Aaron H. Aceves: This Is Why We're Obsessed!

By Luis Gallegos

March 12, 2024



Photo credit: Instagram/aaronaceves

Aaron H. Aceves is making waves with his latest project — a delightful blend of chaos and profundity. Through the lens of a high school senior grappling with unrequited love, Aaron delivers a compelling YA novel that resonates with any young bi person. We discuss his early experiences with bisexuality, his religious upbringing, and the inspiration behind his book title.


Today, we’re very pleased to welcome Aaron H. Aceves to Bi.org to discuss his life and art. Aaron’s first young adult novel, This Is Why They Hate Us was published by Simon and Schuster in 2022.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. We know you are very busy these days. How are you?

Aaron Aceves: I'm good. I'm really excited to do this because, you know, it's Bi.org, it's awesome!

To start things, how did you come to realize you were bi? Could you tell us about your experience?

Aaron Aceves: Yeah, so it was a tricky process, much trickier than if I had been gay. Growing up, I liked girls and didn't question anything at first. Then, when I hit puberty, all of a sudden, I started having these weird feelings about men — different from how I felt about girls. I couldn't process it. At the time, I felt I couldn't say I liked men. I remember Chris Evans in the Fantastic Four movie, in a pink jacket wrapped around his lower waist, and I just remember seeing his chest hair, and I was confused. Everyone goes through this questioning, right?

When I started realizing what that meant, I would flip-flop. I would think, “No, I'm straight, but I'm curious.” Then I'd be like, “No, I'm gay. I'm just pretending to be attracted to girls. I don't feel that way about girls. I can't feel that way about them.” I kept moving between the two because one of those was more desirable at the time due to my religious upbringing.

Then I got to college, and, in a lot of ways, I changed. I started out pre-med, and now I'm obviously a novelist and a creative writing professor. I also arrived on campus, thinking I was straight, then realized there were more options. During junior year I finally came out to myself. I always emphasize that it’s important, first and foremost, to come out to yourself. Everything that comes after is your choice.

What’s been your experience as a bi artist and writer? Have you encountered acceptance within your community and workspaces?

Aaron Aceves: It's hard to find representation. When I was writing This Is Why They Hate Us, I don't think I’d ever read a book about a bi guy, much less a bi Latino boy written by a bi Latino man. I was always finding parts of myself in novels, but I never found something that made me think, "Oh yeah, this is totally me." That's why I wrote this book: I wanted a story that could reflect, if not everyone's experiences, at least mine.

I didn't experience much professional pushback from being queer, except from myself. I wrote the book very quickly over the course of a month. When I finished it, I was unsure what to do. I revealed a lot about myself in its pages — my attractions, some experiences I’d had. Even though it's about a 17-year-old kid, I felt 17 when I was 24 because it was my first time dating men and getting to know men in this way. I didn't send the manuscript to agents at first because I thought, "I don't want to publish something my grandma can't read because it talks about crushes, urges, and feelings about boys."

How did you become interested in writing?

Aaron Aceves: I've always loved reading. I became obsessed with it in elementary school, but at the time, I only read books about animals — series like Guardians of Ga'Hoole and Redwall. I loved reading so much that I tried to write my first book when I was nine — it didn't go well, and I didn't finish it. It wasn't until college that I got back into writing. I'm a big fan of the movie Mean Girls, and I started writing a screenplay called Mean Guys, about a kid who became popular. The funny thing is, going back to what I said earlier, I thought I was straight at the time and wrote this male character who is straight but gets into the most homoerotic situations imaginable. 

So, I'm "straight", writing the straight character who becomes friends with the star quarterback, and throughout the whole book, it's like "no homo, no homo, no homo". But at one point, he's underneath the bed while the football player is above with his girlfriend. I'm like, "How did you not know?" But I did. I was in denial. It was a whole complicated thing. From then on, I was hooked on writing. 

All these experiences must influence your artistic process. Where do you draw inspiration from? How do you determine the topics to write about?

Aaron Aceves: Well, it's not a decision. When I feel the urge to write, it's almost biological. You have to satisfy it. Sometimes a beautiful sentence just drops into my head, and I’ll say, "I must remember to write it down."

I started This Is Why They Hate Us with a character in mind — Quique. I heard his internal monologue, then sat down and began typing what he was thinking. Sometimes it's dialogue between two characters that comes to me, even before I know the characters. Other times a premise pops into my head. I finished writing a rom-com last year about an author whose book character comes to life, and he's a romance author. It's like his ideal man — a kind of Pygmalion story.

It's funny that you brought up Quique's dialogue because one of my favorite aspects of This Is Why They Hate Us is Quique himself and his inner thoughts. I just kept thinking, “he's so me, I'm the same way”. It made me chuckle to realize how much overthinking can lead you to unexpected places, right? 

Does your bisexuality impact your writing approach, or is it just in this specific novel?

Aaron Aceves: In this novel, as you said, Quique is Latino and bi, but he also struggles with mental health issues. A main character has to be complex, interesting, and well-rounded.

With him, I knew I had to make a choice in terms of what to focus on. In a coming-of-age story, there's usually a realization at the end where it's like, “Oh! This is how I accept this part of myself,” and with This Is Why They Hate Us, I focused on his sexuality. There's plenty that I have to say about growing up Mexican in East LA and cultural commentary — not specifically being Chicano because I was born in the US, my parents were born in the US, as were my grandparents. We've been here a while, and we have known our heritage and how other people treat us because of that heritage. There’s a lot that I would have liked to explore with Quique’s ethnicity, but I kind of took a backseat definitely to his bisexuality.

I wanted Quique to have already come out to himself. I wanted him to accept that he was bi. And at least one other person, his best friend Fabiola. I didn't want it to be a realizing he was bi story because it's a lot more fun if he already knows it, and we can kind of skip to more interesting things.

Some of the feedback I received at the book's release suggested that I was reinforcing bi stereotypes, which I addressed directly. I wanted to talk about the real ramifications of being bisexual, acknowledging the challenges and the impact on family dynamics.

In your book, Quique has religious parents. When they discover he's bi, they abandon their religious beliefs to support him. This resonates with my experience of finding immense support from my family after coming out. I read that you also grew up in a religious household. Was your experience similar to Quique's?

Aaron Aceves: So, my parents met in a Kingdom Hall — a Jehova’s Witness church. They and their parents were Jehovah's Witnesses. But over time, my dad became an atheist, and my mom, along with my grandma, became born-again Christians.

Growing up, I would go to Sunday school sometimes. Then, in my freshman year of high school, I remember going to church and hearing my pastor say, “God accepts and loves drug addicts, with God in your life, all is possible.” And then he'd crack a joke about gay or trans people. Even though I thought, “That's not me”, I felt a sense of judgment that queerness was a particular sin, an unforgivable one. I was trying so desperately to just not feel the way I felt.

As I said, coming out was a long process. I first came out to myself and then told my best friend, who was the inspiration for Fabiola, and later my mom. Even though my mom was very religious, there’s no one on Earth who loves me more. I knew I could tell her, and we would figure it out together. When I told her, she said, “I still love you, you're fine.” I thought, “Coming out doesn't have to be too hard.” I came out to one person at a time gradually until I announced it on my social media at 25 during Pride Month. I never come out to my dad, though. We stopped speaking around nine years ago, but I think he probably knew too.

One thing that got cut out of the book during editing was a line mentioning that Quique’s parents are 34. Since Quique is 17, that means they had him when they were 17, which is wild, but that happens, especially where I grew up. I knew that since his parents were very young, and since Quique is Gen Z, they were going to be closer to my age and my understanding of sexuality. They were never going to be like, “Get out of my house”, but I knew they were going to have some issues. They only go to church for Christmas and Easter, but they still have religious beliefs instilled in them by their own parents. I didn’t want their reaction to be perfect, but I also didn’t want it to be outright homophobic.

There are a ton of quotes I like from the novel; I can't decide on a favorite. But there's one in particular where Quique has a profound moment of revelation toward the end, declaring that bi people are mythical creatures. Is it because bi people are invisible to some people?

Aaron Aceves: Yeah. One of the prevailing modes of biphobia is bi erasure. It's this idea that, for bi men, people believe we're gay, and for bi women, people believe they're straight. That's how it usually goes. When I wrote about bi folks being mythical, it was referencing this notion that bi people don't exist — except, we do. That's why people call bisexual people unicorns because everyone knows what a unicorn is, but “they don't exist”. Part of my response to biphobia is to embrace it and say, "Well, I'm going to make the joke before you can," and also make you aware that you're wrong.

What about the title of the book? It’s said out loud when Quique and Saleem talk about religion and how they struggle with feeling accepted. How do you decide that as the title of your novel? Is that something that you decided particularly?

Aaron Aceves: When I wrote This Is Why They Hate Us, the title just came to me, and I couldn’t imagine it not being the title. In the first draft, the book begins with Quique in his room, with the line, “My mom calls it playing with yourself, which is indisputably the worst name for it.” He goes on to talk about self-pleasure. Then he starts thinking about his three crushes, which go on to form much of the plot of the book.

When I finished writing that first chapter, I remember sitting there contemplating Quique as both a bi person and a Latino. This was shortly after Trump had become president, and online hate was surging, especially against Mexicans. Quique’s just a kid in his room thinking about his crushes, and people hate him. This Is Why They Hate Us just fit.

Later on, my agent said, “Hey, we're probably going to have to revisit that title.” I asked why. She said, “You wrote this kind of raunchy rom-com, but the title feels too dark. It feels like an issue book, you know? Something like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.” But I insisted on the title.

The disconnect between the nature of the book and the title is homophobia. It's making the point that this kid is doing his version of American Pie or Superbad, but because he is who he is, people hate him. At every turn, people kept saying we should change the title. When we sold the book and were putting together an announcement for Publishers Marketplace or Publishers Weekly, and the marketing people got their hands on it, the push to change the title persisted. Not wanting to rock the boat or be ungrateful, I said I’d brainstorm new titles just in case.

One was "Two Kids in A Swimming Pool", since it spans the summer, and the characters swim a lot. I liked it because it references a Frank Ocean song where he says, "Two Kids In A Swimming Pool". "Don't Ask Me How I Feel" was another one the marketing folks liked. But I still liked the original better. After a lot of back and forth, I fought to keep it. What I didn't know at the time was that my editor was leaving Simon and Schuster, and as her parting gift, she cemented the title, so the future editor couldn’t force a change. For which I was very, very grateful.

I always have to explain the title, but I love doing so because it really meant a lot to me. And I do think it stands out, you know, compared to titles like "Don't Ask Me How I Feel" or "Two Kids In A Swimming Pool".


Do you feel that living authentically has opened new opportunities in your life?

Aaron Aceves: Honestly? Yeah. I feel this kinship with queer authors, and the most supportive authors have been queer people. Obviously, they have championed me, and I feel like they really understand the book in a way not everyone can.

I love it when queer men and queer male authors read it and say, "I really felt this, and I identify with this." That means the world to me. I wrote this book primarily for queer boys who grew up and became queer men. I wanted my experiences to be front and center. There were many points where I could have compromised. I could have listened to certain things that my agent or my editor said. I could have listened to reviewers because, you know, people review the book before it actually comes out. I could have taken these notes at any point. But I really tried to have my compass pointing to remaining true to myself.

You mentioned queer stories of your fellow writers. Are there any novels or queer writers you recommend?

Aaron Aceves: One of my favorite YA novels of all time is by Adam Silvera. It's not They Both Die at the End, but rather More Happy Than Not. It’s about a queer Latino kid growing up in the Bronx. There were many points of connection for me since I'm also a queer Latino who grew up in the Bronx. Interestingly, the main character's name is also Aaron. The novel revolves around a world where brain surgery can suppress memories or thoughts, and he contemplates erasing his feelings for a boy. It's really well done.

Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun: A Novel by Johnny Garza Villa, a fellow Chicano Mexican writer, is an incredible contemporary book. It follows a Mexican kid who accidentally comes out on Twitter, leading to his social media crush sliding into his DMs. They engage in a long-distance flirtation before meeting in person. It's an incredible story.

Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian is incredible. Set in the eighties during the AIDS epidemic, it tells a beautiful story from three different perspectives. It's one of my favorite YA books as well.

And last but not least, we have a short story collection for adults called Gordo by Jaime Cortez. With any short story collection, some stories are better than others. I could keep going, but I'll stop there.

Are there any surprising facts about you that you would like to share?

Aaron Aceves: You want an exclusive answer? I went skydiving when I was 18. The thing is, I'm terrified of heights but I'm one of those people who tries to conquer his fears. I’d just graduated high school, and a daredevil friend really wanted to skydive — and wanted me to join him. And so I did it. I’m proud I did, but I'm never doing that again! I think it wasn't even the falling that was the worst part. It was the lead-up — the anxiety before. I remember I kept going to the bathroom to pee, even though my bladder was empty. I just felt like I had to because I was so anxious and nervous. And then, when I was in that tiny little plane going up, I thought I was a dead man. But here I am.

I just have one final question. Do you have any advice for people who have just come out as bi? What would you say to a young Aaron before coming out?

Aaron Aceves: I would say don't let anyone else tell you about yourself.

I think I wasted so much time when I was newly bi, and I still get dragged into these things at 30. People try to tell me who or what I am. The other day I got a comment where someone said, “Do you honestly think people believe you when you say you're bi? Like, do you honestly think you're fooling anyone?” When I was younger, and I was newly bi, I wasted so much time, energy, and emotion just trying to prove myself to people. Now, I ignore comments like that and move on.

I think with bi men in particular, we're pressured to objectify women and to sort of make our desires known. And it ends up harming women because it's like, “Well, let me prove to you that I'm bi,” and it can turn you into someone you're not. So, I would just focus on just being yourself and doing your best to ignore when other people are trying to categorize you or sum you up in some way that you don't agree with.

I think that thanks to books like yours, we can continue to change minds and make young bi people more comfortable in their own skin. That’s great advice.

Aaron Aceves: Thank you so much for reading the book and taking the time!

*** This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.