In their first novel, Sonora Reyes explores what a happy ending in a Catholic school might look like, despite their own not-so-happy experience.
Born and raised in Arizona, Reyes is a second-generation queer immigrant and the creator and host of #QPOCChat, a monthly Twitter chat that builds a community for queer writers of color.
The Catholic School Lesbian Guide centers on a queer Mexican American girl, Yamilet “Yami” Flores, one of the only teenage Mexican American girls in an affluent, mostly white Catholic high school. After being exposed at her old school, Yami tries to lay low when she meets Bo, the only openly queer girl. Using humor, Yami discerns how to juggle family expectations while trying to keep her new classmates from finding out she’s gay.
Reyes spoke to NCR via email about the inspiration behind their novel, the intersection of faith and homosexuality, and their advice for Catholic Latinx LGBT teens. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
NCR: To begin, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
reyes: I’ve been writing on and off since I was 8 years old, my first story being a self-inserted Batman tale. Since then, I’ve grown a lot in my writing and now tend to write books about queer Mexicans falling in love, regardless of which genre or age category the story best lends itself to.
You attended a Catholic high school. What was your experience like?
Honestly, it was really traumatic. I only went there for a year, but in the end I was begging my parents to send me back to public school. It was not everything bad, though. I had very good friends and we had a lot of fun together. But for me personally, it just wasn’t a good fit.
In writing The Catholic School Lesbian Guide, I wanted to explore what a happy ending in Catholic school might look like, so I gave Yami a different end to the year than I got, and let her blossom. It was really cathartic to be able to process some of the trauma from Catholic school through Yami, but let him have the ending I wanted in the end.
What are your best memories of Catholic school? What were some of the challenges of being in this space as a queer student?
I think my favorite memories from Catholic school would have to be the after school hip hop dance club. We weren’t very good, but we had a great time!
As a queer student, the difficulties of being in a Catholic school are just what you can imagine. Homophobia has been thrown at you from all sides like a dodgeball. Personally, I stayed in the closet with everyone but a few close friends when I was in Catholic school, and that presented challenges in itself, as people felt very comfortable in their homophobia around me. because they didn’t know I was queer.
Tell me more about Yami’s relationship with his family. Is she the older sister?
Yami is the older sister, but her younger brother Cesar is only 10 months behind her. He also skipped a grade so everyone thinks they are twins. They have lived alone with their mother since their father was deported years ago, but they keep in touch with him via FaceTime. At their old school, Cesar had a hard time falling asleep in class and fighting. Because she is the older sister, Yami’s mother puts a lot of pressure on her to take care of her brother and keep him out of trouble, and Yami keeps this pressure going and multiplies it, believing that she is responsible for everything that happens to her brother. .
Despite all of this, Yami and Cesar get along very well and are basically best friends. She thinks they have some sort of telepathic connection, as they are always on the same page. And no matter how tense things can be with her family at times, Yami loves them fiercely and would do anything for those she loves.
Sometimes queer spaces don’t want to talk about faith. Why was it important for you to include the religious component in this story?
I felt it was important to address the nuances of the intersection of faith and homosexuality. Although Yami is not religious due to the very real religious trauma she faces, her mother, brother, and even her lesbian love interest are still Catholic. Bo, Yami’s new crush, is very knowledgeable about faith, to the point that she’ll argue with a priest in front of the whole congregation over which parts of the Bible to preach, quoting Bible verses and all.
It was important to me to show both the harsh realities of religious trauma and Yami’s feelings of anger towards God, while showing that for some people that same religion can bring peace and clarity, and none of the reactions is bad.
Could you tell us a bit more about your work with #QPOCChat?
#QPOCChat is a monthly community-building Twitter chat for QTBIPOC writers. We meet on the last Thursday of each month to answer questions about our projects for an hour and get to know each other.
For all the teens who are both Queer and Latinx currently attending a Catholic high school, what is your best advice?
If you’re locked in, you’re not “living a lie.” You don’t owe anyone an explanation of who you are, and doing what you need to do to survive doesn’t make you untrustworthy. You can take your time coming out and only do so when you feel you are absolutely ready.
Whether you’re away or not, you’re doing just fine. You are beautiful and brilliant and I am so, so proud of you.