"I want the reader to feel like we're sitting down for a drink or we're grabbing coffee," Chasten tells PEOPLE. "We pull up a chair and I'm like, 'Boy, do I have a story' "

By Adam Carlson
May 12, 2020 02:16 PM
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Chasten Buttigieg
| Credit: Carina Teoh

Chasten Buttigieg remembers one day in Fresno, California, out of the hundreds of days spent on the campaign trail, when a young man came up to share a story of his own.

Pete Buttigieg’s husband was there to stump on his behalf at a local LGBTQ community center, as Pete, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, tried to make history as the first openly gay major presidential candidate.

Chasten recalls giving his usual spiel — “Here's what we stand to gain and here's how politics has shaped my life and what I hope to change” — and his backstory: “Coming out, running away from home, figuring out college, eventually falling in love with this mayor who helps bust down the wall I've built up between my heart and the rest of the world.”

Afterward, Chasten says, a young person approached him.

"Did someone tell you I was going to be here today?" the kid asked.

"No,” Chasten told him. “Why?"

“He's like, ‘Well, I ran away from home when I was 17. My parents kicked me out of the house. I'm a first-generation college student. I also am a barista at Starbucks’ — he's just listing off all these things that I had just talked about in my speech,” Chasten says.

It was a moment of unexpected candor — of togetherness, of stories swapped and serendipitously matching, the space between two people growing a little smaller — that Chasten hopes to reflect in his upcoming memoir, I Have Something to Tell You, scheduled for release in September.

“I don't want this book to just feel like I'm writing a book because I want to write a political memoir,” says the 30-year-old former middle school teacher, raised in Michigan and now better known (on social media at least) by his first name.

“I’m picturing what happens when I get to catch up with a friend,” Chasten continues. “I want the reader to feel like we're sitting down for a drink or we're grabbing coffee. We pull up a chair and I'm like, ‘Boy, do I have a story. You not going to believe how I went from showing steers in high school to running for president with my husband in such a short period of time.’ “

The memoir — his first book — is an opportunity to tell his story anew and in a different way, having long been comfortable relaying his biography in bite-sized highlights and being turned, himself, into shorthand as a candidate’s spouse.

“The campaign was just watching the world just swirl past you,” Chasten says. “Now I'm able to sit and take a deep breath and find some clarity and put some thoughts on the page.”

“I don't want people to think this story is about someone who said, ‘Look at me. I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and everything's great about and now my life is marvelous because I did it all myself,’ " he says. “That's not my story. It was hard and it's murky and it's sticky and it was challenging and heartbreaking. There's a lot in there, and I don't want people to get to know me through a lens of, 'Well, now my life is perfect. I made it all work, I made it add up.' "

Much of I Have Something to Tell You covers Chasten’s life before he met Pete — famously, so go the headlines, on a dating app in 2015 — and it does not shy away from the ache of those earlier years, including what he has described as homelessness, suicidal thoughts, sexual assault and a period of alienation from his parents because he was gay.

That openness, in Chasten’s words, is not mere celeb-memoir-posturing. It’s an act of outreach, of acknowledgment, of visibility.

“I’m thinking about a lot of young people out there who were just wondering, ‘Do people involved in politics even see me? Do they get me?’ I took a lot of deep breaths and decided I'm just going to put this on the page,” Chasten says.

“Life can be really muddy and confusing and heartbreaking,” he continues, saying he has been through abuse and bad relationships. “Sometimes we just have to take a deep breath and say, 'Yeah, this was rough, and I want you to know that.’ ”

There have been happy endings, too: His mother and father reconciled with him. (Last summer, they marched in Pride.)

And he fell in love.

“I think a lot of the articles are like, ‘They met on Hinge, fell in love. Chasten is the teacher, Pete's the politician,’ ” he says. But no romance is so succinct. “There's a lot in there about the heartaches that led me to Pete,” Chasten says.

“It wasn't like, Well there are rainbows and butterflies,” he says. “It was acknowledging to someone: 'I think I'm kind of broken in all these different ways.' Peter helped me put the pieces back together.”

The couple, married in June 2018, were on the trail before another year had gone by. The year after that, crisscrossing the country, helped push Chasten to write this book.

“I met so many people and learned so quickly, all of these things that I have bottled up and have shaped me are just so uniquely American,” he says. “Countless thousands of other people share these stories and I want to write it all and put it on the page so that people can see, ‘Oh, yeah, that's me, too.’ ”

Still a few months out from the publication date, I Have Something to Tell You isn’t quite finished. But Chasten has all the time he needs while staying at home with Pete and their two dogs, Buddy and Truman, during the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Pete ended his presidential bid in March.)

“I will count my blessings,” Chasten says. “Peter and I live in South Bend, so we have more space.”

Pete (left) and Chasten Buttigieg
| Credit: Peter Ringenberg
Chasten (left) and Pete Buttigieg
| Credit: Matt Rourke/AP/Shutterstock

There has, however, been a bit of a campaign hangover.

“For the first couple of weeks, I was always instinctively reaching for my phone. It was this pressure on my shoulder blades,” Chasten says. “I always felt someone was pulling me. I realize it's how I was holding my shoulders for 14 months.”

“There's nothing on the calendar. I don't need to do anything. I don't need to give any speeches. I'm just here,” he says, “which gave me a lot of clarity and a lot of time to put things out onto the page.”

He’s embraced the laid-back, at-home lifestyle — like so many other people — complete with a limited wardrobe of comfy shirts and slippers. And he’s been posting regular Instagram videos with celebrities like Rachel Brosnahan to spotlight organizations like the anti-homelessness Covenant House.

He has not, for the record, tried to grow a beard. But a more drastic haircut has its appeal, he notes, in the same kind of chatty aside to expect from his memoir.

“I've never had the urge to dye my hair, but I get the shaving the head,” he says. “Just get rid of it. Who cares?”

I Have Something to Tell You will be published on Sept. 1.