“Openly Straight” follows Rafe, an openly gay high school junior from Boulder, Colorado. Rafe has had it pretty easy when it comes to being out of the closet: His parents are extremely supportive and, at times, embarrassingly enthusiastic about his sexuality; he has experienced no backlash from his classmates; and the Boulder community at large makes it loud and clear to Rafe that gay is okay. The only problem is, with all of this support of his sexuality, people forget to acknowledge all of the other aspects of Rafe that make him Rafe. To prove to the world that he’s just a regular human being, Rafe moves across the country to continue high school at a private boarding school where he decides not to tell his new classmates he’s gay. Rafe says he’s not living back in the closet, he’s just choosing not to say either way whether he likes boys or girls.
I enjoyed this book for so many reasons. First of all, as an openly gay male, I can totally relate to Rafe’s exasperation with people who want to focus only on his sexuality. While having people’s support is way better than no support at all, people often times become narrowly focused on subject matter they will discuss with gay people. Konigsberg nails the frustration that can come from heterosexual peers constantly referring to “Will & Grace” or that one gay family member they have as the only ways they can relate to gay men. Rafe is such a well-rounded character that Konigsberg shows readers, whether straight or newly out of the closet, that being gay doesn’t strip you of all other characteristics that make you human.
Konigsberg also explores the need for gay men to have straight male companionship, a theme that is not often portrayed in the media. Rafe’s desire to be seen as just one of the guys, and not the gay kid among all the guys, points to the fact that gay people want to have that gender bond as well. Groups like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, fraternities, and sororities all showcase the benefits same-sex bonding can provide, and often times gay men and women are portrayed as people that either don’t want that bonding, or as people who could somehow disrupt that bonding for straight individuals. Rafe’s story highlights how that bonding is still needed, especially for teenage kids coming out of the closet, and how same-sex companionship between straight and gay people can better help society as a whole in understanding sexuality differences.
Not only does Konigsberg develop these important themes, but he does so with quick wit and distinct characters. These characters are so varied that I’m confident teenagers of all genders and sexualities could find someone to relate to in this, and enjoy “Openly Straight” for the contemporary love story it is.
A relatable protagonist regardless of sexuality.
A variety of diverse and distinct characters.