Here in spanishgayfiction.blogspot.com we appreciate the honesty displayed by the author of Billete de ira y vuelta, Hecheres Beltrán (Santa Cruz de Tenerife, 1978). Considering his words, writing the novel must have been a way to exorcise demons from the past. We hope that the reader who is suffering or has suffered from bullying pays close attention to this interview, as it is the speech of someone who was a victim and is now recovered from all that emotional pain. In sum, an inspiring story.
SPANISH GAY FICTION: Up to what point can you say that Billete de ira y vuelta is an autobiographical novel?
HECHERES BELTRÁN: This novel is full of autobiographical elements, but not entirely. I was a bullying victim myself, hence my need to tell a story connected to this subject. In my case, and in the time that I had to suffer from bullying, it was shame that made me conceal from my people what was happening to me.
SGF: Do you feel that there is much contemporary LGBT literature on school bullying, or is your novel one of the few examples?
HB: School bullying is a social issue rather recently regarded. In the past, bullying was disguised by adults responsible as things that kids come up with. Not until the people who have undergone it could tell the consequences that this abuse causes has society become aware of the magnitude of the problem. From my point of view, the visibility that has come from the popularization of the internet, where every kind of cases and experiences has been shown and/or denounced, has played an essential role as well.
It is also necessary to make clear that bullying is a problem that affects us all, since it can come from any given circumstance: race, gender, physique, sexual orientation, etc. I do believe that there is much literature on several of these circumstances, but literature on gay bullying may be scarce due to the fact that LGBT visibility is a rather new thing too. There have always been different sexual orientations, but their integration and normalization in society are still in progress, therefore it is reasonable that there are not many books on this subject.
SGF: How much do you understand Javier’s outlook and reactions?
HB: I totally understand his outlook because his experiences are based on my own ones, and his feelings are taken from what I was feeling in those days. The only thing that distances me from the character is his anger, since some time ago I left it behind and forgave everyone who hurt me. It is not healthy to keep all those hard feelings inside yourself. Hate will never let you be happy; I understood it once, and carried out an amazing acceptance exercise that made me get rid of negative feelings which did not lead to anything good.
SGF: What role does Billete de ira y vuelta play in your work?
HB: For the moment I can say that every one of my books is a world. They are dissimilar to one another, and largely due to my constant attitude to learn new things. I like getting into different genres, learning their ins and outs in order to produce, with varying degrees of success, the stories that strike me later. None of them is my number one; they all are important parts of my life and witnesses to my internal process (maturing), and external process (style polishing).
SGF: What does Madrid mean to a Spanish young gay small town boy?
HB: Freedom. Eclecticism. Diversity. Learning.
SGF: After witnessing the father’s homophobic attack against Javier, the mother asks her husband whether he must be hiding something. What did you mean by that?
HB: Fear is a very difficult thing to explain, as it is a very primeval instinct which has helped us keep alive for a long time. But homophobia is not the only fear, there are many others, such as, in this case, the need to give an explanation to the mistreatment that a father metes out to his own son before a frightened mother’s very eyes; the demand for an answer to such behavior towards the one who is supposed to be your main, absolute priority. That is what I meant.
SGF: When the novel seems to lean towards the romantic genre, it suddenly takes a turn and dives into the thriller chasm. I would even dare to say the horror chasm. Would you say that your novel affirms the idea that violence only begets violence? Could it be said that Javier is a monster created by abusers such as Rayco, Alejandro, or his own father?
HB: While I was writing, I bore in mind references such as the film PacificHeights (1990); those stories seeming to lead one direction and then turning the whole thing around. Also Psycho (1960), for instance: a movie about a theft at first, and then a psychopath shows up in an astonishing twist which everybody knows. I wanted to produce something like that; that is the germ of the plot structure in Billete de ira y vuelta.
From my viewpoint, violence does only beget violence. And resentment, hatred and every kind of worthless, unwholesome feelings. But above all, the novel intends to reflect the avenging feeling, which beats inside us even though we are not aware (or we do not want to be), and blows up with certain triggers. That is why the protagonist eventually behaves like his attackers.
SGF: If you were in Javier’s shoes, would you accept the mother’s invitation, or would you flatly refuse to set foot in there again?
HB: I have been in Javier’s shoes [Laughs]. I gave life to him and suffered a lot with him. This novel was the beginning of a cathartic process in which I gave up negative feelings, as I have already said. You need to be at peace with the past, and it may take a long time to achieve this. You must accept invitations when you are ready to face what may happen when you stir up the past. Although you never can tell what is going to happen, feel up to find out at least; otherwise the situation can get worse. In answer to your question, regarding the way that Javier is presented in the novel, no, I would not.
SGF: It is understandable that Javier distrusts Manuel at first. Do you think that it is possible to fall in love with someone who took part in your humiliations? Can you come to forgive so much?
HB: You can forgive even more than that. Fortunately, love is mightier than any other feeling. I believe that this can truly happen, otherwise I would have not written it.
SGF: When he was a child, Javier explained his teacher the abuse that he was suffering and she tried to play it down. I feel that many teachers have acted and go on acting like this. Why do you think that they act this way?
HB: The answer is similar to the one that I have given before: there was no bullying awareness in the past. “There have always been bullies; they will get over it when they grow up,” this is what people used to think. But nobody spoke about the consequences that you could suffer after being bullied. Until today. In my opinion, teachers must pay attention to this kind of things and act accordingly. An attitude of looking the other way and downplaying is not only a mistake: it is similar to non-assistance to a person in danger.
SGF: What is your opinion about the current situation? Do you think that they are really applying zero-tolerance policy in Spanish primary and secondary schools?
HB: I feel that we still do not give it the importance that it deserves; not only in Spain, but worldwide. If we did, there would be no bullied children’s suicides, for example. But I think that now we are aware of the fact that it is a problem and it must be main objective in the country’s education policy.
SGF: Regarding the quote by Balzac which you end the novel with (“In revenge, the weakest one is always the fiercest”), would you say that Javier was the weakest one in the story? His revenge is dreadful—
HB: Exactly. Javier was the weakest among his classmates, who did not act individually but as a group. And the weaker you feel in humiliation and under threat, the more destructive your revenge will be.
SGF: The Canary Islands mean to many gay people, both Spanish and foreign, a vacation spot or even a place of residence. How true is this image of a gay-friendly place?
HB: The Canaries (just as the rest of Spain) has changed too much in this sense in the last 30 years. The novel is written upon the memories that I have from what I lived when I went to school, at the end of 1980s and the beginning of 1990s. But the current situation is the same; they publicize gay-friendly tourism not only for economic reasons, but also because the islanders have become more tolerant. Even in big cities such as Madrid there are homophobic assaults these days, therefore it is not a problem localized in a community, but globally.
SGF: What are you working on now? What are your next projects about?
HB: I keep writing, of course; it is a basic need for me. However, I am a kind of superstitious and never like talking about unfinished projects. Call it a writer’s habit.