In 2017, Emerson Whitney was divorcing the woman they’d been with for ten years–a dominatrix they called Daddy. Living in a tent in the backyard of their marital home, Emerson was startled to realize they didn’t know what it meant to be an adult. “We often look to our gender roles as a sort of map for aging,” they write. “I wanted to know what the process looked like without that: not man-ness, not-woman-ness.” Dizzied by this realization, they turned to an activity steeped in stereotypical masculinity: storm chasing.
Daddy Boy follows Emerson as they pack into a van with a rag-tag group of storm chasers and drive up and down tornado ally–from Texas to North Dakota–staying in motels and eating at gas stations and hunting down storms like so many white whales.
In heading with them to Texas, we return, too, to the only site of adulthood Emerson has ever known: their childhood. Interspersed throughout this trip are memories of dad–both Emerson’s stepdad, Hank, present and unflinching and extremely Texan; and their biological dad, who they hardly knew. With his cowboy hats and random girlfriends, he always seemed so sweet and lost.
Through these childhood vignettes, coupled with queer theory and weeks spent reading the clouds like oracles, wanting nothing more than to drive straight into the eye of a storm, Emerson frames these probing questions of manhood against the dusty, loaded background of the American West.