Posts tagged ‘bisexual’

Rainbow Road, by Alex Sanchez (2005)

In the final installment of the Rainbow Boys trilogy, Jason, Kyle, and Nelson embark on a cross-country trip to L.A., where Jason has been invited to speak at the opening of a gay high school. Kyle and Jason are each nervous that so much concentrated time together might be detrimental to their relationship, but the lure of the open road and the promise of sleeping next to each other every night for two weeks is too good to resist. Nelson is along for the ride (after all, it’s his car), but his incessant smoking and flamboyance (particularly in redneck country) put everyone on edge.

On their trip, each boy confronts his own expectations about what it means to be gay or bisexual, worthy of love, and in a relationship. Nelson, Jason, and Kyle meet a number of characters, from Horn-Boy and Lady Bugger, members of a free-spirited gay mountain sanctuary; to BJ, a transgender teen outside of New Orleans who’s a dead-ringer for Britney Spears; to “heteroflexible” university students in Texas; to a gay couple celebrating their twenty-year anniversary—each of whom serves to broaden the friends’ definitions of themselves and each other.

Jason shrugged and sipped some of his Coke. He didn’t really like to label himself as “bi” because it made him feel like he didn’t belong in either group, straight or gay. Besides, he was boyfriends with Kyle, so didn’t that mean he was gay? He wanted to ask Evie and Keesha more about how they dealt with their “heteroflexibility.” Were they still attracted to guys? Did they feel like they fit in with hundred-percent lesbians?

Sanchez (2005), p. 130

In his third and final Rainbow Boys book, Sanchez shows the myriad ways in which people identify and express themselves, a furthering of the “coming out,” in that the label one gives oneself is often not completely accurate or fully inclusive. Coming out—again, that “lifelong process”—is more than an event. It is a journey to happiness. Rainbow Road is a testament to that.

Sanchez, A. (2005). Rainbow road. New York: Simon Pulse.

Lambda Literary Award 2005 Finalist

New York Public Library 2006 “Book for the Teen Age”

American Library Association 2009 “Popular Paperback for Young Adults”

Rainbow High, by Alex Sanchez (2003)

Rainbow High picks up right where Rainbow Boys leaves off. Kyle, Nelson, Jason, and others at Whitman High School are successful in starting a Gay-Straight Alliance, and meetings begin with the hope that they will help to alleviate some of the rampant homophobia in the school’s hallways. Kyle and Jason are together, but not publicly. Nelson has a new boyfriend, but he’s HIV positive, and Nelson’s nervous about his own HIV status after an unsafe one-night fling and how it will affect his relationship with Jeremy. Kyle has come out to his parents: “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My mom cried that she’d never have grandkids. My dad argued all this stuff about it being a choice—the wrong choice. I told him it’s not like I asked to be gay. It’s just the way I am” (Sanchez, 2003, p. 4). Kyle endures taunts from his swim teammates and can’t count on his coach to back him up, but soon realizes he has an ally in his dad. Jason’s experience in coming out to his dad ended badly in the first book; his dad left the house in a rage, calling his son a “maricón.” Jason worries that by coming out to his own coach—and the rest of his team—he is putting a much-needed university scholarship in jeopardy. He seeks advice from the GSA advisor, art teacher Ms. MacTraugh:

“Coming out is a life-long process,” Ms. MacTraugh continued. “Each time we meet someone new or move to a different setting, we’re challenged to reveal who we are. It’s not always easy. But no matter how difficult, it’s something I’ve never regretted. So few things in life truly matter. Chief among them are being true to yourself, and being honest with others.”

Sanchez (2003), p. 69

Throughout the book we see that coming out to their parents and close friends is only one of the first steps in the “life-long process” for these teens. Jason, in particular, is seen as a role-model because of his basketball star status. Time after time he’s told to come out, or not come out, for that very reason. What will his teammates say? What will the school at large think? Does he have a responsibility to maintain a certain image because that’s what people expect? While Kyle has indeed come out at school (having added “AND PROUD” to the “QUEER” scratched into his locker door) he has yet to experience being part of a public couple, or to talk about boyfriend troubles with his mom. Sanchez‘s second book in the Rainbow Boys trilogy wrestles with these issues frankly, revealing the pain and triumphs for teens just beginning the “life-long process” of coming out.

Sanchez, A. (2003). Rainbow high. New York: Simon Pulse.

Lambda Literary Award 2003 Finalist

New York Public Library 2004 “Book for the Teen Age”

Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez (2001)

The most amazing thing was how Nelson talked about all this stuff in front of his own mom. She even subscribed to XY magazine for him.

“How did you ever tell her?” Kyle wanted to know.

Nelson lit a cigarette. “You kidding? She knew before I did. I’m her fucking cause.”

Sanchez (2001), p. 14

In Alex Sanchez’s book, Rainbow Boys, we’re introduced to three characters who are in various phases of confronting their sexuality. Kyle is a shy, straight-laced swimmer who knows he’s gay but hasn’t come out to his parents or at school. Nelson is his outspoken friend, gay and proud and lucky to have an ally in his mom (she’s the president of the local PFLAG chapter), yet he faces unrelenting harassment on a daily basis at school. Jason is a popular basketball player who suspects he may be bisexual, but fears the wrath of his alcoholic, homophobic father if he were to come out—not to mention, he has a girlfriend.

Sanchez deftly portrays each character and his point-of-view—the chapters alternate between Kyle, Nelson, and Jason—and it’s a riveting read. Will Kyle ever get up the nerve to tell Jason how he feels about him? Does Nelson like Kyle as more than a friend, and if so, how does Kyle feel about him? Can Jason love his girlfriend, Debra, yet have these unexplained feelings for other boys? We are drawn into the boys’ world, and with them we face typical teen worries (about popularity, sex, friends, sports, weight, braces) as well as those challenges facing gay teens in particular. While Kyle and Jason must come out to their families and friends (and each does so to varying responses), the real issue is whether they can be truthful to themselves.

Sanchez, A. (2001). Rainbow boys. New York: Simon Pulse.

American Library Association 2002 “Best Book for Young Adults”

New York Public Library 2002 “Book for the Teen Age”

Lambda Literary Award 2001 Finalist

What They Always Tell Us, by Martin Wilson (2008)

What They Always Tell Us is entitled based on the remark “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you” and Alex remarks, “Yeah, that’s what they always tell us” (p. 70). Martin Wilson writes a story that appeals to older teens with siblings, or readers who may be facing the issues of sexuality or depression. It is ultimately a story of support between siblings in coming out.

The story is told with a quiet tone to mark the sadness and intensity of, and the contrast between, two brothers, James and Alex. The two brothers, growing up in Alabama, are night and day, James the extroverted high school senior, and Alex more withdrawn, introspective, and considerate. The brothers are initially close, but James begins to withdraw and avoid Alex after an incident at a party in which Alex drinks Pine-Sol in an apparent suicide attempt.

The undercurrent of the story revolves around Alex’s sexuality, which is indicated but not referred to directly at first, much like the subtly referenced gay longings of the character of Peter in William Sleator’s House of Stairs.

The first time the reader knows to whom Alex’s sexual attraction is directed is when Alex becomes very close with James’ friend Nathen. “Alex and Nathen are friends now, for sure. But it’s a different type of friendship. Or it feels like it is. It’s not like he and Nathen are hanging out drinking beers, or talking about girls, or even going to parties together” (p. 100). When the two are at the locker room of a sports club, Alex steals glances at Nathen’s body, while feeling insecure that he is not toned enough, his hips are too wide, and his butt is white and “too plump” (p. 105), all thoughts that are indicative of his sexual preference. This passage still leads one to wonder at times if he is merely idolizing Nathen, as Nathen is one consistent friend while others have stopped being Alex’s friends.

Alex and James’ parents regularly ask James if something is wrong with Alex or if it is just that “[m]aybe he’s going through the whole sullen teenager phase” (p. 31). When younger, Alex was able to maintain an affinity with his two friends Tyler and Kirk because neither of them had dated, either. This dynamic begins to unravel as the story progresses, and it intensifies his depression. Homosexuality is not overtly addressed at first. Alex does not want to go to church, and James does not attend any more either (p. 44).  Alex’s interest in Nathen is returned when Nathen seamlessly and naturally nudges him into the same shower stall at the sports club and they begin kissing (p. 122). In short order, they are dating, and the jock clique that James is a part of immediately begins to notice that there is something going on between Nathen and Alex.

While the story is written in third-person, the chapters alternate which brother the perspective focuses on. The alteration of focus indicates that the sexuality awareness affects more than just one person and has some bearing on the brothers’ relationship. What looms larger is the guilt that James feels for not being able to help Alex or make him happy. This guilt expresses itself by a feeling of hostility James develops towards Alex for not being “normal” (as in not depressed). James immediately suspects that something is going on between Alex and Nathen, and the text implies that he knows it is a relationship, but his real discomfort comes from Nathen’s ability to make Alex happy and lift him up when James could not. Even with this jealousy rising up in him, his love for his brother prevails, and he defends Nathen when there are allegations of Nathen being a “fag” (p. 177). Eventually, Alex comes out to James because he cannot hide some of the taunting going on at school. In spite of the taunting, Alex is happy in his relationship with Nathen. James tells him “I know you’re happy. An I’m glad. I mean it” while patting him on the shoulder, and James sobs with relief because he feels he has finally been a good brother (p. 240).

What They Always Tell Us has a somewhat atypical coming out backdrop because it is almost exclusively in the context of the brotherly relationship. While there is one passage that insinuates their mother knows Alex is gay, this area of exploration is not pursued, perhaps because this will happen after James leaves for university the following year. This story is one of absolute support. James is, in fact, only able to give full support to Alex once Alex puts all of his previous troubles in context by sharing who he is.

Wilson, M. (2008). What they always tell us. New York: Delacorte Press.

Reviews of What They Always Tell Us, from Martin Wilson Writes.

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, by Peter Cameron (2007)

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

In the 2007 YA novel Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, the story only once explicitly deals with internal sexuality confrontation. 18-year-old New Yorker James Sveck is asked by his father if he is gay early on in the story, but even though the story is told in first-person, the reader is not told whether this is the case until very late in the story. While the story does involve a “coming out,” this is largely a process that happens in James’ conscience, and while he does reveal to the readers that he is gay, those words are never uttered to his parents. This is a case of revelation without verbal expression.

James’ father, a high-strung, fastidious lawyer, confronts him about his sexuality in a way that is somewhat supportive, but more significantly stemming from the urge to be constructive and move forward. “It’s just that we’ve never talked about your sexuality, and if you are gay I want to be properly supportive. It’s fine with me if you’re gay, I just want to know,” (Cameron, 2007, p. 31) he emphatically states. However, as James resists his father’s inquiry with unrelated banter, his father’s compassion becomes more pronounced.

James, I’m just trying to be helpful. I’m just trying to be a good father. You don’t have to get hostile. I just thought you might be gay, and if you were, I wanted to let you know that’s fine, and help you in whatever way I could. (p. 32)

As James becomes unconsciously curious about his mother’s gay art gallery business assistant, John, he is compelled to go through his web history while working at the gallery. He stumbles on John’s relationship-seeking profile and writes him a fake ad according to what John’s perfect date would be. As this plan backfires, James’ mother is put in a tight spot when John is upset and initially wants to claim sexual harassment in the workplace. This forces James’ mother to deal with his sexuality, which has previously been avoided. We never know the full extent of her thoughts on his sexuality, but it can be presumed that as she has hired a gay assistant as her right-hand man, she has at least tacit tolerance. James largely dodges her question as to whether he is gay by asking her if she thinks “homosexuals need help.” She returns with a remark that implies support, though she is confounded, “James. Oh James! I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to help you, and I want to help you, but I don’t know how” (p. 192).

While James’ mother cannot draw a verbal response from him that answers her question and satisfies her need to be helpful – a gesture of support – her delivery does help James. It is in his narration immediately thereafter that he reveals “I knew I was gay, but I had never done anything gay and I didn’t know if I ever world” (p. 192). Thus, there is a major hurdle jumped in that he is able to figure out what his desires and identity is to an extent, as a result of her confrontation.

Judging from these two scenes in the novel, readers can elicit that this is one case of support from both parents. One must consider that this is a work from the twenty-first century and set in New York, so the reactions may be skewed toward more tolerance than may be evidenced in previous works, or those set in more remote locations. This work is interesting in that it is mutually, universally understood that James is gay, and his posting to John confirms it, but it is never directly said, offering an interesting coming out and parental reaction scenario.

Cameron, P. (2007). Someday this pain will be useful to you. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.