A teen finds his pride in Austin author Jason June's YA book 'Jay's Gay Agenda'
Yep, Jay has a gay agenda.
It’s an extremely organized vision board, a numbered list that details his hopes and dreams.
How that agenda evolves over time is at the big, ebullient heart of Austin author Jason June’s funny young adult rom-com “Jay’s Gay Agenda” (HarperTeen, $17.99). He launches the book Tuesday with a virtual event at BookPeople, in conversation with “Kate in Waiting” author Becky Albertalli, who also wrote the novel that inspired the “Love, Simon” feature film.
Jay is “totally accepted, but there's no out queer kids at his school,” Jason June explained in a Zoom interview. (He goes by Jason June — “a two-name first name like Mary-Kate without the hyphen or the Olsen twin,” as he notes on his website.) That all changes when Jay’s mother gets a promotion and the family moves from a small-town in Washington to big-city Seattle.
“I’d gone nearly eighteen years in an LGBTQuarantine, despite the stats throwing it in my face that there should be someone else around who identified as queer. But in just a few weeks, I’d be moving to a metropolitan mecca of gays, where I’d be virtually surrounded by people like me,” Jay thinks.
“All these relationship firsts are really heavily portrayed in media when it's about straight people,” Jason June said. “I wanted to have all these firsts really celebrated and heavily focused specifically for a gay character.”
Readers see the high school senior navigate lust, love and friendship. In Seattle, he makes fast friends with witty Max, who introduces him to classmates, takes him to parties and shepherds him to his first drag show. He’s attracted both to Tony and to Albert, and while one becomes a more serious relationship, both get their showcase moments.
“Jay’s Gay Agenda” is a sex-positive novel that depicts physical relationships in a healthy way instead of shaming teens for desire, Jason June said. He seamlessly weaves clear consent into all of Jay’s encounters.
“It's about being safe, it's about being consensual, and I want to end the stigma of saying sex without love is bad,” he said. “Sex without love can be a major way of discovering who you are and how you want to interact with people going forward.”
He also makes it clear on the page what Jay does with his partners. That’s by design, he said, both to demystify and destigmatize. “I'm a firm believer that part of the shame spiral with sex is that we don't name certain things. ... I wanted to be clear with what was happening, but not be gratuitous with what was happening.”
“Jay’s Gay Agenda” is Jason June’s first book for young adults. It follows his “Mermicorn Island” chapter book series for Scholastic and two picture books, including “Porcupine Cupid,” which was recently featured in People magazine along with Jason June himself. He’d dabbled in writing middle-grade fantasy, penning manuscripts that didn’t quite gel.
So he decided to immerse himself in a different genre by reading young-adult contemporary novels, including Austin author Cynthia Leitich Smith’s “Hearts Unbroken,” Ibi Zoboi’s “Pride” and Mary H.K. Choi’s “Emergency Contact.”
“It was in reading that genre that I was like, ‘I'm focusing too much on the literal magic of fairies and wizards and those kinds of magic systems, and have totally forgotten that there's a magic of real life,'” he said.
“What I really like about a lot of young adult contemporary is that you can really feel that slice of the author's real life," he continued. "Even if it's not totally their story, there's a little touch of that emotional component. … That's when I started thinking about my own life, and I got back to the diary I used to keep as the only out gay kid in my rural high school in eastern Washington, just dreaming about all the things that I could finally do and all the relationship milestones I wanted to complete when I met another gay guy.
"I used that little seed to then become Jay.”
If you go
Jason June will talk about “Jay’s Gay Agenda” in a virtual BookPeople event at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. It’s free to attend. Signed and personalized copies of the books are for sale. Information and registration: bookpeople.com/event.