Transcript: Everybody Likes Red, White & Royal Blue

If you want quick access to the books and links mentioned in this episode rather than the complete transcript, visit the show notes.

Chelsee: [00:00:00] I’m Chelsee Bergen. I’m here with Julian Lejbman and we’re talking about our casual obsession with Casey McQuiston’s Red, White and Royal Blue. Casey McQuiston lives at the intersection of fun, escapist romantic adventure and smart mouth characters with big hearts and bad manners. McQuiston’s first novel, Red, White and Royal Blue asks, “what happens when America’s first son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?”

McQuiston uses she/her and they/them pronouns, so we will use both.

[Theme music]

It’s maybe a little bit ironic that our friendship was formed in part by reading books, given that you recommended to me that I read Red, White and Royal Blue some amount of time before I actually read it. And then once I read it, I was like, this is amazing. I pretty much devoured—  it was— I read it in like less than a day and I feel like your reaction was very like, “yeah, I fucking told you.”

Julian: [00:01:29] Yeah, because you didn’t believe me. 

Chelsee: [00:01:31] It’s not-

Julian: [00:01:31] You straight up, didn’t believe me. 

Chelsee: [00:01:34] I mean, I feel like didn’t believe is perhaps— it’s a strong way— I didn’t.. I didn’t understand. 

Julian: [00:01:44] I think I lost my clout is what happened. I lost my clout in this arena. And so you were like, Oh, like you don’t know. I read books. I’m like, in the, I’m a book person, like my mom is a book kind of a thing.

And I was like, all right, well, I mean, I can still read. Just because I’ve been in medical school doesn’t mean I forgot to read. I definitely forgot how to write, but I still can read. And you were like, I don’t know. Like it doesn’t sound good. Like actually what you really said, what you really said is: 

“Ugh, everybody likes it.” As if that is a reason why you wouldn’t, which is. It’s like that’s the most high school thing I’ve ever heard in my life, so I was like, “okay, do your own thing then.” I’m just going to read books I enjoy. 

Chelsee: [00:02:28] Okay. I, first of all, I feel like I would not say it with that much derision, but for context-

I had heard about this book prior, from kind of a group of authors in LA. I was at a book event and people were talking about it, and the people that were primarily talking about it were straight ladies. It was in this context where it was like, “Oh yeah, like everyone’s really excited about it!” And I am sometimes hesitant to consume things that everyone is really excited about because I feel like it can kind of prohibit my ability to just like experience it myself. Like I want to just— which sometimes I miss out on like good things that way or it like takes me a while to get to them, but I like to have a little bit of insulation from like everyone’s opinion about it.

So it was one part, like what you said, the sort of like “everyone’s like really into it.” This was one part that, and then also one part of sort of like, well, straight ladies are really into it, and like, obviously you are not a straight lady, but you were probably correct in that you had lost some of your cred in that we had not, you know, traded books in a while.

Julian: [00:03:49] That’s true. 

Did I get my cred back? 

Chelsee: [00:03:53] Yes. You definitely got, you definitely got your cred back. Yeah. 

Julian: [00:03:56] Thank god.

Chelsee: [00:04:00] Uh, I think probably at this point it might be useful to give a little bit more information about the book and why, maybe sort of why you felt like I should definitely read it and why I loved it so much. So the first son of the United States States, Alex— and his mom is the first female president— which really love that for us.

Um, Alex, his… Is.. Sort of under the impression that he is straight until he falls in love with this Prince and sort of goes through this whole, I guess bisexual awakening. In the process, basically realizing that, Oh, like he’s never been straight. He was just sort of ignoring all of the, like neon signs that were like, “you’re a bisexual!” And I am a bisexual person who, um, I guess also— I don’t know if the signs were neon, but there were definitely signs and, um.

I did not sort of see them at the time, and… It’s definitely like hard for me to capture how meaningful this book was for me in terms of the bisexual experience that it represents because it’s… It felt so true to me and so real for me, which is why you recommended it to me and why I’m a dummy for not picking it up sooner.

But I would say like this is… 2019 was kind of a, uh, gay content year for me. I made more of an effort to consume stories about queer people than I have in the past, and it was much needed. But I would say like, this is— of all the books and the TV shows that I consumed during that year— this is definitely the one that I felt the most seen by or felt the most connected to, and I would say that this is also probably the only book where I have laughed and cried on the very same page.

Because there were so many things in it that felt so real to me. And like there is— I don’t— I would say that there is no monolithic, you know, bisexual or queer experience, but certainly like the— the— the… Experience that Alex goes through in Red, White & Royal Blue— while different from mine— um, there is no Prince or princesses of foreign countries yet in my romantic history, but, you know, fingers crossed. Um…

Julian: [00:07:28] There are a lot of lesser Royals to get through. 

Chelsee: [00:07:30] Yeah. There’s still, there’s still hope for me. Um, like, although that our stories differ in that way. There are so many things about this that felt like my story in a lot of ways. And Casey McQuiston is also bi and has spoken about how they sort of pulled a lot from their own experience of discovering their sexuality and of coming out that I think added a lot to the fabric of this book. 

Julian: [00:08:09] I feel like when I read it and I read it before having… I like to read books with before, like reading anything about the book or anything about the author, and then afterward I like… Fall into like a deep, deep internet hole and read everything. But when I read it, it felt like so clearly and I knew that, uh, though she uses she, her and they them pronouns that she was not male identifying. So I knew that there was like a difference in a separation between her and the main character, even just from looking at like, you know, the back of the book, but it still very much felt like she just like took out her innards and put them into the book.

But then at the same time so elegantly prepared them into something that was digestible from so many different perspectives, which I think is really interesting because then when you read some of what she… A lot of times in different interviews, she says something to the effect of like, “I wrote this for this one particular audience that I thought would be a sort of like cult audience for this content.” And then it turned out to be really accessible and it resonated with a lot of different people that she didn’t expect it to. And I think that’s really interesting because it’s so clearly, so well written and accessible because even those like signposts that are classic signposts for the queer experience and then specifically for the bisexual experience, she still makes them so relatable that it’s shocking to me that it’s her first book. 

Chelsee: [00:10:00] Yeah, I would say it’s a very well crafted book. It’s also an incredibly millennial book. Like I was reading a writeup on Red, White & Royal Blue in the LA Review of Books. And one of the things that the reviewer who, um,  really loved the book— one of the things that he sort of knocked her for was the way that she uses stupid to describe things. ‘His stupid face and his stupid mouth’ and like stupid, stupid, stupid. Which I can sort of understand like from a craft perspective, most great literary works don’t sort of use the word stupid as a stand in for things, but as a millennial, I very much related to that use and the way that the word stupid means— when in the right context ,means so much. Uh, I often, when I see a cute dog, I’m like, “look at that dog. It’s so stupid and cute.” 

Julian: [00:11:06] Yeah. 

It’s an, it’s an emotional expression beyond the content and, okay. Boomer. 

Chelsee: [00:11:16] Uh, and I feel like it’s also especially relevant to like romantic and sexual frustrations to be like ‘your stupid face’, which is very much a part of this book. 

Julian: [00:11:26] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. 

Chelsee: [00:11:29] One of the things that I really liked about Red, White and Royal Blue is the sort of different phases of Alex and Henry’s relationship because they start out as rivals because Alex, as the first son, has kind of been positioned as an American Royal— there’s a lot of intrigue around him and who he’s dating. And he had sort of a young, early… Had an early experience with Henry that did not go well. And so since that time has been sort of like, ‘I hate him and his perfect stupid face.’ And so they start out as rivals and then they kind of inadvertently start an international incident.

And so they have to pretend to be friends, and then they go from pretending to be friends, to really becoming friends. And then in that time, of becoming friends and being friends, they fall in love. So you have this sort of enemies to friends to lovers story that I feel like most books maybe have like one or two of those elements, but this— she— McQuiston manages to sort of jam them all in here.

In a way that I really liked because there’s definitely a lot of fun things about enemies to lovers, but a frustration I some have with enemies to lover stories is that there’s like too much time as them as enemies or sort of the… The part of them actually being lovers, I feel like sometimes gets cut down in favor of like they ‘really hate each other!’ And then ‘they have to learn to like each other.’

And this book somehow, like very smoothly transitions from one to the other and you see some of that… The antagonism kind of continue into their romantic relationship and the ways that like maybe all along it was really sort of sexual attraction and not rivalry or not entirely rivalry that was happening.

Julian: [00:13:37] Just internalized homophobia. 

Chelsee: [00:13:39] Yeah. 

Julian: [00:13:40] Yeah. It’s a— it’s a unique… It’s either a very uniquely empathetic quality that she has, to be able to sort of get into their mindset— cause it’s a complex emotion to be able to really properly put down on paper or she’s just telling us her personal experience with a relationship right on paper. 

Chelsee: [00:14:05] Yeah. 

Julian: [00:14:06] Which is like probably the second one, but she’s also very talented.

Chelsee: [00:14:13] I think there’s also this way, or at least an experience that I have had that this book meet leads me to believe that other people have also had as being kind of, uh, resistant to strong emotions, sort of the… When it comes to feeling really strongly about someone, being really attracted to them, this kind of, this feeling of like… I don’t want to do this. Like I’m gonna dig my heels in, even though this is a thing that is like happening and I really can’t stop it from happening, but I’m going to sort of pretend that I have control over the feelings that I’m having or this kind of resistance to acknowledging that you actually really fucking want something.

And in this case, that something is a someone. 

Julian: [00:15:07] I wonder if maybe this is like totally off base, but I wonder if that’s what makes it so appealing to like middle aged white ladies because like I feel like that’s also kind of the narrative in some of the like Pride and Prejudice type books, right? Where it’s like, ‘Oh, the wanting’, you know, like what… In those books this like need to suppress one’s emotions and like, ensure that you’re not seeming too… Too into it is societal, and in this case, it’s also societal, but for a totally different reason because, you know, two men can’t be together, let alone these two men that are, you know, in these positions of power and influence and everybody’s watching them. 

Chelsee: [00:16:03] Yeah. That’s interesting.

I mean, I think there’s definitely a way in which people who are socialized as women are kind of taught not to want too big, like not to be ambitious and not to take up too much space. I think there’s definitely a way in which… Wanting things is, is kind of considered taking up space. And that’s definitely a thing that I feel like women are discouraged from doing, and so there’s probably some of that, um, that I think maybe speaks to that experience. I think there’s also definitely this wish fulfillment element of like… In wanting something so much or wanting someone so much that even though there are 1 million reasons why you shouldn’t do it, you just can’t stop yourself.

That kind of like feeling so strongly about someone and having those feelings returned so strongly that you were sort of powerless to stop yourself, which I guess is kind of what you were getting at, um, with the, maybe a little bit of, of the Jane Austin kind of vibes. Um, maybe also because a lot of white ladies are in like mediocre relationships with men and they’re like, “Wow, these are like… These men though! Either of them! Both of them! They’d be great.”

Julian: [00:17:52] Both of them. [Laughs] Well, and it’s also like, it’s escapist in the least, um, least noxious way, right? 

Chelsee: [00:18:00] Yeah. 

Julian: [00:18:00] Like you can— this is like the same reason why… I’m not really sure what we’re allowed to say on this podcast of yours, but like white women— white straight women also love gay porn, like gay male porn.

And I think it’s, that’s part of it too, right? Like, it’s like this, like, you get to enjoy it purely without any sort of, um, without inserting your identity because you’re not a part of it, so you don’t have to like reflect. It’s kind of like how your therapist— wow, this is my second time bringing up therapy— it’s kind of like how your therapist, like, shouldn’t represent or have any kind of identity similarity with you or with somebody in your life.

Or if you do, you need to sort of work through that because it’s in the room. 

Chelsee: [00:18:55] Yeah. 

Julian: [00:18:56] So if you’re able to enjoy a book or a movie or whatever and enjoyed the relationship without the component of like what, ‘what would that mean for me?’ it’s— it’s like a, a pure experience of just love or just sex. 

Chelsee: [00:19:13] That’s really interesting.

Also, since we’re talking about straight white ladies, I feel like I do need to disclose that while I am not straight— for anyone who doesn’t know— I am a white lady. Just, you know, I don’t know who’s listening to this, want to make sure that they know where I’m coming from as a queer white lady or queer white person.

I don’t know, uh, whether or not I would broadly classify myself as a lady. 

Julian: [00:19:42] I’m a queer white trans man, so I also can sort of speak to the socialization of being assigned female at birth, but rejected it very early on. So not… I, it’s, it’s funny cause like when, when you describe some of the things about like taking up space and the experiences that are very real and I definitely like sort of experienced them in a way growing up. It’s funny cause I’m like, ‘Hmm, I never personally felt like I should take up less space.’ Uh, but for some reason that never… That didn’t cue me into like, ‘Hm, I wonder why that might be’ for a very long time. 

Chelsee: [00:20:33] Um, I mean, it’s actually… It’s kind of interesting that you bring up the sort of things that don’t cue us in to why that might be. Like, I, um, have been talking a lot lately about my own… Not really like coming out experience— I feel like that was relatively unremarkable on the whole— but my own sort of discovery… Like discovering my own bisexuality and that it was something that prior to that point, I can remember very clearly having memories of… I can remember very clearly wanting to kiss my female friends and in my head knowing that I shouldn’t do that, but never connecting that to like, ‘Oh, maybe that like means something’ like maybe that says something about me.

Um, I think, I don’t really know why that was other than just… I don’t know, maybe that I had constructed some kind of sort of wall between me and that part of myself. Which I think is something that is definitely reflected in Red, White and Royal Blue. Alex has this sort of like 10 page, like chapter long experience where he is talking to his friend Nora— who is someone that he also used to date— and Nora is, um, Nora is bi, but in a sort of like… Her sexuality is in a lot of ways, kind of irrelevant to who she is, it’s like… ‘I’m, you know, attracted to a lot of different people.’ I think in one point in the book it actually says that like Nora sexuality is the least interesting thing about her. 

Julian: [00:22:19] Loved that. 

Chelsee: [00:22:19] Yeah. Um, it’s a great kind of foil to Alex who in a lot of ways in this book, his sexuality, while it’s not the most important thing about him, it is a very important part of his identity that he’s coming to terms with.

And obviously it’s sort of what the story functions around. 

Julian: [00:22:39] He reflects that frustration about like… Like he’s not… He doesn’t see himself as like homophobic or bi phobic. He’s just like really confused as to why it took him this long to figure it out because he’s like, ‘why would that matter?’ And yet it does.

It causes him a lot of distress. 

Chelsee: [00:23:00] Yeah. And when he’s having this conversation with Nora about it, I feel like Nora is very sort of, um… I have mixed feelings about when in kind of coming out stories, um, someone is kind of sharing their sexuality and the person they’re sharing it with is like, ‘Oh, yeah, I knew that.’

Um, I just feel like there’s a lot of ways in which that’s kind of a weird thing to do, but there was something that I really liked in Red, White & Royal Blue, when Alex is talking to Nora about his sexuality, he kind of starts this conversation with her and he’s like, “knowing me as well as you do, what do you think the chances are that I’m into dudes?” And Nora, who is kind of a genius, um, statistician says, “78% probability of latent bisexual tendencies. 100% probability this is not a hypothetical question.” And they then just sort of kind of— they kind of get into it and it’s like, as Alex is kind of talking his way through things Nora is sort of like, ‘Yeah, well, you know, you did this thing and this thing, so you know, you’re probably bi’ and I feel like, despite the fact that Nora is so casual about it, Alex is sort of like, ‘but how? Like, I don’t understand how this happened and like how I didn’t know.’ 

Julian: [00:24:28] But I think he also does find some solace in her matter of factness. Um, I think that’s like their relationship in general. Right? That’s actually like his relationship with a lot of people is like, he’s sort of chaotic good.

And they’re all like… He has a lot of, like… Calm, calm, strategic people, and he’s like fairly strategic, but he like goes about it and this like very chaotic way. And I feel like he seeks the— the sort of reliability of the people around him. And despite that, like I, I agree with you that like, I don’t love that whole, like… ‘I knew you were gay from the moment you put on your mom’s high heels’ kind of narrative.

Chelsee: [00:25:19] Oh my god.

Julian: [00:25:21] Like there is something really… I can— I can totally— I just could really get into that moment when he’s looking for somebody to validate that what he’s saying makes sense. Like he wants it to make sense and she tells him that it  does.

Chelsee: [00:25:40] It’s kind of the difference between someone minimizing your experience in terms of the like, ‘Oh yeah, I already knew that.’  Like there’s a way in which that kind of sucks all of the air out of the room. If you’re trying to tell someone something that you have been like struggling with or trying to come to terms with, that is a way like that sort of ‘I already knew that’ really minimizes that experience. As opposed to the experience that we see here that’s kind of like, ‘yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I, ya know, could totally see that you’re bi.’ There’s a way in which it— it’s recognizing Alex and what he’s going through as opposed to… Kind of saying that it doesn’t matter. 

Julian: [00:26:33] Right. It’s subtle, but it makes a huge difference because also by saying like, ‘Yeah, like all— I can see now— looking back, I can see that this was a part of you all along, therefore, you are not any different to me now than you were five seconds ago. Versus like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been thinking about it this whole time and we’ve all been thinking about it this whole time and nobody said anything to you.’

Like that is a— that’s a very dark place to be in mentally where you’re like, ‘not only am I not as self aware as I thought, but everybody else knew me better than I knew myself’ and it doesn’t feel good. 

Chelsee: [00:27:13] I think seeing experiences like that on the page are one of the reasons that it’s so important to have books like this or you know, seeing it on the screen, seeing it in the movies that you’re watching and the television that you’re watching, in the music that you’re listening to.

It’s really validating and I’m not sure… I mean, I think— I think everyone has had an experience where they consume something and they feel like, ‘Oh wow, that was really for me,’ or ‘that really spoke to me.’ But I think… There is a way in which people whose identities have like some amount— some intersection of marginalization, that it’s really important to have that validation. I have a friend who is also bisexual and we were having a conversation about bisexuality and mental illness and something that she said— she’s a researcher, and so she was like, ‘yeah, I was kind of thinking about— it seems like a lot of bisexual people, um, are really depressed or have a lot of mental illness that they’re dealing with.’

And so she’d done some research into it. And basically what she found was that bisexual people have a, uh, super high rate of mental illness, basically because the entire world, like, tells us that we don’t exist. And that… Essentially just, like, makes us feel crazy for the way that we feel. And, in hearing her say that it was really powerful as someone who is bisexual and like regularly has to, kind of, engage with… The ways that it feels like the world is kind of erasing me and the ways that I erase myself because I’ve internalized that… Reading a book like this and having stories in the world that… Represent my experience in some way or represent my identity are… Incredibly powerful. 

Julian: [00:29:39] Yeah. I think that makes total sense. And this book in particular it seems so timely in a lot of ways. Um, even outside of the, sort of the political context, uh, because I think that there is… There is now and will continue to be a perspective amongst like passive liberals that like, especially passive liberals in like the major U.S. Cities that these things aren’t really necessary anymore because it’s easy to come out and it’s easy to be out, and I think that that’s just going to get… It’s just going to become like a bigger and bigger perspective, and it’s— that’s just not true for young people anywhere. Like, you’d— it’s very rare that you’ll see or meet a young person who’s— who identifies as queer or gender nonconforming in any way, who’s like, ‘Yeah, it was chill.’ Like that’s just not the case. Um, and I think that this story actually highlights that really well because like, despite the, the public attention that was placed on him, on Alex and on Henry, it’s still like really challenging for him just to cope with himself and his personal sort of internalized homophobia, bi-phobia. Right? That alone is enough to be kind of crippling, and that is not going to get better overnight.

Chelsee: [00:31:26] One of the things that Casey said in an interview— actually, they said this in a couple of interviews that I read— a lot of people asked, ‘did you always intend for this to be a gay romance?’ Which… I understand why people ask it, but is also a pretty weird question to ask because I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a straight person asked, ‘did you always intend for this to be a straight romance?’

Now I really want to ask someone that though. Um. Maybe like an actual straight person in a relationship. ‘Did you always intend to get into a straight relationship? Had you thought about not doing that?’

But something Casey had said was, “I write queer fiction for the same reason straight people write straight fiction: because I’m a queer person and that’s the world I live in and the experience I draw from and relate to.” And there’s nothing like mind blowing about that, but it felt so, like, succinct of an answer that was kind of like, ‘as a queer person, like, that’s the world I live in so obviously I’m going to write about queer people.’ Which is not to say that all queer authors write exclusively queer characters, or it’s the only thing that they want to write about. But that is like… Kind of a central personal experience that you are drawing from. And so like even in… Even if this had been a book about straight people, like, she would have been drawing from her experience as a queer person, which is kind of an interesting thing to think about. I dunno. I feel like my… I feel like my queerness is so central to my experience of the world, just in terms of like the way that I see the world, I feel like is very colored by that.

Like it is… It’s just the lens in which I consume things and interact with things and move through the world. And it’s interesting to think about what that means for content creators and as a content creator, because I think specifically because straightness is kind of the assumed norm in the same way that whiteness is and the same way that, you know, being cis-gendered is kind of assumed as the norm. We, I feel like a lot of times that’s interpreted as like ‘it’s the norm, therefore, like, it’s not a filter through which you see the world.’ Like you just .. The world and every sort of other site of, of marginalization is a filter.

It’s interesting to kind of think about the idea that actually like our identities are a filter that all of us are bringing with us when we see the world. And what does that mean? How would that inform like a… The way queer people tell stories, both about queer people as something that they’ve experienced and also like, what does it mean to be a queer person and write about straight people?

I feel like that’s something that I’ve just been kind of mulling over as a, as a person who write— writes things. 

Julian: [00:35:11] It’s interesting because like seeing it, seeing the— her queerness as just a, as a filter through which she experiences the world is one thing. And the— what makes me— what it makes me think about is like, is it not also the driver or a driver for why she writes?

Um, in which case, like, it was a ridiculous question for somebody to ask. Like, I would like, I would never ask her that question, but it’s— I wonder who that sort of interviewer was because I feel like that they just totally missed the point, right? Like she’s writing to— to get this story. She’s writing to get those stories.

That’s how I perceive her work. Um, and I think it’s— I wonder how old that person was who interviewed her just because like there’s this phenomenon and maybe I’m like totally off base, but something that I have noticed is our generation more than the prior generation, we— a lot of us have this sense that, like, we want to do something that matters.

Like our work has to matter to us for us to want to do it. Um, and that’s not necessarily something that like… That’s a privilege for sure. Not everybody gets that, but it’s definitely a different mentality than at least like my parents and a lot of like the people I know in my parent’s generation have about like the time you spend in your days. Like how are you spending your days? Like to me, I’m like, you start with the things that you care about and then you choose the work that you do to align with those things that you care about. And so it seems like a no brainer to me that like she writes, because she has these things that drive her to write as opposed to like, ‘I want to write. Hmm, what should I write about? Gays.’

Chelsee: [00:37:14] Yeah. I think that’s a great point. I think probably part of the… I suspect that the reason that Casey gets those types of questions is because they are bisexual. Because I feel like a lot of people are confused by bisexuality in the sense that they sort of, rather than thinking of it as a thing that exists until their self— unto itself, I feel like the way a lot of straight people think about bisexuality is like when you’re dating a man or when you’re dating someone of the opposite gender, you are straight and then you might also date someone of the same gender and then you’re gay. Like this sort of switch that goes on and off. Like I feel like that question comes from a place of being like, ‘well, Casey is bisexual and so therefore, like, they have dated men and could write a straight book, but it’s sort of like, even if the… Even if the characters were in a relationship with people with different genders, Casey would still be queer. Like that doesn’t, um… I don’t know. It’s this weird disconnect that people seem to have. This kind of like— this way in which, like, if a bisexual person— if a bisexual woman is dating a man, then, like, now they’re straight. Which, spoiler alert, not how it works. 

Julian: [00:38:46] It makes complete sense that they would think that. Right? Because like people who’ve never thought about their sexual identity think that sexual acts and sexual identity are the same thing.

Chelsee: [00:38:58] Mm. Yeah. 

Julian: [00:38:59] So of course they would be like, ‘Oh, well you’re in a relationship with somebody of the opposite gender or another gender. Therefore, that’s who you are, and if you do something different in the future, that’s cool. We’re cool with that. We’re just going to call you something else’ and it’s like… Hmm. Not quite. Not quite. 

Chelsee: [00:39:20] Yeah, I am… I want us to kind of circle back to the point that you had made about our generation feeling like we need to do work that is meaningful, because one of the things that I found in researching this book and researching Casey is a lot of— a lot of the coverage about the book sort of framed it as like light and fluffy— fluffy escapism in a way that I felt kind of weird about in that like… It’s not that it seemed dismissive, because there are definitely ways in which people are dismissive of books. Especially when it’s, like— I have mixed feelings about the term, like, beach reads, or especially when someone’s like, ‘chick lit’— like that is almost always very dismissive. Um, and these didn’t feel dismissive to me exactly, but it— it felt like it didn’t totally recognize the book to just sort of say like, ‘Oh, it’s like fluffy and fun.’ Uh, everybody loves to talk about the bubblegum pink cover of the book, and that, that is like a representation of it. And I… It even felt to me like this was a thing that Casey did as well in talking about the book, and I pulled this quote from her from this Vanity Fair interview.

I’ll just read it to you here: “Red, White & Royal Blue has clarified what she [McQuiston] and her favorite genre can do for world seeking escapism. ‘I’m not a lawmaker. I’m not a politician. I’m not even an organizer. That’s not my gift in life. But what I can do is basically the equivalent of being the water bot boy for those people, and that water is frothy, escapist romantic comedy.'”

And I… I don’t know, I just kind of feel weird about that because like… I think that escapist romantic comedies are absolutely necessary. Like I don’t think— I don’t think every book needs to be the great American novel or that everyone needs to only read the quote unquote great American novel. I think that lots of books can and should be just kind of fun to read. But also, like, given that— given all of the things that we’ve already talked about, this book for me felt like a lot more than that. And I guess I’d be curious to hear what your thoughts on that were or your experience with that. 

Julian: [00:42:23] I mean, I wonder… I wonder how much of that is like trying to sell the book to a wider audience versus like how she really feels about the book. I think that like, you know, a book can be many things, like it can be feel good and it can also like have these underlying resonant themes that have you thinking about it for awhile, but you still feel good about the outcome. But I think that I— I agree with you, um, that— and for all the reasons that we’ve been talking about, which is that like, there’s so little of this literature out there that’s like really good quality that we can’t really afford to just have like a casual, cute book. You know what I mean? Like it— it— it— maybe in a different world where there’s a lot of this, it’s just a fun read, but, by it’s— by— by its nature, because it’s scarce it’s— it’s much more important than that. 

Chelsee: [00:43:42] I’m thinking kind of about the, the idea of, like, the personal is political and the way that that kind of, I guess translates into this, like the ways in which… Because there is a lack of accessible, popular, widely read, like, good queer stories the way in which even something that is a frothy, escapist romantic comedy has a lot more weight than that, or means a lot more than that, which may or may not be fair. Like that’s kind of a lot to— to maybe put on something. But I guess it’s one of those like, I don’t know, like there’s… I guess there’s no way for me to extricate my own experience of like how impactful Red, White and Royal Blue was for me from whether it is or is not, you know,  a frothy, escapist romantic comedy. But it’s kind of an interesting thing to— to think about. 

Julian: [00:44:55] I also kind of wonder if part of it is that when you… She’s a very humble person when she talks. Um. And I— I— I think it’s pretty hard to like, be interviewed and say like, ‘yeah, what I did was, uh, incredibly important and, um, super impactful and it’s like changing the world, but it’s like no big deal.’

Like, I don’t know that that’s like… That’s not really her vibe. Uh, so it might be partly that, and I think that the fact that this is very reflective of her own experience as she, as she describes— as they describe— and I think that that is— makes it even more difficult to say that this is really important.

Like I— I think she speaks sort of broadly about like why this kind of content is important. And I think she’s given that that subject… She’s done a really, really good job of managing to like, speak to the issues that need more… Need to be voiced more and need a broader audience while still making herself like digestible and accessible to all kinds of people, which is like sort of its own issue that like anybody who gains traction, gains… Gets quote unquote famous, um, has to sort of figure out where they’re going to stand on that.

Because like, the more… Niche you are, the less, you know, big attention you’re going to get. And I think she’s like dealing with a lot of that right now. Like just in following her on social media. Like she’s— she’s our age, you know, like she’s— she’s dealing with a lot of stuff. She’s got a dog, she moved to New York city.

She’s doing the thing, you know, and I think that she’s like trying to figure out like, what— what this looks like for her and what kind of— what’s her brand and like what’s her personal brand? Cause like you don’t— now as an author, like you don’t really get to separate your like professional brand from your personal brand. Like it’s all one thing and you gotta have the Instagram and you gotta show people your apartment and like tell everybody what you’re reading all the time and give recommendations. It’s like— it’s a lot to put on a person. I don’t know that… I’m sure there are other people who think about it this much, but I also think that like you and I in particular are— and maybe you more than me, or maybe I got it from you actually! Maybe you did this to me! Um, just like, like to know all the things around the thing that you really like. And so, I— I— I think it’s important for us to like, make sure not to project what we want her to be when we’re reading these. Like, I was listening to her, um, on the Queery podcast and you know, like she is just a young person trying to exist and I was like, trying not to like put words in her mouth or like want her to speak to like, my agenda of like X, Y, Z issues. 

Chelsee: [00:48:23] Yeah, that is… That’s a good point. This is— this is, um, loosely related I feel like to the topic of conceptualizing authors as real people and sort of letting them be a human being, but something that we have joked about a little bit, um, is how cute Casey McQuiston is and-— 

Julian: [00:48:51] So fucking cute.

Chelsee: [00:48:52] And I feel like we’ve— we’ve talked about the— the merits and the impact of the novel long enough that it’s now okay to be like also— 

Julian: [00:49:06] Oh good.

Chelsee: [00:49:07] -Cute as fuck. 

You can’t open with talking about how cute someone is, but you can— like an hour in, I feel like it’s, we’ve established that we are here for the book and also— 

Julian: [00:49:18] And also, ‘Oh my god.’

Chelsee: [00:49:25] Um, but it’s this kind of interesting… It’s interesting because I have… This is partly informed by the fact that I am a writer and someone that wants to publish books, but I feel like… At this point, like the only like quote unquote celebrities that I’m like, ‘Oh, I just like really want to meet them,’ um, are actually just authors that I want to be my friend.

Like, um, like there’s basically at all times, there’s like a running list in my head of like three to five authors that I’m like, ‘my life would be so much better if that person was my best friend.’ 

Julian: [00:50:05] Um, okay, so not to put words in your mouth, but like… Does this experience fall into the category— the like typical queer experience,-queer female experience of like, ‘do you want to be her or do you want to be with her?’

Chelsee: [00:50:24] Yeah, there’s probably… There’s probably a little bit of that. I guess there’s the third category of like: do you want to be them? Do you want to date them? Do you want to be best friends with them? Is also like the… 

Julian: [00:50:35] Do you want to be best friends with them, and then like, you know, a few months later you’re like hanging out all day every day and then like, I don’t know, like you kiss a little bit.

Chelsee: [00:50:47] ‘Do you want to be in a confusing situationship with them?’ 

Julian: [00:50:55] Always yes. 

Chelsee: [00:50:57] Um, well, I feel like in Casey’s case— uh— I was going to say ‘in Casey’s case,’ which— that’s a tongue twister. In the case of Casey, um, it—  the fact that they are queer, like definitely—  I don’t know, like muddies the waters a little bit, but I feel like the other people on this list are—  not feel, I know the other people on my personal list of authors that I want to be best friends with are Rainbow Rowell

Julian: [00:51:25] So fucking cool. 

Chelsee: [00:51:26] So cool. Right? Also her hair is amazing. Really into her hair. 

Julian: [00:51:33] Great shoes. So cool, so cool. I like her too. Her, like, I feel like 60% of her social media presence is like people asking her where she got her like tights. 

Chelsee: [00:51:47] Um, Rainbow Rowell and then also, um, Mary HK Choi, who I feel like is way too cool for me, but just like us. Ugh. So cool. Um, I feel like those are my probably like top three right now, and it’s kind of— it’s a different, uh, it’s a different relationship to authors and I’m not sure like how much of it is because like I said, I am someone that wants to publish books for a living or you know, for money. Um, I don’t know how much of it is that and how much of it is like the social media age of following people on Instagram and seeing pictures of their dog and, you know, the cute tights that they’re wearing.

Um, but definitely like— I don’t, for the most part, like, I don’t care about like actual celebrities. Um, it’s just like a bunch of authors that I’m like. ‘Ugh!’ 

That was a weird noise to make into the mic.

Julian: [00:52:51] And Harry styles. 

Chelsee: [00:52:53] See, I do feel very strongly about Harry Styles but I’m not sure that I would ever actually want to meet him because given all those feelings, I would probably just burst into tears and that would be very embarrassing.

Julian: [00:53:08] But I feel like it’s also like just like a Wednesday for him. So I wouldn’t worry about it.

Chelsee: [00:53:13] Yeah, I mean, yes. Um.

Julian: [00:53:14] His fan greetings are like probably really wet. I stand by that, for all its meanings. 

Can I talk— can I talk about my idolatry issue? 

Chelsee: [00:53:29] Yeah. 

Julian: [00:53:30] Okay. So this… I like brought this up earlier and like maybe this isn’t like super— I guess this sort of fits into some of the other stuff that we were— we were talking about, which is like where the author’s identity fits in with the content. But something that, um, something that I’ve wondered about a lot is, and argued with people a lot, um, is like, how important is it that the content comes from a place of personal experience, as long as it rings true? Like capital T truth versus just ringing true to the reader.

Assuming we’re in a world where you can’t follow the author on social media or, you know, don’t really know much about them personally. Um, and I generally pr— like outside of the context of this particular book, I generally fall in the camp of, ‘I don’t really care if it’s True, but I care if it rings true.

So like, um, A Million Little Pieces. Did you ever read that book? 

Chelsee: [00:54:39] No. 

Julian: [00:54:40] The controversy with that book, it was like, you know, Oprah brought the author onto her show and it was an Oprah’s book club. And so then of course, like a million people bought the book and then it came out that— and the book is about the character’s experience with drug use and rehabilitation. And the controversy was that the author had pulled personal stories from sort of multiple people to put together this narrative and that it wasn’t all the author’s personal experience. But the book was really impactful for a lot of people who personally had experience with drug use, who— a lot of people pointed to reading the book as like helping them with recovery.

And there were a lot of family members who found the book really helpful— family numbers of people who had, um, issues with substance abuse. They found it particularly helpful to sort of understand the experience of their family member who wasn’t able to articulate it. Um, which is, uh, a particular quality of like books in general that can be really healing for people.

Um, I know from personal experience that my mom loves to read books about things she doesn’t understand that relate to me. Um, she’s like the first one to use— I mean, it’s like that’s the point, right? You educate yourself, right? But which you educate yourself on personal narratives. It’s a way to understand people in a way that like— like not all of us are writers and not all of us are articulate and we can’t all explain ourselves the way we’d like to, and sometimes other people do it better.

And that can be a really healing thing for you and the people around you. And so that— that controversy was really about people feeling scorned. Right? Like you lied to me. And I think it— they felt particularly scorned because it was so impactful for them. And it’s something that I’ve thought about a lot when, um, you know, we want more narratives, like where the protagonist is female, we want more minority perspectives in the stories that we read. And then sometimes those perspectives are written by white men, and we’re like, ‘Ugh, that’s not really what I meant, but, okay.’ Um, and so I think that it’s like— I struggle with this. I don’t know which side I land on because sometimes I’m like, well, like if it rings true, then that’s… That’s all you need, cause it’s a story. But then when it comes to like the issue specifically around like minority identities, whether that’s like ethnic, racial minorities or sexual identity minorities or gender identity minorities, then I’m like, ‘well wait, hold on— you can’t write our story.’

Chelsee: [00:57:50] It’s um, it’s an interesting time to be having this conversation because right now, as we’re recording there’s— we’re sort of in the midst of a, um, hullabaloo about this exact thing and the novel American Dirt. Are you familiar with that? Like the controversy that’s going around around that right now.

Julian: [00:58:15] I am not. 

Chelsee: [00:58:16] So, basically, a woman who identifies as white— apparently she has like, I don’t know, a Puerto Rican grandmother or something like that.

So, you know, identity is complicated, but she identifies as white— wrote a book about a woman, and I believe her son fleeing from Mexico after their entire family is killed by the cartel. So this book got a seven figure advance, which is for anyone not familiar, uh, that’s a lot of money that she gets paid upfront and is basically her publisher saying like, ‘we believe this book is going to be a huge success. We’re going to put a lot of time and money behind it.’ 

So, um, also a thing that had been talked about in, like, sort of why she was qualified to write this book was that her husband was an undocumented immigrant. Um. What sort of later came to light is that he’s an undocumented immigrant from Ireland, which is an experience, but it is not the same experience as an undocumented person from Mexico.

So this book is an Oprah’s book list pick. Oprah needs to do more vetting. Um. 

Julian: [00:59:47] She’s tired. 

Chelsee: [00:59:48] Yeah. It got a lot of like celebrity endorsements. It was getting a ton of coverage, and then people were like, ‘well, actually it turns out this book is bad. This woman is white. It’s super stereotypical. And her husband is an undocumented immigrant from Ireland.’

There were also a lot of other sort of snafus along the way; at one of— at her, like, book release party they had center pieces that were like made from barbed wire. There were just like a lot of things that were like, ‘this is a bad choice, and you know who could tell you that this is a bad choice? Anyone paying any attention, especially someone who’s not white.’ 

And so it’s very kind of like in the, uh, book media zeitgeist right now, this kind of discussion of who gets to tell what stories. And I think, I mean, definitely a very important threshold is, is the book good? I have not read American Dirt, have no plans to, but from what I’ve heard, it is not good. So like if you can’t even pass the threshold of, like, ‘is it good?’ That’s, I think, a big important thing. 

There’s actually a really good discussion about this on the podcast Call Your Girlfriend and they talked really thoughtfully about the book and how it’s not, um— the way that they phrased it is, that it’s maybe not a question of do you have the right, but do you have the range?

And in the case of American Dirt, it appears that she did not have the range. So I think that’s definitely a big part of it. Like, is, is the book good? Does it ring true? Like you said. But I think the other part that, that maybe gets overlooked or underrepresented in this conversation is the fact that, uh, access is not universal and so like basically in this woman getting a seven figure advance, that means a lot of other books are not going to get published or their authors are going to get significantly smaller advances because there is literally a limited amount of resources that a publishing company is going to put towards books.

And so in this white woman who wrote a bad book about fleeing from Mexico, like conceivably, she actually stopped actual people of color from getting their books on the shelves or from being paid fairly for their books. And so like if, I think it would be a very different conversation if we lived in a landscape where people had equal access to publishing, where gatekeeping looked a little bit different, but given that we don’t, and like if we lived in that utopia, probably we wouldn’t have to have this conversation. 

Julian: [01:02:40] And that’s especially true because, like, my understanding is that— like I— I know one person who works in publishing and her, like, category within her publishing company is like LGBTQ issues and activism.

So she like… It’s a zero sum game because they have a budget for that category. So she— she was— this particular book that you’re talking about was probably put into that sort of minority bucket, whatever it’s labeled there. And so it’s not like she beat out like a random fantasy book. She beat out books in that category despite, you know, maybe not qualifying really by societal standards to be in that category.

Is that right? 

Chelsee: [01:03:27] Yeah. 

So I think it’s like, it’s definitely a difficult question. I think— I think in terms of people who are asking themselves whether they should write about an identity that is not their own, I think probably the first— the first threshold is like, can you do it well? And then also probably like reckoning with the fact, like, how do you feel about the idea that you publishing this book or like making this movie or selling this TV show means that someone who like actually has that identity might not get to? 

Julian: [01:04:04] I feel like maybe this is, um, it’s an impossible calculation to make, but you have to sort of estimate like, well, is there going to be a greater positive impact by this existing?

Chelsee: [01:04:16] I think maybe the question is just sort of like, ‘are you the best person to tell this story?’ And then a secondary question of like, ‘are you a good person to tell this story?’ Because if the answer— like, you might not be the best person to those tell the story, but if you are a good person to tell the story, then like maybe that’s fine.

But if you are, like— if you are not sure on the answer to either of those questions, like, there are other ideas. Like, write other things. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t include characters with identities different than your own. I think it’s just sort of important if like the crux of the book is around an identity that is not your own is I think where it’s a really important question.

It’s like if Casey McQuiston was a straight person and had said like, ‘I’m going to write a book about like two men falling in love’— which is a thing that a lot of straight women do— um, I would have a lot more reservations about that then, you know, if she’s going to write a book that has like queer characters in it, like go for it.

But if the premise revolves around an identity that is not your own, I just feel like the— the threshold is— is higher. 

Julian: [01:05:36] Yeah, I agree. It’s not actionable, but it’s— it’s a stance. 

Chelsee: [01:05:44] Yeah. I think it’s a thing that people should— should think about and there’s not a right answer, but you should— you should have thought about it. Like— yeah. You should have thought about it.

And also, I think like while as the person creating the thing, you should think about it ultimately, it’s a structural problem. Like, publishers need to be better… About not giving seven figure advances to books that aren’t good and that are… Yeah, like individuals need to think about it, but ultimately, like the individual writer writing a story that’s not their own is not the problem.

I do think though that you should be upfront about whether or not it is— like, what you’re— like in the case of A Million Little Pieces. Probably a lot of the issue there— where I would feel an issue there, is the idea that it was presented as like, ‘this is my story,’ when it was not. 

Julian: [01:06:48] Right. 

Chelsee: [01:06:48] For marketing purposes, you do a lot better if you can sort of say that it’s your story, so like I understand probably why that happened. But I think at the very least, like it should be transparent what someone’s intersection with the story that they’re telling is— so, like, don’t say you’re qualified to write a book because you have an undocumented immigrant husband when he’s from Ireland and you’re writing about undocumented immigrants from Mexico cause like it’s fucking different.

Julian: [01:07:17] Right. And obviously, like, she knew that because she didn’t say that up front. 

Chelsee: [01:07:23] Yeah. 

Julian: [01:07:24] Right? Which is like, actually the problem is like you can’t be like, ‘Oh, like I said it in a way that was true.’ It’s like, ‘okay, well if you didn’t say all of the information, then you clearly knew that there was a reason to omit what you omitted.’

Which is also like— we don’t like to feel lied to, just in general as people. 

Chelsee: [01:07:43] Yeah. 

Something that I want to talk about before we wrap up is the role that chosen family’s p-play in this book because I think it’s definitely— it’s definitely a book that is engaging with family of origin. Like there’s a lot of stuff in Alex’s relationship with his mom and Henry’s relationship to his family because there’s a lot of sort of complicated elements that come in with having, you know, families in sort of positions of power or— or positions that get a lot of attention.

But I think something that is, important, but maybe like understated in this book is the— is chosen families. And like, I think about one of my favorite parts in the book, which, um, I think is also just like, it’s so incredibly fun, is the karaoke section, which, is just sort of this like night of beautiful debauchery with like a lot of drinking and karaoke and… It is Alex and Henry, Alex’s sister June, Nora, and Henry’s best friend Pez and they’re all just… I like can’t even… I don’t have words to explain how happy it made me. But there is a moment in that scene where Alex says, “bisexuality is truly a rich and complex tapestry.” And he says it like kind of as a joke but honestly, I have never felt more seen. I think because to me there’s like a— definitely a relationship between queerness and chosen families. And, I feel like this book really captures this kind of messy, lovely, intimate relationships that don’t— I dunno, don’t totally make sense and they’re like, perfect for that.

Julian: [01:09:59] Yeah. I also really loved that scene. Um, I think that I particularly am drawn towards pieces of writing or, like, parts of books that are able to, like— to capture really complex emotional states because… I don’t know, maybe I’m repressed or something. Um, and so I— I found that really… I feel like she did something really special in that scene because as a young person, like that feeling when you’re— you’re out with people and you’re like, “yes, these are the people that I want to be with. “You know, like you’re out and you’re having a really good time and everything’s moving sort of like slowly. And also really quickly at the same time and like colors and you’re a little drunk and you’re just like, “God, I love you guys and we’re having so much fun.”

It seems like a simple thing— it seems like it’s like, “Oh yeah, like hashtag youth,” but like actually it’s a really— it’s a really complex and really important feeling to capture, I think. Because it’s that, like, coming into adulthood. It’s not like— it’s not the— it’s not the fun of like being like a 16 year old and you’re like out for the first time.

It’s— it’s a different thing. It’s like a— it’s a softer and more intentional thing when you’re a young adult and you’re— you’re, it’s not just the random people that are around you in your high school. It’s like these people that you’ve brought together and very intentionally created a family, a chosen family from. And then you’re so happy because you— you’re sort of curating your experience and that’s what we imagine life to be, right?

That it’s like you don’t have to— you don’t have to be around people that don’t make you feel good. You can choose to be around these people who are sort of in that same mindset as you and like in that same vibe. And it sometimes creates this like perfect experience and sometimes it’s just one night, but it’s like that night is perfect and that’s what I got from— from this scene.

Chelsee: [01:12:18] Yeah. No, I… Yeah, I dunno, chosen family stuff is just like really catnip for me. Um, I’m really here for it. I would say, the things that I love the most, that’s often a big part of it. And I think that’s because of some of my own experiences in the ways that chosen families have played a big role in my life. And I think it also is, is what you were saying about the ability to kind of curate who you spend your time with.

I think in— especially in the case of these characters, like… They are incredibly visible, like well connected people and like could spend time sort of with whoever they wanted and they have chosen to spend it together and in a way that they can really let down their walls and just be who they are. And I would say that scene is probably one of the first scenes where it kind of feels like Alex and Henry are out. Like it’s definitely before any… It’s well before any kind of inkling that the greater world might have that they’re together, but the people that they’re with know that they’re in love and that they are a couple, and this— there’s this way in which, I don’t know, it kind of feels like they’re all celebrating each other being exactly who they are.

Julian: [01:13:50] It’s interesting because like while there are— there are some— there are queer elements to every part of this story, in that particular scene the only— that only comes out in the fact that they’re like— like you’re saying, out in that karaoke club bar. Um, and that’s like, that’s special. But there’s so much more that’s special about this whole interaction.

But I think that was— this scene is just like one more example of how, like, even though the queer narrative is— is the dominant narrative in the story, like there are so many access points for different people to— to, um, to find something that really resonates with them. And I think that’s like really interesting when you have like one scene that it generates that feeling in a lot of different people, but for really different reasons.

Chelsee: [01:14:42] This is definitely a book that I feel like, more than with other books that I’ve read, I really wonder about how it felt to other people because I had so many feelings about it. I often, when I think about it, I wonder, like, would someone else reading this see all the things that I see in it, which is why I wanted to have this conversation with you about it, basically. I was like, that’s someone— Julian probably sees the things that I see in it, if not all of them some of them given all the things that we have in common. 

Julian: [01:15:17] Yeah. But I think also I— I don’t have— I think there are things that you got that I didn’t get the same— I didn’t have the same like emotional access to, because being bisexual and being queer are different. Like as much as like some people may use those words interchangeably for different social contexts, for different professional contexts and like to— to be able to have a different, like, conversation— as a currency in different conversations, which I’m like totally fine with— they are different things. And I— and I think that like we’ve already touched on a lot of the reasons why bisexuality specifically is an important perspective to have, like, because of bisexual erasier specifically. But I think that in terms of how somebody interacts with this story, it’s really important because of the internal erasier, right? Which you’ve mentioned. Right? Like— like, what makes some of the like sexual awakening so powerful is the like, ‘how did I not know? Maybe I did know,’ but even though that experience in your, in your brain of being like, ‘Oh, maybe I knew all along, but not consciously,’ like that’s a— that’s a through line in the queer experience and the trans experience but, it’s different. It’s— it’s just like, it’s— it is a different narrative when you talk about bisexuality specifically. And so I think that like though I could recognize those things as really powerful, it doesn’t necessarily, um, affect me in the same way it’s going to affect you, which I think is pretty cool though, the way that it can just like hit you in all the right ways that like pushes all your buttons in just the right ways. 

I actually wonder, like, I’m trying to think if I like properly… I feel like in the— in the, uh, in the measured way with which we talk about some of these things, I’m like, did I— do I— I don’t know if I communicated how strongly I feel because we’re talking in a measured way and I’m norm— I normally interrupt so much and I was trying not to interrupt, but I just like… Issues around young people and like caring for the emotions of adolescents, it’s just something that’s one of the issues I feel most strongly about and I’m trying to be so intentional about in, like, the few months before I start residency reading more books that about like personal narratives that aren’t necessarily mine, uh, but are— are related to the kinds of the populations that I want to care for. Uh, because I think that understanding people’s narratives are— is a really critical part of developing empathy.

Um, and I think we think of empathy as something that’s just like— you either have it or you don’t, but I think you actually need to practice it. Um, especially when like, you’re just never going to, as much as you try, you can’t have people in your life that represent all the perspectives in the world. And I think that in order to like have those perspectives, in order to filter all your decisions that you’re making through different perspectives, you have to like have those perspectives in your psyche. So I’m trying to, you know, collect them. So I’m decreasing my bias, I guess is the best way to think about it. Um, and so I feel like this is just really important to me because like, I’m always trying to get people around me that I know are going to care for vulnerable, underserved populations, I’m trying to always trying to get those people to like read other perspectives or see other perspectives that they don’t necessarily seek out. And so I feel like books like this are really important to me because I— I feel like it’s a really accessible way to— to introduce the perspective to people who like just don’t look for it, but might— just like, there’s that category of people— we always think of people in terms of like their decision making as like— there’s like the, like least interested people who are, you’re just never going to change their minds. And then there’s like the people at like the top who are like always going to seek out those perspectives on their own and like, you don’t really need to help them.

And then there’s the middle people who are like, ‘eh’, if you like, make it easy for them they’ll— they’ll be interested and they’ll be able to change their— you’ll be able to change their minds. And so I feel like it’s content like this that’s like accessible and entertaining, but also like has a message and a perspective that’s like really important that I get really attached to because I’m like, ‘look, here’s a thing that I can give you that will help you see and will help you understand and like maybe help you care for people better.’

Chelsee: [01:19:44] I am really glad that that is something that you are making an effort to do. And I think that the world would be a better place if we all did more of that. And I think that we would have a lot better doctors if more people did that. And I have some book recommendations for you! 

Julian: [01:20:10] Oh, good. 

Chelsee: [01:20:11] Um, yeah. So, I have some things for you to read and I think that you really nicely summed up the— the power that books like this can have and why they’re so important.

Julian: [01:20:31] We gotta make our hearts bigger. [Laughs] It’s work. It’s work. It’s actually, I was— I was about to say it’s— ‘got to do the heart and the head work’, but I only recently learned that phrase from that podcast you told me to listen to. 

Chelsee: [01:20:45] Just Break Up.

Julian: [01:20:46] Just Break Up, yeah. Um, I really liked that phrase. I’ve been like thinking it in my head ever since I started listening to that podcast.

Chelsee: [01:20:53] It’s great. I use it now also. So, here’s a recommendation to everyone listening to this podcast to also listen to Just Break Up, which is a great podcast. You gotta do the head and the heart work. 

Julian: [01:21:08] Yeah. 

Chelsee: [01:21:09] So the way that I want to wrap things up is with any recommendations that you might have for people who read Red, White and Royal Blue. Other things that they might like or, conversely, if they liked X thing, they might also like Red, White and Royal Blue

Julian: [01:21:39] Well, I mean, I think that in terms of bisexual content, um, we already mentioned Rainbow Rowell, but her books Carry On and Wayward Son— and at some point there’s going to be a third one-

Chelsee: [01:21:52] Yeah, Any Way the Wind Blows

Julian: [01:21:55] Yeah. Uh, so great bisexual content, much more in the realm of fantasy, which is generally my category that I— that I love. Um, and actually you didn’t even recommend that to me. I was thinking about it. I was like, ‘what? Where did all these bisexual books come from? Oh, Chelsee must’ve told me to read them,’ but actually neither Rainbow Rowell’s books or Red, White and Royal Blue came from you. But what did come from you was An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, which is also bisexual content. Um, that’s by Hank Green. Um, and that one is in the, like, scifi category. So if you’re here for the bisexuality, those are my recommendations. 

Chelsee: [01:22:44] Yeah. I mean, I would say that those are… That is exactly what I would recommend. I would say also both of them read pretty contemporary, like even though they are scifi and fantasy, so if you’re someone that is intimidated by those categories, like don’t be. I would say that specifically Rainbow’s, books— Basically if you were like, I want Red, White and Royal Blue but also Harry Potter, like I feel like that is how I would describe Carry On and Wayward Son. Like, there are a lot of plot similarities in a way that I am very here for. And those are books that I absolutely love and read again and again. And An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is also fantastic. 

If people are looking for television, a show that I am obsessed with is Good Trouble, which is a Freeform show, and it is a lot of chosen family and it has a bisexual, Latinx man who is one of the main love interests on the show, and he is a really great character. It also doesn’t hurt that he is incredibly nice to look at. Um, but really here for Gael and Good Trouble. 

Yeah, so I would say those would be my recommendations. If you like Red, White & Royal Blue I suspect that you will like all the things that we just mentioned, and if you like those things, you should definitely read Red, White & Royal Blue.

Okay. Well, Julian, thanks for talking to me about our casual obsession with Red, White & Royal Blue.

Julian: [01:24:33] Thanks for having me.

Chelsee: [01:24:37] This show is produced by me, Chelsee Bergen. The music is ‘I dunno’ by grapes, licensed under creative commons BY license. You can find the show on Instagram @casuallyobsessedpodcast and the show notes for this episode, at You can support the show by leaving a rating and review on iTunes and by recommending it to your casually obsessed friends.

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