Meet RJ Holguin, the owner of My 12 Step Store, a recovery-themed gift shop and bookstore located at 8730 Santa Monica Boulevard, in West Hollywood.
RJ is widely considered to be one of the hardest working people in the sobriety community, not above working the register, helping customers select gifts for their loved ones, or packing items he ships out to customers around the world.
But what people may not realize is that his work is tireless advocacy through marketing. His public relations effort has a dual purpose, messaging that many believe helps save lives and which works to promote the store.
His efforts not only make sure the store survives in a city where retail stores come and go, it has given shelter to many people in recovery.
Martin D. says, “before I was sober I walked into My 12 Step store and met RJ. That was my first step and I left with a card I still have on my refrigerator 5-years later. It says, ‘keep coming back,’ and as strange as it sounds, that card saves my life every day.”
If sobriety is a hard sell….well, imagine what it has taken to keep the doors open.
But that’s RJ’s way of being grateful and giving back to a community he loves. My 12 Step Store sponsors numerous fundraisers, donating gift items to a variety of nonprofits. Holguin, who is 32 years sober, says he is happy to pay it forward.
He has shepherded the one-stop shop and a go-to online recovery-themed gifting brand into a community with 12-step friends around the world.
My 12 Step Store is now celebrating 15 years in business, fortuitously during the September National Recovery Month celebrations.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I was in college. I was 20-something years old. My parents were the hardest to tell. I actually never told them. Someone else did. They came to my West Hollywood apartment to have a conversation about it and then two months later they went with me to the LA Pride parade. They’ve always been very supportive.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
I don’t know that I have an LGBT hero, but I can say that I resonated with Elton John. He ended up in recovery and I grew up with his music. I recall one Halloween I made in Elton John costume for my father to wear to a costume party and he played the part so well and captured all of his flamboyance, so I always associate that moment to Elton John. She’s not LGBT, but I would honestly have to say Madonna. She set the tone for many things.
What’s Los Angeles’ best nightspot, past or present?
I was 22 or 23 and Rage opened. I was the 50th person in line, so I was the 50th person to open Rage.
Describe your dream wedding.
It’s a very white wedding. Lots of freedom. Not contrived. Lots of orchids and flowers. I have this vision of walking down a very long, long cloudy walkway.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
First and foremost will definitely be 12-step recovery. The second would be the political climate.
What historical outcome would you change?
Obviously, the most recent election for the presidency.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
I was always a fan of JFK Jr. When he died, I bought a ticket to New York, because I really wanted to be a part of that. I recall thinking that a part of an era had just died.
On what do you insist?
My way or the highway. I laugh, because my way doesn’t always happen.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
I posted an amazing My 12 Step Store video that captures the past 15 years of love and service. There is a collection of many inspirational posts, a showcase of the many gifts that we offer and photos of the friends that we’ve made along the way, the events and parties that we’ve thrown, and some of the celebrities that have supported us throughout this 15-year journey.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
RJ Holguin: Be For Now – It’s a book with two meanings. My life before now and being here for the now.
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
There was a time when I prayed for something like that. It’s taken 57 years to be comfortable in the skin I am in now and I don’t know that I would bother changing anything.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I believe in spirits. I believe our spirit lives on.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Leaders need to recognize that the needs of the past three generations dating back to Stonewall, are not necessarily the same needs what the Millennials, or the current generation needs.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
I literally walked across hot coals. It was during a life coaching series. I did it for myself, for my own life, to become a better person.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
We sell many amazing recovery medallions in hundreds of colors and styles. Some of them are sparkly and pink and sometimes when people are shopping for a gay friend they assume that they would like it because it’s glittery and pink.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
Madonna’s “Truth or Dare” documentary, because she brought gay people to the big screen. The other one is the movie “Philadelphia” with Tom Hanks. I cried.
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Saying you’re sorry. Especially when you don’t mean you’re sorry and it comes off like you’re not really sorry. I’d rather have honesty.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
Reaching 33 years of recovery. Not picking up and using drugs and alcohol is my prize.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
Everything I know now, but definitely wish I’d used sun block.
Why Los Angeles?
It was either Los Angeles or New York and I didn’t get to New York first.