Celebrating The Power of You: An Interview with Alex Sanchez

Alex Sanchez advises gay adults and teens on subjects such as coming out, gender identity and religion. However, his biggest fans aren’t gays, its heterosexual teenage girls. The Mexican City born author resides between Miami, Florida and Bangkok, Thailand. His parents were of German, Mexican and Cuban descent. Sanchez moved to Texas at the age of five. He published eight acclaimed books. In 2004 he received a Lambda Literary award for So Hard To Say, about growing up gay. In 2010 he received the Florida Book Award for Bait. We spoke with Sanchez about his latest book, Boyfriends with Girlfriends, coming out and the importance of self-acceptance.

PRIDEINDEX: It’s commendable that you’ve traveled across the country to speak with gay teens about the importance of self-acceptance. How do audiences respond to your words of encouragement?

ALEX SANCHEZ: The response is consistently awesome. Gay teens and people who care about them are a growing demographic due to increasing numbers of young (and older) people coming out. Because my books respond to this social shift, I get invited to speak at so many schools and libraries. Much of my success has come as the result of timing—writing my books at just the right moment in history.

PI: How do you handle backlash from critics regarding your work with gay teens?

AS: When my books were first challenged at some schools and I got a few hate emails, it scared and angered me. But overall, the backlash has been minor compared to the positive response I’ve received. My friends taught me to view backlash as a “badge of honor.” If I’m not provoking an emotional response, I’m not doing my job well enough.

PI: What is the biggest misconception about you or your work?

AS: I think the biggest misconception is in terms of audience. Since I write primarily about LGBT teens, you would assume that to be my biggest readership. But I get loads of emails from adult gay men remembering their own coming of age experiences. And my largest audience by far is straight teenage girls! They have LGBT friends, relatives or parents about whom they care and want to learn more.

PI: Tell us about your earliest memory of being a writer. When and where you were first published?

AS: My earliest memory of being a writer comes from elementary school, when I wrote a poem that won a shiny blue ribbon about my pet cat. But I didn’t publish any fiction until forty years later, when my first novel, Rainbow Boys, came out.

PI: Why did you decide to write books for children and teens?

AS: I didn’t set out to write for young people. I was merely writing stories from my heart. As it happened, those stories were primarily about teens, probably because that was such a difficult time for me, as it is for so many people. It was my agent, a straight suburban married mom, who thought my stories would be great for teens to read.

PI: Who is your favorite author living and dead? Why?

AS: My favorite living author is Larry McMurtry, author of The Last Picture Show. I love his fun and complex characters. My favorite classic author is Leo Tolstoy. I love his imagery.

PI: Where did you find the inspiration for Boyfriends with Girlfriends?

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?

PI: What do you want readers to take away from the book?

AS: That “gay” and “straight” are way too simplistic labels. For many of us, sexuality is complex and complicated and hard to sort out. We are who we are. We don’t need to put a label on it – nor let anybody else label us.

PI: Is Boyfriends with Girlfriends? based on your own experiences growing up?

AS: All of my writing draws upon my experiences growing up­—in this case, being attracted to both boys and girls and trying to figure out who I was.

PI: Talk about your “rainbow” trilogy of books and The God Box. Where you found the inspiration for each one?

AS: I began the Rainbow books at a time when I was still struggling with coming out as a gay man, accepting myself, and searching for love. It’s little coincidence that those are central themes of the trilogy. I wrote The God Box in response to emails from young people struggling to reconcile their sexuality and spirituality. Their struggles took me back to my own coming to terms with my faith.

PI: Do you plan on making a stage or screen adaption of any of your books? If so when?

AS: I’d love for any of my books to be made into Hollywood movies or TV series. My agent is working on it but nothing is definite yet. In the meantime, a California high school adapted The God Box into a stage play two years ago and it was a big success.

PI: What advice would you offer teens regarding coming out, bullying and gay bashing?

AS: I tell young people to reach out for help, to know they’re not alone, and to believe they can get through it. I made two videos last year, one for the “It Gets Better” series (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDuecrYUMis) and another for “No Name-Calling Week (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jqCposfWn4). And of course, you can always find out more about me at my website, www.AlexSanchez.com