"Better to having a granddaughter who's a whore than a grandson who is un pato faggot like you. Understand?" she says with scorn in her voice.
I nod my head yes, but I don't understand: I don't know what a faggot means, really; don't even know about sex yet. All I know is she's talking about me, me; and whatever I am, is bad, very bad. Twenty-something years later, I sit in my therapist's office, telling him that same story. With his guidance through the months that follow, I discover the extent of my grandmother's verbal and psychological abuse, which I had swept under my subconscious rug.
Through the years and to this day I continue unraveling how that abuse affected my personality, my relationships, and my writing. I write, not in the light of Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, or Elizabeth Bishop, but in the shadow of my grandmother—a homophobic woman with only a sixth-grade education—who has exerted (and still exerts) the most influence on my development as a writer.
That might sound mawkish or self-important to someone who wasn't raised in a homophobic environment while being homo, but he's not exaggerating. Contorting yourself into what your family wants you to be, a self you know is false, warps and isolates a person. Blanco writes, "In order to survive emotionally I learned to read my environment very carefully and then craft appropriate responses that would (hopefully) prevent abuse." And there's very little you can do to defend yourself except build a life without the abusers—your family, the people you're supposed to trust more than anyone—and then wait for them to change their minds or die.
The people who can't do that, who can't imagine life without their family, are the ones who end up killing themselves. At age 26, Blanco visits Cuba for the first time and finds out that his cousin, a boy named Gilberto, whom he never met, "set himself on fire at eight years old, and died."