In This Episode
This week, Phill is joined by Bambi, who helped him come out of the closet many moons ago in a magical land called gay.com. They talk about what it’s like growing up the black sheep, finding acceptance and love in the arms of strangers, and what it’s like reconnecting with someone who changed your life.
Phillip Picardi: Do you remember talking to me the night that I came out of the closet?
Bambi: I completely do.
Phillip Picardi: Get out of—[laughs] OK, tell me what you remember.
Bambi: I shouldn’t have been, I’m like, who did I think I was?
Phillip Picardi: You were perfect, first of all.
Bambi: Roll the dice, go for it! And it’s like insane—obviously, I guess because we were in neighboring towns, I was just like, Girl, you have nothing to lose. But it could have been crazier, right, if you were like in a really risky situation. But at the time, you were already out, girl. You were doing things. You were showing. You were in a glass house
Phillip Picardi: From Crooked Media, this is Unholier Than Thou. I’m your host, Phillip Picardi. We’ve covered a lot of ground so far this season, from the redemption of Christianity to the rebirth of friends and loved ones during the pandemic. But as this podcast starts to come to a close, I want it to go on a little bit more of an internal journey. In my interview with Chris Stedman from earlier this season, we talked about the importance of queer gathering spaces online, and I mentioned that one of the most important people in my coming out process was actually somebody I’d never even met in real life, up until fairly recently. When I started to realize that I might be gay, I didn’t know where to turn to. There was nobody—faculty or students, family, friends, community—I could think of who I’d feel safe chatting with. The one teacher who did hint to me that I could share anything with him had also cornered me after school in his classroom and groped me. I was too ashamed to say anything, and the whole experience left me even more anxious and afraid. If this is what being gay is, I thought, I certainly don’t want to be it. This is the point in my life when I started going to church a lot more. Ever since I was a kid, my dad would go every Sunday, mostly by himself and he was more than happy to have me go with him. Inevitably, though, he’d fall asleep in the pews and start to snore loudly, and I’d be stuck feeling all alone in that big white church. I tune out the priest, which was easy to do—hello—and I’d look up at the massive Jesus on the crucifix and beg, Please fix me. I felt in more ways than one that at a mere 13-years old, I was living a double life of sorts. I had a persona I presented to my friends and family, and another one that existed when I was alone. After everyone had fallen asleep in my house, I’d sneak to the computer, wait for the dial-up internet connection, hear that iconic You’ve Got Mail tagline, and then log onto a website called Gay dot com, which promised to introduce me to local gay men in my area. Of course, I lied about my age, and I never uploaded a profile photo just in case someone from the area would, I don’t know, out me and call my parents. And look, let’s not mince words. The internet, even then, was strange and potentially dangerous place for a young, scared, and lonely teenager to be. The problem with relegating LGBTQ folks and our sexualities to the shadows, as society did and still in many way does, is that so much of what should be done in the light—accepting ourselves, loving ourselves, finding community—was done in the dark. Like many gay men my age, I was glued to a computer screen in the wee hours of the night, chatting with men of dubious ages, trying to understand myself and my relationship to sex. It took me a while to reckon with the fact that I came of age and understanding not thanks to my immediate surroundings, family, faith, or environment, but instead thanks completely to strangers on the internet. I guess to put a finer point on it, really, thanks to a stranger on the internet. Singular. There was one person who lived the next town over and he also claimed to be of adult age, but definitely was not. He was out and he was brave. He put his face on his profile, something I could never dream of doing. He was beautiful. He had these big dark eyes with matching dark, curly eyelashes and this absolute movie star big, wide smile. And he wore—what else—tons of Abercrombie, pink Abercrombie. In a world before MySpace or Facebook or Instagram, he was my ultimate influencer. Not just because he was beautiful and tasteful and all the things I thought that gay men should be—which was admittedly a very narrow view of what gay men should be or look like—but really, more importantly, because he was out and he seemed so unafraid. Over a span of months, I asked him about everything I possibly could, all while hiding behind my incognito little profile. I asked him things like, How did he come out? What did he say to his parents? What kinds of books was he reading? What about television shows? Had he ever kissed a boy? What did it feel like? How could he be sure he was gay? Did he think I was gay? Did he think I could be bisexual? Did he think that watching gay porn made me gay? Did liking the color pink make me gay? Was he getting bullied at school? What did his parents think of him? Did he still have friends? Did he consider himself a sinner? Did he ever worry about going to hell? And most importantly, what size Polo did he wear from Abercrombie? After I came out of the closet, I ditched my profile on Gay dot com altogether. MySpace was booming and it was an easier place to commune with the, I don’t know, maybe five other out gay people in a 10-mile radius of my hometown. I lost touch with my stranger friend on the internet and figured I may never see him again. To be honest, I was kind of grateful for the relative anonymity of the exchange with him. I looked back on the closeted version of myself with like a sort of embarrassment, the kind of feeling that you get when you see a picture of yourself in braces. But of course, as these stories tend to go, a decade flashed by and New York City called to us both. And suddenly he popped up on someone’s Instagram, and I instantly recognized him—that gorgeous face—like he was frozen in time. I pressed follow and he followed back, and for a while we left it at that. It wasn’t until 2019 that we finally found each other face to face. I was the Editor in Chief of Out Magazine, and it was the 50th anniversary of the uprising at Stonewall. The magazine was throwing a Pride party at the Standard Hotel, and, hilariously enough, Lil Kim was my guest of honor. The team at Out insisted that we hire this up and coming floral designer named Lutfi to do our tables, and he transformed the dining room into a queer tropical paradise. Lutfi was helped, of course, by my friends from the internet, that dear old stranger. And finally, I got to hug him and tell him what he meant to me.
This episode is called Reunion, and I think that’s a fitting word on so many levels. Coming to Harvard this year also, of course, meant coming home to Boston, and I am once again driving on the roads where I first learned to drive a car. I’m living in the first city I ever knew. And I may have come back as a fully-formed adult, but sometimes navigating this very familiar terrain, this familiar land, reminds me of the scared, lonely, and desperately hopeful child that I once was. So to honor that sweet little child, I wanted to invite my old friend here to chat with me today. Bambi, welcome to Unholier Than Thou. I’m so happy to have you.
Bambi: Thank you for having me on your yellow couch.
Phillip Picardi: First, I guess, to set the scene because nobody can set the stage quite like you can, can you talk about the place where we first met, which was over a dial-up internet connection on the website—which I think R.I.P., but I’m not, I’m not sure, I’ll fact check that—gay dot com.
Bambi: I’m thinking it had to be either gay dot com, it could have been any of the numerous AOL chat rooms.
Phillip Picardi: Yes.
Bambi: And yeah, that is how we met. I guess it was a time where payphones were still around, a time where gays did not have a five-mile radius way of connecting. And if you felt like you were the only gay in the village, you really had to roll the dice and kind of put yourself out there, and chat rooms and phone lines and all these weird things were the way of us connecting.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah, and it was a, it was a strange time to be, I think, a young person coming of age or coming to understand their sexuality because, like you said, if you’re the only one in the village, which I think both of us felt like we were in our respective and neighboring towns, the logical place to turn became the internet.
Bambi: Yes. And I think it still is very much. But for us, there was nowhere to turn to, especially in a time where people didn’t have the courage to be themselves and individuality wasn’t celebrated. For us, there was no other way to kind of find people that you could identify with.
Phillip Picardi: And at the same time, you were sort of my town crier because you were in the town, that neighbored my hometown, which was North Andover, Massachusetts, and you were, as I understand or as I remember it, maybe I’m misremembering, but I’m pretty sure you were already out of the closet.
Bambi: I was so gay. I couldn’t [unclear]. I’ve been gay [unclear]. Like, I’ve been so gay, it’s terrible. I never had another option. So for me, yeah, I was gay and I came out early. I was lucky to have like a support system of, you know, pre-teen girls that loved me, and my mother being a hairdresser was kind of, like she fell into it quite easily. But yeah, there was nothing left and I felt like I couldn’t fake it. I couldn’t do anything else but to be myself. So I took the bull by the horns and just came out.
Phillip Picardi: What did that look like? How old were you?
Bambi: I don’t know, 14 or something. We were like 13 or something like that.
Phillip Picardi: I was 13 when we first started chatting on Gay dot com. I came out when I was 14. We chatted for a long, long time before I finally came out.
Bambi: And the thing is like feeling at 13 that you had been gay for a lifetime and you needed to get it off your chest. That’s the crazy—everybody needs to know, like, I can’t do this anymore. I don’t know how we were so intense and so lit back then, but we definitely were. As soon as I found out, because I skipped before I walked, right, so I felt like instead of trying to hide my identity and looking at bullies or people that were trying to kind of out me, I was just like, Yeah, I’m that girl, what’s up? And it ended up being really great. I got embraced by the village, right? I was one of the kids that ended up doing the speeches and the talks to the other little younger gays in my high school. So that was kind of weird. But like looking back at it, I was like, Wow, you’ve always been that bitch. You just kind of had no other way to go.
Phillip Picardi: And that comes from a little bit of your family environment, right? Like you were, you kind of nodded to your mom being a hairdresser. So I guess being gay was very much within, I’m sure, her existing community. So I’m sure that kind of helped smooth things over for the family dynamic.
Bambi: You know, I think to a degree it does. I think when, in the business of esthetics, there’s lots of colorful characters, and my mother was always very vibrant and very much herself, and I felt that I was her descendant and being myself was the only thing I could do. So, yeah.
Phillip Picardi: And you also had an aunt, right? Like one of your tias was very supportive of you too.
Bambi: Yes, my aunt as well. She was the one I first came out to be for my mom, just in case, you needed backup, you know, needed to know how it was going to go. And they were always very supportive of me. They were like, You know, we thought you were different, but we didn’t know you were gay.
Phillip Picardi: It’s funny because even in our like, limited interaction—so we connected on Gay dot com, and then I think we took things to AOL Instant Messenger. I had an entirely separate log-in on AOL Instant Messenger, which was like my gay alter ego. I’m sad I can’t remember the screen name. We were, I was doing this exercise with my friends yesterday where we were like, What was your screen name? Do you remember yours?
Bambi: No, I was trying to go back into that, and I know that I went through because, like, getting a screen name was such a weird thing at that time, especially for our age. So I don’t know if I was somewhere between like a chunky monkey or somewhere, [unclear] but soul five, five, five, you know?
Phillip Picardi: Not chocolate soul.
Bambi: Not chocolate soul honey. She was there trying to be sultry. It was different time. R&B was really trending on TV. You know?
Phillip Picardi: You’re right. You’re right. It was the Janet Jackson era before the Super Bowl.
Bambi: I’m trying to tell people,
Phillip Picardi: Yeah, you’re right. You know, I get the vibes actually.
Phillip Picardi: And my straight screen name was Lil Italian Stallion 77. So, and there were some numbers in there. So I can’t, I can’t even imagine what my gay screen name must have been if my straight screen name was that egregiously bad.
Bambi: Right. If you were already giving it. You were already giving it.
Phillip Picardi: I was already I knew exactly what I was doing unfortunately. It’s an early, it was an early time to be coming into the idea of sexual marketing but we were, we were the precursor to these Gen Z kids on Tik Tok.
Bambi: It was definitely that. I mean, and that was without having to serve face and body beforehand. Because let’s face it, you don’t have a face for radio. I’m surprised that no one’s got you on a full screen somewhere on TV right now.
Phillip Picardi: Listen, baby, from your lips to God’s ears, oK? Well, thank you. But that was one of the things I remember about you. You had your whole-ass face on your Gay dot com profile, like you were just out there. And I was too scared to put my face on the profile because I didn’t want people to out me. And then I couldn’t believe that there was this like, beautiful, young, incredibly confident person just the town over from me living this life that at the time, you know, I couldn’t even imagine for myself. I was so scared to live the way that you were brave enough to live.
Bambi: That’s kind of you. I think like, yeah, being a bad bitch is not something you’re born into, you’re definitely [unclear] into one. And I feel that I was surrounded by bad bitches my whole life so I was like, Aren’t I one of you guys? Like, What’s up? Like, Shouldn’t I be leveling up? But it is super interesting. We had to risk ourselves to meet people or else there wasn’t another way. And I was so desperate to connect and to meet people and to not feel alone and to kind of do the things our friends were doing, right, like everybody was kind of like flirting and having crushes and doing all this stuff and like I was on the outside wondering what all these things felt like, you know? So I was like, Let me just do it. Let’s, let’s find someone. There has to be someone.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah. And as I, you know, as I’ve been reflecting on that period of time, and my friend J.P. Brammer wrote a book called “Ola, Puppy”, and he talks about this experience too, of just kind of digital connection.
Bambi: That’s my next little thing. Me and my friend Giancarlo are trying to do a little book club around Ola. I was like, We need to kind of follow up and, you know, see this whole saga.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah, it’s a really interesting part of his book, where he talks about this kind of early internet and like gay connection on the internet because I think one thing maybe a lot of us of our age group have not unpacked is that, you know, when you relegate us to the shadows, we kind of connect in the shadows, which means that, like you said, we are putting ourselves at risk when we try to find community. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that we don’t feel safe either being our authentic selves in our immediate community and so we’re exploring these kind of like limits and boundaries of the self and of our expression online and creating alternative personas or ways of speaking or ways of existing behind computer screens. But there is a pernicious element to that, too, because I remember a lot of the people that at least I was talking to were men, adult men in their 40s, you know, and who knows how much older they could have been?
Bambi: There was definitely that. I mean, alongside us meeting, I’ve met so many wonderful people who I still keep in contact with. Like there’s us, I met Leif, who’s like an alternative hip hop artist also there?
Phillip Picardi: Wow.
Bambi: On the chat rooms. And it’s like, it’s super interesting, like now we’re all in New York living these lives and we met like in a place that was full of creeps and weirdos—because that’s a real thing. The connection still persevered. But I will say that we are risking it and we’re meeting a whole bunch of people who have been kind of cast in the dark and at the fringes of society, and we feel safe there because we know that we’re looking for something genuine so we don’t kind of like veer from our track.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah. And that kind of constant and desperate longing for community and the ability to—even amidst darkness, because I do think that that’s one way of putting what that space felt like, where it felt like darkness a lot of the times because it was a lot of people navigating identity and their own issues with identity and a lot of people seeking things, kind of groping for things in the dark. It was the original like, right, it’s like the internet darkroom, right? Like, that’s what we were doing. And as you’re navigating, coming to terms of sexuality, some of us were able to make meaningful connections like I did with you and find some sort of light. And then we become these adults who end up coming into the nightlife spaces and then finding each other once again in the dark, which I think is really interesting.
Bambi: Yeah, I agree with that. I think that, you know you’re born with your inherited sense of self. I think that you, as you’re coming of age, you’re trying to just voice what you already know. And in the process, things get complicated. But that’s why I’ve always felt that the work that you do and by being in like Teen Vogue and doing this kind of stuff was so important because that’s when you really kind of actually know the core of who you are. We tried to modify ourselves and make ourselves you know, become more pliable to fit into society’s norms because we want to belong and we want to integrate. But you already know who you are, you know? And I think that at that time, that’s the best time to kind of like really push your agenda and to kind of go forth with what you believe in, even though you’re young and people might think that what do you know and what is, you know Life is complicated, but the truth is the core of who you are, your light has always been there, right, you’re born with it. And embracing that and then becoming more of yourself with honoring that, right, that’s the key of this whole game, that’s what makes it so beautiful. And I think that us meeting and holding on to that as a testament to that, right? That’s, it manifested.
Phillip Picardi: Do you remember talking to me the night that I came out of the closet?
Bambi: I completely do. Which is—
Phillip Picardi: Get out of—
Bambi: Which is crazy.
Phillip Picardi: OK, tell me what you remember.
Bambi: I shouldn’t have been—I’m like, Who did I thing I was OK? Like—
Phillip Picardi: You were perfect, first of all.
Bambi: Roll the dice, go for it! And it’s like insane—obviously, I guess because we were in neighboring towns, I was like, Girl, you have nothing to lose. But it could have been crazier if you were like in a really risky situation. But at the time you already out Girl. You were doing things. You were showing. You were showing. You were in a glass house.
Phillip Picardi: That’s true. I was never a discreet homosexual that is for sure, as much as I tried. I remember at some point in the eighth grade before, like a year before I came out of the closet, I decided to get a bowl cut because I was like that’ll throw them off my track. You know, it’s like as long as I look ugly, they won’t think I’m gay. And that is, it’s around that time that we started connecting more online. And I don’t remember exactly what it was, you told me to start watching the show Queer as Folk. Do you remember this?
Bambi: Oh my god. I did not
Phillip Picardi: Queer as Folk was on Showtime at the time. I had no idea what it was. I didn’t even know like what the word queer meant because my parents had such heavy Boston accents that when they say the word queer, they say qua. So I didn’t know that queer was a word that meant like LGBT at the time. So I would like go downstairs in the middle of the night, like on a school night. You know what I’m saying? And it was like on-demand had just started. And so I would go to on-demand and I would watch, like whatever episodes of Queer as Folk that they had, literally until the sun would come up. Because that show was like—by the way, they’re reviving it, which is so cool—but, you know, at the time, it was like audaciously sexual, like actually revolutionary sexuality in a way that we still do not have on television. There was no camera panning upwards. It was like rough, sweaty, doggy on television, bondage, BDSM, there were partnerships where people were HIV-positive, like it was just, it was such a crash course. So you tell me to watch this show and that’s like my first, like other than Will and Grace, that was my only frame of reference for gay people. And then I’m watching Queer as Folk in the middle of the night. And then I would, I would sit with my finger on the off button of the television in case my dad came down the stairs because he always woke up in the middle of the night. Yes. So you had me watching this show and there was this episode—I don’t know if you remember the episode where Justin comes out to his dad and then his dad punches him in the face. Do you remember that episode?
Bambi: How could I forget?
Phillip Picardi: Tell me why I watched that episode, and I immediately turn off the television run up to my computer to like instant message you to IM you to be like, I think I’m going to do it. I think I’m going to come out of the closet. It was the middle of the night.
Bambi: I’m screaming that you were just like, You know, I’m a set it up. This is going to go [unclear] I need to know. Now is when I need to know.
Phillip Picardi: That was the impetus.
Phillip Picardi: But it’s to say like, that’s how important these kind of shows were, right? Because I think that often gay people are portrayed in this way where we are kind of de-sexualized and we live in little closets and we make things pretty. And it’s like [unclear] have like needs, desires, and we’re not complex human beings that also want families and a sense of belonging. So yeah, Queer as Folk did a lot for the girls.
Phillip Picardi: It sure did. It sure did. And I ran to my computer to instant message you, and it was like one o’clock in the morning. And that’s when you were like, Go, do it, do it now.
Bambi: So crazy. It was good advice, right?
Phillip Picardi: Well, I walked into my parents’ room and I came out of the closet, turned on the lamps in their room, and I came out of the closet.
Bambi: In the morning, in that very instant?
Phillip Picardi: That very instant. You told me to.
Bambi: I’m screaming.
Phillip Picardi: And I literally was like, This is what my gay sage said to me. Like, I felt like I was Justin and you’re literally, you were going by Brian at the time. Like, that was, I was like, Here it is.
Bambi: Yeah. Well, you know what? It paid off, didn’t it?
Phillip Picardi: It sure did. It sure did.
Bambi: The more you would have waited, the more time you would have wasted.
Phillip Picardi: That’s a really good way of looking at it. Yeah, that’s true. That’s very true. It was, it was a wild time. One of the things that you told me, which I did not obey was, you said, make sure you tell someone other than your parents first so that you have a safety net to fall back on. It was really good advice
Bambi: Who did you tell?
Phillip Picardi: I didn’t. I went right to my parents. I had to get it off my chest, and I felt like this was the moment and like that scene with Justin and his dad was in my head so I was like, also ready for a fight, you know? And yeah, so anyways, what I will say is that I should have listened to you. I should have had a backup because I would have been helpful because things did not exactly go as planned with my parents, which is, which is fine. Everything ended up working out in the end. But, but yes, it was, it was very sage advice to experience on AOL Instant Messenger at 1:00 in the morning and, you know, from a gay dot com chat room experience.
Bambi: It’s honestly, you don’t know where it comes from, but it’s definitely all around you.
Phillip Picardi: When you look back at that period of time and you sort of alluded to wanting to experience the things that our friends were experiencing because we were kind of one of the only, if not the only gay person in the room—out gay person, I should say—at pretty much all times in our social calendars and in our events. When you think about like that inner child thing, about like healing the inner child, what kind of things do you want for him or what kinds of things would you say to him?
Bambi: You know, I actually turn back and am actually now trying to talk to him for advice. I thought that now I’m just like, OK, can you remind me again that I’m that bitch? Because I feel like I forget all the time. And I was so sure of who I was at the time and knew that, because at that time, I think that our identity was not that complicated in terms of like we felt like being gay was like this big key into unlocking like a portal where we could be who we wanted to be. And then, you know, you unlock this portal, now you’re in this place and now you have to define yourself with things that are outside of your sexuality. And I feel like I now look back to this person and I constantly ask this person advice. I don’t feel like that, I feel like that person is the one that guides me. That’s the person that I that I look for for strength. It’s the person that I want to pull me out whenever I’m spiraling is a young Brian behind a computer screen or wearing whatever gay thing I thought was relevant at the time.
Phillip Picardi: Yes, you definitely had an enviable Abercrombie collection.
Bambi: I have so many of these pink polos.
Phillip Picardi: Yes, you did.
Bambi: You were wearing—what was going on. I mean, now that the 2000s are back and people are wearing these like Uggs and things like un-ironically, like ironically for us, was like the epitome of being the girl.
Phillip Picardi: Yes, I literally thought it was Fash-Shon with a capital f.
Bambi: I was like, No one can talk to me, you kidding me? I know what I’m doing.
Phillip Picardi: In my extra small polo shirt.
Bambi: To the like, oh, and doubling them. Like that was a crazy thing too, like what are we doing wanting two polos like—
Phillip Picardi: Popped collars. Yep.
Bambi: It was too much, but that sense of self, that confidence of like—I remember being in Andover High and feeling like I owned the whole school. Like, I felt like because I was wearing myself on the outside, can’t-nobody-tell-me-nothing kind of energy, you know? And like, that, going back to that person really is what I constantly try to do, is remember that like, it’s really not that complicated, and being true to yourself is the win.
Phillip Picardi: I’ve been thinking a lot about this period of time because of where I am right now. I’m back in Boston, and last night I was driving to visit my parents, so I was like, You know, you’re like back on the road, right? Like, I’m back on the roads that I used to drive in high school when I crashed my car like four times in a year and totaled two cars, you know? Like I just the other day, I hit a parked car when I was driving. So it’s like, I’m back on my bullshit. And I’m like driving up, you know, 93 north, I get to 213, I’m like in Methuen, like at the old spots where we used to go for like our iced coffee and like the loop where we used to hang out after school thinking we were so cool. And it’s weird to be driving on this terrain because though the sheer positionality of it all, it just puts you right back into being that kid. And I feel a couple of things like, I think the most immediate thing I feel for that kid—especially thinking about that time—is like, I was really lucky to have you because it felt like an unsafe place a lot of the time for a 13-year old boy to be discovering sexuality. And there were a lot of unsafe conversations and unsavory conversations had at the time with men who had no business talking to a 13-year old in that way. Right?
Bambi: The amount of creeps that I got into cars with were probably not the best, you know? But like, [unclear] figure it out.
Phillip Picardi: And I don’t begrudge us that. Do you know what I mean? Like, we had no other option. And of course, that’s what we were going to end up doing because when we were relegated to the shadows and we were relegated to solitude and feeling like the only one, of course, as young people who are desperately seeking connection, we were going to try and find whatever we could to make us feel not alone. And then at the same time, I think about those young boys, and I do think also, I wish that, you know, I wish that the world was better for you, and I wish that the people around you were better for you. You know? And I wish that you didn’t have to be alone. And so I hold, I hold that for those boys, for sure.
Bambi: I think that, it’s funny because it’s looking back, I don’t think they’re younger—and it’s funny because now you start to sound like the elder gays, right?
Phillip Picardi: I know!
Bambi: And it’s like, Oh, when I was your age, I can’t even go down the street. And it’s like, I’m like, Wow, it’s like, it’s completely amazing to be in a time where you have artists like Lil Nas X and there’s like people who are radically gay and queer and having the ability to express their needs to wanting to be loved and you know how they feel. We didn’t have any reflections of ourselves in culture like the way that there is today. So it was very challenging and it was fully unsafe because at that time I think being queer was especially seen as something that was a little more on the unnatural side of things, a little more kind of like a weakness. Very much like, you know, a pansy kind of attitude towards gays. And that was really what was like so crazy about the whole thing that we hadn’t really, truly no other option, but to, you know, risk at all.
Phillip Picardi: The thing is, and like, this is the other, like the other side of this double-edged sword is that it was worth the risk. You know, like looking back on it, I can’t change society, but I could have changed, you know, potentially the way that I behaved in that time and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Bambi: Ma’am, are you kidding me? You coming out was one of the best things that’s happened for all of us. You know, your work that you, since that moment and you have always been such an amazing human. I remember telling you—
Phillip Picardi: Oh gosh.
Bambi: That I wanted to be a fashion designer and you were like, Well, I’m going to do a fashion show, I’m going to do, you should come and be part of my fashion show. And I was just like, Oh my God, like, I can’t like, I don’t even know. Like, no, like this kid that goes to this really cool school, like, we’re like, totally different like—and I was just intimidated by the sheer amazingness that you’ve always held.
Phillip Picardi: I don’t know how I would have gotten there if it wasn’t, if it wasn’t for having you on the other side of the computer screen some of those nights, you know? Like I would ask you if I was going to go to hell or like what you thought about gay people being sinners, and I would ask you what TV shows you were watching or where you were shopping. And like, you were the only example I had of, like a lived reality that was giving me some sort of sense that it was going to be OK because there were a lot of nights that I would go to bed as a teenager wishing I wouldn’t wake up because I didn’t want to do it anymore, you know? And you were the only thing I had. You were the only lifeline I had.
Bambi: You know, a thousand percent. I’m glad that I could do that for you. But feeling that way was a feeling that we all shared. And I think ultimately what do kids that age or anyone in general, the human experience is about trying to be seen and really kind of holding the reflection that you find of yourself in other people, right? That’s when you feel like validated and you have the strength to kind of persevere and move forward when you’re like, OK, there are others sharing this reality with me.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah, it felt, it felt like bizarrely full circle when it was 2019, I’m editing Out magazine, which is like one of the first publications I ran to Borders to pick up after I came out of the closet, and it’s Pride. So it’s 2019 Pride, which was the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. And my whole team had been like, If we’re throwing a dinner, we have to have Lutfi do our flowers. And so we walk in to The Standard where we were hosting this dinner. Lil Kim was my guest of honor, so I had to sit with Lil Kim for the dinner, which was amazing. And we rapped together the rap to Lady Marmalade because I am that much of an F-word. And of course, you know, Lutfi was invited to the dinner ends and you had helped arrange all of the flowers for that evening and you were there in the audience that night. And it was this really bizarre full-circle moment to be like going from this child on the internet who had no one except this stranger who took him seriously or to talk to, and then to be editing the world’s biggest gay magazine on the 50th anniversary of the most significant event in LGBTQ civil rights history—and there you were. It was like you were always meant to be there.
Bambi: I mean, I, of course, picture myself beside, you know, notorious names like Little Kim [laughs], the rest of the girls. You know what I mean? Like, that’s exactly the room you would be with me and we would be sharing that space. So, yes, I was completely full-circle. This is where we belonged in the first place. It was actually super iconic and that did something for us, especially for Lutfi because he’s like the lead in our company Rosalila that really like, it did so much for us. It changed the whole path of our career. It really made a big, big difference and you know and to where we are today. And, it’s that. I think that when you have a solid sense of family, when you develop the sense of community, when you know, right, because it’s like, I don’t have to speak to you constantly, but you know that if you just, all you have to do is like, reach out and you know that it’s going to be just where you left me. I’m going to have the open arms. You know that I’m going to see you as a girl. You know that you’re a sister in my community and the love is there, you know? And that’s what I love about being gay, really honestly. It’s probably like one of the best things. It’s, and I don’t know of straight people have that.
Phillip Picardi: I don’t know that they do. And it’s interesting to me because when we talk about like living life on these borders or, you know, being marginalized, I think that’s one way or one form of language that people use to describe us. I prefer to think about us as living outside of the expectations of what everyone else was raised in, and when we were raised outside of those expectations, even though it was scary at first like I said, what you don’t realize is what an immense gift it is to be, at least partially, and even if just temporarily, released from the shackles of those expectations so that you can form your own ideas about yourself and family and community. And since you know what it means to feel alone or like the only one, you now walk through life with that greater sense of empathy and also an innate sense of belonging and the wherewithal to say, I can change this for myself and I can find my people if I need to and so I don’t need to feel alone. And there is just like this immense spiritual power that that comes with that lived experience.
Bambi: One thousand percent. I feel like trusting the vibration you’re putting out to the universe, the love that you’re giving is the love that you will receive, and having faith in that is something that gets me through every day. Because not only did we find each other—yeah, there was a lot of like a couple of weird things that happened, right—but to think that we found each other and how relevant we still are to each other’s lives and how we can relate, and we have commonalities and all these threads, it’s because at some point before we were aware of us now, we were, you know, we had the understanding, we have the knowing. And it’s like, it’s not that I’m big on past lives, it’s just a thing that I do feel that like, you know, we are selves in different timelines and I always say this thing, oh future me did such a great job. Oh, yes, future me. Like and it could be small, right, whether I like, you know, like left my toothbrush, like, set up in the morning. But it’s like when these things happen, right, when you understand that you’ve made friends before you understood what they were going to be in your life, that, to me, is the magic of our queer existence.
Phillip Picardi: It totally is. And yeah, it’s incredible to think that a stranger I met on the internet when I was 13-years old will always feel like home to me. So thank you so much.
Bambi: Thank you. Honestly, I have, I have nothing but wonderful things to say about how our, you know, chance meeting online has completely been a catalyst for wonderful things in my life.
Phillip Picardi: Likewise. I can’t also believe that you never seem to age. I hate being white.
Bambi: You know that’s a real thing, honey. You really have to [unclear] being white is not easy. The older I get, the more I understand that. I was like, These girls really have to put in the work, girl. It’s like, Retin-A, it’s you have to shellac it.
Phillip Picardi: You have no idea.
Bambi: Now that we’re in our thirties, it’s a whole different thing. It’s like, Listen, you know, girls have to squat. You know, you have to keep your mobility on track. Things are hard.
Phillip Picardi: Yeah, things are hard. Things are hard. I mean, maybe that’s the source of white anger in American. [laughs]
Bambi: I meant to ask you, did you ever chance to go to Bagly when we were in Boston, when you were at that age.
Phillip Picardi: I never went. I was too scared.
Phillip Picardi: You know, shout out to them and shout out to whatever church that whole thing happened to. But that was like also like one of my like most epic coming-of-age moments, was going to—
Phillip Picardi: It was a dance at a church?
Bambi: Yeah, at the gay prom. Somewhere, in Copley Square—not Copley Square. The church right in front of the Commonwealth Park.
Phillip Picardi: Okay.
Bambi: Don’t know, but that was like so epic for me.
Phillip Picardi: Well, I hope it’s still happening.
Bambi: I hope so, too. I hope that is actually still a thing.
Phillip Picardi: Let me, hold on. I’m googling it before I let you go. Bagly Prom is the oldest LGBTQ+ youth prom in the nation, featured in photography by Zoe Perry Wood in a Time article in 2012, the dance continues to be one of the largest LGBTQ+ youth gatherings in the country. Sounds like something for us to potentially come together once again on. Let’s put that into the universe.
Bambi: Do that. Let’s do it. I’m ready. I’m ready.
Phillip Picardi: Let’s call Kim. Lil Kim. It’ll be a whole reunion. Oh my god, that would be epic. [laughs] Oh my gosh, Bambi, thank you so much. I adore you. Thank you for sharing your time and space with me this morning. I appreciate it.
Bambi: Thank you for having me on your yellow couch. I feel galvanized and fully ready to start my day today.
Phillip Picardi: Yes, galvanized! I want to thank Bambi so much for taking the time to chat with me. And I also just want to do a quick shout out. I don’t often end these episodes with any sort of advice because I definitely do not want to be a preacher, even though I am at divinity school now. But I will say I found the process of acknowledging our younger selves and also acknowledging what kind of healing that younger self needs, to be a really powerful exercise. And if that means for you looking at pictures of your younger self, going way back in those Facebook photos, thinking about what you used to wear, thinking about who you used to be, what you used to think, and extending grace to that young person. I highly recommend it. I’ve been journaling a lot about this time in my life lately, writing a lot about it, and obviously talking to Bambi was an immense part of that healing process. So thanks for coming along on this part of my journey with me, and I hope that you also are able to extend some much needed love and grace to the young person inside of you. I’ll see you next week.
Unholier Than Thou is a Crooked Media production. Our executive producer is me, Philip Picardi. Our producer is Lesley Martin, and Brian Semel is our associate producer. Our editors are Karem [unclear], David Greenbaum and Sarah Gibble-Laska. The theme music is by Taka Yasuzawa.