“My Three Dads”
From Who’s Yer Daddy: Gay Writers Celebrate Their Mentors and Forerunners
I took writing workshops in college, although I decided early on I would not major in English. In one of those early workshops, my teacher brought in Frank O’Hara’s poem “The Day Lady Died” as a means of getting us to write out of the every day, the mundane, but to focus on meaningful details.
The poem grabbed me by the collar.
It wasn’t the content of the poem itself, I think now, that spoke to me. Before I even knew O’Hara was gay, I knew that he was gay. I knew it in the approach to subject, in the monumental impact of this loss described in the poem, the inextricability of the camp with the sincere.
I understood the poem.
I understood why it was written.
It resonated in me the way other poems we read in that class did not. Some forms of language to me felt closed. The poems were wall-like structures I could neither see through nor over. Or they were boring—no investment in any kind of urgency. I struggled to contend with them. Most of them I rejected. But the O’Hara piece—that was a poem for me.
A few weeks later, combing through a local used bookstore for poetry books to read and having absolutely no idea what to look for, I found a new-looking copy of Frank O’Hara’s collected poems. I took it home, dove in, and began a long investigation into the poet whose voice would continue to speak to me long after I’d exhausted available material to read.
I believe we should all perceive our work as a series of manifestoes.
I enrolled at the same high school my older brothers attended years before, sat in the same classrooms they sat in, took instruction from many of the same teachers. My English teacher that first year was Ms. Oliver, who was known by her favorite students simply as Oliver. She opted to put a special focus on creative writing in our class; we were required to respond to writing prompts in neat little journals she handed out, and we all had to do a researched report on a poet while also writing our own poems.
My poems that year were tragic.
Both in the sense that they were awful, and in the sense that it was very clear to Oliver that I was beginning to struggle with my sexual orientation. And that I was losing.
The poems seem to tumble out of him.
It was also in that small rural high school that I first encountered the films of Pedro Almodóvar. One year, my Spanish teacher thought it would be a good pedagogical decision to show Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown to a group of students from farming and/or fundamentally religious families. While the decision may seem questionable in retrospect, at the time I was absorbed.
I was already a “movie” person. My walls decorated with neatly framed movie posters. I worked for a time at the local video store. I rented constantly, widely, as variously as I could from the store’s tiny library and, when I outgrew it, began driving to the nearest Blockbuster 20 minutes away.
Like O’Hara, Almodóvar has never been afraid to rifle through culture’s trash can to see what he can find in there. Like O’Hara, he’s unafraid to place society’s rejects alongside society’s treasures, as he does in All About My Mother, where the a staging of A Streetcar Named Desire might star a chain-smoking lesbian and her heroin-addicted lover, or where a male-to-female transsexual truck driver might impregnate a nun.
And yet, the result of these juxtapositions, to me, is not trash, but treasure.