NOTE: This is the wrap-up post for Blue Babies Pink, a Southern Coming Out Story in 44 Episodes. If you haven't read the previous 44 installments, I highly recommend you do that first. -bt
I walked into a coffee shop in Atlanta's Inman Park neighborhood recently and noticed a young guy—early 40s maybe—with platinum white hair sitting at the bar, staring intently his laptop. He didn't notice me, because he didn't know me. I was just a random guy wearing a backwards Braves hat in a coffee shop.
But I knew him. And so do a lot of other Atlantans.
His name is Ryan Gravel, and I'd see him around my hood a lot.
When I was only a high schooler, he was in grad school at Georgia Tech, working on his master's thesis. The year was 1999, and Gravel was just one student out of tens of thousands enrolled in Atlanta universities that year. They'd all written papers and theses, and most of those papers would be inconsequential, forgotten mere hours after some professor had reviewed them. Gravel's thesis, however, was different, and it would meet no such fate.
Gravel's thesis—his theory—went something like this (note: these are my words, not his) . . .
Since before the Civil War, Atlanta was a railroad town. The city's unusual layout had grown up around a maze of old railroad tracks. But over time, many of those tracks were abandoned and overgrown which created an unusable, meandering path of blight all around the South's greatest city.
BUT...what if we could turn that blight into an asset?
What if we could transform something ugly into something beautiful?
So he wrote down his dream for the ugly in the form of a master's thesis:
Let's build a transit trail on top of those tracks, and let's call it the BeltLine. The BeltLine will be a 22-mile looped trail linking city parks and Atlanta's 45 in-town neighborhoods.
Then let's add green-space and art installations.
Let's eventually add light rail.
The BeltLine will make Atlanta, a city known for snarling traffic jams, more walkable and more bikeable. And it will make our city better by attracting new development, giving citizens more transportation options, and making us all healthier in the process.
The BeltLine was a bold proposal and quite ridiculous. But Gravel believed in it.
He believed in it so much that he mailed his thesis to the top movers and shakers in Atlanta, including the City Council president, Cathy Woolard, who recognized the massive potential. The pair launched a grassroots effort to make the BeltLine more than a theory.
After pitching the idea to countless Atlanta agencies and civic groups, the bold idea began to spread. The mayor got on board. The city commissioned studies to see if it was feasible. Funding was secured. And nearly a decade after Gravel published his thesis, ground was broken and the BeltLine was born. The nation's most aggressive urban revitalization project was under way.
The month after that first date with Rick was one I will never forget. I documented it profusely, taking lots of notes along the way. I didn't want to forget it.
I descended (or ascended?) into some weird biological state that caused my stomach to be a mess all the time. On July 26, I made a note, "My stomach is still in knots, and I've lost about 10 lbs." During that time, people at work would either comment on how I had lost weight or they'd ask, "Trapp, why are you so happy?" This went on for about a month.
During that same month, I'd also cry at random times throughout the day. Of course, I wasn't in love, but just knowing love was a possibility crushed me daily—like a two-ton boulder of sugar on a long-embittered soul. The sweetness was overwhelming.
Rick and I went on some more dates over the next few months.
I was the worst—a clingy, overcommunicating, needy, mess of a human. I'd never been in a relationship, so I had no idea how to be in one. I thought it was perfectly normal to text someone, "WHAT R U DOING?" 12 times throughout the day. And I thought it was normal to expect a response within 10-15 seconds.
Rick was just what I needed at the time. He was incredibly gracious to put up with me, but eventually we fizzled out. (I've since been able to thank him for going on a few dates with a 30-something-year-old teenager. We're still friends today, and he got a kick out of reading BBP.)
After Rick, I went on more dates. I branched out into other dating apps. I felt like I had a lot to learn, and dates often devolved into me hurling endless questions at some poor guy.
"Is this a date or an interview?" one guy asked me. I was doing the best I could.
My straight friends educated me on how the dating world worked. It's still weird to me.
I bought the url for bluebabiespink.com in 2008.
I was reading an article about a neo-natal doctor in Memphis named Sheldon Korones. Korones had spent most of his life fighting the city's outrageously high infant mortality problem. An excerpt:
"Korones, who is 83 years old, speaks in a whisper and literally laughs off the question of retirement, is still this city's foremost expert on infant deaths, and he seems haunted by the problem's intractability.
He filled out a psychiatric questionnaire once. One of the questions was: What gives you the most pleasure?
His answer was: Turning blue babies pink."
My eyes fixated on those last three words—blue babies pink—as if a divine highlighter descended from heaven and began furiously illuminating that one phrase. Never in my life had I been so gripped by an obscure phrase in a random online article.
Three words: blue babies pink.
I couldn't quit looking at them. I stopped reading the article and began to roll that phrase around in my mind.
I was struck by the beauty of the phrase, the visuality of it...
Struck by the redemptive and humanitarian nature of it...
Struck by the thought of thick fingers on leathery hands reaching into a ventilator to care for these precious, God-breathed souls trapped in frail bodies.
I was struck by this grey-haired patriarch channeling his passion, bringing life back into these tiny broken beings.
"Blue Babies Pink."
And then I saw myself.
I saw myself—helpless—lying in that hospital, surrounded by ventilator cords and the steady beeping of life-saving machinery.
In 2008, I felt like one of those infants, struggling to survive. In the mirror I saw a 26-year-old man on spiritual life support. I saw a barely-alive soul in desperate need of help, in desperate need of big strong hands.
I saw a blue baby that needed to be pink.
I didn't even know what pink looked like though . . .
Maybe pink was to desire the beauty of a woman.
Maybe pink was finding contentment in a lifetime of singleness.
Maybe pink was being okay with it all. Blue babies don't know what they need, and they can't really help themselves. They don't know how to get pink. But I knew I was very, very blue.
Even in the midst of my fear and sadness, I had a sense that I was supposed to record my story. I don't know if it was a calling or a compulsion, but it was something like that.
I just always knew that one day, I would put it out there. It wasn't even a choice. A lot of people advised me not to which weighed heavily on me for several years. But eventually, you can no longer ignore that steady, pulsing light in your soul calling you to do the thing you know you're supposed to do.
Beyond a soul-level compulsion to tell my story publicly, my more rational reasoning was this:
No matter what people think about homosexuality, I want to give them the chance to hear my story. I want to give them the chance to walk with me through the years of silence and fear. I want to give them the chance to listen. What they do with it after that is up to them.
I also wanted to tell the story in a magnanimous way that was honoring to both the evangelical and LGBT communities.
As a card-carrying member of both, I loved both of these groups deeply. I saw flaws in each group, but I didn't want to focus on that. I wanted to focus on the tension of that dual citizenship from one man's perspective.
For years, I'd been quietly—desperately—watching our culture tear itself up over the issue of homosexuality. I'd watched evangelical people war against each other over it. I didn't want to add to that carnage, so I chose to tell the story as honestly as possible while avoiding aggressive theological platitudes. I knew some people would call that a copout, but I was okay with that. My philosophy was that if you wanted to find theological exposés on the topic, there was no shortage of them online.
But Blue Babies Pink was never meant to be about that.
I designed it simply as a story-by-story tale through one broken man's journey of understanding his faith and sexuality. Nothing more.
So in December 2015, I booked a flight and Airbnb to London, England.
I spent eight days (including Christmas) alone, staring at my 25,000-word UNFR note, trying to synthesize the jumbled emotions captured as fragmented word vomit from the previous nine years.
By day I explored London, and at night I summarized, organized, and wrote. Remembering your past is hard, so I created a timeline of events. My goal was to create a post-mortem on the previous decade, trying my best to recreate the story and tell it in the purest way possible. I left London with the general idea of how long it would be and how it would flow. I was intent on telling the story truthfully but also beautifully so that people would want to keep reading.
In March, I bought a loft and moved to Cabbagetown, a quirky enclave of artists and rebels near downtown Atlanta. And then in August, I resigned my position at Booster, after working there for nearly 12 years.
That was one of the toughest decisions of my life, but was made independently of Blue Babies Pink. Though I had a sense that BBP would require my full creative attention.
After leaving Booster, I got serious about the project and set a launch date of Sept. 6, the Tuesday after Labor Day.
I was going to Dallas with a few buddies for Alabama's opening game with USC that weekend before. I knew that'd be my last hurrah before my announcement. At the end of August, I put a little teaser image on my Instagram with the caption, "Next chapter begins 9.06.16 . . ." I was nervous as hell posting that, because I knew there was no turning back. I'm an eternal procrastinator so I knew a public commitment like that would be good accountability for me. It served its purpose.
I decided to launch with a Gossip Guide to my sexuality which was intended as a fun, light way to suck all the air out of the rumor mill and just fully own it. For years, I'd feared people talking about my sexuality behind my back but had gotten to the point where I just didn't care anymore. I posted the Gossip Guide with no other context or commentary because I wanted to give myself 24 hours to be misunderstood so I could see what that felt like. About 2,900 people went to the site on the first day, and the messages started flooding in. I wasn't prepared for that.
On Sept. 7, I posted Prologue Part Two where I outlined my vision for the project.
And on Sept. 8 I woke up terrified—both at this new feeling of public vulnerability as well as the magnitude of expectations, of having to put out high quality content on the Internet for the next 8 weeks.
And then I just started writing . . .
I got to episode 5 . . .
Then 10. People were shocked I didn't have all of the installments pre-written, and I was all like 😬.
Then 11 . . . about my dad . . . hardest thing I've ever written . . .
Then the 10s. These episodes were very biographical, so they were a lot of fun. By now, most of the episodes are being written from my couch in my living room while wearing pajamas. This is not a sophisticated process.
Then the 20s. More messages flood in, lots from closeted gay people and lots from the parents of gay kids. Each one of them is deeply moving . . .
22. Half-way home! Someone on Facebook calls BBP "the Netflix of blogs" which puts a huge smile on my face . . .
Then 29. Unending tears writing the lifeboats metaphor . . .
Then the early 30s.
Then the late 30s. Episodes 35-39 were the hardest to write. Some readers start to get angsty—one of them messaging me, "I hope with all my might this leads to you getting a minivan full of kiddos!".
Then the 40s. Light at the end of the tunnel! Another reader writes in to say that I better end this thing endorsing same-sex relationships, otherwise, I'm just another "bigoted blogger on the Internet." Sheesh, lady . . .
Then 44 . . . I did it! Hooray! 💃 Someone make me a margarita!
Squarespace, the service I used to build the website, says that about 53,000 different people visited the site during the eight weeks of writing.
What I love about this is that it was all organic—completely driven by readers. I spent exactly $0 promoting Blue Babies Pink, and it received NO coverage from media or major blogs. This story spread sheerly from the goodwill and excitement of BBP readers, and that made me so happy! It was truly a grassroots things, so thank you to everyone who's shared it.
Watching the numbers grow was fun, but it was nothing compared to the stories that people sent me during the process.
My favorites came from LGBT people and LGBT people of faith who would say something like, "Thank you for saying what I've never been able to put into words!"
I heard from lots of younger gay people who sent Blue Babies Pink to their parents. Many of them used my story as a proxy for their own. I can't describe the joy this brought me because I know how tough those parent conversations are. To feel like God was using my story to help parents understand their gay kids better was a huge highlight.
One guy, who had come out to his parents just a few months earlier, forwarded me an email thread with his mom and dad. In it, all three of them were discussing BBP together and the parents were beginning to understand—for the first time—how their son felt growing up. I may have cried.
I got a message from another guy on Twitter whose mom had discovered he was gay accidentally. She called him a disgrace and kicked him out of the house for a few days. He said things were awkward for a few weeks and in the midst of that, he sent her BBP. As she read, she began to soften toward him. He told me, "Your blog opened her eyes and educated her on having a gay son." That meant so much.
Another mom messaged me to say that BBP had opened up dialogue between her and her 20-something gay son. I'd connected her previously to an online support group for parents of LGBT kids. She told me, "For the first time I don't feel alone in my journey."
Stories like this made it so incredibly worth it.
But I also heard countless other stories of pain . . .
Abuse of every variety—verbal, emotional, spiritual, and physical . . .
Broken-hearted parents of LGBT kids . . .
Kids whose parents had gotten a divorce after a parent came out as gay . . .
Women who had married gay men—some happily, some who were devastated by it . . .
People who felt no attraction to either gender . . .
Closeted people in ministry positions at churches who feared losing everything if they come out . . .
Christian missionaries struggling with their sexual identity . . .
Closeted LGBT folks living in small towns, scared to death of being judged . . .
A college student writing under a pseudonym out of fear that his web activity was being monitored by his Christian university . . .
A straight mom of two, worried that her children will absorb an anti-gay stigma from her conservative church . . .
The vulnerability of each message was both beautiful and devastating. I felt each one. And I wanted to. We're limited by the narrowness of our own experiences, and any invitation we get into someone else's pain is precious, precious, precious. Every message was a jewel, and it was a honor to receive each one. I am changed because of it.
So what is next for BBP?
And what is next for Brett Trapp?
Let's start with the first question, because I've spent a lot of time thinking through that.
I think Blue Babies Pink has value in opening up dialogue between gay LGBT kids and their parents. And I think the story has value in helping people understand some of the common feelings LGBT people have, working through the process of coming out. For that reason, I want to keep the story around.
Many people have asked if I plan on turning this into a book.
The answer is possibly, but not likely.
A big publisher reached out to me about a month into the project, and I told the lady I'd never really wanted this to be a published book, but that I wasn't totally dead to the idea either. We'll see.
There also may be some content extensions with BBP. We'll see about that as well.
At the beginning of 2017, I traveled to five different cities in an effort to meet with as many BBP readers as possible. I called it the Bookless Tour and you can read all about it here. BBP readers raised more than $13,000 for a cause I really believe in. It was great fun.
I've had a few organizations (mostly colleges and churches) reach out about speaking on the topic of faith & sexuality. So I'll be doing some of that as well.
What's next for me, personally?
Well, I'm behind on my consulting work, so I'll be working a lot with my clients in the coming months.
But, outside of my consulting, I'll be writing and creating a lot more original content.
Like Blue Babies Pink, this is stuff I've been developing for years. BBP was just a warm-up, and I'm VERY excited about the next chapter. So much of BBP was about the struggle, but I'm excited to write about the joy, the overcoming, the adventure that I experienced through it all. Can't say much more beyond that now, but I think you're going to love it.
BBP was just the appetizer . . . it's always been just the appetizer.
Also, until the next website is established or brand is launched, I'll be communicating primarily via the BBP-Mail subscriber list. Of course, I'll keep adding some thoughts via social media, but all the big stuff will come through that. Sign up below if you want to hear about the next launch (if you've subscribed previously, no need to do it again)...
Since Atlanta began building the BeltLine in 2008, it has exploded in popularity. They've only completed a few miles of the proposed 22, but its effect on our city has been pretty crazy.
It's attracted billions—BILLIONS—of dollars in investment.
Some property values around the BeltLine have doubled.
It's revitalized entire neighborhoods around Atlanta.
And in 2014, it won the prestigious "Prix d'Excellence Award" as the Best Rehabilitation Project in the world that year. Some would argue it's changed the entire complexion and future direction of our city. I'd agree.
All that because of one man's college thesis . . . because of one man's choice to speak up.
Blue Babies Pink is my little speaking up, my little raising of a trembling hand amidst the carnage of the Internet to say, "I'm here. I'm no longer going to hide. And my story matters."
I am more convinced than ever that we need people—good people—speaking up and owning their stories. There is still way too much fear, way too much shame, way too much hiding.
I think everyone gets at least one good story to share with the world. Who are we not to share it?
What would it look like to start writing down your story—knowing that it will die with you—unless you write it down?
What would it look like for you to own your story with a few friends? Or with the entire world?
What would it look like for you to trade in secrecy for a shot at living in the freedom of transparency?
I don't know how you'd answer those questions, but I hope you'll consider them.
BBPpl, thank you for letting me show you the mud on my shoes.
Thank you for your attention. There are a billion things to read online and you reading my little thing has brought me inexpressible joy. You have undone years—decades, really—of forced silence.
Thank you for the countless messages of encouragement. They have been a healing balm.
You are loved.
I love you.
I am forever thankful.
And I'm excited for what's next.
I am Brett Trapp—follower of Jesus, creative, gay—and I've chosen to stop hiding.
Shine on, you crazy diamonds. 👊
B.B.P.S. — I’ve gotten lots of messages from people confused by the end of Blue Babies Pink. I spent the last year creating a resource that answers a lot of those questions. It’s called BBP Plus, and you can learn all about that here. (ALSO! Use promo code BBPFINISHER for 25% off.)
B.B.P.P.S. — If you want to know the full meaning of Blue Babies Pink, click here.
B.B.P.P.P.S. - Future Blue Babies Pink updates will come through the BBP-Mail Subscriber list. Enter your email at the bottom of this page to be sure you get them.
All photos by Sterling Graves. Copyright Blue Babies Pink & Sterling Graves.
B.T. Harman is the creator of Blue Babies Pink, a Southern Coming Out Story in 44 Episodes.
B.T. is a consultant, writer, and speaker living in Atlanta's historic Cabbagetown neighborhood. He was previously a vice president for Booster, an Atlanta fundraising company, where he helped the organization raise $150 million for elementary schools.
B.T. is passionate about storytelling, leadership, good design, Seth Godin, SEC football, Chick-fil-A, Taylor Swift, archaeology, European Travel and CS Lewis.
To learn more about B.T., visit his personal site at btharman.com.