Jason June's high school diary becomes catalyst for 'Jay's Gay Agenda'

·4 min read

Jun. 19—After writing children's literature and middle-grade fantasy for several years, author Jason June realized that although fantasy allowed a lot of imaginative space for more whimsical elements and world-building, when it came to young adult fiction, more than anything, she wanted to tell stories about people.

And shifting into contemporary young adult fiction seemed the best way to start. "It felt so different from what I had been working on," June said, explaining how moving into contemporary fiction allowed her to start seeing that real life has magic all its own.

"I'd been focusing on literal magic — fairies and wizards and witches — and totally forgetting about the sparks that real life can hit in us specifically when you're a teenager and you're having all these firsts ... realizing the kind of people you want to have around you, the kind of person you want to be and figuring out how to become that person."

She was especially inspired by reading Mary H.K. Choi's "Emergency Contact" and Cynthia Leitich Smith's "Hearts Unbroken" where she could feel a seed of the author's real life being expanded and woven through a set of fictional characters.

"I thought, 'Oh, I've really wanted to try that myself,'" June said. So she set to work reading old diaries and collecting other assorted memories from her time growing up in Riverside, attending Riverside High School and later moving to Seattle.

"I remembered this diary I used to keep before I came out in my senior year of high school, of all the things that I wanted to do when I finally met another gay person," she said. June identifies as genderqueer and uses masculine and feminine pronouns. But, she explained, "My overriding energy is feminine."

There weren't any other out queer students at the time, she said, so her high school diary became a list of "one day, maybe's" and, more recently, a jumping-off point for her novel, "Jay's Gay Agenda."

"There's nothing wrong about anybody who's in any letter or any color of the beautiful LGBTQ rainbow family we have," she said. But feeling isolated in your identity, feeling like the odd one out, can often feel as if who you are is wrong in itself.

"I had all those hopes and dreams of someday being in a relationship and someday being able to have sex and someday being able to talk about it as freely as my straight friends."

A sex-positive, young-adult rom-com, "Jay's Gay Agenda" follows high school senior Jay Collier — the only out queer student at his high school in the rural town of Riverton, Washington. Jay's community is accepting and supportive of his identity, but without any LGBTQ+ peers to share his experiences, he struggles with an unshakeable sense of loneliness.

From the book's summary: "While all his friends can't stop talking about their heterosexual hookups and relationships, Jay can only dream of his own firsts, compiling a romance to-do list of all the things he hopes to one day experience — his Gay Agenda.

"Then, against all odds, Jay's family moves to Seattle, and he starts his senior year at a new high school with a thriving LGBTQ+ community. For the first time, Jay feels like he's found where he truly belongs.

"But as Jay begins crossing items off his list, he'll soon be torn between his heart and his hormones, his old friends and his new ones ... because, after all, life and love don't always go according to plan."

The title was one of the first things to really solidify, June said. First, the idea was to "poke fun" at the concept of a "gay agenda" as a sort of queer master plan aimed at "turning everybody gay." In that sense, she said, there is no "gay agenda."

"The only agenda we have as queer people is one in which we are able to be happy and have the love and romance and sex that we want in our lives," she said. "And that's individual for each of us ... each of us has our own little 'gay agenda,' just for our own lives, just like everyone else ... and Jay is emblematic of that."

June hopes that readers will come away from the book with a sense of community and a new capacity for self-compassion. "I hope readers understand it's OK to make mistakes."

Jay, as the only queer person at his high school, feels emotionally stunted when it comes to relationships. So when he finally gets into a queer community, he jumps in head first, anxious about "catching up" to his straight peers with sexual milestones.

"I want readers to know that you don't have to worry about catching up, there is no wrong speed. The path that you're on is the path that you're on and that's right for you, and even if you do make a mistake ... it's not the absolute end of the world. It doesn't make you any less worthy of love."

Jason June's "Jay's Gay Agenda" is available at Auntie's Bookstore.

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