When 16-year-old Yamilet showed up, she had lost her best friend and her entire social circle. In hopes of starting over, she decides to play the role of a super straight girl in a new environment: a Catholic high school.
Sonora Reyes’ The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School tells the story of Yamilet’s struggle to keep her strange appearance, especially when she meets her new lover, a girl named Bo who is unafraid to wear rainbow clothes and speak out against the teachers. homophobic discrimination. This teen novel weaves a teen romance with discussions around first generation pressures, migration, mental health, and growing pains. .
Growing up, I didn’t know any stories about gay girls, especially brown girls. Like Yamilet, I attended a Catholic high school (mine was all girls while she was a co-professor) where we were required to wear uniforms. On the days we attended mass, which took place in the school gym, we had to wear a thicker, more formal dress and a burgundy coat. Even though I wore the same uniform as everyone else, I felt extremely out of place, because during those years I realized I was bisexual. Reyes’ novel immediately caught my attention.
Tasked with finding her brother, who frequently fights at his alma mater, Yamilet navigates a new social realm. She develops feelings for Bo, who challenges the stubborn claims of the school leaders. At one point, a teacher asked students to practice their debating skills, focusing on whether same-sex marriage should be legal. Bo said it was legal, before storming out of the classroom; Yamilet, who was assigned to the opposition group, ran to the bathroom to cry after hearing his classmates argue about why gay people shouldn’t get married. In another scene, Bo speaks up during mass, asking the priest why being gay is a sin, especially when same-sex marriage is legal; The priest replied that although it may be so, it is still wrong from a Catholic point of view.
It takes effort to hide your true identity, and even more energy to stand your ground about who you are in a room full of people who don’t consider you worthy. The homophobia Yamilet and her brother Cesar grew up around were seeping in. While Yamilet doesn’t quite show up at her new school, she’s quietly resisting the beliefs of others. She feels constantly judged by the Catholic community around her, angry that it won’t accept her full, quirky self. And when Cesar becomes bisexual, she gets angry when she realizes this is the root of the “fights” he gets into at school.
However, in some moments (like the argument scene), it’s hard for Yamilet to maintain a strong sense of self. Cesar memorized the religious teachings around him, feeling deeply ashamed of his condition. The two are constantly looking for ways to feel at home in their own skin.
Same-sex marriage was still not legal during my high school years, although there was certainly a lot of talk about it. When I realized I fell in love with my classmate Nancy*, I didn’t at first think about how much it could mean for us to be together in a small Catholic school. Waiting was perceived as wrong and strange, and that judgment enveloped us like a tranquil fog.
For years, I told myself that since my coming-of-age story didn’t lead to physical violence, I shouldn’t go public with my experience. Micro-aggressions, many of which I’ve highlighted, don’t seem worth mentioning, especially when grown up in a frank relationship with a cis man. Although I believe I don’t deserve to talk about it, my high school years have let me down. I can’t remember why, but Nancy often jokes that the principal doesn’t like us. I was startled, forever trying to hide any feelings between us. I walked down the hallway knowing that most of the students and adults had judged me as abnormal, as an undesirable person.
In writing Yamilet, Reyes gives us insight into a character trying to find his or her own place at school, in religious circles and, ultimately, in the world. Yamilet is still traumatized by the way her best friend, Bianca, cut her off after discovering her strangeness. I know what that feels like; Nancy told me that the girls she called her former friends stopped talking to her when they found out we were dating. And I vaguely remember someone saying that if I held them for too long, I might develop feelings for them. I kept repeating that comment over and over in my head, until I got to the core of why it hurt so much — weird being seen as being watched or being an outsider; Not a friend or acquaintance, but someone to avoid.
Yamilet explains it perfectly in the novel: “When I told her I loved her, she made me feel like a leech, like I was taking advantage of her by becoming a leech. become her friend. Like it was just for my benefit,” she said. “For her it doesn’t matter that I’m not ready to play until then. The years we were best friends didn’t matter because I must have had ulterior motives, and everything I’ve done now seems scary.” I can’t imagine what it would be like to read Reyes’ novel as a teenager when I heard someone voice the guilt and fear I felt.
Now, as an adult, I’m trying to get around the idea that books like this are being banned in schools. US PEN Report earlier this year that 33 percent of books “prohibited in 86 school districts in 26 states” from July 21 of last year to March 31 of this year “clearly address LGBTQ topics, or feature LGBTQ protagonists or prominent supporting characters.” About 1,145 titles have been banned. The report also states that 41% of these books “include prominent protagonists or supporting characters who are of color.” Reyes Literary Agent tweeted just a few days after release The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School that it received hate. How can a Brown gay girl or non-Brown binary teen see herself today when these stories are being censored?
Nancy and I broke up and got back together many times, mainly when I was too scared and worried about the opposition of those around me. Our relationship has many flaws and sometimes we oppose our parents. But it was a kind and loving partnership, even at a very young age. We talk about our nieces and nephews, wish each other good luck on homework and tests and competitions. We talked about grief. We exchanged jokes and funny messages on Facebook. I sent her good vibes before the band rehearsed. She’s modeled what real commitment and passion for creative activism can look like.
Sometimes, it hurts to think about the way my teen views this as an embarrassing relationship. I don’t have any gay couples to look for; instead, I have repeatedly heard religious and personal statements about what it means to be the “wrong” weirdo.
Shame lasts for years; At university, a friend invited me to visit her hometown during one of our school holidays. As the day approached, we excitedly planned and discussed the details. She told me that I could only sleep in her bed with her, that there was plenty of room. I hesitated when she spoke to me and considered her bi.
“That doesn’t change how I feel about you as a friend,” she said. “That doesn’t change anything.”
It was a small gift.
Nancy and I stayed in touch after we broke up and I started studying at a new university. She patiently read my messages about my relationship problems. I confess that I am too scared to date women. I told her it’s easier to date guys. Not giving yourself space to fully explore yourself, the way Yamilet does, is safer.
In my late twenties, I accepted my weirdness more fully and I became more vocal about it. I feel no guilt about too many things in life — my decision to live with a partner without getting married first, my many tattoos — except that. In the years before that, I felt like a fraud if I carried a tragedy. But as oppressive policies continue to be passed – such as a bill banning teachers from talking about gender identity or sexual orientation – it is wrong to stay silent about it.
The last scenes of Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School I feel bittersweet because I know not every weird kid gets to have such a happy ending. It’s not that Yamilet’s life will ever feel difficult again — at the end of the novel, she doesn’t talk to her father. But one day, her mother surprised her and Cesar with rainbow picado papel and pan dulce.
At an anti-prom party, Yamilet and Bo dance until they fall on the grass, and when she sits down on the lawn with Bo by her side, Yamilet finally gives in. “There is no need to guess old or young anymore. No more double life,” she told us. I don’t feel brave at Yamilet’s age, but when I read Reyes’ work, I gave my teenage self a little more grace.
*Name changed for privacy
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