YA

Jason June discusses the magic of queer firsts with Jay’s Gay Agenda

Jason June’s debut young adult novel Jay’s Gay Agenda follows newly out teen, Jay, on his quest to experience all the gay firsts in a riotous and sweet story.

When Jay gets the chance to move to Seattle and no longer be The Only Gay, he jumps at the chance to actually live out his Gay Agenda and check off items like, Meet another gay kid,” to the more hormonal, “See another penis besides my own, IRL, and do fun things with it!”

But, of course, the Agenda quickly goes awry when two VSBs (Very Sexy Boys) cross Jay’s path and he has to choose between his heart and his…other heart, as he realizes the Agenda is more than just a game, it’s real life.

Culturess sat down with Jason June to discuss sex positivity in YA, how to balance humor alongside real emotion and the magic of queer beginnings. (Read our full review of Jay’s Gay Agenda before diving into the interview below.)

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Culturess:  Jay’s Gay Agenda is a coming-out story in a very roundabout way. By focusing on the checklist of experiences after coming out, what were you hoping to accomplish? 

Jason June:  Coming out stories hold such a special place in my heart because it’s such a pivotal experience in so many of our lives. And even after we come out that first time, we constantly come out for the rest of our lives in each new environment we find ourselves in.

For Jay, I wanted his story to be about what’s after that initial coming out so that we have more examples of how much fun life can be after that anxiety-ridden moment of sharing who we are with the world for the first time.

All those firsts, like first kisses and first dates and first hookups, can bring so much magic into our lives, and I wanted this book to be about that magic.

Culturess:  Jay’s voice is laugh-out-loud funny and chockful of puns. How do you balance the humor in the novel with the very real emotions at play?

Jason June:  I’m so glad this made you laugh! I tried to pull out the humor in normal, everyday situations so many of us find ourselves in. Especially with dating for the first time, there can be so many fun awkward moments that were such a blast to pull out, and I hope are relatable for many of us.

But I wanted to be sure too that this book had heart, so for every few LOL times, I wanted to make sure we explored why certain things were so pivotal for Jay’s development as a romantic and sexual being, or dive into why other characters’ life experiences shaped the decisions they made.

I wanted to be sure that each of the pivotal characters Jay interacts with—Lu, Albert, Max, and Damon—had a moment where we learned about their life before Jay moved to Seattle, learned about their pasts and life choices, and also had a moment where they contributed to the comedy part of the rom-com.

Culturess:  Jay’s Gay Agenda may be one of the most sex-positive young adult novels out there, queer or not. What do you want young readers to take away from the novel about their own sexuality?

Jason June:  Making this sex-positive was so so important to me because when I was a teen, there wasn’t a lot of media celebrating queer teens’ sexual awakening, but movies and books showcasing straight teens’ hormones and horniness were everywhere.

It made me feel like something was wrong with me, and I want my book to be something that helps end those shame spirals. So I hope readers take away from this that having sexual thoughts about any consenting human regardless of gender or sexuality is a beautiful thing, and that queer sexuality is just as deserving of the spotlight as anybody else!

Culturess:  In a sort of classic rom-com structure, Jay pursues two different guys, but the reader knows upfront that he’s interested in one romantically and one sexually. What led you to this story choice? Why did you think it was important to give Jay these choices?

Jason June:  I wanted Jay to have these two choices to explore the idea that sex doesn’t always have to be about love. That can definitely 100% be such a magical experience when it is, but having sex to explore your body and figure yourself out and connect with another human on simply a physical level can be magical too.

I also wanted to show through Jay’s experience just how soul-uplifting both things can be: falling for someone’s entire personality and meeting someone who so clearly shows they want to get physical with you.

I hope readers see that one isn’t “better” than the other, but the fun comes in figuring out what combination of these two areas—love and sex—works best for you.

Culturess:  You’ve previously published picture books, but Jay’s Gay Agenda is your official debut as a young adult author. How did the process differ for you as a writer? What do you find the most joyful and challenging about writing for different age categories?

Jason June:  I love love love that I get to write for all age ranges! One of the most notable differences between this and my work in the picture book (Whobert Whover, Owl Detective and Porcupine Cupid) and chapter book (Mermicorn Island) space is that I’m finally writing about humans!

My work for younger readers has all featured animals, but whether animal or human I include queer themes and hopefully heart. And with Jay’s Gay Agenda, I got to explore those even more since I had so much more space to work with, developing backstories not only for Jay but for all the secondary characters too, which is something I haven’t been able to do as much of before.

Creating whole developed histories of people in a contemporary setting was so special and made me feel like I was a part of this friend group. That was also the most challenging part for YA: keeping track of everyone’s stories and how they intersect. But once it all came together, it was such a special moment.

For picture books, the hardest part is telling a whole complete story with humor and heart in under 500 words. It’s such a challenging puzzle, but like with YA, when it all comes together it’s just *chef’s kiss*.

Culturess:  Jay’s Gay Agenda is full of a rich cast of characters, queer and not queer alike. How did you make sure all of Jay’s friends, family, and classmates had a moment to shine?

Jason June:  I love Jay’s framily so much! I wanted to be sure that while Jay is the star of this show, it’s clear he’s not the star of all these other characters’ lives; they’re the main character of their own stories.

So I wanted each character to have moments where they could explain their own lives and show us what their life looks like outside of Jay.

And since this is a book all about different kinds of relationships, I wanted them each to be able to share with us their histories in terms of romance and friendship, and let Jay take those in and see if any of their paths tugged at his heart and made him want to go in a similar direction.

Culturess:  Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Jason June:  Just that I’m so, so thankful for everybody’s support. It’s been so surreal and floaty in the best way to kick off Pride with people celebrating this book all about queer joy and love and lust and I will never forget this moment for the rest of my life. I love you all!

Jay’s Gay Agenda is available now wherever books are sold. Let us know if you add it to your TBR pile.