The Comedic Life of a Queer Ex-Youth Pastor with Steve Hernandez

This week on LaidOPEN Podcast Charna welcomes ex-youth pastor, podcaster, and comedian Steve Hernandez. Steve takes us on a journey through his awakening from working in the church to finding the comedy community and the realization that he’s poly and queer. We also talk about being an artist, connected sober sex, emotionally connected gay sex, machismo in Mexican culture, and finding the humor in it all. Tune in to learn more about Steve and his hilarious stories about life, love, and sexual freedom.

Show Notes

Welcome back to Laid Open podcast. I’m your host Charna Caselle. And today our guest is Steve Hernandez. So I want to say a little bit Steve is someone I’ve really been looking forward to talking with because he is my podcast editor who’s an awesome edgy woman. He is her friend and I am looking forward to the level of transparency and a comedy that’s going to be following given who he is and what he’s about and the work he does in the world.

Actually, I want to say hello. Welcome, Steve. Before I introduce you more,

Ron, so great to be here. I’m stoked that it’s a beautiful day here in Los Angeles for myself. I have coffee, I have water. We’re going to chop things up. We’re going to have a great time right now.

I hopefully you’re wearing a diaper too because the hydration like tire radics out to the left and me to the right me. So, a little bit about Steve. Steve Hernandez is a comedian and writer from Los Angeles. He’s been featured on Comedy Central’s corporate, and was a field correspondent for I love you America was Sarah Silverman. He’s also the host of read the Bible with me with Steve Hernandez, a comedy podcast that secures evangelical Christianity and stand up comedy through the eyes of a former youth minister turned queer bartender. Steve, does that sound like I’m an interesting person?

105% I have to I have to tell you, Nathan Navarro, who is who was also also a youth minister that I interviewed or an ex, now a former youth minister. I sent the little description to him and his response was, wow. Yeah, so what I love is that, you know, you’ve got so many different vantage points in that bio. And, and there’s, there’s so there’s so many entry points that we can no pun intended that we can start from, and I’m wondering if there’s anything in particular, where that where you would like to start? Otherwise, let’s see, let me just give you the little spiel, I’ll give the give you the spiel, and then you could jump in at any point. I’m from like, an abusive, abusive home. My dad was kind of bad, just as bad as his dad was, but you know, it was there. They were together. My folks, I started going to church. It was a church called faith community church when I was seven years old, and it’s in West Covina, California. When I started going there, I really fell in love with everything when I was seven, eight years old, the Bible, all of that stuff. As I grew older in that church, that church became a mega church. So when I went started going there was like 500. By the time I left when I was done ministering there when I was 23, there was 15,000, and that’s in West Covina that’s about 20 miles outside of Los Angeles. After I stopped ministering, I kind of spun out for like six or seven years working in restaurants, drinking a lot having a good time. Party I started doing stand up when I was 32 years old, which is very late to start doing stand up. And 10 or 11 years later, now I’m sober. I stopped drinking three years ago. In the middle of that I got married. I’ve discovered I was polyamorous and queer. And I’m on my second marriage right now to a wonderful comedian slash podcaster as well. All right, there’s that right.

That’s like you pointed me it’s like, I feel like a dreidel. Like you just spun me in a zillion different directions. Because any one of those is is a great starting point. Let me ask you this. When you decided to stop being a youth minister, what was a deciding factor there?

I felt like God wanted me to do that. At the time. I had started drinking a little bit by myself. And I was having sex with my girlfriend. We were an Evangelical, non denominational Christian church. So I felt like sin. It was like sin to me. And also man, I had rushed up so they had brought me up so quickly, and kept like kind of elevating me in the church. And then finally, when my boss left the last year, year and a half, I was running everything and I just I mean I mean, I was just smart enough to know that too. I mean, I should not be doing this. It was also very corporate. I don’t know if you know much about mega churches, but it felt oftentimes wrong to me a lot of the stuff we were doing with money, and even how we were kind of luring the kids in, I was a youth pastor. So a lot of that stuff felt inauthentic to me and felt like, God was not a part of that stuff. So when I did quit, it really was because I wanted to do the right thing. I felt like God wanted me to some of that stuff was wrong. But I also felt like I had to hash out a lot of things. I came from that traumatic childhood. And I mean, then I couldn’t even have known it’s taken me all these years to figure out how much it affected who I am anyway. But that’s when they when I quit, they asked me not to come back for a year. And that’s why I kind of just spun out so much with alcohol and all that kind of stuff. But I did quit for the right reasons, which I don’t regret any of that stuff. I don’t believe in a literal God now, but I call my conscience and that thing that we listen to, I have no problem calling that thing. God. Right, say that I check in with God every day. And then I tried to live my life based on what God tells me to do. Right? There’s a being or anything like that outside of it. But you know, I have no problem calling that that thing. God.

Right, your your inner good, or your inner God. Right. I also think of it that way in terms of intuition, my inner my higher self is is is this deep resource that answers me when I communicate with it?

Yeah, I never you know that that thing never tells me to do anything that’s bad or easy or anything like that.

Right? I mean, so you know, one of the things it’s a funny thing, I actually tend to be drawn to x Christians, like I track them feel like people who they have some kind of connection to faith or spirit, but they’re discerning enough to realize, like to start thinking for themselves and going like, this is what works for me. And this, this over here doesn’t, right,

I just did not believe I love the Bible deeply. I’ve got this new podcast, where I study it, I love it deeply. It helped me to fall in love with the written word. My pastor at the time, the Dr. Jim Reeve, who still kind of leads Faith Church, had a earn PhD from fuller Theological Seminary. So he really taught us like with Greek and all this crazy shit. So I mean, I fell in love with that I fell in love it looking at sentence, figuring out what it meant to what the sentence before it meant. And all of that it’s the same place I go to, to write jokes and stuff now. So I love all of that. But even then, I just knew, there are so many things that didn’t add up to me, you know, Jesus calls God, the perfect father. And I just, I just really had a hard time believing that a perfect father would send anybody to hell forever. I mean, this is like this, something I just always felt like, that doesn’t seem right to me, the older I got. And the more I understood the more like new gay people, the more I knew, like these people, my friends were born this way, why would God want to punish them for that? Right? If at the very, you know, very gracious Christians even say, well, that’s just the thing to carry. And I guess they’ll have to be single. And I just said, God would doesn’t want people to be alone. This makes zero sense to me. So there was always things like that I was never, I never had that kind of guilt with me, I always did this stuff, because of the God I knew inside. And some of those intellectual problems, I kind of put aside when you believe are forced to believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, you always have to like picture a white whiteboard. And the equal sign always has to be the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. And you have to come up with such crazy ideas to make that make sense. And when you finally disconnect from that, and call it what it is, at the very best a group of men trying to understand what God and life is all about and do the best they could with what they had 2000 years ago, it could be you know, at the very worst, you know, these guys could be misogynist, and very bad people we don’t know. But once you let go of that idea, and you let God be who, who he is to you, I mean, the sky’s the limit.

Right? Well, one of the things you said is after that, you know, when they said you can’t come back for a year, and you spun out, you know, there’s a huge loss of community, right, and a sense of belonging when we’re pack animals and we want to belong and so who became your community and who is your community now,

I probably didn’t have a community for a couple of years. And still until I started working in restaurants. I worked at the TGI Fridays, proudly in West Covina also for six years. And then I just, you know, I drank a lot, but those were also that was my tribe. I met a lot of people that I still know now, you know, 1315 years later, and they’re still my friends, but those people became that but that year or two without the tribe was the I mean, like I said, I grew up in that church right I had I was leading a very big youth ministry with, like 50, adult volunteers, my high school group had 300, my college group had 100. And we had a mission and a goal and my whole life was directed on those things, I couldn’t have understood that it was going to affect me so deeply to be so untethered from that thing and that mission to win, you really believe that you’re doing exactly what God’s called you to do. And that that was a calling for me at the time, I never thought I’d get it again. But I did with comedy. But when you’ve just feel like, Oh, I’m doing exactly what I was put on this planet to do. And then to have that thing taken away. I think it probably, you know, I think it took me years to recover.

Well, you know, what you’re also talking about relates to when people go to heal from trauma, and I work somatically, which means working through the body, and your identity, it’s like your physical structure locks your identity in place. And as you start to shift your physical body and your Selma, your belief systems and your sense of who you are also start to shift. And that’s why so many people don’t, you know, decide I’m going to change because change isn’t easy. It’s like your whole sense of being really can fall away. And that’s can be such a scary state to be in. Oh, that’s really interesting. That’s probably why it’s been out for so many years. Yeah.

Well, in self medicating, you know, with drinking makes a lot of sense.

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I should have stopped if I could have, I would have stopped the 10 years ago, eight years ago. But you know, I’ve been sober close to three, I shouldn’t say sober. But I haven’t drank in close to three years. I don’t really do anything else. But I’ll occasionally do psychedelic mushrooms like once a year or something like that. I just, I don’t work a program or anything. But going on three years now. I can’t believe how much like, it feels like I’m coming to life in a way that I’m more present in my body in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever been in my life. And so, yeah, I think I was absolutely 17 years before that, all these years, I have not been prepared to be that I probably hadn’t felt safe, in a way. Yeah, but you know, I’m doing great. I’m in a loving marriage. I love my wife dearly. And, you know, I probably feel more supported and loved than I ever have in my life. So I’m very lucky in that way.

I’m so glad you have that. Okay, I’m really well, you know, and the other thing that you know, you mentioned is you identify as queer. Yeah, and you’re poly. And so that also, I’m curious how that relates, like, there’s so many questions I have how that relates to your marriage, how you navigated that with your wife during the pandemic? Why don’t we start there? And then I want to work my way back to when did you discover or start identifying as queer and how you felt about yourself as a Christian who, you know, when I was when I quit, when I quit the church, I began to like experiment, there actually might have been a time it’s hard to remember exactly, before I quit. But in that time, where I had always kind of fantasized about guys, I think maybe a lot of guys do. I don’t know, I can only speak for myself. But I found on I don’t know, maybe some like one of these newspaper like pornography, things like a sex line where you could like leave voicemails, this is how he did things, when he 20 years ago, leave like voicemails and like guys would like you’d have to pay the money to check the voicemails and this kind of stuff, and you get phone numbers that way. And I remember that I the first time I hooked up with a guy was through one of those things. And it was very jarring but I did that maybe four or five or six times and then I didn’t do it for a while then I would kind of go to porn shops and there would be like these arcades and porn shops where you like pay money and Matt masturbate in there. And then guys come to sometimes walking I would do it kind of like that for I don’t know, like years probably. But not, I can’t say that would happen all the time. And alcohol would be happening around that. So I didn’t really know what to think about this thing. And you know, back then to queer were even 15 years ago, like the idea of what a queer person was, wasn’t really like, widely discussed. You were either gay or you weren’t. And you were even bisexuality for a guy is still like pretty taboo, and a lot of ways. And also, I hadn’t up until back all that time. I was never attracted to men in a romantic way. It was always through sex, like fucking, you know, like that kind of a thing. So I really didn’t know what to do with it for a lot of a lot of the time. When I met my first wife, I was 27 and she was 20. And she was in college and she was experimenting and she was a full on freak she identified as bisexual and she had done a bunch of things. Isn’t everything like that? And I think that kind of allowed me to tell someone about this in a way where I wasn’t ashamed. Yeah. And then since she was bisexual, I was, you know, but also, I was pretty intimidated by her doing all this stuff that I’m still like pretty Christian, like a minister too. I remember the first time she told me that she hooked up with two guys at once. And I was just like, I can’t believe you did this to me before you met me. You know, just persecuting

I was just like, Oh, my God. This is a Yeah, and I really do remember, this is kind of a bit that I used to do. But I really did remember God, like telling me like, Steve, would you love to hook up with two girls? And I was like, Yeah, of course. And then God just saying like, well, then let her what’s the big deal with her hooking up with two guys. And I remember that was the beginning for me of like, kind of exploring all of this stuff. In a way. I never felt guilty about sex or anything. But to start going into these, like these different kinds of lifestyles and opening up, you know, it felt correct to me in a way that none of the other stuff kind of really had I, even as an artist, do you consider yourself an artist?

I do. Yeah. I mean, I as a as a teenager, I made a lot of visual art. I’ve been a video maker, I, you know, I just remodeled my home, which involves like, a lot of aesthetic. Did it at a and I’m wondering if back into sculpture and all all the things I feel like it relates to everything. And I write.

Yeah, I mean, that’s all I’m talking is like, do you perceive yourself as an artist? Yeah. Because, you know, if you are an artist, and almost anything you do comes out as art, I think. But most people aren’t artists, you know, most people value, money and they value just regular structures of that society is set up and all those things. I think this is the first time that through all of the sex stuff, I started to understand that, that maybe I was an artist. And and you know, we started swinging. We tried to have threesomes with people. But I just felt too creepy, like too weird trying to get someone to like have a threesome. I wasn’t ready for her to just like have sex with girls first. And then we discovered swinging. And that was really fun for like a year and a half. And then through swinging, I found out about polyamory. And that’s the first thing I first time I think that I, I was like, Oh, this is the thing that I’ve always didn’t know what to put my finger on that, that it always bothered me that that it was off limits to get to know someone intimately in any way. And I’m not even talking about sex, the older I get and everything to I’m talking about having an open like emotional relationship where, you know, I’m talking about, you know, touching someone’s hand or flirting in a way, or being open to being intimate with somebody that maybe you just met that that night that is truly off limits for most monogamous people. Right. And once I figured that out, I started to call myself Polly and my wife did too at the time. But she was so young, it turned out that, you know, by the time she turned 28, that she wasn’t really any of that stuff that she thought she was I have the firm belief that most people aren’t really done till they’re like 27 or 28. I feel like it’s around that time, when you figure out oh, this is kind of what I’m about. And so we ended up splitting up but from that point on, and even now, even though I’m so busy, I don’t have as much time as I would like to to like maybe devote to dating and all that kind of stuff. But even in times where I’m not seeing anyone else or anything I just identify so much with the philosophy of polyamory, right? That it’s just it’s very important to me.

Yeah. Well, so it sounds like for you. I mean, there’s there’s a distinction between non monogamy and polyamory. And so for you, it’s this piece of not just about having sex with people, but the poly part of like being able to have emotionally connected and intimate connections with other people beyond the person you’re married to.

I can’t even I can’t fathom really having sex with some. I mean, now that I’m sober, it’s over. I’m telling you. It’s terrible. It’s awful. Once you’re sober, you have to only have sex with people that you were genuinely like, you’re connected. Terrible, that’s like nobody.

I say to people I’ve got I’ll be like, on my second date with somebody and I’m like, I have an emotionally psychic vagina. Because pretty much she’s like, Oh, kind of a strict granny and she’s like, I don’t have you know, I don’t feel cherished by you. I don’t feel connected to you. I don’t feel like you’re really present with me. It’s like, you know, no, no sport fucking allowed is.

Yeah, it’s terrible. Yeah, cuz then you just don’t but you know, I’m joking when I say it’s terrible to be Yeah, oftentimes that other kind of sex isn’t fulfilling in any way anyway, and you feel even feel end up feeling used by the other person, even if you’re a guy. So

Right. I wish I think is a really important thing to say and underline because the stereotype is that men always want it and whatever form it takes, it’s, you know, they’re satisfied and happy to have it. But, you know, if it, it’s not emotionally connected, it can feel you can feel more lonely and disconnected afterwards. And it took years for me to figure out that I wasn’t interested in that kind of sex either. Because you as men, we are really taught that that’s just kind of our thing. The way I view dating for so many years is, is like hunting. I think even like when guys said as a joke, I mean, and even I would say it as a joke now, but you’re basically on the hunt, and pursuing women and not that you disregard about how they feel with you. Not nothing like that. But you’re just also this is your job to like, track them down. And to date like that. Not that this is a person with their own dreams and their own sets of beliefs, and boundaries are all that kind of stuff, to not truly view them as equals, I couldn’t have ever told you that I even thought that way really, I know that’s based in you know, coming from an abused home, I remember, my mom never left my dad. And I remember and you know, it’s one of her great regrets to this day. And now that I have understand what she was going through, I understand. She couldn’t have left if she wanted to. She was in such a victim mindset. And she had four kids, she didn’t have anywhere to go all of that stuff. But when I was little, I remember being five and she’ll tell you about this, if you ever meet her, but she various times, she said, Hey, let’s just go Let’s leave him. We don’t need to stay here. And she just didn’t go. And I think looking back that probably somewhere in my kid mind. I just said like, oh, you know, my mom’s stupid, like women are dumb. They don’t like know anything. And so you couple that with Christianity, and it’s great, then I could suddenly that Eve is there to be your helpmate. And you’re on top and you have to lead women every way. And all of that. I think it all lined up so perfectly for me that that’s how I I mean, it was just perfect. It was a perfect recipe for disaster.

Right? Well, it definitely, you know, you have these layers of belief systems that cut and conditioning that come from family that come from what you witness, and kids think and black and white, and they make these decisions and contracts with themselves like, you know, based on what they see. And then you’ve got religion, you’ve got all the things, you know, and how did you. So growing up in that kind of environment, how did that then I know it affected your belief systems. But then once you were in your intimate relationships with your wives, were was it? Did you act out physically the way your father had? Or was that something you were able to?

Oh, no, I’m I’m very fortunate that that that is something that I never did. But I did. I think I was just a regular gross. Like, I was the main character in the movie. And I didn’t like keep my girlfriend or my wife, I didn’t treat their needs and what they wanted. And my ex wife was very bad at communicating to. Yeah, that was perfect for me to like, not have to acknowledge that some of the things I was doing was wrong. Like even then we were at a poly marriage. But I was a regular like gross poly guy. Like all the worst things you hear about it? Yeah, all the you know, I was sneaky. I was trying to convince everybody that poly was for them. Like all just just regular put them put me on a TV show and everyone’s laughing at a polygon. I was all of those things just because that that pattern of dating, dating and seduction was still in my head where I’m on the hunt. I still have this insatiable need to you know, I thought maybe it was just sex and stuff like that at the time. Obviously now in retrospect, it was just to connect and to be intimate with people which I guess looking back, I wasn’t really with my with my ex wife that much either. She was shut down and a lot of ways but yeah, I was I was just a regular I was a bad husband. And I was I was gross in all of those ways that I just described. It wasn’t until I got a divorce. That I understood the way I was being you know, that I no matter what I’ve been through that, that year of divorce is the worst thing, the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life. It was awful. I moved out to Hollywood proper. We had lived in Pasadena. I was just living here. I was doing comedy so but it was just like woof days, you know, just in bed thinking about how I had let this person down thinking about all the ways that I wasn’t a good husband and I couldn’t have known that. I don’t think without that pain. That I’m very fortunate to that I have a lot of great strong women friends that are comedians and that when the meet to movement started, I believe, five years ago, something like that, now that I really started to listen to their story worries. And to understand like it hadn’t occurred to me that women from the moment they leave the house are worried about being sexually assaulted. Like that kind of thing. It never occurred to me, I had never worried about being sexually assaulted in my life. So just hearing stories like this, even from a small fractures of men talking about women’s bodies all the time, things like that, you know, I felt awful about it for a long time. But I also began to change my waist. It’s why I had to quit drinking, I knew that as much as I drank, I would occasionally blackout. And then I would end up hating on somebody and being gross, like there’d be people that I wasn’t attracted to, but I just be part of the problem. And I remember as, as time was going, I remember going to breakfast with my friend Chelsea. And I told her like, I’ve got to stop, because this will happen again. And it’s, I’d be the kind of person I want to become and that I am becoming is in such contradiction to who I am, if I’m blacked out or very drunk, that one of them has to give Wow. And eventually, you know, that that happened, I blacked out, I hit on somebody, a new, younger comic that I was just becoming friends with. And I messaged her the next day, I said, Hey, I’m sorry, if I was weird. And she just said, you know, I’m just really sad to see you, I thought we’re gonna be friends. But you made me feel really gross last night. And I remember that I just was like, I laid in bed. And the next day, I went to a meeting. And that was almost three years ago. But even now, when I get tempted to drink again, or do anything, I, I kind of just hold that experience with me as like an amulet to remember that, if I were to start drinking, again, even if I was good for a while that something like this may happen again. So in some ways, I’m very grateful that I don’t know if I would have been able to stop for myself, just because this is killing myself or damaging myself. But I am grateful that I have this thing now where I can very, I’d be really lying to myself if I said it was okay for me to drink again.

Well, that’s I mean, that’s profound. I kind of I was going to ask this question of like, what what happened in your life that had you stopped drinking? Like, what was the deciding point, and usually people have to hit a certain kind of bottom that affects them. And in this way, it’s your conscience, the you know, the God or the good inside you has persevered, you know, in the face of all the things and that you’re like, No, this is not who I want to be in the fact that the me to movement, and you started taking all the stories around you really take it to heart and have that be the deciding factor and in not wanting to be that guy. That’s, that’s pretty profound.

Yeah, I mean, I’m grateful that it happened. Because, you know, if I would have been born 10 years before, I’d still be just a regular monster, you know, not as bad as some, but still, you know, bad part of the problem. Not that I’m perfect. Now, by any means. You know, I’m still growing all the time. But But I am grateful that I’m living in this moment that I’m able to know these people and to hear these stories and to give it a shot to kind of break this generational thing. Because I do feel like this is something passed down from my dad and his dad before. Sure. Well, and I you know, in case the listeners, they can’t see you, I can see you and I’m making an assumption. You are a Latino man. Mr. Hernandez, yeah. And you know, machismo culture is a real thing. My, my stepdad was Mexican. And there were things that were just acceptable in, in his family that that might not be in another culture, right? The answer, there’s the imprint of that there’s ancestral trauma that has been inherited there, because it doesn’t just affect like the woman that you’re being gross to, but it affects you and how you then feel about yourself. And like you said, shame or

Oh, yeah, I was I mean, that, you know, I can say, I don’t know if I felt if I would have been able to articulate now, but I felt like a monster and I felt out of control. And I had been able to stop for different times before but that last year, this is the one that was the first time I was like, I just I really can’t stop anymore. So I don’t, I don’t know what’s gonna stop me. So, three years later, I’m glad glad to say that knock on wood that this continues on. I was just in Chicago. And if I could get through Chicago without drinking, have you been to Chicago? Yeah, I’m it but that’s my favorites. It’s my favorite city in America. It’s so yeah, there’s beautiful old bars. They’re all around. Everybody’s a drunk. Yeah, it’s the best thing in the world. Absolutely. If I started drinking, I would move to Chicago tomorrow. Nobody would even blink at me. It would be great.

That’d be so awesome. If you move there and then someone’s like, so why don’t you’re like for the beer.

Yeah, I just Yeah, so yeah, everything’s going pretty good. Now we got to the core stuff. It So funny. I started comedy. When I was like when I was 32, like I said, and I wanted to talk about it, but I didn’t know how. And it’s so funny if you could Google it now, but what’s his name? The actor. I can’t believe I’m forgetting. He played bein in the Batman series Tom Hardy Tom Tom Hard, Huskers a Tom Selleck.

You’re not a big Batman trilogy fan.

I do like a hairy chest. So Tom Selleck, I know Tom Hardy, who’s an actor, but he gave this interview where he said, even the headline said this and he said, and I love Tom Harding. He’s, he’s such a manly like, masculine actor. But he said in the headline, I’m an actor. Of course, I’ve had gay sex. He said that. Yeah. And I was just like, I just thought that was like the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. And he was, he’s like, such a cool actor still to this day where he has the respect of everyone. And I was like, man, if he could say that stuff, I was like, I should start talking about it. And so I just started to talk about it more on stage. And it took me a long time to get good at it. Because when straight guys like hear a gay joke, they can’t laugh, or else it means they’re gay. So I run a room called the chatterbox. That’s where I bartend in Covina, my buddy owns that I’ve been there about 13 years, we have a real like, famous show that we’ve been doing for over 10. And it’s working class Mexicans and white people and black people. And so I had to like figure out how to make these guys laugh at my jokes. I live in Hollywood. So people could laugh at that out here. But I that’s like Middle America, it was like, How can I figure out so it took Wow, years to like, say the right words, to put things in such a way. So even straight guys could be like, Oh, okay, well, that’s funny. I can that’s good. So I’m really grateful for that, too. I only I’ve been in love with one guy who passed away who died of suicide, who was it fellow comic, and him and I would hook up like in private, sometimes we do drugs and drink in the weed hookup. But I did end up falling in love with this guy. But he was so chaotic, that when I stopped drinking, we stopped hooking up and then he passed just at the beginning of the pandemic. But I say that to say that I really, you know, I don’t I don’t know what’s going on with all this queer stuff, or, or any of that if I wasn’t an artist or trying to articulate it all the time through my comedy. I think I’d probably just not bring it up really that often. But because I use comedy just to figure out who I am and what I think about things. And so I’m always like struggling with this stuff. And trying to understand where it comes from.

What’s really interesting to me is, you know, the meat to movement, I think has created so much like fear and walking on eggshells for so many men and I love that it created freedom for you.

Well, it’s created the fear for me too. I mean, don’t get me wrong. But yeah, there’s but you know, I hear that and the fact that you stop drinking, and then what you have access to like present sex, knowing what you want, feeling yourself like that. There’s a certain level of freedom that comes with that.

I’m beginning to call that thing freedom, but it’s really bothered me. Because I mean, not drinking and trying to change the way I date, or I mean, there’s, I wish there’s a better word than the term seduce, because that’s not what I’m talking about. But just if I’m approaching someone, you’re from a guy who is trying to convince everyone that you know that they should be poly or that it’s a great thing. I’m now at the place where I understand that it’s not for most people, that that’s not what most people want. And I almost don’t want to bother anyone unless I can really tell they’re open to like queer ways of thinking, I don’t even want to bother them with that. I think there’s some there might be I don’t think that that doesn’t feel healthy to me that it’s very hard for me to even want to ask someone out because it feels like a bother to them.

What doesn’t feel healthy to you?

Which part like not asking someone out that I want to ask out because you’re afraid that they’re going to feel creeped on because they’re okay. Yeah, well, I mean, I think there’s an art to doing it in a certain way. And you’ve had a certain kind of conditioning, right and training. It’s kind of like if you if you dance or if you if you play the guitar and you’re used to holding your wrist in a certain way or you you dance and there’s a certain kind of hitch in your hip or whatever. If you’re not really mindful your body is automatically going to do the thing it knows how to do because it’s done it for 20 years right so you you just have to It’s like sounds like you’re you need to bring more mindfulness and and talk to more women, if those are the people that you’re wanting to ask out and and figure out the way to do it in a way that feels less creepy. Yeah, feels genuine and feels, you know?

Well, I guess that’s all it is. I guess I guess I just have to I mean, you know, it’s also weird because I’m basically figuring out how to date I guess in some ways. sober, right? Yeah. sober. Yeah, at my age in a way that’s like a healthy normal thing where I’m respecting the other person and everything like that. And also I’ve got, you know, my poly stuff I love it. And I’m, I am this way but I would almost rather not be this way sometimes because it it feels like just a pain in the ass sometimes.

Well, it’s a lot more I mean, you know, one relationship, if you’re monogamous, navigating communication with one person and meeting the needs and, you know, of one person is, is a lot on top of like, three jobs, which it sounds like you have. You know, I’m curious how you’ve navigated it with your current wife, especially during the pandemic. How did Polly look, she, you know, I came into it being Polly. So she, she accepted that we were together for one year, we had a big explosive breakup, or we weren’t together then for another year. And then we’ve been together for five years. But I think that that explosiveness came from I don’t think she understood what she was getting into. And I was still being a I was still being a bad kind of poly person with her. And so I think what that ended up looking like was maybe me gaslighting her a lot of times, I think men oftentimes say up front, that they’re, this is what they’re committing to, and this is what they’re they’re going to do. And then they end up sending mixed signals and doing all this weird shit, where she was just confused and had no power in a lot of ways. And so after we came back from that year, I think we were on real healthy footing. And we’re really equals, in a lot of ways. She’s not she doesn’t identify as, as poly, or non monogamous. She said, probably, you know, maybe in 10 years, she would want to explore that kind of thing. But at this point, I mean, she was when we got together, she was 27. She had never had a real relationship. But she dated a bunch of guys, and she had sex with a bunch of guys. So even now, when I tell her like, Oh, I think I’d like to be in love a couple more times in my life. She goes, if I could have one good conversation with a man, I would be blown away. So she’s like that, and she’s good with the bars down here. Yeah.

Yeah, she’s good with it, like 75% of the time. And then sometimes there’s just has to be a lot of aftercare and a lot of like, sit down, like, you know, oh, well, I’m gonna do this thing. And I could see she gets a little deflated. And so when I come back, we just sit down and talk for an hour. And then after the hour, she’s okay. But you know, it was very important to me more, you’re getting married and more you figuring out if we wanted to do that, you know, that she wasn’t just putting up with this thing that she didn’t see it as, you know, some kind of hindrance to her are, you know, I was, I didn’t want it to be like this. I hope this isn’t like an albatross around your neck if we get together. And she assured me she wasn’t we’re together long enough that I believe that’s the case. I dated someone for four months before the pandemic, and then it was about four months into the pandemic. And then those first four months were so scary, it wasn’t like, we could really see each other that often or anything, you know, yeah. Yeah. So it wasn’t that like, crazy of a of a thing, because it was like, we’re not gonna see each other, it’s too dangerous. So I would just FaceTime with the woman like Monday through Friday for like, an hour or two?

Well, it’s, you know, it’s a really tricky thing. I have a lot of clients that are in open relationships, and, you know, you have to when you when you think about even just non sexual contact inside these times, and where you’re like, Well, who have you been? Who have you seen? Who have you had a meal with? Who have you been inside in a room with, let alone inside them? Just so, you know, it’s it’s brought up a lot of fear and a lot of tension for people who previously were navigating. Okay. And then once the pandemic struck, there’s just so much more need for detailed communication in for couples.

Yes, but But like I said, you know, I like connect with so few people I’ve found and that it just hasn’t been that big of an issue. Also, we got it. We got COVID Like a week before locked down, okay. Can be yes. So in a lot of ways, and we’re just like regular sick. We’re very fortunate that it wasn’t severe with us. And so I don’t think her and I ever had the fear that a lot of people had for all these past years now, going into it where we are, because we’re just like, well, we’ve had it. It’s not that big of a deal to us. At that point, yeah, I want to totally change subjects. I’m really curious. You are now sober. And you work as a bartender? Yeah. How’s that going?

I love bartending, it’s very close to pastoring. In a lot of ways. I’ve been there for 13 or 14 years, and my boss is, I’ve known him for so many years, he gives me a lot of autonomy. I’m just really fortunate that these the way I’ve chosen to live, my life is kind of lining up correctly. I stopped drinking when I was 40. And so even now, a few years later, the bar is a pretty young bar. So people are generally 25 to 30. And when I watch them, like drink like that, I really am like, if I started to drink again, it would feel like I’m chasing my youth in a lot of ways. And that seems gross to me. And like not the kind of person that I would want to be. Yeah, so I’m glad that my age and everything, it’s kind of played out like that, where it’s not that hard for me to not drink because I’ve, I’ve made the story in my head that it would be chasing my youth in that. Yeah. And also, Jen, I’m genuinely as happy as I’ve ever been in my life right now. I feel as fulfilled as I’ve ever been in my life, artistically with all my relationships, I could not be doing better. And I’m very aware that I could not be doing many of the things I’m doing. Now, if I was still drinking, right, just in terms of hangovers. And I mean, we were drinking a lot. I was drinking five times a week and being drunk and having fun and doing a show or mic and then go into a bar after an Uber in home. And it was chaotic. And it was a blast. But I just really felt like that time of my life is over. And now I’m being an adult, and I’m very happy being an adult. I quit, but I had a hell of a run. very incredible. So it’s like, well, I’m not gonna be I already got the belt. I’m not gonna get the belt again. So championship belt. I mean,

Yeah, yeah. Like I put the two and two together. Well, I’m, yeah, yeah, it sounds like you’re you’re able to look at it and not long for it. And the fact that you’re able to make a story up in your head, decide like, I don’t want to be that person and have that be convincing enough to allow you to change your behavior, right? To change the drinking, it’s a significant deal. It’s really not that easy for so many people, probably has to do with being a comedian, and an artist and all that stuff, right to match the stories up. So now I have that story about chasing my youth, I have the thing about I will for sure. Be gross to a woman at some point, if I started drinking again, and I’m as happy as I’ve ever saw, you just keep stacking these stories, so that the idea of you know, a one night stand with someone at the bar, I would be cashing in those big coins. It just isn’t worth it anymore.

Right? Right. Well, you know, so I’m a trauma therapist, and I work with a lot of sexual trauma. And a huge percentage, I can’t tell you the exact figure but like, you know, 90% of people who are using drugs and alcohol to self soothe and cope and self medicate, there’s, you know, there’s been different kinds of trauma and a high percentage, there’s been sexual trauma in their history, right. And so for somebody else, it’s not as easy whether it’s drinking drugs, whether it’s food, some, like certain kinds of compulsive behavior, the belief that they’re not good underneath, it can be the thing that it makes it hard to stop. Right? So it’s like this vicious cycle. And somehow, there is this trauma history for you there. But somehow you have a strength. And I’m curious about how much of that actually, as much as the church can be traumatic, like, did it fortify you in a certain way, like being a leader in that way for as many years as you were?

I think so. I like I said, I still have so much love for my experience. There’s a lot wrong with the church. I think it’s very gross in a lot of ways. But I don’t know if I wouldn’t have started going to that church and being in youth group and middle school around like people from like, nice families, and that were an abusive or anything like that. I picked up on what it was to be normal, in a lot of ways where we would go on beach trips, and I traveled through the church and all that stuff. I think it showed me that there was a way out that I didn’t have to be the way my dad was or the family was that I could have something different. And so for that I am grateful. We did read leadership books, I was always a voracious reader. I was reading all my mom’s books on relationships and leadership and emotions and all of that stuff. You know, you bring up eating that’s probably my big thing. Your audience can’t see me. But I am a fat man. I’m a very good looking Fat Man. So you don’t have to feel bad but that’s that’s my I think that’s my thing. I know now that it’s been three years not drinking, and I’ve always like struggled and that’s why I say without drinking, I can tell the story that I don’t want to hurt anyone, the food stuff I’ve come to now and I’m like, I’m getting to the place now three years not drinking, where I’m like, I’ve got to do something about this. Because I almost feel like drinking was a very, very bad habit and that the real thing is this foodstuff that obviously, when I was little, I wanted to change the way I feel. And I would reach for the thing that was most available to me to change the way I felt. Yeah, and so now I don’t, I’m starting to really, really not like the feeling of compulsively doing something. And so I do feel like that’s my next and probably gonna be the my big challenge for the rest of my life. Like, this is the thing that I need to overcome.

I think what you that’s an important distinction, a habit versus an addiction. And even if it’s like a really dysfunctional habit that has all these consequences to it, the fact that you’re able to be like, I didn’t work a program, I just stopped and I can even work around alcohol and not fall off the wagon or have a fight with my wife and not reach for a drink. I reach for, you know, a doughnut or a piece of fried chicken instead. I’m making that up. I don’t know if that is awesome.

Okay, I’ll take both.

Um, you know, I’ve worked with a number of clients who have different challenged relationships with food, you know, using food in different ways. And whether it’s deprivation, like not believing they even deserve the food, or whether it’s numbing out with the food, right? And it’s just such a hard one, because you have to eat, right?

Yes. And I’ve been, you know, the past six months, I’ve been exercising a lot more than I ever have in my life lifting weights and hiking and stuff. And I love that and that does curtail it. It does help that too, because, you know, you mentioned that earlier, but I’ve like changed the I’ve made my body be the kind of person I want to be even before my mind has been that way by exercising and doing all that kind of stuff. But yeah, I mean, you know, I’ll, I’ll see what I have to do. I talked to my wife, I was like, Maybe I should Overeaters Anonymous sounds kind of extreme to me. But I also have got to do something to shake this thing because it really does feel like the oldest thing and the last thing that I need to conquer.

Well, and then, you know, in certain families, like I know, for me, it was my I had an alcoholic grandfather who was really mean, and my grandma would be like, put me a honey, here’s you have some jello. Cookie, you want to repeat flow? Like, Sugar was the way to like, don’t feel your feelings here. Yes, yeah. Yeah.

And my mom struggles with it, too. So yeah, that’s, that’s yes.

Yeah. So I have this like lazy Susan, that I spend and I’m coming back to to sex. How do you define sexual freedom? What is sexual freedom to you, given that you’ve created these relationships very intentionally around certain needs and fulfilling them? And what does sexual freedom looked like to me? Hmm, that’s very interesting question. I do think, you know, if I were to, like, if I were to envision like my ideal setup, and that I would see myself like succeeding in these ways, I would like to have some kind of intimate relationship with a man regularly that that I can overcome whatever that thing is, because that is still a, like I said, I’ve only had one romantic relationship with that. And I do feel lacking if, without having that kind of thing in my life. Even if I’ve, I’ve never gone on a date with a guy. I’ve never gone on a date with a guy and gotten to know him and then have sex because I really liked the guy. I’ve never had anything like that. It’s all been tied up with like chaos and drinking and that kind of thing. I think that’s something I would want. And and you know, I am Paulie I would love to have, I would love to have like a successful like, a relationship besides my wife, I think at the same time, to me, where I feel like they’re all their needs are being met, and that I’m that my needs are being met. So I feel like I’m getting close. And by being sober, it’s allowed me to actually do all of the stuff that I want to do in a healthy way, you know, in polyamory, they call falling in love with someone or that feeling. They call it new relationship energy. It lasts from six, six months to a year and a half. And I recently, I recently had sex with somebody that I had a crush on. We’ve kind of liked each other for six years, but she was in a different city. And we had sex for a couple times for like, a few days it was on a trip. And I was like really starting to like fall in love with her. That way, like my body’s pumping me full full of all the chemicals. Yeah. And then I was just like, well, but you know that I know what my body’s doing. This isn’t real. I’m gonna go home. I’m not gonna move to this other city and you know, just feel the feelings and even when you’re starting, you get a feeling of longing or heartbreak and you start to get sad at This life that’s never going to be that, that that’s okay. This is all just part of the thing. It’s almost like if you take drugs, you’re gonna have a hangover the next day. And I was thinking, dude, if I was drinking right now, there is absolutely no way I would be this clear minded to I would be trying to push something weird to happen, or to make make the thing be a thing that it wasn’t, I was just so happy that I would be like, Oh, you’re gonna feel sad for a couple of days. And that’s okay. It’s completely natural, it’s really great that you got to connect with this person in a way that, you know, if you weren’t if you were monogamous or something, it would have been tainted by cheating, or deception. Or this is just why I’m Poly is that I could connect with this person in the way for a few days. I’m so grateful that I have these few days with the person. And even if you’re sad about it, that’s okay. You had this wonderful few days, and I would not have been that clear minded about that thing if I was drinking.

Right, right. So you know, inside of that sobriety, even though I know it’s like, it’s, it’s a little not so rigid, right? Inside that sobriety, there’s good, a good solid parent, inside you.

Isn’t that isn’t that what being an adult is? I think being an adult is just learning to parent yourself?

Well, this is the thing is right. I mean, it’s you know, and it gets a little like some people don’t like the language of like your inner child or whatever. But you know, you when you grow up in an abusive household, or a neglectful household, you don’t learn how to be nice to yourself, you don’t learn how to take care of yourself, you don’t learn how to guide yourself. And if you’re lucky, you have other adult, you know, other beings, other caretakers or siblings or somebody that shows you some of that are teachers, then you probably got some of that in the church. But you’re doing that you’re able to do that without the alcohol. And that’s a huge deal. Yeah. adulting. But people can be assholes and jerks to themselves and still, like, know how to buy a refrigerator. You know what I mean? Yeah.

Well, I think, you know, it’s so funny. That’s where I think the my food journey is starting. And, yes, I’m starting it. The way I’m starting isn’t like, Oh, I gotta stop. But I do tell myself, be cool. But like, it’s okay. If you have this thing. It’s not the end of the world. This is how this how you’ve learned to cope. And you’re gonna be okay, I do think we are, you know, monkeys are a kind of monkey. And I always say, if you were watching, like a group of monkeys at the zoo, and one monkey just went over and can’t like, was eating bananas, because they were sad. You wouldn’t be like, What a dumb monkey, I can’t believe you, you would just be like, oh, you know that that Poor monkey is just trying to make himself feel better, you wouldn’t. So that’s what I’m trying to be with, like myself with that kind of stuff. And I do think that’s a good first step, before you start, like, you know, really trying to change, I think I’ve needed that. I think I’ve needed food for all of this time. And so now I don’t need it anymore. And so to just break the chains of that stuff, of something that helped me for so long, it’s just not helping me anymore. And that’s okay. That’s the it’s not the end of the world. That’s, it’s a great thing to not need it anymore. But not to beat myself up over it either.

You know, I mean, I’m sure you know what harm reduction is. Right? So for people who may not know, you know, rather than shaming people for being heroin addicts, like there’s a whole movement around handing out clean needles, right? And being like, Okay, so let’s reduce the risk of harm that you can cause to yourself by by changing this up. And I think of that as, like, I apply that to everything with my clients. It’s like, oh, okay, so you’re feeling suicidal than cutting isn’t the end of the world and somebody else might be like, cuttings the issue, it’s like, well, what else can you do to relieve some of that pain or that stress? Or, you know, instead of doing that, and so here you go, it’s like, Oh, so you can you can take a gentle approach to the eating piece? Yeah. How you doing? Great. You’re doing you’re doing great. It’s been it’s like the best time that you know, you’re feeling as is the best that you’ve felt in years. And I keep hearing that. And I’m also curious if you want to say anything else about your, your podcast, how people can reach you where you are on Instagram, all that good stuff.

Yeah. If you’re at all interested in the Bible, or stand up comedy, because that’s, we basically talk about those two things a lot. Check out my podcast, read the Bible with me with Steve Hernandez. It’s really fun. I really dissect the thing, and try to pull out like some of the good messages, or even though what they’re really saying, I try to put a lot of the stuff in historical context as well, because a lot of evangelical Christianity that you see now today, a lot of that is it’s not even in the Bible. I don’t I mean, I mean, the Bible is not perfect. Anyways, you know, there’s a lot of stuff wrong with it. But what Christians claim to believe oftentimes isn’t even in the Bible. So I wanted to go back it’s been enough. It’s been far enough along, where I hadn’t read the Bible for so long, but I grew up with it. And once Black Lives Matter stuff kicked in, you know, a year and a half ago, two years ago, I started going to like Black Lives Matter rallies. And they were led by these strong like powerful black women preachers based in like a like, it’s not what’s it called? Not redemption theology, but something close to that. But it’s basically like, yeah, God wants to set us free. God exists to set us free. I can’t Oh, well.

Oh, God. Oh, God, the word it’s gonna scream in the next session.

Yeah, because do you know what I’m talking about?

I know what you’re talking about. And the word is not coming. Yeah. But I that was the first time I had like, thought about and I like God as someone a truly as love and as someone who wants to set people free. And I was just like, Oh, I was like, I guess I’m not. I guess I’m not done with God yet. And so I’ve been digging back into the Bible. And it’s really fun. The Bible to me is like, I grew up with the Bible. He’s like, uh, you know, he’s like an uncle who was like, my favorite uncle and then he got a DUI and committed manslaughter and went to prison. And now he’s back. And you know, he’s got he’s got issues, but I still I know this guy, and I love this guy in a lot of ways. So it’s pretty crazy. If you like comedy, you’ll like the podcast. If you like comedy, and the Bible, you’ll like the podcast, because I do talk about crazy shit too. I talk about all the sex stuff and everything. It’s me basically, and the Bible. And then my producer drought Oh, Allah crop but we interview guests we have like big people on it’s super fun. Check that out. You can find me at Big Hearn on Twitter, and hernia on Instagram. And you can see my beautiful wife. She’s featured heavily on my Instagram. I think it’s one of the reasons why I don’t get as many dates as I can. But I can’t help but she beautiful. I just Yeah, I love taking pictures of her. But check me out there. Thank you so much for having me on.

Thank you so much for being here. It’s great to see how far Steve has come in the context of self love. Looking for more than sacks and wanting to experience a deeper connection with himself and others. Valentine’s day was yesterday. While you never need a holiday to remind you to do this, here’s hoping you loved yourself up in a way that feels good to you. We are so trained by culture to uphold romantic connection above any other definitely above our connection to ourselves. My hope is that this podcast helps you to begin to form or deepen your relationship to your own needs in your own body. That said, maybe yesterday you extended sweetness to a loved one. Was that impulse genuine? How did you know what you wanted to do? What emotions and sensations did you feel in your body that directed your choice? Was it spacious and expansive? Or did it feel tight in your chest? Was your body saying yes, with unbridled enthusiasm or was it reluctant and cautious? What helps you feel more connected to yourself? Is it meditation? walking outside exercise? Soaking in warm water journaling? Paying attention to your breath masturbation? Or even cuddling with someone? or what have you used to numb yourself? Video games, drugs and alcohol shopping, working over eating or depriving yourself of food? Disconnected sex binging on Netflix, religion or thoughts that repeatedly minimize and deny that you’re affected by a situation or a person. Numbness can feel blank, gray empty, could feel heavy or may feel cold. When you ask yourself, what do I feel my body you may automatically say, I don’t know or nothing. See if you can keep your focus on it and not need an answer right away. And notice if there’s the same quality of numbness in your whole body, or if it varies in different areas, are there shades of gray? If you put your hand on a part of your body do you feel it more or less? Being connected doesn’t always mean everything feels fantastic? But it does mean you can feel yourself. You can identify what emotions and moods are bubbling up. They can be layered. There could be a feeling of relief as well as fear and gratitude. It can feel warm or cold. There could be a feeling of nice heavy grounded legs, that feels solid or a heavy heart filled with sorrow. Whatever you are experiencing Ask yourself if your whole body feels this way. Can you sense and find a different part of your body that feels the opposite way? Maybe anxiety feels all consuming. Does any part of you feel good or strong? Can you imagine a moment in time that you felt calm and recall what that felt like? So maybe right now your belly is in knots, but your feet are more relaxed. See if you can feel both your feet and your belly. Now you’re feeling anxious and relaxed. Both can coexist. 

Remind yourself of this. There is no particular way you have to feel. And there are gradations and sensation. Remember that energy follows attention. The more you put your attention on your body, the more you feel yourself and know what you want and don’t want in all aspects of your life, not just around sex. 

This has been laid open podcast with your host Charna Caselle. We are coming to a close for now but we will be back next week. If this show feels beneficial, we’d love if you would please rate and review and share it with your friends so others can find us. If you have additional questions around sex and trauma, you can submit them at charnacaselle.com Follow me at Laid Open Podcast on Instagram and Facebook and read more about my work at passionatelife.org Until next time, love and more love.

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© 2022 By Charna Cassell, LMFT. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. MFC 51238.

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