Alex Sanchez focuses on love, angst and acceptance among gay teenagers

Alex Sanchez By Mekado Murphy
Contributing Writer

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 teen lives.

“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 anticipate one.

“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