The Deciding Decade: Glennon Doyle on being ‘Untamed’ and living as an LGBTQ person of faith
Pete Buttigieg: Hi, I’m Pete Buttigieg and this is The Deciding Decade.
One thing I’ve found in life is the way huge transformation can happen, even in moments in your life when you thought you had the big things established. I was already mayor of my hometown when I experienced a life-changing deployment to Afghanistan as a reservist. And it was in the wake of that experience that I made the decision that it was time to come out. I was already in my thirties when I confronted the fact that I was too old not to know what it felt like to be in love. And that meant finally dating who I wanted to date, learning how to open up, trust, and be comfortable with myself in new ways. Nothing about this was simple.
Now we’re in a moment in our country where it’s becoming more and more common to see people share extraordinary turns in their personal journeys. I know personally how difficult that can be but I also know how rewarding it can be; in my own journey, it was the road that led to my now-husband Chasten.
I think a version of this is going to have to happen across the country in order for this deciding decade to go well. Navigating what’s ahead for us is going to take a new level of self-knowledge for all of us. It’s going to mean being ready for transformation, sometimes when we didn’t expect it. And my guest today has an amazing story about that kind of self-knowledge and about the kind of courage we’re going to need more than ever, wherever we can find it.
Many people have been falling in love with Glennon Doyle’s story, especially since the release of her remarkable book, Untamed. She has written with honesty, clarity, and humor about her experiences as a parent, author, and activist, overcoming addiction and eating disorders, and coming to terms with the truth that with a husband and three children, she had fallen in love with her now-wife.
She has also helped raise millions of dollars for families in need through her nonprofit “Together Rising.” She’s been an inspiration to so many, encouraging people to, as she says, “quit fearing themselves and start trusting themselves,” and to live out their truths — something that certainly resonates with me.
I know so many are grateful for your leadership and I’m grateful for your time. Glennon, thanks for joining us.
Glennon Doyle: Oh, Mayor Pete, this is such a treat. My entire family… My mom cannot believe that I’m speaking to you right now. I’m going to call her right after this and tell her everything. So, I’m honored.
Pete Buttigieg: When you do, make sure to tell her I said hi.
Glennon Doyle: I will.
Pete Buttigieg: The style in Untamed, one of the things I think makes it so readable is that there are these very short episodes but they add up into a big and powerful story. These things you describe breaking out of and becoming more of yourself as you conquer addiction, as you fall in love with your wife Abby, you don’t describe the world you’re coming out of as being sort of obviously and compellingly awful, even though it turns out it’s not where you need to be. So I wonder that tension, especially for people who may read this book and think that same thing that you’re kind of bathed in this existence that maybe feels fine from minute to minute, from hour to hour, but it’s not where you need to be.
Glennon Doyle: Yeah. When you said, “bathed in it,” it made me think of… You know how they’ve done that experiment where there’s water and there’s a frog in the water. And if the water is boiling, the frog will save itself and get out. But if the temperature is just turned up slightly, a little bit each day, the frog will die. Because it’s like that life, that good enough life, where everybody’s telling you to be grateful, you have more than other people… I mean, this was my life. I was in a broken marriage to a good man. That’s the slow water temperature turning up, that’s like… He’s a good person and you should be grateful, and you have a good life and you have these three beautiful children, and you have a career. We were recovering forever from infidelity, and I have seen some people recover from that beautifully.
My experience was that I was doing all of the things I was supposed to do to forgive, and he was doing all the things he was supposed to do to get me to forgive. We were in therapy, we were doing all of the things. I was just waiting for forgiveness to fall down on my head as a reward for all of my suffering. I was just like a dormant volcano with lipstick on. I was smiling and like, “Oh, this is okay, we have this little family.” But I was pissed off all the time. And the pissed-offedness came up the most when there was any sort of, like when we were supposed to be trusting each other again. When there was intimacy or any of that, that was supposed to make me feel like I could trust again. I just was angry.
Pete Buttigieg: Did you experience that as being pissed off at something in particular, or that general pissed? I mean, one thing that… Sometimes Chasten will say, “What’s the matter?” And I’ll be like, “Nothing. What do you mean what’s the matter?” “What’s the matter? What’s the matter?” Can you talk about the relationship, the general and specific, and how you see it, and who helps you see it?
Glennon Doyle: Yeah. Okay. So, if we want to talk about the general and the specific, let’s go to the cheetah. So, years ago, I’m at the safari park with my kids. And my kiddos wanted to go see the cheetah run, which was the big event for the day. So, we’re sitting there watching and the zookeeper comes out, and the zookeeper is holding a leash of a black Labrador Retriever. So, the zookeeper says, “Hi, everybody, do you all think that this is Tabitha, the cheetah?” And all the kids go, “No.” And she says, “You’re right, this is Minnie, Tabitha’s best friend. And we raised Minnie alongside Tabitha to tame Tabitha. So, Tabitha the cheetah, is right there in that cage. And she and us are going to watch Minnie do the cheetah run, and then Tabitha is going to do it.”
So, we all stand there and Minnie the Lab lines up on the starting line, and this little Jeep takes off with this pink bunny. Minnie takes off, chases the pink bunny, crosses the finish line, and everybody claps. And then Tabitha stalks out of her cage, and she’s gorgeous and huge and her muscles are rippling beneath her skin. And then this majestic creature lines up on a starting line and the Jeep takes off, and this gorgeous animal chases this dirty pink bunny down this well-worn path. All spectators clap, and the zookeeper throws Tabitha this Costco steak or something, and Tabitha lays down and gnaws on it. And while all these people are clapping, I’m just like, full body goosebumps, kind of nauseous, actually. Because I was like, “Oh my God, that is my life.”
If a wild majestic animal like a cheetah can be conditioned, can be tamed into forgetting her wild, into forgetting who she is, then so can a woman, then so can a human being. Because Tabitha was born into the zoo, she never knew, in her material life, anything different. So, general wisdom would say, she thinks she’s a Lab, she’s fine. This is a good enough life for her. She’s safe. She’s whatever. But what we know is that these animals, even the ones that are born into captivity, they have an instinct that they were born for something else.
Pete Buttigieg: Something in them knows they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing.
Glennon Doyle: The general pissed-offedness is what you’re saying, right? This general feeling of like, wait a minute, I know all I can see in my life are these cages and these store-bought steaks and these Labs, but I just have this weird feeling inside of me that I was made to run on open land, and hunt, and kill, and sleep under stars. However, that must be crazy, because this all I can see. And so, the gaslighting of Tabitha…
Pete Buttigieg: Tabitha the cheetah
Glennon Doyle: …is the gaslighting of all of us. We’re supposed to be grateful for the good enough life. I was supposed to be grateful for this relationship that I had because it was good enough. Even though there was a wildness and restlessness inside of me, that was my wild, that was like, “I think it was supposed to be more beautiful than this.”
Pete Buttigieg: So, this brings us to, I think one of the central themes of the book, certainly something I’ve been thinking a lot about, which is trust. Because the question then becomes, how do you decide whether to trust that voice that’s describing something you’ve never even seen? And how do you weigh that against trusting all the voices telling you, as you say, you should be grateful. You’re good where you are, don’t burn this down, don’t blow this up. You had a lot to lose coming out, with the changes that you made in your life. How do you reach that level of trust? And what or who exactly is it that you’re trusting when you take that leap?
Glennon Doyle: Okay. So, I think the way that I would describe that trust is the word faith. But when I say faith, I don’t mean a bunch of dogma. I don’t mean a bunch of rules that were made up by powerful white men a million years ago to control people. One of my favorite definitions of faith is the unseen order of things. So, there’s the seen order of things. That’s the material world, that’s what we see on the news. That’s the injustice, that’s the war, that’s the imbalances of power, it’s all of it, right?
So it would make sense, actually, that we would all just be like, “That’s the way it is.” But we’re not like that. There’s something inside of us that rejects it. And all of us have conscious. Regardless of what religious background you were raised with, regardless of… There’s something inside of us that when we see that order of things, we go, “That’s not it. There’s something off there.” Right? And that thing inside of us that’s insisting, it’s rejecting it, is the unseen order of things.
So, to me, this would be what the Christians call the kingdom of heaven, or we call enlightenment or nirvana, or we call… Or atheists who call love. The thing is the same, right? And that’s why we said, the kingdom of heaven is not out there, it’s in here.
My faith tradition would say, our job is to bring heaven to earth. So to me, that means our job is to bring the unseen order of things into the visible order of things. So, we could also call this thing inside of us imagination. It’s the part of us that says, “I have a different idea of the way that things ought to be. And how do I get that idea from inside here, outside here?” Which is what you’re doing in politics, which is what activists are doing. It’s like having faith in that. Because it’s so important, especially for marginalized groups, to depend on the unseen order of things.
Because if we only look at what’s already been created, we will have no hope. We will continue to rebuild and recreate what was builded and created without us in mind, right? Which is why Dr. King said, “I have a dream,” because he had never seen in the visible order of things, this unseen order that he was convinced he was born to bring to earth. Rght? Or why Gloria Steinem says, “Dreaming is a form of planning.” Consider real these ideas and imaginations we have unfolding inside of us. Instead of thinking that their pipe dreams, we have to consider that perhaps they are marching orders.
Pete Buttigieg: If I understand how these things relate, you talk about imagination as a way to kind of have access to that kind of bigger, I guess, realm, you might say, where we belong. You also have, I think, a really powerful vocabulary for talking about God or what some call God. You use the word Knowing with a capital K. If I could play back to you a little bit of how you describe this in Untamed, you say, “Why do we worry about what to call the Knowing, instead of sharing with each other how to call the Knowing?” You go on to say, “Some call the Knowing, God, or wisdom, or intuition, or source, or deepest self. It doesn’t matter what we call our Knowing, what matters if we want to live our singular shooting star of a life, is that we call it.”
So, what would you say to those who are struggling to figure out how to call it?
Glennon Doyle: I think that experiences with God, with the divine, with the truest, deepest self might be as individual as every individual. This is just a terrible plan, I would have done it differently so that we could help each other more, you know? Without sounding judgmental of… Whenever I say, “Without sounding judgmental,” I’m about to say something terribly. So, what I have experienced is that… inside of fundamentalists, or fundamentalism, in any form, whether it’s religion or political or whatever, is this need for leaders to separate followers from their deepest self. The way I experienced that inside of fundamentalist Christianity was this campaign to make sure that I never trusted myself. We learn that with the heart is wicked, that might be how you feel, but the heart is wicked. That might-
Pete Buttigieg: “Lean not unto thine own understanding.”
Glennon Doyle: Exactly. Exactly. So, I can’t trust my heart, because my heart is wicked. I can’t trust my mind, because I can’t lean on my own understanding. Well, what can I trust? Oh, you. Okay. So, the argument is, don’t trust yourself, trust God. But the people who are saying that, what they really mean is, don’t trust yourself, trust us, which is different than God, right?
Pete Buttigieg: That reminds me of a pattern I’ve been thinking about with conspiracy theories and conspiracy thinking. Because one of the things I’ve noticed, especially with some of these really weird and disturbing groups out there, is that they actually… Even though their language is, you can’t trust anybody, everything’s deep state, and there’s a system that’s calling all the shots, be wary, right? They’re also saying, “Listen to me, I’m telling you the truth no one else wants to tell you. You won’t see this in the media. This is the thing they don’t want you to know.” And I realized that when somebody in that way says, “Trust no one,” they’re really saying, “Trust me.”
Glennon Doyle: Absolutely.
Pete Buttigieg: They’re offering a kind of… The only word I can use for it is membership. And I wonder if actually that search for belonging, that I think is a struggle in so many ways for all of us, is actually ironically part of the appeal to these groups that are an expression of mistrust or distrust, is that they’re asking you to trust them. But there’s also this misplaced trust that we’re often called to. I believe is happening with the president, is certainly happening with some of his efforts. And as you’re saying, has happened in a troubling pattern with a lot of fundamentalist movements too.
Glennon Doyle: I don’t see much difference in any of it. I think it’s all religious in terms of… We just are so desperate for somewhere to belong, it’s the dilemma of being human, which it almost feels like we want to be individuals, but we want to belong. And that’s what I wanted so much, church after church after church, is I wanted to belong, I wanted a group, I wanted people, and I was willing to get to pretend for a while. I was just willing to… Fine, I’ll just pretend I don’t have that thought. I’ll pretend I believe that, I’ll say that. I’ll do this just in exchange for some people to belong to, right? And it is easier… Because I have been part of these groups, I know that it’s almost like, the less individualistic you are, the easier it is to belong to these groups. And the more-
Pete Buttigieg: What do you mean?
Glennon Doyle: Well, it’s why progressive Christians or progressive groups have so much less solidarity. The conservatives have nailed this, right? It’s like, they are just moving like a school of freaking fish in everything. It disturbs me on a deep level and also impresses me. And no one’s allowed to raise their hand and think differently. I know, I’ve been a part of those groups. And so, it becomes very easy to vote in blocks, to think in blocks, right?
And then you’ve got these progressives, which now I’m a part of these groups. Jesus, you can’t keep us. We’re like Dory from Nemo. We’re like, “Over there, over there. Wait, but what about this? But what about…” The questions are eternal, the different perspectives. We can’t agree on anything, which is part of the beauty of it.
Pete Buttigieg: So, that brings me to a family that we’re part of, the LGBTQ community, which is, I think, an example of a family that has a lot of belonging, and also a lot of jostling, and can actually be kind of challenging in the way people treat each other sometimes. One thing you and I have in common is coming out a little bit later in life. I felt very strange, I’m a grown ass man, I’m in a position of responsibility, I’ve been to war and back. And now, I’ve got to start from scratch on dating, and I got to go out and tell the world who I am. And there was a part of me that… Of course, it was probably the part of me that had kept me tamed, if you will, for a very long time, which is a part of me that was fearful of being harmed or attacked for being gay. Growing up in Indiana, serving in the military, joining under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
It was actually during the time I was figuring out exactly how to come out, that here in Indiana there was the so-called Religious Freedom Bill under Mike Pence. It was horrible in the way that it marked out our state as one of the most anti-LGBTQ places in the country. But it was also remarkable, in that a lot of people… I saw a lot of people find their way a little closer to acceptance. And often, it was not the way I would put acceptance. It was not exactly what I was hoping people would say, but you could tell for them, it was movement, somebody who had been conservative, somebody who had been brought up to reject gayness. And you write a little bit about an encounter… I just want to find the page because I think this is so interesting.
You talk about being at a town hall type event in the Midwest. And I’ll just read a little bit of it. “A woman with short gray hair and gentle serious face with deep wrinkles slowly stood. She wore a sweatshirt with an American flag and the word Grandma puffy painted onto it. Her hand shook a little as she held the mic. I loved her instantly. And then, she talks about this experience of her nephew is coming out as transgender, now her niece, another family member turns out to be gay. And then she says, “I don’t mean any offense, it’s just, why is everybody so gay all of a sudden?””
And you write about her with a lot of compassion. So, I wonder, just more broadly, how do we think about the people that maybe aren’t quite where we want them to be, but also are clearly wanting to move into a place of acceptance or growth? And does that have any lessons for some of the different political contests that are going on right now? Where it feels like sometimes America is being sliced up in some people’s view, into good Americans and evil Americans. And I’m thinking, if we can’t reach just about every American, we’re never going to make it.
Glennon Doyle: Mm-hmm. I think that’s the thing I miss the most right now about pre-COVID life, is those kinds of gatherings. Because that’s what I spent my whole job doing, is just gathering people in one space and being like, “Okay here’s the place, bring all your questions if you’re scared to ask at a PTA meeting or a church. Bring them here, ask them.” Because I think… Pete, I just really… I know what’s happening on Twitter, I know what’s happening online but it’s just not my experience with actual human beings and actual…
Pete Buttigieg: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Glennon Doyle: It’s so much harder to demonize each other up close. And so, my experience is more that people are curious and confused, and people are afraid of change. People are afraid of… What that woman actually thought is what a lot of people think right now, is that there’s something in the air that’s making everyone gay all of a sudden, right? And if this is contagious-
Pete Buttigieg: Just one by one-
Glennon Doyle: One by one.
Pete Buttigieg: … everybody’s going to go-
Glennon Doyle: And then, what’s next? It’s this fear, which by the way, is the energy that Make America Great Again taps into. All that is, is directional. Right? Everything’s directional. If you think things are this way…
Pete Buttigieg: Where’s is this going to wind up? Where is it headed?
Glennon Doyle: Let’s go backwards. So the idea, for me, is to talk to people in a way that is actually what is true about the fact that gayness is not contagious. But freedom is contagious. Right? So what is happening is that people are not getting gayer, people are getting freer to express their queerness. Right? Because some brave person somewhere along the line was like, “Actually, I don’t think that this is my jam. I know this is the only thing that’s been presented to me, but I’m not feeling that love thing like I’m supposed to with this particular group of humans. But this particular group of humans…” And then, that person was… So, somebody else was like, “Oh my God, me too.” Somebody else was like, “Oh my God, I thought it was just me, but me too.”
And so, it’s like this chain reaction of freedom, but people have always been 50 shades of gay, right? They were just slowly dying inside because they didn’t have the freedom to express it. Just that shift for people. It’s like nothing’s changing at all. People are just having to change themselves less. So, I don’t know, I just feel like those actual conversations are so important to have. All these unasked questions and curiosities become prejudices, and that turns into blocks of fear. That people just move into resistance mode.
Pete Buttigieg: You could not have known when you wrote the book, how much racial justice would be at the forefront of the country’s consciousness and conscience after the murder of George Floyd and everything that’s taken place in the summer of 2020. But you write in a way that I think really anticipates a lot of the conversations that were happening. And I think it’s a really remarkable piece of writing that white people who don’t want to think that we’re mixed up in any way in racism really ought to spend some time with.
Glennon Doyle: Mm-hmm
Pete Buttigieg: Especially interesting because you related to experiences of addiction and illness. You talk about detoxing from racism. And it really resonates with me because I’ve found that part of what’s making this a real struggle among the white people, which is of course, where the change has to happen is among white people, is this inability to acknowledge that any of us might have imbibed any racism from our surrounding, because that would mean that we’re bad. In particular, I spoke to our police department in the wake of a police killing here in South Bend, and talked about systemic racism. And I could tell that I just immediately lost most of the white officers I was speaking to because they felt that I was telling them that they were bad.
Glennon Doyle: Mm-hmm.
Pete Buttigieg: But you say, in America, there are not two kinds of people: racists and non-racists. There are three kinds of people: those poisoned by racism and actively choosing to spread it, those poisoned by racism and actively trying to detox, and those poisoned by racism who deny its very existence inside them. And I feel like that breaks us out of this idea that the only people who are involved in racism or have any responsibility when it comes to racism are the Confederate flag waving militant consciously racist racists. And actually, there’s a much wider group of people who, as though overcoming an illness, need to change. You also say, “We must decide that admitting to being poisoned by racism is not a moral failing, but denying we have poison in us certainly is.”
So, I’d love to know how you reached this understanding. And also has your understanding changed between when this book was published earlier this year and now when there have been so many new and different conversations hopefully, better and more powerful conversations than America was having in the past about systemic racism?
Glennon Doyle: Well years and years ago, I was sitting on my couch with my two daughters. I have two girls and a boy, until they tell me different. And we were looking at a book with pictures of Civil Rights marches in it, and they were asking questions. And my youngest daughter pointed to a white woman in the sea of marchers, and her face lit up, and she said, “Mommy, would we have been marching with them?” And I fixed my face to say, “Yes, of course, we would have.” And then, my older daughter, said, “Oh, no, Amma, we wouldn’t have been marching with them then. I mean, we’re not marching with them now.” And it was a moment of… Well, I would call, sobriety. It was a sobering moment where I just realized, “Oh, wait, I am not the person that I thought I was.”
For some reason, I thought that I was a person who would have been marching with Martin Luther King Jr. Like, what makes me think that about my life right now? What is so radical about my life right now that makes me think I would have been that radical then? Right? Because, of course, all of us white people support Martin Luther King Jr. now, right? Because it’s so much easier to love a dead civil rights activist than it is to love a live civil rights activist because the dead one is no threat to our privilege and comfort right now, right? But only 32%, is that right?, of white people supported Martin Luther King Jr, then. So, the question right now, it’s not like… If we want to know if we would have supported Martin Luther King Jr. then, we don’t ask ourselves, “Do we support him now?” We say, “Do I support Colin Kaepernick right now?” Right?
Or, if you want to say, “How would I have felt about the Freedom Riders then? You don’t say, “How do I feel about them now?” You say, “How do I feel about Black Lives Matter now?” So just that moment with my girls just sent me on this reading frenzy. And I found the Letters from the Birmingham Jail and I read when Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that the greatest threat to freedom is not the Ku Klux Klan, it’s the white moderate who has more committed to order than to justice. And that is when I first had language for what I was, right? Which is a white moderate. What did I think? I don’t know, that I was a civil rights activist because I was a nice white lady. That’s seriously what I thought about myself, right?
For me, perspective change usually just starts with tons and tons of reading. Abby says my life is just reading interrupted by reality every once in a while. And when I started reading a different version of American history than the whitewashed one I had been presented, it just all started crumbling in front of me. The differences now and how I would write it, I think I probably would have focused a lot more on whiteness, and what whiteness has done. I just think I figured out in the last few months that there’s just some kind of deal with the devil that white women make early on. And it’s not conscious, it’s just… Somewhere along the line, we learn that, okay, we will accept our proximity to power and all the comfort and safety and belonging that that will give us. But in exchange… First of all, we’ll never ask for any real power. We will stay quiet and grateful and accommodating. We will accept things like the protection and safety that the police offer us but we will never look over there and ask what the police are doing to them. We will go into our kids’ elementary schools and we will demand nine iPads for every one of our kids but we will not turn our heads and ask why the school down the road doesn’t have clean water. We will over and over again accept our relative comfort and safety, and the cost of that will be our full humanity and we will just become less and less human.
And I think that’s what my black activist friends are trying to get at. It’s the idea of, don’t come here to save us, you people need to save yourself. You have lost your humanity, right? White supremacy has cost you your souls.
Pete Buttigieg: It’s compelling to hear you describe this in a way that… We’ve heard a lot about what needs to change among white people but the power dynamics you’re describing explain how it may also be different for white women than it is for white men who have our own task of, I think, introspection but also redemption and change. And it’s sounds like the biggest thing you’re describing that needs to happen is the kind of a readiness to sacrifice certain things that have gone with the old arrangements in order to get to a better place. But that better place is better for everybody.
Glennon Doyle: Yeah.
Pete Buttigieg: Or is it? I mean, here’s one of the questions, right? Are we talking about a zero-sum game? Or are we really talking about a future where everyone’s better off?
Glennon Doyle: I think I believe fully that it’s a future where everyone’s better off. Because the same situation that we could say for white men, the humanity that they have lost… I mean, the conversations that I’m having with white men right now, I think it’s because now that I’m married to a woman, the tension is gone or something. I have no idea what’s happening with me and men right now but they’re telling me stuff, just like telling me stuff. And I think that men are so freaking trapped. Somebody needs to write Untamed for men. They are not allowed to be human in any way, right? The misogyny that’s tied into, you’re not allowed to be merciful, you’re not allowed to listen, you’re not allowed to be curious, you’re not allowed to be vulnerable, you’re not allowed to be human, we will shame you, if you are. The toxic masculinity is not just killing the entire world, it is killing individual men. And this conquering power attitude has a cost to it.
Pete Buttigieg: Yeah. And it’s everywhere, you describe even all the way down to the shampoo, right? You’re comparing, you notice your teenage son’s shampoo bottle is pretty aggro compared to your daughter’s, right?
Glennon Doyle: I mean, I picked up the bottle, Pete, it’s like, drop kick dirt, slam dunk. Kill embarrassing… Is he preparing for… What is he doing in the shower? We’re shaming them out of their humanity before they even freaking put on their underwear in the morning, right? So, no, I believe that it is not a zero-sum game. Everybody needs freedom from this. The victims are the perpetrators, the perpetrators are the victims, there’s no such thing as one-way liberation.
So, in terms of a nation, we’re just talking about a larger macro situation there. But I’m a white woman so I’m focused on, what is my piece in this? And I think that there’s something in it that’s we have just misaligned ourselves. We have aligned ourselves with the wrong side. My goal is how do I betray white patriarchy supremacy in this moment? How do I take all of my training and turn on my trainers? Because in the beginning that’s what’s going to take, and white women are right there at the center of it. If we start defecting and moving over, the whole system breaks down.
Pete Buttigieg: And something powerful is happening when we’ve reached the point that it’s no longer the white nationalists who are the only people interested in whiteness, right? I almost wonder sometimes if those who deceive themselves saying that they don’t see color, the most dangerous thing is not just that they see color in people of color, but the one area where really is truth is, they don’t see colors in themselves. Because you don’t have to think about being white if you’re white, it’s a default.
Glennon Doyle: And even that is so freaking racist. We actually think… I’ve talked to people all the time who don’t know they are a race. Who don’t even think of white as a race because it’s so engraved in-
Pete Buttigieg: Right. Everybody else has a race.
Glennon Doyle: We’re neutral. We’re the standard. Racism is not my issue because I don’t even have a race. It’s so fascinating.
Pete Buttigieg: One last question I want to put to you. Your youngest is 12, is that right?
Glennon Doyle: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Pete Buttigieg: One of the things we like to talk about on this podcast is to really envision the future. How do you think her future will look different from your past? What do you think are the biggest differences? And what are some of the things you think will be similar?
Glennon Doyle: Well, Pete, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this in your life, but I have noticed that we tend to pendulum parent, which to me means, everything you thought your parents did wrong, you just go the other side completely and screw them up a completely different way. So, I didn’t feel like I had enough room in my family to express my feelings, so I have trained my children to share every feeling. And, Pete, sometimes, when my 12 year old you just mentioned is on her third hour of describing her sadness, I just want to look at her and say, “Dear God, I have done you wrong. Why didn’t I teach you to suffer silently?” Right? So, this is one way their lives will be different. They are so comfortable being fully human and bringing me all their stuff.
I mean, one thing I am so in love with is… It was such a tricky decision to… Regardless of how you think about sexuality, it was a choice to decide to be open to this new love with Abby And I had to-
Pete Buttigieg: Of course.
Glennon Doyle: And I had to really… I had to get a divorce, I had to go through some things that caused my children a lot of pain. And that was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. And there was a lot of, Oh God, is this right? Is this… And so, a year after Abby and I got married, our son sat us down and said, “I need to tell you something.” And he told us that he’s gay, my baby, the one that I got sober when I was pregnant with him. And I didn’t know, which is a whole other story. I cannot believe that you can be staring at your child and obsessing about him every minute of every day, and be gay, and still be so clueless, but that’s fine.
Pete Buttigieg: Tells you something, doesn’t it?
Glennon Doyle: Yeah, that’s for a different day. And a week later, he told his dad, and so his dad called us, and Abby and I pulled over the car and we were like, “Oh, God, what? How is this going to go?” And the first thing Craig said was, “I just keep sitting here thinking, what if you hadn’t had been true to yourself? Then maybe our kid wouldn’t have been true to himself and wouldn’t have been brave enough to tell us who he is.” And that was, first of all, such a freaking generous response from Craig, from my ex-husband. That’s just his heart, he’s amazing. But also, it just made me think, that will be a difference, right?
A difference will be because we have hurt them. Because I have brought things to them that have said to them, even though this makes you very uncomfortable, even though this is going to hurt you, it is that important to be true to yourself. So, I’m going to tell you something that’s going to make you sad and it’s going to make you rearrange your thoughts and your family, and I’m going to do it anyway. I think that they’re going to do that with us. They’re going to know that they have the right to disturb our expectations, to disappoint us, to challenge us, and that they can do all of that because it’s a family value. Everybody gets to be who they are.
Pete Buttigieg: What a fascinating, moving conversation with Glennon Doyle. I love that we were able to explore in depth some of our culture’s greatest challenges and discuss the values and topics so important in our moment — questions of belonging and trust — ideas that have shaped my life and work, and hers, in both similar and very different ways.
I’m grateful for her openness and her kindness towards others. For her honesty, which has unlocked honesty in others about their own lives.
I think that truth yields further truth, and she’s an example of that. And as we think about the decade ahead, it’s my hope that next generation leaders take a page from her book… lean into their power, untame themselves, and unapologetically fight for what they want.