Jay’s Gay Agenda bursts with queer joy, which also happens to be author Jason June’s agenda for his debut YA novel. He wants to let queer readers know—or remind them—that they too are “deserving of being the star of their own rom com.”
In this particular rom com, the main character is Jay, the only openly gay teen in his small town. Longing to experience the firsts that his straight classmates are talking about, Jay creates a list of relationship and friendship goals he hopes to accomplish one day. Only that one day ends up happening sooner than expected. His family suddenly moves to Seattle, and now Jay will spend his senior year with access to a thriving LGBTQIA+ community.
“It’s not until he gets to have that face-to-face time that he understands the magic of physically interacting in a friendship sense with other queer people, and then in a romantic and sexual sense,” Jason June said over Zoom last week. Along with addressing and defying queer tropes, Jay’s Gay Agenda is sex positive and depicts Jay’s sexual awakening, as the 18-year-old learns more about his desires through consensual, safe experiences.
After publishing several books for kids, Jason June is excited to enter the YA world with Jay’s Gay Agenda. In our conversation, the author, who identifies as genderqueer, shares what inspired Jay’s story, the importance of writing gay sex scenes, and what it means to craft a world full of queer joy and acceptance.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
I was really intrigued to read that the book is partly inspired by your life growing up in eastern Washington. How was it like writing something that hits pretty close to home?
It was the most vulnerable I’ve ever been in on a page before. I always put my heart into what I’m writing and hope that every book that I write has a little piece of me in it. But this book in particular was remembering what it was like to be the only out kid at a high school and remembering what it was like wishing that I could be having all the firsts that my heterosexual classmates were having. There were times where it was a little bit—not sad because this is a book that is all about queer joy—but there were times where it was remembering feeling like I was on a lonely island that brought me back into those teenage lows. But with the bulk of the book being about all the joys and all the firsts, it also got me into all those highs of experiencing things for the first time and really remembering the magic of what it was like to be seen as a romantic and a sexual being for the first time.
I noticed there is drama, but the book is a very joyful, happy experience of discovering love and sex and understanding those new relationship dynamics. It’s also very accepting, and in a lot of ways that acceptance is presented as unconditional. Was that something you set out to do from the beginning?
I wanted this to be a world where there was no trauma associated with being queer. Even at the beginning of the book where Jay is the only out queer person, he is still loved and accepted by his straight world around him. When he goes to the big city, having that love and acceptance there too, he is able to see a multitude of different experiences that he hadn’t seen before in his small town. I wanted Jay to feel that love and acceptance, and I wanted him to also be a person that was going to bring that to others as well. I kind of take the Schitt’s Creek method where there’s no trauma about our sexual or gender identities. It’s just about exploring love, exploring our sexuality, and celebrating that.
I was actually thinking of Schitt’s Creek too when I was reading it. Also, I really loved the character, Max. We don’t see a lot of femme genderqueer characters in YA, and you too are genderqueer. What experiences do you consider when crafting Max’s character?
Max was the person that I wish I had felt safe or sure enough to be when I was in high school. I wanted his femme fierceness to come out right from the moment we first meet him. I wanted him to be a character about confidence and projecting who you are outwardly, even if it goes against what you usually see. It can be a joyful experience to be born male but then be able to express your energy, your femininity through your clothing, and really being able to rock all of those things that society has coded as feminine. My main thing with Max was to show Max in relationships, Max in his style, and Max interacting with other people that at first glance some people might not assume are friends—like straight football players. Whether you’re a straight athlete or you’re a femme genderqueer person, we’re not relying on stereotypes in this world.
You don’t come across a lot of gay sex scenes in YA. How was it like writing a sex scene and editing it for a YA audience?
When I set out to write this novel, I knew right away I wanted it to be sex positive, and I wanted to have a scene where it was clear that two guys were having sex together. Not because I wanted to write erotica—this is not erotica at all—but because I wanted to be a huge proponent for sex positivity and ending shame spirals that were prevalent when I was a teenager, specifically about queer sex.
I wanted to show a teen that has those totally natural, beautiful gay sexuality thoughts and show that it can be just as celebrated as any other type of sexual awakening. Part of ending the shame spiral is straight up saying what’s going down, not in a way that is meant to be a turn on whatsoever, but in a way that is meant to make what’s happening clear to queer readers. In this instance, for gay readers who hope to be in that same situation of two penises together, I wanted them to know that there is no shame in your specific desires—like which body parts you want to interact with or where you want them to go—that’s all okay.
If we come across in a way where we can’t even name them in a page that is about a gay sexual awakening, there’s something wrong. I didn’t want that to come across. We’re going to name things, we’re going to make it clear where everything is, whose body part is where and what Jay wants to do with it, not in a way that’s gratuitous. What matters the most is that the people involved are all on the same page. It’s consensual, and it’s safe. As long as those things are all met, connecting through sex can be a beautiful thing.
Outside of your own experiences, do you have any other influences that help you when you’re writing stories?
Right now, I feel like we’re stepping foot into this golden age of queer literature. The people that are so inspiring me are the people that have opened the door for queer literature in the YA space and are showing all kinds of experiences. People like Adam Silvera, Becky Albertalli, Aiden Thomas, Julian Winters, Kacen Callender, this list goes on and on and on. It makes me so giddy, like, I’m literally getting goosebumps that I can name multiple names across multiple different experiences. They’ve helped open the door and continue to hold the door open for me to come through too. I hope to pay it forward with the queer writers that are coming after me.
There are so many more queer stories being published now compared to when we were teenagers. When you were a teen, were there any formative books that you were drawn to?
When I was in kindergarten through sixth grade, I read all the time. The biggest series for me was the Animorphs series by K.A. Applegate. In high school, I had firmly stopped being a reader other than what was assigned at school. Looking back at it now, I think it was because there weren’t stories about people like me. I remember there was Rainbow Boys, and that was something I did read in high school, but even that I hid behind my bookshelf—not even on my bookshelf, it was physically behind it like pressed up against the wall. I was afraid that somebody would find that, then know that I was gay, and it would be this whole thing before I was ready. In the 2010s, I started reading again, especially as all this queer YA literature started to blossom and boom out there.
You just brought to mind something that I was talking to a librarian about, how ebooks really helped a lot of queer kids who were afraid of showing off that they were reading a queer book. I thought that was interesting, how even with audiobooks and digital books you can safely consume queer books without having to publicly deal with stuff that you’re not ready to deal with.
That is such a great point. That is something that I do think about. This is called Jay’s Gay Agenda. It’s right in the title, and that’s not inconspicuous at all. For some teens that don’t feel safe in their environment to read this yet, I hope they find avenues like that, like ebooks or audiobooks where they feel like they safely can read them. Part of ending the shame spiral is being able to say this is a gay story, out and proud for the world to consume. But that does not take away from each individual reader’s safety; that is my priority. I want them to always be safe, and if now’s not the right time for them to be able to pick this up, I totally get it. I support them gauging where they’re at in their environment and knowing when it is or is not a safe time for them to open the doors to discussion that will come from simply reading a book called Jay’s Gay Agenda.
I heard your next novel is inspired by Splash. Can you tell me more about it?
Yes, it’s inspired by the movie Splash but very, very different so that Hollywood doesn’t come knocking on my door. It’s called Out of the Blue, and it’s dual points of view between our mer character Ross and our human character Sean. In the Out of the Blue world and in mer culture, every merperson has to come on land at the blue moon after their 16th year, and they have one moon cycle to be on land and help a human in a total act of selflessness. Merpeople have this underlying idea that humans are the absolute worst because we’re constantly polluting the ocean and they don’t respect like what’s around them. Ross comes on shore and meets Sean, who is having a hard time getting over being dumped, especially because his ex-boyfriend has already moved on to a new guy. Ross decides that in order to help a human, they are going to help Sean save face in front of his ex-boyfriend by pretending to date him. We all know what happens when there’s fake dating; it doesn’t let stay fake for very long. It also gets into this whole idea of is love for somebody else enough to override love for your hometown. Even though, in this case, a hometown is under the sea.
It was so fun to write dual points of view because Ross is genderqueer. We get to explore through them—Ross uses they/them pronouns—our ideas of gender and how an outsider navigates a very gendered society. Especially when they’ve gone their whole lives not having a gender and then having that dumped on them is interesting. Sean is also this lovable gentle giant. I’m just into these characters so much. There’s going to be fake dating shenanigans. There’s going to be lots of rom com references. And there’s going to be, like in Splash, when merpeople get wet their tail comes out, so there’s going to be a lot of tomfoolery happening because of that.
When is it coming out?
That’ll come out next summer. So, like a year from now-ish.
That sounds like a great summer read.
I hope so. That’s what I hope my brand quote-unquote is. It’s just like a queer joy beach read that you can just sit there for maybe one or two sittings and really enjoy the happiness of these characters. And maybe have a little piece of your heart tugged on. If this year has taught us anything, it’s little sparks of joy are not to be taken for granted. If I can be any part of that, it would be an honor.
Jay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June was published on June 1, 2021.