On Rigoberto González

Earlier this winter I had the opportunity to write an introduction for one of my favorite writers, Rigoberto González. LAMBDA Literary is publishing an e-book featuring important gay writers and they asked certain fellows to write an introduction for one of the writers appearing in the book. They chose me to write about Rigoberto, and below is what will be published in a few weeks.

 

ON RIGOBERTO GONZÁLEZ
C. Adán Cabrera

Sometimes I think that the only thing my father and I have in common is our first name, Carlos. Whereas he, in my grandfather’s own words, grew up to bring honor to our common name by marrying a beautiful salvadoreña, adding another generation to the Cabrera family tree, sacrificing his youth to toil as the provider, thereby proving himself a real man – I shamed him. Shamed him so much that he reminded me, shoving me into my room’s cold stucco wall the night I came out to him, that the secret I’d held on to would die with me lest I wanted to bring ruin to the whole family. Shamed him so much that he said he regretted naming me after him, lest anyone confuse him for a maricón, too. My being gay shamed him so much that, for a year after that night, he didn’t speak a word to me, much less look in my direction, without a snarl of disdain.

Ten years have passed since that midsummer night when I was nineteen, when my father’s heavy work boots trudging down the hall made me tremble with fear. In that decade my father has gone from condemning me to a life of AIDS and an afterlife with Satan, to skirting any discussion whatsoever of my personal life, no matter the boyfriends he’s met or the degrees I’ve earned, or the few accomplishments I’ve enjoyed.

Despite this, I’d always thought the relationship I have with my father wasn’t worth writing about. Every Latino gay man I know has the same story; same emotionally-distant father rejecting of all things gay; same incarnation of rage, repression, regret. What could be so interesting about my own story? My father and I don’t have an outwardly turbulent relationship anymore, regardless of how emotionally-dysfunctional it might be. We’re polite to each other and even manage to share a good carne asada every now and then. What good would one more story about a father’s troubled relationship with his gay son do?

At least that is what I used to think before I read Rigoberto González’s Butterfly Boy. Reading about González’s own troubled relationship with his father and about the complex intersection of race, language, and culture in an immigrant family inspired in me, in a way unlike anything I’d experienced before or since, an irrepressible need to reflect on my life. In Butterfly Boy I saw flashes of my own experience reflected back to me: I, too, was the “mariposa” son of Latino immigrants to Southern California and held under the macho thumb of our culture and society. I also travelled with my father to our ancestral home (in my case, El Salvador), he on vacation and I on an unwitting search for self. I also vacillated between feelings of rage and love, with respect to him. I, too, experimented with sex and drugs in an unconscious attempt to beat back the pain that kept bubbling up no matter how hard I tried.

Butterfly Boy was like having my own story told back to me. Moved to the brink of tears, I saw my own father on the page and slowly, I began to understand the influence that he had had on my life, even if I was reluctant to admit it. Every man I’d met but never cared for, every boyfriend I’d had but never loved, every unsuccessful relationship whose demise I’d chalked up to fate and the futility of love, had its roots in the man whose name I shared. Butterfly Boy was the first book to give me the emotional and literary example I so sorely needed to be able to understand and articulate the uncomfortable truth that I believe haunts so many of my gay Latino brothers: the undeniable impact of an unhealthy relationship with our fathers. Never before had I read a book that had so accurately represented my life, but more importantly, showed me that it was possible to make art of my circumstances.

Rigoberto González has given me the courage and the insight I needed to begin to explore the relationship with my dad. He has inspired me to write about what it means to be a man and to begin to understand the complex web of identity that I’ve woven for myself all these years. Butterfly Boy showed me that words could reach places I thought were as distant and unnavigable as the heart of a nebula; it has helped me write about what I thought should always remain a secret. Of all the books I’ve read, and of all the writers whose experiences I’d felt connected to, he’s been the only one to leave an honest, indelible mark on my development as a writer and as a gay man. Through his writing I’ve learned to honor my own experience and to put it unflinchingly on the page. Rigoberto González has shown me that it is possible to make art out of something that so many spend their lives trying to forget. He’s shown me through his example that I, too, am a mariposa. Beautiful, and capable of anything, even flight, despite heavy wings.

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