’t drinking through the week. I wouldn’t drink it until there was a special occasion. Like I said, most people start my downward story at Miami and for me it began when I decided after losing the race, not grieving it, never really having a good cry. I never had a good cry. After the loss, as close as it was, as wrenching as it was, did not have a good cry about the race until I got to rehab, which was unbelievable to me that I had not grieved it in a real way. And so after the race, I started drinking at home by myself. And at night, usually, and it wasn’t beer, it was always liquor. Whiskey was, was my choice, but I would drink anything that was, that was liquor for the most part. And then, because my schedule was so hectic, I had signed up to do Harvard, I had signed up to be a cable news commentator, I had signed up to build a plan to try to rescue Florida even after losing the race by 30,000, 0.4% just a year, less than a year before, I had lunged into this thing and I said yes to everything. Sure, I’ll be on the board. Sure, I’ll give a speech. Because, you know, when you are empty, when you feel useless—because to be honest, it wasn’t just a loss for governor. I had been elected since I was 23 and if I were to be real honest, I had been elected since 1998. Senate President, President of Judicial and Rules, March organizer and leader—led the march on to Governor Jeb Bush and sat in his office. In the press giving interviews, got elected as a student to the City Council, as the youngest elected in the city’s history. Served on that, got elected mayor, served on that. I was mayor running for governor of the state of Florida. I thought I would be governor of the state of Florida. And on the day that I lost, I also went out of office as governor, as mayor of Tallahassee, Florida, and everything that had shaped my identity was gone. And I didn’t, I had not figured a constructive way to reckon with the fact that the only way in which I knew how to contribute, the only way I knew how to change society for the better was through legislating. And that was now gone. And so the loss wasn’t just the race. The loss was a part of how I identified. And it just, it went from drinking at night in hotel rooms. It went from going to the Delta Lounge and asking the bartender not only for my drink, but I needed to take another drink back to my seat mate, of which there was no seat mate. It was just me. But the lounge was big enough I could get away with it. So when I went back for the second time to get the fourth drink with no chaser, then it was, you know, it was the fourth drink for me, but it was only my second drink to the people who were watching me. And then it became in the morning time getting up and putting liquor in the coffee mug because nobody would question what was in the mug. It was morning time. And of course, I’m a coffee drinker, but there was no coffee in there, it was whiskey. And so it just, because I could do my job, I could still perform, even though I did some of it intoxicated, I felt I was functional and in control. But I was driving drunk. I was getting back to my hotel room with no clue how I got there. I was drinking at night and drinking when I woke up in the morning and doing my job, still performing at a high level. People complimented me for whatever. They were probably just complimented me because I was just there, that I showed it up, not that I had done anything special. And so it was a very fast relationship. And I would not have, like I said, all the while, my marriage is falling apart at home, I’m dealing with parts of my sexual identity that I had not shared publicly. I am grieving the loss of a race. Beyond that, grieving the loss of an identity and purpose and meaning. And it all just culminated in what was frankly not my worst experience, it just happened to be.
Ana Marie Cox: [laughs] The one that there’s a record of.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah, it just happened to be the one that there’s a record of. It happens to be the one that I actually have no memory of it. It happened to be the one that wasn’t planned, that I accidented into. That then changed everything.
Ana Marie Cox: I want to jump in and just explain if people are wondering why I’m laughing, because . . . [laughs]
Andrew Gillum: It’s OK. I can smile now.
Ana Marie Cox: Yeah. In AA meetings like, this is this is the comedy portion of the meeting. You know.
Andrew Gillum: Yes. Yes.
Ana Marie Cox: It’s a laughter of recognition. You know, like, almost everything you described is something that I’ve done. Like literally. Like right down to the Delta Lounge,
Andrew Gillum: Yes, that lounge boy, it’ll get you.
Ana Marie Cox: It’ll get ya.
Andrew Gillum: Free drinks?
Ana Marie Cox: Yep. And also when you fly one of the classes that has free drinks, you know.
Andrew Gillum: I am a diamond medallion at Delta.
Ana Marie Cox: .Yeah.
Andrew Gillum: Yes, I know it well.
Ana Marie Cox: There was a there was one flight that I, you know, it was—I don’t remember it, but apparently it was, I really embarrassed myself. So, um, I don’t want to remember it, but . . .
Andrew Gillum: I remember I remember mine because it resulted in me shitting my pants.
Ana Marie Cox: Yeah, that that happens for us, you know, it really does. Like, that’s actually, if people don’t know like I, yep, that happens. Because you get so beyond your ability to control yourself, it’s really uncontrollable. Like when we talk about our lives going out of control, that it’s pretty literal, you know.
Andrew Gillum: Yep.
Ana Marie Cox: But I want to ask you a question about the story you just told. We’re going to get to the what happened and what it’s like now. I just happen to have been thinking today about workaholism.
Andrew Gillum: Mm hmm.
Ana Marie Cox: And how I think I know a lot of us that that’s kind of the secondary addiction, you know?
Andrew Gillum: Yes it is.
Ana Marie Cox: And it sort of hearing you talk about like how important elected office was to you. And I have no doubt that you want to, you’re of service to the world and you want to help change the world, but also it’s funny how working or work, especially work that other people see is purposeful—.
Andrew Gillum: Yes.
Ana Marie Cox: Can do some of the same things for us that alcohol and drugs do.
Andrew Gillum: Absolutely. And that’s probably why I didn’t do much of it while in public service. I really didn’t. I didn’t do much of it. Like I said, they were celebration moments and like truly celebration moments. But I knew I knew there was an issue and I knew my relationship was tough with it because, obviously, I saw the family thing, but I always thought that was a choice. I always thought of my dad could have been stronger—up until the point that I ended up in this situation, because then you learn about the brain science of it, and then you learn about the genetics of it. All right. I didn’t, I didn’t credit the power of the ancestry, the lineage, lineage with the power that it had. I just said I was weak. I wasn’t strong enough to deal with it. I wasn’t—you know, all those things that we tell ourselves when we fall to addiction. And the truth is, is like, this is a hijacked brain, that you learn about, that really walks you through the brain science of this stuff, which is an education that not only recovering alcoholics and addicts need, it’s the brain science that our family members need. It’s the people who are supposedly our cheerleaders and in our corner need because they just think, you know: OK, you had a week, if you could just be stronger and make a better choice. And the other thing that I realized for me is it was also about, it was also about tapping out and the salve. The balm. You’ve heard of the healing balm? But in truth, it was not a balm at all, it was simply an escape. And what I would come to now later learn about it is that when I am at home in myself, I don’t really have a desire to escape anywhere. I am all encompassing, I am the space that I occupy. I, am I— this is where it runs into conflict and I know I don’t want to jump ahead, but this is where my recovery runs into conflict with some of the AA principles, values—not so much the values—but doing the work comes into conflict—
Ana Marie Cox: Traditions.
Andrew Gillum: Traditions, right? That works. So, you know, I had to write, I had to write a goodbye letter to alcohol. And I put so much energy into making alcohol my nemesis, it was the object of my rejection. I had, it started to encompass so much of my mind space—I know me. The thing that I tell myself I can’t do is exactly—or somebody tells me I can’t do—is exactly the thing that I then want to chase and like: oh, I can do it. I mean, I showed up at rehab thinking I could still drink afterwards. I showed up at rehab thinking that, oh, I could become a social drinker. I’ll just, I’ll make a drink. I showed up at rehab and I had the most wasteful—they didn’t ultimately become wasteful—but the most wasteful first two weeks because I was struggling with admitting I was powerless. I was like: powerless to what? I mean, as you know, it’s the first step that we’ve got to acknowledge. I was like: oh, no, no, there’s something I’m I, I if I assert myself and prepare myself and gird myself up for whatever the thing is, then I can, yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: And, you know, especially for those of us who face some kind of societal obstacle.
Andrew Gillum: Oh yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: The powerlessness piece is sometimes like extra hard to hear . . . and hard to get our brains around that it doesn’t mean that I have to give in. That’s not what powerlessness means. It means I don’t have control over myself when I put chemicals in my body.
Andrew Gillum: That’s right.
Ana Marie Cox: That is [laughs] that’s that is true. There is no amount of liberation theology I can apply to alcohol.
Andrew Gillum: There is. There is.
Ana Marie Cox: That will make me be able to control it. You know?
Andrew Gillum: Well I would tell you—this is, my, my healer who I work with, who is, who has saved my life. One of the people who has saved my life, who I meet with every week. I would not miss an appointment. She broke the, the tradition and I wasn’t supposed to be talking to her while I was in rehab. I was supposed to only be dealing with my therapist there. And we broke those rules because I was very, very vulnerable and dealing with a lot. It wasn’t just this alcohol, it was a whole, whole boatload of shit. And she said: Andrew, you have to welcome alcohol into the theater, welcome it into the room, give it a seat in the room, acknowledge that it is there. And you know what? If it is in your pleasure to have a drink, Andrew, have a drink. If it is in your pleasure to go and smoke a blunt, go smoke a blunt if it’s in your pleasure. You know, she sort of went through these things, as she says: but I’m willing to bet that as you come home into yourself, you are not going to want to leave that place. You’re going to want to have every memory of every experience that you have in that place, good, bad or in between, when you were at home in yourself in the work that we had that we did for the first six months of our time together and we, we were still unveloping, is that whole coming home within you. And recognizing that you don’t have to be anything to anybody, that you are enough right where you are, who you are, and to like, believe it! And believe it and to love yourself and to give yourself grace, and to say “I’m worthy” and like to reinforce that with some real stuff. There’s a whole body of work that we’ve been doing with that. And she said, I’m willing to bet that you’re not going to want to numb out. And so the reason why I said I’ve been sort of in two worlds here in recovery is that while I’m up to step four, I’m also at the same time, which is deadly—
Ana Marie Cox: I know. This is— [laughs] People not watch, we both, Andrew and I both made like a really horrified face, because step four is the personal inventory.
Andrew Gillum: Lord, have a little mercy. I’m working through—well you can’t see that. But I mean, I’m—
Ana Marie Cox: Don’t show it to me! Gosh. [laughs].
Andrew Gillum: No, no. I know. I know. I just wanted you to know, it’s like, it’s like, it’s crazy work. But, but it is really helped me because, and I share this eventually while I was in rehab, I just said: I can’t make alcohol the object of my rejection. It would monopolize too much of my space. So I did with what my healer said, I welcomed it to the room. It has a seat in the room. But as of today I am 14 months and a few days sober, abstinent, and I am looking forward to being that way for the rest of my life. I don’t even want to take a, I don’t want to take a risk—this is to the powerlessness thing—I don’t want to take the chance. I don’t know whether I can or cannot know what the bottom is to a cup. But I don’t want to find out. It ain’t worth it.
Ana Marie Cox: We have to jump in for some ads. We will be right back.
Ana Marie Cox: You know, for what it’s worth as a kind of nerd about 12 Step, I don’t think what you’re talking about is necessarily outside what, what we talk about in the rooms. And what you said actually really crystallizes, what you said about inviting alcohol into the theater or into the room, really crystallizes a thought I’ve been having for a while now, which is that anything in our lives that we put a lot of energy into.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah.
Andrew Gillum: Is going to is going to oppose us. If it’s something we want to get rid of and we just put all this energy into getting rid of it.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: It just makes it bigger.
Andrew Gillum: Bigger.
Ana Marie Cox: And also the same thing happens if you ignore it, if you completely ignore it, some—it gets you know, that’s the whole your disease is doing push-ups in the parking lot while you’re in the meeting.
Andrew Gillum: Hello. Hello.
Ana Marie Cox: And with anything that you feel like you want to get out of your life, I compare it to houseguests. In order to ask it to leave, you have to acknowledge that it is there/ [laughs] You can’t just, if an unwelcome houseguest comes and you just don’t even acknowledge the person’s living there, can’t ask them to leave, you know? And if also, you just fight with that person, they’re not going to leave. If you’re like: you know what I think, I think we’re done here, you know?
Andrew Gillum: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: I think we might be done here. And that person, that thing that I thought may come back, you know—that’s how I think about my cravings and my alcoholism is like that’s going to be a visitor to me for the rest of my life.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: And I have to acknowledge it, I have to be like: hi hi craving. Shit.
Andrew Gillum: Yep. I see you. Yep.
Ana Marie Cox: I didn’t expect you right now, but.
Andrew Gillum: That’s right.
Ana Marie Cox: Have a seat. We’ll have a little chat. Catch up.
Andrew Gillum: That’s right. Yep. That’s right. That’s right. That’s right.
Ana Marie Cox: And then, you know, if you could, you know the door, you know where the exit is.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah. Yup, yup, yup. You know where the exit is. Because you know we’re not doing this. All right.
Ana Marie Cox: Yeah. Sorry.
Andrew Gillum: You’re no longer serve me.
Ana Marie Cox: It’s a terrible ex. That’s what it is.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah. Absolutely.
Ana Marie Cox: It’s like a really a terrible ex partner. Right? That used to do, we used to love, and it did the things for us—wow. I could really go down the road with this metaphor. [laughs]
Andrew Gillum: Yeah. I believe that one. And I could join you in it, but you know I’m working on my marriage.
Ana Marie Cox: You know, I think we actually kind of did, the what it was like, what happened and what it’s like today already. Like I think you covered all of that. So I want to ask, I do want to ask a question since you bring up your marriage that just reminds me that you did also come out as bisexual.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: During all of this.
Andrew Gillum: Yes.
Ana Marie Cox: And I know from, from reading about you that you knew you were bisexual pretty early in life. Right?
Andrew Gillum: Um. High school was probably . . . yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: That’s early-ish, I guess, you know. And that you came out to people, some people, like in your 20s and want to say . . .
Andrew Gillum: That’s right.
Ana Marie Cox: And I’m just curious.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: Compared to being an addict or alcoholic. Which was the harder thing to acknowledge to yourself.
Ana Marie Cox: Addiction.
Ana Marie Cox: Yeah.
Andrew Gillum: Addiction, um, I don’t, I don’t I don’t enjoy the idea of being powerless to something. My politics on the sexuality, like I was already by, I’ve got a brother who’s gay, who’s right above me. He was the one I kept modeling myself next to, like, just to sort of get a temperature of, like, OK, what he’s telling me doesn’t really jive with kind of what I’m feeling. And there were not a lot of models, in fact, any I could think of who were reflecting bisexuality, reflecting: man, I’m attracted to women, I’m attracted to men. I have a stronger pull at this stage of my life here. But I also think, you know, that’s interesting—and, you know, that kind of thing. And never trying anything, frankly, until my senior year. I think it’s, junior year college? Oh, oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah—like not giving it a whirl and not really breathing into it in a real way. And so, the bisexuality thing was something that I knew existed. I wanted to share it with whoever my life partner would be. I felt like, OK, this is how I can make sense of this. I have the capacity to love whoever I choose to and, but I can’t disadvantage that person to not have the knowledge that I had that capacity. And so before I got married, before I proposed, I shared it with the woman who I fell in love with and I knew that by sharing that she could make the choice to say: I can’t, I don’t know what this is, I don’t know if it’s a pit stop, but nah, not for me. And that’s not what she did. She wanted to know more. I wanted to know more. And so we saw someone. Deeply and in the space, in the LGBTQ space, who worked with the both of us, pulling back the layers and talking about it. But the reason why it didn’t, at least at the time of marriage occurred to us to say so publicly was it was sort of like you’ve made a choice here, you’ve now decided where you are. So, so you’ve got first of all, Katie Hill, me and others would agree that the B in the LGBTQ is the largest of the group without a doubt.
Ana Marie Cox: And yet is the silent one, too. And it’s the one that is hard, it’s kind of hardest to get a conversation around.
Andrew Gillum: Hardest!
Ana Marie Cox: Because people sometimes think, and I don’t want to interrupt you, but I think this is, this is important—people think of it as like: oh, then you’re both. Like you’re a mix.
Andrew Gillum: You’re both or you’re just waiting, you’re in purgatory and you’re waiting to become lesbian or gay.
Ana Marie Cox: And that it’s not, they don’t really, I think, understand that it’s like, it is its own thing.
Andrew Gillum: Absolutely. Its own thing.
Ana Marie Cox: Its own thing. It’s its own identity.
Andrew Gillum: And that men who are bisexual and marry women, or women who are bisexual and marry men—automatically, they’re heterosexual, they’re heterosexual presenting. And so no one, like who comes out and says: oh, I’m married, I’m a guy, I married a woman and now I’m, and I’m bisexual. No one makes that claim. You only make that claim when you marry someone of the same gender. And so there’s a whole erasure of bisexuality in society. And by the way, that erasure exists both in the gay, in the LGBT, the gay and lesbian community, as much as it does—or at least it feels. I mean, the wrath that I got from all sides, it was just sort of like: whoa! I don’t have a home anywhere. Because I’m rejected here as being someone who didn’t want to fully reckon with themselves and embrace that they are gay. By the way, if all I wanted was to be with a man, I would have married one. If all I wanted was to be with a woman for the rest of my life, I would have made that decision and I did. And like any other human being, and I try to say this to my straight guy friends who are like: oh, man, but what about when you’re attracted to a guy, or what about when you . . .And I said: what about when you’re attracted to other girls? Like we talk about all the time on our guys trips. Does that mean you go out and you jump their bones? Or maybe you do, go out and you jump their bones, and you got to reckon with that decision as well. But don’t make me an alien because it happens to be same gender. You’re doing the exact same thing, you’re looking at that woman in a way which you should not be when you’re a married man to another woman. But you want to make me the alien because I have the capacity to do that with someone of the same gender. And so, you know, just trying to have that conversation in a way that doesn’t get to the tawdry. About, well, you take it or you give it? Open marriage? Are you? You know, it’s like people what they want to talk about the—it is just like . . .
Ana Marie Cox: That is not something we ask heterosexuals, I will point out.
Andrew Gillum: Of course not. Of course not. Or they just assume my wife and I are freaks. It’s just like: hey, if y’all ever want to get together and we do this . . . By the way, and I use freak, I use freak really not as a pejorative. I was just, just freaky. And maybe we are freaky.
Ana Marie Cox: I understand that in some communities, that is just a thing that you say. Like it is just a thing to describe something maybe that you like, but it’s a little wild, you know.
Andrew Gillum: That is a little outside the normal, and I just think we have to push the limits of everything that we have been fed around what the normal relationship is, because if you boil it down to its simplest form, it likely has some economic implication. It likely in some way ties back to some form of commerce or power and control. And so I think we have to interrogate those systems. I am a believer that sexuality is on a spectrum and I believe everyone has the capacity to end up anywhere on that spectrum. Some folks to the further ends of it. Others concentrated toward the middle, like I said, within the LGBTQ community, that concentrated middle is the majority of us, but it’s a silent majority, and it’s a majority that doesn’t want to be persecuted and they don’t want to be outed and they don’t want their neighbors and friends and fellow church and synagogue members to look at them strange and differently. But it’s the real thing. And guess what? Consenting, loving and consenting adults can define the relationships of their own choosing. But it takes two to make that choice.
Ana Marie Cox: I am glad that you started talking about systemic inequality. Because. In the recovery community, people who are not, and that may not know this, there is a parallel conversation about systemic oppression and white supremacy happening, you know, in the same way it’s happening in a lot of more visible communities.
Andrew Gillum: Yep.
Ana Marie Cox: Uh. And I think some people might know that this the George Floyd is the person that started this conversation, not just because he’s the person that was on that video, but because he was in recovery.
Andrew Gillum: Yep.
Ana Marie Cox: He actually went to a treatment center in Minneapolis that specializes in addressing the needs of Black men in recovery. And I have opinions on some of this. I have opinions on many things, but of course, that is not why we are here. I’m curious what your experience and thoughts are on that.
Andrew Gillum: You know, we have a long road to hoe here. So the old timers in the AA space, if it’s anything other than alcohol, then we don’t want to see you, we don’t want to talk to you, we—I mean, it is so crazy to me that we are not dealing with the fact that addiction is addiction is addiction, and whether it is a substance or alcohol—which is also a substance and the most deadly of them all—there is some, there is great commonality in the community. And I really, so I’m sorry, I didn’t want to not get on the direct question, but I wanted to just say there’s a lot of updating that has to happen to this. Race not being the singular part of it, but a very important part of it, first of all, in my rehab center and my classes of, you know, I don’t know, 20 of us, it would range, our morning and our evening group meetings, maybe had 14 to 16 of us in our group. There are only two Black folk, me and one other. At one point at our highest, there were three. And everyone else was white, mostly white male. And it was very, very, the disconnects were just really jolting to me, even in shared common experience—the disconnects and the judgments were really jolting to me. And I think we have to, and of course, all this goes back to the systemic issues we had with access to health care. Who gets it and who doesn’t, whose employer pays for their folks to take family and medical leave to go deal with these kinds of crises. One of my friends who’s, one of my best friends, whose family owns a funeral home said: you are so blessed, most of us in our community don’t get to deal with our demons, our regrets, our change moments, until we’re on our deathbed making confession. IF we do it, then. So just, you know, just being in a place where we can, we can reckon with that. I hate that it took the death of George Floyd to bring to the center, centerfold the inequality, the absence of voice, the absence of space, the absence of advocacy for the Black and brown community, within this within this space, within this community. Most people won’t know whether it has been absent or whether it’s present—thus to the anonymous, you know, part of it. But it is a real, real need for real integration, real access, how we, how we seed the culture of recovery within these communities that are so hardest hit. And they’re not just, they’re not just Black for Black sake. They’re Black, large, Black and brown, largely because of the poverty. It is the income piece of this piece that is, that is often the nexus.
Ana Marie Cox: Yep. And the irony, of course, is that there are many ways to recover. I want to say that very clearly.
Andrew Gillum: Of course.
Ana Marie Cox: But of the rooms of 12 step programs are one way and they are free. You know.
Andrew Gillum: They are.
Ana Marie Cox: And I’ll just point out, for people who don’t know the history, like the systemic stumbling block for AA in particular has been that it was founded by rich white guys.
Andrew Gillum: White, professional men, yes.
Ana Marie Cox: And they had some very radical ideas about equality, I think, on their own. Like and if you look at the literature, they themselves were personally, for the time, pretty woke.
Andrew Gillum: And persecuted.
Ana Marie Cox: And persecuted themselves. So they had actually, they felt for, you know, but the context . . .
Andrew Gillum: They felt for people who were ostracized in corporate boardrooms, and in professional spaces.
Ana Marie Cox: And they did some reaching out to the, you know, the poor. But I think it’s hard to escape your context.
Andrew Gillum: For sure, for sure.
Ana Marie Cox: And so they were blind to a lot of the things. Like if you are a group that is traditionally you do not promote yourself, then how do you make it into those communities where there’s not a foothold already?
Andrew Gillum: That’s right.
Ana Marie Cox: And how do you talk about it?
Andrew Gillum: Hell, I almost walked out of rehab through some of our discussions
Ana Marie Cox: Yeah. and some of the, some of the, some of—I referred this earlier and now I’ll say it again—and some of the language and in initial understandings of recovery in general, in 12 Steps sometimes in particular, for people who face some kind of discrimination outside the rooms, can feel real bad.
Andrew Gillum: Oh, yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: You know?
Andrew Gillum: We’re spoken down to. Patronized. But I would, in spite of all of that, because I actually spent a lot of time, too much time being a critic. And it was a coping mechanism, obviously, for me, because if I was critiquing the program, then I wasn’t critiquing me. So I was writing, you know how after each session you write in these notes about how you were impacted or what did you think? And I was writing like dissertations on these cards. And my therapist pulled me and he says: we’ve been going over some of your comments in morning meeting—I didn’t know they all got together, talked about these damn cards. And he’s just you know: I just want to, some of what you have to say could all be legitimate, there are things we can do better here [unclear] but I just want to let you know that if you just open yourself up to receive what is meant for you, and then leave the rest, you know, you might have a little bit of an experience of growth, you may learn a little bit of something, you may hear something that feels like something you’re going through. And it really was a slip of the switch because I was like: oh, I love that. Take what you can use and leave the rest. And it change, it shifted my whole experience for the rest of my time there was—everything may not hit me that directly. And I may be a critic of somebody’s approach about this that and a third. But why don’t I work on me? Let’s do, let’s do me. And it made the biggest difference in the world. But I was trying to escape it. Of course. I was trying to come up with every reason under the sun, moon and stars, as to why I was not supposed to be in that room. Why it wasn’t me. Like, there was some strange thing that happened in the world and it wasn’t it wasn’t me.
Ana Marie Cox: And again, like, some of that stuff is real, legitimate and needs to be worked on in that community.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: Um, I’ll pull back the curtain a little and just say that in 12 Step rooms, you can find meetings for just women.
Andrew Gillum: Yes. I’ve done international meetings.
Ana Marie Cox: You can find meetings for just LGBTQ people. And yet. You know, I am not suggesting that there be meetings just for people of color, but it is kind of an interesting blank space.
Andrew Gillum: Why not?
Ana Marie Cox: I’m just saying I’m not. I would like that suggestion to come from someone who is . . .
Andrew Gillum: I understand your point. I hear you.
Ana Marie Cox: But not me.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah. I hear you. Ally.
Ana Marie Cox: But it is it’s an interesting . . . lacuna, let’s say.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: Right? In acknowledging the kinds of communities that need specific sorts of peers.
Andrew Gillum: Everyone needs to see themselves reflected, see themselves reflected, and that’s just the, that’s just the part of it. I notice that a lot of times in our rooms that the folks of color often pulled back from exchange because the oxygen was taken up by most of the white men in the room. And I, of course, my progressive training kicks in and I’m like: we need some establish some ground rules here: first of all, step forward, step back, if you’re stepping up too much, step back, you know, let others, sort of interjects and so forward. But, but I don’t think that I don’t think there is anything wrong with saying that there may need to be some affinity groups that deal very closely with some of the traumas, especially when you talk about the intergenerational nature of some of this, when you get into the hijacked brain and the shared trauma that exists there—that it might help some folks to know that you’re not just the fucked up one, that there’s been some fucked up stuff that’s been happening all throughout the line. And we say: oh, that’s cousin such and such and such, or grandma drinking her juice, or that medicine or, you know, those kinds of things that we just sort of make a part of our society, our community, our culture that need to be disrupted. And so there is a need, I just wanted to validate. I know you didn’t want to be the one making the suggestion, but you made a brilliant suggestion. And I just want to validate that there’s good reason for it.
Ana Marie Cox: Last set of ads. Back in a minute.
Ana Marie Cox: I am very, very curious as to whether your recovery journey has had an impact on the way you think about politics.
Andrew Gillum: Totally.
Ana Marie Cox: Yeah.
Andrew Gillum: One, I have had to learn what it means to not be in the arena in the way that I had grown accustomed to, which was to be able to legislate, pass laws, sign ordinances, la, la, la, all that allow that stuff, govern. And I’ve got to give it up for my healer for her help in this. She, this is how we got there. I was in crises one night while in rehab and we had a session. And she’s: you’re so angst, what is? And I just said: I just feel like I’m never going to be able to pull it back together, to put it back together, I don’t know how I’m going to do it. And she said: my love, my love, the reason it was broken, is because it is not meant to be put back together the way that it was—you are birthing something new. The earth and your energetic imprints have collided to produce something new in you, and that’s why you’ll never be able to put it back together the way that it was. And I was like: oh, my God, you have just reached into me like, you mean everything we like, I’m not supposed to reassemble that? No. Your job now is to, is to do a new work, a new thing. And for me, it was very hard first coming out because we had the presidential election going on. I had been raising money and building a team and a framework in Florida to do this robust voter registration project, all of which I had to walk away from March of 2020, and I was a back seater and no seater at all, to be quite frank, because I had to do the work of me. And she said: you are learning what it means to not be in the doing. You are now in the being. You’re learning what it means to be in the being and what does it mean to be in the being? She says: it means that the world of politics is changing, what people want, what they desire is a new thing. And you can’t go back. While you want to be in the passing laws and on the front lines and on the this and on the that, there’s another role here for you to discover. There’s something, and that’s what we want to spend our time in birthing the seed that has been put in you as a healed healer, and the outgrowth of that. And so I no longer see politics as the all-exclusive game on the road to change. That was validated by the summer of reckoning of 2020 with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and what flowed from that, the movement that flowed from that, that the change was actually happening in the street and not in the corridors of power. The swift justice that was coming was being bought, ushered in by the people, not politicians, folks who are leading and they were following. And maybe it’s always been that way, but it was on full display, that the power of the people is greater than the people in power. It was on full display. And so, yes, my relationship with politics has changed. I no longer feel like you have to be in the actual seat of government in order to achieve the change. And there was a part of me that always gave lip service to that, but I didn’t believe it. And I’ve internalized that more now than I ever have before. And I honestly believe that our road to salvation, our road to disrupting and dismantling, leveling the systems of oppression and yes, they are systems—I’m less concerned about the individual racist and much more concerned about the white supremacist system that’s been built that allows them to believe. And to have their supremacy reinforced by these systems. I want to, I want to level it all. And build the beloved community from the ground up, and I think the only way that happens is not in Washington and quite frankly, not even in city halls, I think is happening in city blocks. And that’s going to be, that’s going to be the real, that’s going to be the real change. That’s going to be the lasting and systemic change, in my opinion.
Ana Marie Cox: You mentioned something there that is another kind of aspect of politics that has changed little for me in recovery, which is this idea of not hating the racist, but hating the system.
Andrew Gillum: Oh, yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: And for me, recovery is really made that distinction important. You know, like, I, what, part of me says I’ve grown both more and less judgmental in recovery. [laughs].
Andrew Gillum: It forces it.
Ana Marie Cox: I’m more judgmental about the systems, and I feel more urgently than ever about the systems, but I’m less judgmental about the people caught.
Andrew Gillum: Totally.
Ana Marie Cox: In those systems.
Andrew Gillum: Totally agree with you. I totally agree with you Ana. It is, And boy, if we could give more of us could get there. So much of us think that the fight is against the individual racist, or the individual racist act. And I would encourage people to read Dr. Ibram Kendi’s book. All of his books. “Stamped.” But the one that I was particularly focused on is “How To Be An Antiracist.” And he talks about the fact that you, look, nobody is colorblind. Nobody is just a critic. You can’t be a nonracist observer. That to be antiracist requires antiracist acts. It requires a movement, an activity, a something, and not just a set of words. And I think we ought to work at that level, at the individual level. But I think if systems are still designed to keep certain people out, and allow others in, or to perpetuate this family having retaining growing wealth, and yours in intergenerational poverty. Then I don’t care how racist any individual neighbor is, I really don’t. I want that goddamn system destroyed. I want that dismantled. And so, yes, people with racist ideas, they still may operate in those systems. Until we purge that, and purge that behavior and activities, at least change the rules around who gets loans and where. Change the rules around who gets health care and when. Change the rules around who gets access to housing and how. Right? Don’t, you know, God bless the, we all have the ability for redemption and recovery. We can make a choice every single day to be better, and we can do that at the individual level, but if we are changing these systems that reinforce those attitudes, we all have a chance in hell.
Ana Marie Cox: As I said earlier, it’s hard to escape your context. And racists have a context too, you know.
Andrew Gillum: Absolutely.
Ana Marie Cox: And that actually—I don’t know if this is going to be a hard question, but it may put to the test this idea that we’ve both endorsed.
Andrew Gillum: OK.
Ana Marie Cox: Do you have any sympathy for Matt Gaetz?
Andrew Gillum: I do, I do. Everybody knows that Matt Gaetz attacked me vociferously, un-mercilessly about every mistake I’ve made and didn’t make. He made up stuff. To go back and now see that all the stuff he wanted to accuse me of, he was actually in the process of doing should tell us a whole bunch about people projecting. We always talk about those people who crow the loudest or thou dost protest too much. I have tried to quiet that, you know that joy, that one wants to, like, oh, God, look at karma, you are, oh, boy, is it coming up around. And there is a, my healer has taught me to do this as well, which is, and she taught me to do it first with myself—I was being so judgmental, so critical of me, so self-heating, and I would tell her a story about such and such, and she says: I want you to tell me that story again, but tell it in the third person as if you are narrating for what Andrew was doing. And I was like: what the hell is she talking about? And so then as I started to narrate, I’m bringing in other information: Andrew did such and such because he was hurt, and acted out has hurt in this way by, this, this, this, that and a third. And her counseling of me through how to tell a more compassionate story than the one that I’ve already convinced myself of, about that person, about myself, about whomever, was a really important lesson. And so I ran into real conflict, real conflict with a loved one. And I’m telling her, I’m reading him the riot, to her. And then she says: Andrew, I want you to know this has nothing to do with you, I know that it came to you and know that it was—tell that story again, knowing what you know about his father, his upbringing, the traumatic experience that you and I both know about that person, because I told her about this before. In fact my wife had told her about this as well. And I start to retell the story and all the anger I had toward this person turned into compassion. And then I felt bad. And then all I wanted to do was to pray for his healing. And finally, I’ll just say on this, my healer also reminds me very often that when I’m reacting in rage because I’ve been pierced or triggered—is the common word that folks use—to make sure that the person who is showing up in that moment is Andrew Gillum, the adult, and not Andrew Gillum, the wounded child. Because the wounded child is acting out their earliest memory of when they felt that way. They’re not even present in the moment. They’ve gone back to the time that they got rejected and called a fagot, or this, or a that, or treated this way, or the last person picked on the team because they weren’t very athletic, or that—you’re playing out that and so the aggression that you have in that moment that you’re directing toward that person is everything to do with the wounded child. And so just be clear that when you are showing up in those moments, and recognize that the wounded child will show up, this is not about the fact that you want to get to a place where you no longer have a wounded child. This is about getting to the place where your recovery time is quicker, where you’re not sitting in that place forever, but then you’re on recovery, you correct yourself and you get back at it.
Ana Marie Cox: As if that weren’t uplifting enough, it’s time for With Adorables Like These. Now Crooked Media stans will know exactly who I’m talking about here. I will describe the adorable. If you’re not someone who follows the hosts on Twitter: he’s fluffy, brown-eyed, a golden doodle who loves playing fetch, and he’s the companion animal of former Obama speechwriter and Pod Save America host: John Favreau. If you need pictures, he has his own Instagram at leo_the_dood. But pictures are only half the story. Let’s hear more about Leo.
Ana Marie Cox: First, who are you and what do you do?
Jon Favreau: I’m Jon Favreau, I’m a co-host of Pod Save America, and co-founder of Crooked Media.
Ana Marie Cox: How long have you been companions with your adorable, and where did you get him?
Jon Favreau: Let’s see, it has now been since December of 2014 we got Leo from Palmdale, California, just about an hour north of Los Angeles.
Ana Marie Cox: So his name is Leo.
Jon Favreau: His name is Leo. Is there a story behind the name?
Jon Favreau: So the story behind the name was we got him, so his birthday’s in August, so he’s a Leo, and he’s blond and looks like a little lion. So we kind of thought Leo was a perfect name for him.
Ana Marie Cox: Now all animals are emotional support animals. How has your adorable supported you?
Jon Favreau: Oh, my God, I didn’t, I never thought I would need an emotional support animal until Leo. Every time I’m feeling sad, anxious, worried, nervous or anything, he’s a cuddler, so he will cuddle with me. I am a very nervous flier, super anxious on plans, and the times that I have brought Leo on the plane with me—because he’s very small so he can sort of, like, sit on my lap or and—it’s actually made me less anxious on a plane.
Ana Marie Cox: So he’s a genuine emotional support animal.
Jon Favreau: Yeah, he’s a genuine emotional support, which, again, I didn’t plan on that. And I don’t think I knew that. But I think once we were going across the country—we don’t have him on planes often, but once we were going across the country and we needed to bring him—and so he sat,, he sat on my lap the whole time and my wife Emily noticed. She looked over and she’s like: this is a pretty turbulent flight and you’re, you’re doing OK. And I was like: yeah, it’s Leo.
Ana Marie Cox: What is the most you’ve gone out of your way for your adorable, or the biggest way you spoil him?
Jon Favreau: Oh, my God, I mean, we treat him, we now have a real live nine-month old child, Charlie, but before Charlie, Emily and I treat Leo—and we still do—treat him like our child. Like we go every year with him. I think one of the ways we treat him like a child especially, is we, now when we travel, my parents live about an hour north of us so we don’t bring him, we usually leave him with my parents and we check in on him like, I don’t know, 20 times a day. We demand pictures of him. We get on face time with my parents and like talk to him, and our Leo voice, it’s like a real, yeah, it’s a, it’s a whole thing. Where we’re pretty obsessed.
Ana Marie Cox: What cause would your adorable support?
Jon Favreau: What cause would Leo support? The cause of tennis balls for all?
Ana Marie Cox: [laughs] And obscure interest group.
Jon Favreau: He is the most obsessed dog with balls that I’ve ever seen of any dog ever, where you can throw the ball and he will, he probably will go like a good 10 hours without stopping, if you just keep throwing the ball. Like there is no time, he will stop. And he brings the ball right to your feet, drops it, even if you say “no, we’re all done” he continues to bring it back. Want’s, he just wants to play fetch all day long. That’s his, that’s his reason for being.
Ana Marie Cox: Can you please do the voice of your adorable?
Jon Favreau: I can’t. [laughs] No way. There is no way I will do that for you.
Ana Marie Cox: You said that you have one.
Jon Favreau: That’ll be four for anyone who visit, will be able to hear him.
Ana Marie Cox: Not even like a little preview: Hi, I’m Leo.
Jon Favreau: Oh, I can’t, I can’t. [laughs]
Ana Marie Cox: All right. I guess you’re putting dignity before adorable. That’s fine. And that is it for the show.
Ana Marie Cox: I want to thank Andrew Gillum for his bold vulnerability and his joyful attitude. His podcast is, again, Real Talk. Also, thanks to Jon Favreau, you might want to give his podcast a shot. It’s called Pod Save America. This show is also a production of Crooked Media. Our senior producer is Alison Herrera. Jordan Waller also produces. Izzy Margulies is our booker. This episode was engineered by Louie Leno. Whitney Pastorak got to go home this week, and Wally discovered the desert. I just want to add things are changing a lot right now. Many things for the better. But it is OK if that doesn’t feel good all the time. Change is hard. Take care of yourselves.