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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco on the Homophobic Abuse That Led Him to Writing

Posted by on Tue, Jan 22, 2013 at 12:00 PM

He's six or seven years old and his grandmother is berating him.

"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."

You ought to read the whole thing.

And then you ought to go make an It Gets Better video, for all those kids out there still being tortured by grandma.


Comments (12) RSS

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Is my Latino culture the most homophobic of all? Possibly not, but it"s hard to see the forest for sizable tree of abuse planted in my life, with "traditions" and other roots, some of them religious, deep and old as history itself, and which when "watered" as it frequently is, not the least by the persistence of memory, as though I needed memory when my raza wallows in the dubious benefits of a poisonous patriarchy, and this twisted but quite robust tree's perennial blooms come back to remind and to horrify. The summer before kindergarten, at all of 5 years and one month of age, I was the recipient of my (now to me) obvious closeted nineteen year old uncle's frequent and on-going emotional abuse. He was careful, for a while, to keep it between him and me, but abusers unless stopped escalate and vary the experience, and he surely did, encouraging my grandparents, aunts and uncles to join him. Some of them did. As usual the abuse says more about the abuser: what was the problem?...I wasn't "manly enough" for Uncle Joe. Bright, bi-lingual,compassionate and thoughtful, I got his message right away, and was thereafter left wondering when my Uncle Joe was coming back, and this dog-like creature who barked constantly at me to "go away', would go away. Taught to respect my elders, I felt guilt about equating Joe with a dog. Finally, seven months later I was moved out of "his" bedroom, but he may have left to work elsewhere. The abuse became derision for the rest of his life, about my "manliness": ("Why doesn't your chest stick out more, Tony?") When I was forty-six he was killed in a car accident, leaving me some days sad, and other days not so much, about his demise-now more guilt. My blog is xlowrider times pancho villa.
Posted by antaugniaux on September 8, 2013 at 2:04 PM · Report this
Rich Jensen 12
I liked that one!
Posted by Rich Jensen on January 24, 2013 at 8:49 PM · Report this
pugetopolis 11
—for Richard Blanco

“Better to have a granddaughter
who’s a whore than a grandson
who is un pato faggot like you”
—Richard Blanco, “Making a Man
Out of Me,” Who’s Yer Daddy?

Richard Blanco’s poem—
That he read that cold January
Day of the Inauguration
Caught America by surprise

Such a handsome Latino—
Born in Miami after Castro’s
Cuban Revolution and now
All these years later

But do things get better—
Does the abuse & bullying
Ever stop for our young gays
Exiling them to the Closet?

Did our Stonewall Riots—
And our Gay Revolution
Ever trickle down to the
Young exiles of today?

So much homophobia—
Intergenerational warfare
Like Blanco’s prejudicial
Cuban grandmother

Guilting the young poet—
For being effeminate and
Gay back when he was
Just seven years old

Philip Larkin knew it—
In his “This Be The Verse”
How they fuck you up, your
Parents and your peer group

They mean to, they want to—
They fill you with the faults
They had and add some extra
Especially just for you

Perhaps the only solution—
Letting the older generation
Finally kick the fucking bucket
Let Whitman back in town.

Posted by pugetopolis http:// on January 24, 2013 at 8:01 AM · Report this
thene 10
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.

This is so familiar. I think I was about 8 years old when I found out that a lesbian was a bad thing and that other people said I was one, and it was years before I knew what the word meant, and more years before I realised it wasn't a bad thing and I (kinda) was one. We hear our words as playground insults years before we find them inside ourselves.
Posted by thene on January 24, 2013 at 12:24 AM · Report this
pugetopolis 9
This Be Verse
by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.”
― Philip Larkin

Posted by pugetopolis http:// on January 23, 2013 at 1:39 PM · Report this
8 teenage strategy was to simply to wait it out-wait until I left home. And then move 3,000 miles away to Seattle. Sometimes, that's all you can do!
Posted by pat L on January 22, 2013 at 8:52 PM · Report this
Rich Jensen 7
I did not care for the poem Mr. Blanco read at the inauguration. No surprise, no bite, a pretty lazy song.
Posted by Rich Jensen on January 22, 2013 at 6:45 PM · Report this
Agreed. Both pieces are wonderful.
Posted by M. Wells on January 22, 2013 at 6:20 PM · Report this
TVDinner 5
@2: That was lovely. Thank you.
Posted by TVDinner http:// on January 22, 2013 at 4:46 PM · Report this
Jesus, no one can fuck you up worse than your own family.
Posted by SRJ on January 22, 2013 at 1:05 PM · Report this
@1, along those lines, of the static we carry around at different times in our lives, Guy Branum has a pretty magnificent piece just up on HuffPo tying together Manti and Jodie and all of us. Seems really apropos to Blanco and IGBP too.…
Posted by gloomy gus on January 22, 2013 at 12:52 PM · Report this
TVDinner 1
Blanco is so right. It never leaves you. And the thing about growing up in an environment where the place you're supposed to be safe never is is it marks you differently at different points in your life. You'll be marching along and then - boom - you've stepped on a land mine and you're picking up the shrapnel again.

I think of it as having static in your brain. We can never know how much static is interfering with other people's lives, either, so as I've grown older I've tried to exercise more compassion toward people who seem even more dysfunctional than I am.

One question maybe others can speak to: does it get better when the abuser dies?
Posted by TVDinner http:// on January 22, 2013 at 12:13 PM · Report this

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