A reminder that Richard Blanco's much-buzzed essay about growing up with a homophobic grandmother is a reprint from David Groff and Jim Elledge's new anthology Who's Yer Daddy?: Gay Writers Celebrate Their Mentors and Forerunners [Kindle].
From his earliest childhood, Blanco's grandmother blasts him with antigay slaps teaching him everything about him is wrong:
"Better to having a granddaughter who's a whore than a grandson who is un pato faggot like you. Understand?"
"I told your mother not to get you those crayons for Christmas. You should be playing outside like un hombre, not coloring in your girly books like dat maricón Juan Alberto."
"Hay Santo, you sound like una niña on the phone. When is your voice going to change?"
"Stop clacking your sandals and jiggling like a sissy. Straighten up por Dios--we're in public."
"I no taking you to dat Enrique's house neber again. He's a Mamacita's boy. I don't want you playing with him. I don't care what you say, those GI Joes he has are dolls. Do you want to play with dolls; is dat what you want señorita?"
Beyond learning that all his natural instincts are incorrect, the young Blanco took this as a lesson from her constant attacks
"I came to believe that all love was conditional like my grandmother's. Consequently, I shut down my emotional communication with others, because in my mind no one could be trusted. I became afraid to love, because no one could truly love a faggot like me: not my father or mother, not my brother--or my lovers."
The other consequence is that it shaped him as a writer:
"...I tell him about my grandmother and the coping mechanisms I developed; how they naturally led me to writing; mechanisms that became part of my very creative process. Becoming withdrawn and introverted, I grew to become an observer of the world, instead of a participant. In order to survive emotionally I learned to read my environment very carefully and then craft appropriate responses that would (hopefully) prevent abuse and ridicule from my grandmother. I explain to my husband-to-be that I am still that quiet, repressed boy whenever I am in a room full of people, trying to be as invisible as possible, but taking in every detail, sensory as well as emotional, that will eventually surface in a poem."
"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."
With Blancomania rampant, you can bet New York publishers won't rest until he writes a memoir. For now, there's the full essay and the anthology. Other writers celebrate more positive mentors like Whitman, Wilde, Gide, Baldwin, O’Hara, Rechy, Forster, Gunn, Ginsberg, Botticelli, Janet Frame, Shirley Jackson, Bette Midler and Captain Kirk. Contributors include Mark Doty, Dale Peck, Paul Monette, Kenny Fries, Tim Miller, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Aaron Hamburger, Justin Chin, and Michael Klein.