|ALEX SANCHEZ INTERVIEW - My so-gay
Alex Sanchez focuses on
love, angst and acceptance among gay teenagers
When you’re a teenager, most every moment is drama. Multiply
that drama by 10 if you happen to be gay. These are tough years,
but also some of the most exciting. Though the act of being out
in school might have been unheard of three decades ago (save a
mere few brave, alternative souls), it is becoming a much larger
movement in the new millennium.
Gay-straight alliances have popped up in many schools, and boys
are walking hand-in-hand to the prom (though maybe not in Laramie,
Wyo.). Yet many young ones still find a deep chasm between them
and their peers as they realize their gay identity. And homophobia
within these environments has certainly not been eradicated.
In his debut novel Rainbow Boys, author Alex Sanchez explores
the tricky period of high school sexual discovery through three
budding gay teens. Sure, a few years have passed since Sanchez’
high school days, but he still feels very much connected to the
young struggle for acceptance.
“When I started writing the novel, I was going through some
of my own coming out issues,” Sanchez says. “In dealing
with them, it took me back to my adolescence and some unresolved
issues from that period. So you know the whole idea of an inner
child. I had this very loud and vocal inner teenager that said,
‘OK, you’re finally giving me the time to talk, now.’”
Sanchez’ inner teenager manifests itself through “rainbow
boys” Jason, Kyle and Nelson. Each of them is at different
stages of understanding his gay identity — from the sexually
confused basketball jock mindset of Jason, to the flamboyant yet
highly sensitive personality of Nelson. Kyle stands as a happy
medium between the two, showing signs of insecurity, but also
building more courage and self-respect.
In addition to their sexuality trials, the boys try to work out
their feelings for one another. Nelson has a crush on his best
friend Kyle who has a crush on Jason. Angst ensues, but Sanchez
handles the material intelligently and creates an engaging story
for the questioning teen, as well as for many young adults. Through
the course of the novel, all three of the boys make a journey
out of the closet. Sanchez speaks of the importance of those decisions.
“Gay youth today are my heroes,” he says. “So
many of them are so willing to stand up for themselves and take
risks, and I recognize the courage that takes.”
“I didn’t intentionally map out the coming out scenarios
for these characters, that’s just where they ended up. A
fundamental part of our developmental process as gays and lesbians
is accepting who we are. And part of that acceptance is working
through whatever shame we have about it and being willing to speak
out,” he continues.
As a Latino writer, Sanchez brings a lesser-heard voice to the
world of gay literature. He includes a Latino character as one
of the leads (Jason, the jock) but doesn’t make racial issues
part of his central theme in Rainbow Boys. With so many gay novels
providing a dearth of diversity, Sanchez seeks to more greatly
explore these themes in future works.
“So much of the first novel is about how to write a novel.
I was always sensitive to diversity issues. I wanted to have at
least one Latino character and at least one African-American and
one Asian. But then in the writing of it, a lot of things got
changed and things would get dropped and things would get added.
So it’s something that I want to be even more sensitive
and creative about — playing with themes of diversity and
making them more integral in the story.”
One form of content that readers won’t find in Rainbow Boys
is sexual explicitness. However, the characters also aren’t
as chaste as TV’s Will Truman either. Sanchez found it important
to strike a balance between extremes in the way Rainbow Boys’
sex was portrayed.
“After the publisher bought the novel, we were in agreement
that the story had to include the boys having sex,” he says.
“If not, we would have just been contributing to a conspiracy
of silence. What was most important, though, was to focus on the
emotional aspects of the sensuality. That sort of set the parameters
for the scope of its portrayal.”
Although a number of contemporary issues for gay teens are dealt
with in the novel, they aren’t checked off like a grocery
list, but are more an extension of the emotional turning point
of these characters. Sanchez talks about not making his novel
an activist manifesto, but more an honest portrayal of complex
“In the writing process, I never thought ‘OK, we have
to have a scene where they’re doing this or that,’”
he says. “These are the sorts of things that gay and lesbian
kids are dealing with. And it’s a lot more than the typical
adolescent stuff. They have to deal with homophobia, with finding
others like them and with the fear of what might happen to them
if they tell their parents.”
So far, young people are relating to the experience well, and
school librarians are stocking it across the country. For its
subject matter, Rainbow Boys hasn’t had a controversial
response of the Heather Has Two Mommies variety, and Sanchez doesn’t
“What I’ve found is that a lot of school librarians
are really free speech champions,” he says. “Also,
many gay kids hide out in libraries. So librarians know them and
know how important the book is for them.”
Sanchez is excited about the positive buzz his book has received
and has plans to revisit the Rainbow Boys characters in a sequel.
With all of his success within a mixed audience of readers, however,
Sanchez’ primary aim is that the novel will provide a sense
of hope and support for young gay and lesbian people during one
of life’s most crucial periods.
| From the Dallas Voice, February 15, 2002