For LGBTQ youth, Catholic school can be a fraught experience. In a debut novel, The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School, Sonora Reyes gives the protagonist who is a queer, Catholic school student a happy ending. “I wanted to explore what a happy ending could look like in Catholic school,” the author said.
In a recent interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Reyes, whose pronouns are they/them, explained the process and the inspiration behind the novel, as well as sending a message of encouragement to Latinx LGBTQ Catholic teenagers.
Reyes grew up in Arizona, where they attended Catholic high school for one year. It was an experience that they described as “traumatic.”
“I only went for one year, but by the end of it, I was begging my parents to send me back to public school,” they said. “I had some really good friends, and we did have a lot of fun together. But for me personally, it just wasn’t a good fit.”
By contrast, in The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School, Reyes gives their protagonist “the ending I would have longed for in the end.”
For Reyes, attending Catholic school was difficult because of frequent homophobia.
“Homophobia was thrown your way from every direction like dodgeball,” they recalled. “I personally stayed in the closet to everyone except a few close friends when I was in Catholic school, and that presented challenges of its own, as people felt very comfortable in their homophobia around me since they didn’t know I was queer.”
Reyes said that it was important for them to explore the intersection of faith and queerness in their novel. In particular, they sought to add nuance to conversations about Catholicism and LGBTQ people’s experiences of religion. Many of the characters are Catholic, while the protagonist struggles to heal from religious trauma.
“It was important for me to showcase both the harsh realities of religious trauma and Yami’s [the main character] feelings of anger towards God, while also showing that, for some people, that same religion can bring peace and clarity, and neither reaction is wrong,” they explained.
Reyes also offered encouragement to queer Latinx students currently attending Catholic high school:
“‘If you’re closeted, you’re not “living a lie.” You don’t owe anyone an explanation about your identity, and doing what you need to do to survive doesn’t make you untrustworthy. It’s okay to take your time with coming out, and to do it only when you feel you’re absolutely ready. Whether you’re out or not, you’re doing amazing. You’re beautiful and brilliant and I’m so, so proud of you.'”
Reyes’s new novel is a reminder of the importance of giving LGBTQ youth, especially LGBTQ Catholic youth, access to stories in which they can see themselves. While for many LGBTQ young people it isn’t easy to navigate Catholic high school, Reyes’s debut novel reassures readers that they deserve happy endings of their own.
—Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, June 7, 2022