Before 2000, the number of YA novels with LGBT main characters published each year was almost always (with a few exceptions) fewer than 10. But in the early 2000s, the number of LGBT YA novels increased significantly, bringing the LGBT YA novel into new territory. In these books, including David Levithan's Boy Meets Boy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), Brent Hartinger's Geography Club (HarperCollins, 2003), and Julie Anne Peters's Keeping You a Secret (Little, Brown, 2003), happy endings were definitely possible.
Among the most prolific of the group of authors who began to write LGBT YA in the early 2000s is Alex Sanchez, whose first novel, Rainbow Boys (Simon & Schuster, 2001), told the story of three boys coming of age and falling in love — with each other.
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books raved about the book, stating: "the author creates believably nuanced portrayals, offering a rare look at not just one or two, but three gay characters interacting with each other and acting within a larger community of gay and straight characters. When a work of fiction embodies such accuracy and emotional complexity, there is but one word to describe it: true." Rainbow Boys went on to have two sequels, Rainbow High (2003) and Rainbow Road(2005).
Sanchez has gone on to write even more novels about LGBT youth, including the Lambda Award-winning So Hard To Say (Simon & Schuster, 2004) and, most recently, Boyfriends With Girlsfriends (Simon & Schuster, 2011), which focuses on several teens coming to terms with bisexuality.
I invited Alex Sanchez to answer a few questions about his career as a novelist and his experiences with writing LGBT-focused YA fiction.
Malinda Lo: Your first novel, Rainbow Boys, was published in 2001, at the very beginning of what I see as the blossoming of LGBT YA novels. While LGBT YA novels had been published before then, it wasn't until the early 2000s that the numbers began to rise, and your books were definitely part of that growth. What was your publication process for Rainbow Boys like? Did you experience any homophobia-based rejections of your work during the submission process?
Alex Sanchez: My wonderful agent, Miriam Altshuler, believed in the manuscript from the get-go. She said she wanted to see it published so her kids could read it when they grew to be teens. But when she sent it to publishers, they weren’t sure what to do with a manuscript that portrayed LGBT teens in a positive light. It was a subtle homophobia.
I lived through about a year of disheartening rejections, and was about to lose hope when Simon & Schuster bought the manuscript. They understood the concept and loved the story right away. But they were concerned if there would be enough market for the book, given the minority of LGBT teens. None of us foresaw what has turned out to be my books’ biggest audience: straight teenage girls! They’re a huge readership, many with LGBT friends, relatives or parents whom they care about. And they want to learn more about what it’s like to be LGBT.
ML: I think that "subtle homophobia," as you mentioned, is often the hardest to deal with. What advice would you give to writers who encounter that on their publication journey?
AS: What makes covert prejudice so hard to confront is its very subtlety. One way writers can address subtle biases is to do what we do best: WRITE stories that reveal how covert prejudices work. Such themes will be particularly valuable in YA stories, as it becomes less acceptable to openly bash LGBT young people. Many kids who in the past may have been openly harassed, bullied, and ostracized will undoubtedly experience more covert prejudice as our society incrementally moves toward true equality. We need to tell those stories.
ML: You've continued to write YA novels (and one middle grade) about LGBT characters ever since. Why do you think you're moved to write about LGBT characters?
AS: Being a teen was a hard, lonely, and confusing time for me, as it is for many people. And in my case, a lot of that struggle revolved around my sexuality and sexual orientation. Since I wasn’t able to voice and sort out that confusion at the time, I think all those conflicting feelings got frozen up inside. They’ve thawed in large part through my writing. As I’ve expressed my own struggles, my stories have helped others to understand their own experiences.
ML: How do you think the publishing business has changed, with regard to LGBT YA, since you first published Rainbow Boys?
AS: Book sales have now proven there is a market for LGBT YA. Gay and lesbian characters have entered mainstream books in the same way they’ve become commonplace in movies and television shows. And the success of gay and lesbian-themed books has opened the door for transgender characters and stories.
ML: Your most recent novel, Boyfriends With Girlfriends, was about bisexuality, which is pretty rare in YA. What was your inspiration for that novel?
AS: The inspiration sprang from emails I received from teens like this one:
I’m attracted to both girls and boys. But I was told that bisexuality was the worst thing to be, by gay friends and straight friends. Even though I don't like girls and boys 50/50, there are some girls I find so sexy that I just want to grab and kiss them, but then there are boys that are so sexy and I want to grab and kiss them too. I have nobody to talk to about this, and I feel all alone. I'm afraid that if I come out as bi, people will not take me seriously, they will just think it’s a stupid phase and that I will grow out of it, even though I don't want to grow out of it. What should I do?
ML: What's next for you?
AS: I’m happily at work on a new manuscript, the details of which are shrouded in secrecy! But once again it will focus on a teenage boy. That’s where my voice is. And there will be new variations on LGBT themes. To check on my progress with it, you can “Like” me on my FaceBook fan page or keep track of me at my website, www.AlexSanchez.com. Thanks!
As part of my YA Pride celebration, I'm giving away a copy of Alex Sanchez's Boyfriends With Girlfriends to one lucky winner! Booklist, in a starred review, described Boyfriends With Girlfriends as an "innovative, important book that explores, with empathy and sympathy, largely ignored aspects of teen sexual identity."
The fine print:
- To enter, simply enter your email address in the Rafflecopter widget below so that I can contact you if you win.
- The winner must be able to provide a valid United States mailing address where he/she can receive the prize.
- The deadline for the Boyfriends With Girlfriends giveaway is June 12, 2012!
- Winners will be notified by email, and prizes will be mailed in July 2012.