Five years ago author Alex Sanchez stuck his neck out with Rainbow Boys, a tale of gay teens stumbling through adolescence, and found himself in a growing controversy over censorship and high school Gay-Straight Alliances.
Undeterred, Sanchez continued writing for troubled teens, and found support from a large and unexpected quarter.
I get a lot of emails from my gay and lesbian readers, adults and teenagers, but it turns out that straight teenage girls are actually my biggest audience -“ they love reading about gay boys, he says.
The young people are changing much more rapidly in their attitudes than often times the adults give them credit for.
Some teacher and parent groups opposed his books appearing in school libraries and his speaking at schools about challenging homophobia.
I’ll speak in an assembly and I’ll ask, -˜How many of you know someone who is openly gay or lesbian?’ Generally 95 percent of the hands will go up, he says.
I watch the teachers’ faces as they look around, -˜Oh my gosh, we never realised the young people we’ve been concerned about actually know so many gay and lesbian people.’
In light of the apparent wide acceptance, Sanchez wondered why he had so few emails from straight teenage boys.
One day I finally got one and started corresponding with him about his relationship with gay people and how he had come to read my books.
Sanchez drew on this account in preparing his latest book, Getting It, with the hope of telling the story of how attitudes of straight teenage boys are changing towards gay teens.
Taking inspiration from the mass exposure of Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, Getting It follows the perspective of a straight teen seeking advice from his gay classmate on how to win over a female love-interest.
Addressing issues of homophobia and acceptance, Sanchez hopes the perspective will resonate with the straight teenage boys.
Part of why my books are so popular is that it’s such a timely issue. The educators are realising the need to address issues of homophobia in gay and lesbian youth, though often they don’t know how, Sanchez says.
The author says he writes to give voice to those who haven’t had the chance to speak out.
Looking back at high school, I was pretty shut down, I just wanted to be invisible, didn’t say much in school, I was confused about my sexuality and confused about who I was, he says.
Now I’m speaking up for those times when I couldn’t, I still have a very vocal inner-teenager who has a lot of say about growing up.
His books have earned awards from the American Library Association, Lambda Literary Foundation, and the New York Public Library.
But more important than the awards, Sanchez hopes his books serve as a guide post for confused young people.
As adults we really need to be the example. Lots of times the young people complain that the adults don’t give us a model, because the adults aren’t willing to address the issue.
It’s so significant that more and more adults are being more comfortable and they realise they need to address the issue in order to give the example to young people.
Alex Sanchez will read from his new novel Getting It, answer questions, and be available to sign copies of all his books at The Midnight Shift on Tuesday 20 February, 6pm. For more enquiries contact The Bookshop Darlinghurst on 9331 1103 or email@example.com.