Here to remind you that you are beautiful and perfect.

Tanya Boteju (she/her) is a teacher and writer living on unceded Coast Salish territories (Vancouver, BC). Her novel, Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens, was named an Indie Top 10 Pick of the Summer by the American Booksellers Association. Her next YA novel is due out with simonschuster in 2021. Tanya spoke with It Gets Better Canada about her time growing up, how she became a writer and the ways her identity informed her novel. 

An image of Tanya Boteju with a pink overlay and the words "Spotlight On: Tanya Boteju"
Where did you grow up and what was it like? 

I grew up in a Catholic household in Victoria, BC. I’m also the child of immigrants, being first generation Sri Lankan-Canadian. While there was a lot of pressure to do right by my parents, they also worked hard to give my sisters and me an excellent education and the support to follow our interests. Though it took some time, I learned to love my Sri Lankan background and the colour of my skin. Ultimately, while I felt different and lonely growing up, I also felt supported and cared for. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced growing up 2SLGBTQ+ and what would have made a positive difference for you? 

There was no queer representation around me. I had only a vague sense of ‘gay people’ and so I had nothing to inform the feelings I was having, causing me to push them away. I pretended to like boys in high school and convinced myself I didn’t care about romantic relationships. Thinking back, even a hint of queer representation would have helped. Having my feelings acknowledged in some way would have shown me that something else was possible. 

Image of Tanya Boteju drinking coffee

There are so many people who will listen to and support you if you reach out. So please, reach out. Ask for help. Share your story.

Tanya Boteju

she/her

How and why did you get involved in writing? 

I’ve been an English teacher for almost twenty years, so writing has always been integral to my life. I’d dabbled in writing for myself but never really focused on it. After completing my masters and teaching for so long, I was ready for a new challenge. So a few years ago, I sat my butt down and started exploring the small germ of an idea that had been percolating since my twenties—when I was a drag king in Vancouver. 

Your debut novel, Kings, Queens and In-Betweens has garnered quite a bit of praise. How did the idea for the novel come about? 

In my twenties, I performed drag at various venues in Vancouver. I adored it—the performance aspect, of course, but also the community: ever-supportive, ever-vibrant, ever-evolving. I knew while I was performing that there was a story to be told here. So that experience, combined with my experience teaching young people, led to a story about drag for young adults! 

How did your 2SLGBTQ+ identity inform the writing of your debut novel? 

Well, the book is pretty darn gay! I drew from my drag experience, as well as my experience growing up queer during a time it wasn’t accepted, to inform my protagonist Nima’s identity. Drag gave me the confidence to express myself, as it does for Nima. I also drew from the experiences of the kids I teach, especially the queer ones. Watching them struggle, be brave, manage their feelings, navigate their relationships—these are some of the aspects I try to portray in my writing. 

What advice do you have for 2SLGBTQ+ youth trying to get into writing? 

General advice about writing: you have to get your butt in the chair and actually put words on the page! More specific to LGBTQ2+ writers: you don’t have to write about being queer, but there are people who can benefit from those stories. Normalize queer lives! Coming out stories and stories about queer struggles are important, but you can also write about characters already out living fulfilling lives. Reach out to your favourite queer authors—my experience has been that writers, especially those writing for young people, are ecstatic to hear from their readers. I know I am. 

Any personal advice for 2SLGBTQ+ having a hard time accepting themselves? 

The dedication in my book includes: “You’re beautiful and magical and perfect,” and I really mean that. There are so many people who will listen to and support you if you reach out. So please, reach out. Ask for help. Share your story. 

Follow Tanya @tboteju 

L’histoire de Tanya est importante. Et toi, c’est quoi ton histoire ?

Ton histoire est importante et on veut la partager ! Envoie-nous un message dès aujourd’hui si tu souhaites inspirer notre communauté. 

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