Representation of Latinx Characters
There remains a great need for Latinx Gay YA. The list below is a compilation of texts that center and complicate these experiences. I’ve decided to make this list a space dedicated to stories written by self-identifying Latinx authors who have created gay Latinx protagonists. There are certainly other books with gay Latinx minor characters and books with gay Latinx characters written by non-Latinx. Many of the protagonists in the novels listed below express a feeling of isolation when they come out or at simply existing as a gay Latinx person. This isolation stems from a lack of familiarity with gay Latinx history and cultural productions, from an assumption that they are the only gay Latinx in their family, community, or school, and from the misconception that gay identity and Latinx identity cannot be one in the same. These are very real concerns that LGBTQI Latinx youth reading these novels might have and while it is important that they see themselves represented in fictional characters they must also see themselves reflected in the people that write these stories.
Many of the novels below deal with coming out as gay and the violence that one might experience because of it. Many of the protagonists are marginalized by their family and friends and many must literally fight for their lives. For example, in Charles Rice-Gonzalez’s Chulito, a 16 year-old gang member, is physically accosted by the gang leader after learning that Chulito is gay. Altercations with the quintessential hypermasculine character also occur in The Mariposa Club, Rainbow High, Aristotle and Dante, and More Happy Than Not. The depictions of violence in these novels signal that as a community we need to work harder to create safe spaces for queer Latinx youth to come out. Creating safe spaces includes challenging rigid gender roles, challenging trans and homophobia, and challenging white supremacy.
A common critique of gay YA novels is often their focus on coming out narratives. Clearly, gay youth are more than their coming out experiences and there is certainly a need to see gay characters live lives that represent that. However, these stories continue to be extremely valuable for Latinx communities. Consider for a minute that there aren’t many YA novels written by Latinx authors that center Latina lesbian and queer experiences. While the coming out narrative may feel overdone in stories that center dominant and white experiences, this is not the case for many underrepresented communities. Mayra Lazara Dole’s Young Adult novel Down to the Bone and Gabby Rivera’s more recent New Adult novel Juliet Takes a Breath are the only novels written by Latinx authors that center Latinx gay experiences that I know about. E.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s award winning Fat Angie is written by a Latinx author, Charlton-Trujillo identifies as a “Wexican” or the whitest Mexican-American, but there aren’t any cultural signifiers that indicate that Angie is a Latinx character. It is also dangerous to assume that Angie is a white Latinx just because that’s how the author identifies. In any case, we need more novels that center Latinx lesbian and queer experiences.
There is also a lack of trans Latinx characters. Rigoberto Gonzalez’s The Mariposa Club introduces readers to Trinidad Ramos, a trans Latina. There’s also a minor trans character in Chulito, Puti. Trinidad and Puti experience the most violence in these novels. Trini is beat up by the school jocks and needs to transfer schools, her father burns her with cigarettes, and is ostracized by many of her schoolmates. From the little we get to know about Puti it is clear that she also experienced most violence and that her family does not respect her. However, in the face of adversity Trini, and even Puti, remains resilient.
The turbulent and painful moments in these novels are countered with yet more powerful and beautiful scenes. The parent figures in Aristotle and Dante, More Happy Than Not, and The Mariposa Club are supportive of their gay Latinx child. The tension that might exists between the gay protagonist and their parent often times has more to do with other issues not necessarily tied to the characters’ queer identity. For example, in Aristotle and Dante Aristotle has a strained relationship with his father because of his father’s war experiences and because of Ari’s older brother’s imprisonment. Despite these complications, it is Ari’s father that helps him realize he is in love with Dante. In More Happy Than Not, Aaron’s mom knows he’s gay and gives him the space to figure it out and come out on his own terms. Their relationship is complicated by the father’s suicide and the memory-erasing procedures offered by the Leteo Institute. Mauricio’s dad in The Mariposa Club is also very nurturing. He provides support not just for Maui but for all the fierce mariposas. Mauricio’s dad has a difficult time connecting to his son because he doubts his own parent skills, especially since his wife passed away.
The romantic relationships in these novels are tender and complex. At the beginning of Rainbow Boys Jason is dating the head cheerleader but later develops a crush for Kyle, who is being crushed on by Nelson. Aristotle and Dante’s relationship is sweet, quirky, and everything you want love to be. Heartbreak is way too real in these novels. Aaron from More Happy than Not and Juliet from Juliet Takes a Breath get their hearts broken and these scenes will bring readers to angry-filled, hot tears.
At the bottom of the list I’ve added Latinx YA novels that include a secondary gay/queer character. From what I’ve seen, for the most part those characters are always the same. The queer character is always the victim of violence at home or of bullying at school or from the community. The only exception to this is Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper and Shadowhouse Fall. In the future, I’d like to see gay/queer secondary characters be as complex as main characters. It is important to always highlight the oppression that gay Latinx people experience but it is just as important to portray the joy, the love, and the empowerment, even if the characters are side characters.
The books listed here are only the beginning. I can’t say I’ve read every gay YA book in search of Latinx characters. Hopefully this list will serve as a catalyst to find gay Latinx characters and Latinx authors in the literature we read.
– Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD