Boyfriends With Girlfriends, Alex Sanchez; Simon & Schuster, 2011.
Alex Sanchez, along with David Levithan, are the prolific YA counterparts of Julie Anne Peters in the gay world, and while I read and enjoy their dude-centric books, there hasn’t been a ton to offer AfterEllen readers in terms of lady love on their pages. That is, until Sanchez’s Boyfriends with Girlfriends, which offers a sexuality for pretty much everyone! There’s the know-that-I’m-gay guy, the know-that-I’m-a-lesbian girl, the questioning girl, and my favorite of all: the bisexual guy!
The plot centers around two boy-girl friendships who basically all fall in love with each other. I mean, monogamously. Let me try to explain: There’s Lance and Allie, and then Sergio and Kimiko. Lance is your stereotypical, musical-theater-loving white young gay, while Sergio is Mexican and bisexual. When they meet for the first time at a mall food court after some quality IMing time (oh, young love!), they both bring along their best ladies to help ease their nerves. Kimiko is out to Sergio but closeted with her parents; Allie believes she’s straight and is getting over a two year relationship with her ex-boyfriend. Her straightness is called into question once she meets Kimiko, however; they discover a shared interest in manga, and Kimiko lets Allie borrow her favorite (gay) series. (Smooth move, Kimiko!) So there’s Lance-Sergio, and, maybe, Kimiko-Allie.
So it all sounds a bit teen soap opera-ish, and it is. And there might be just a tad too many issues going on at once: Kimiko struggling with coming out to her conservative Japanese parents; Lance losing his virginity; Allie questioning her own desires. I’m also going to interject a random complaint here: in both this novel and in Rage, one of the girls is super attracted to the other girl’s “super low, low, low rise jeans” that offer a sneak peak of some thong action. Help me out, young lesbians: do you actually find this attractive? Because I certainly don’t find it attractive now, and I don’t think I did then, either. Right? But anyhoo!
What I appreciate the most, however, in this sexuality free for all is how Sergio’s bisexuality is dealt with. Lance has had some bad experiences with one of those gay-with-Lance but straight-to-everyone-else popular boys of high school, and he’s convinced Sergio’s admittance to being bi is just another word for what that dude was. Lance expresses his belief that being bi is just an excuse for people who are lying to themselves, a viewpoint that I’ve seen repeated ad nauseam in the gay community. He says in the first chapter, “At least Sergio was admitting he liked guys. That was a move up from Darrell. But why didn’t he just take the next step and say he was gay? Maybe he wasn’t as mature as Lance had hoped.” They get into an argument later in the novel, when Lance literally can’t get over the fact that Sergio has had full blown girl sex–and like, wanted to!–and doesn’t understand how he can just “switch” between boys and girls. Sergio responds, “It’s not ‘switching.’ It’s just accepting different sides of myself.”
I’ve read some moving YA novels about exploring the depths of sexual fluidity (A.S. King’s Ask the Passengers from last year is a notable one), but this solid declaration of bisexuality felt different to me, and just as important. Yeah, Sergio and Lance’s conversations can seem somewhat simple and didactic, but Lance is still voicing the beliefs that are, for whatever reason, still so prevalent: that bisexuality isn’t real, that it’s a thing people who don’t know themselves well enough make up. It’s an insulting and judgmental belief, and it felt so lovely to have a character who didn’t just say, “I think I like boys AND girls and it’s really confusing!,” but said definitively, “I like boys. I like girls. And that’s just who I am.” Add on top of that how great it is to see cultural diversity in these pages, and you get a book that could be helpful for countless youth.