First Purse

I bought my first purse today. For me. And it was one of the most liberating experiences of my life.

This is not a groundbreaking moment for humans. Many men have carried purses before and I’m sure they will after me. But in that moment walking out of the store carrying my brand new bag (and it’s pink to boot), I felt like I had taken a step closer to me. For about…ever, I haven’t really felt right in the very limited selection of men’s clothing and accessories that are offered in store after store after store. Putting on a pair of jeans always felt off. I never thought they looked right, and always enviably looked on to the women’s sections that were vastly larger than the section I was “supposed” to shop in. I wanted the selection of colors, I wanted the options of pants that didn’t just hang off my chicken legs or sit oddly around my hips, and most of all, I wanted a bag that made everything I wore pop.

When I was in high school that kind of gender fluidity in clothing was not allowed. I distinctly remember when messenger bags became a thing and boys who carried them were made fun of for carrying a “murse.” For those who might not have been privy to the fashion trends of the early-2000s, messenger bags are essentially cloth briefcases with a long strap. Apparently that strap triggered blaring alarms in the Heteronormative Headquarters of America and sent the modified briefcase into purse territory, making it a *huge no-no* for anyone with a penis to carry. So I retired my messenger bag for a backpack and never again thought of expressing myself through fashion in anything that could remotely be considered feminine because of what people might say.

Until recently.

Within the last year, something shifted. After going through my 20s still not being satisfied with my look or the limited options for men,  I took a step into what those Heteronormative Headquarters would call Enemy Territory. I looked through racks of women’s pants and tried on a few pairs. I would be lying if I said there weren’t feelings of shame mixed in with elation at seeing what something other than jeans or trousers looked like on my body. Eventually the elation won out.

The first pant style I’ve embraced from the women’s section that I feel fit me better than any pair of jeans ever did are leggings. I like that they hug my legs instead of hang off them and that they go real well with my favorite style of boot. But I still let the Gender Police influence my outfit decisions by pairing those leggings with oversized shirts so the shirt sort of swallowed me up. And while I longingly saved pages of purses on the internet that I would have liked to pair with my new outfits, I still never, ever, ever would have thought of actually carrying one out in public. They are so glaringly obvious, and it doesn’t matter how oversized that oversized shirt gets, it ain’t never gonna cover up the purse that *boy* is carrying.

Then I came across Jen Wang’s graphic novel THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER. As the name suggests, it’s about a prince and the relationship that develops with a dressmaker. His dressmaker. The prince dresses in drag at nights because he can’t help the part of him that is so drawn to expressing himself through women’s fashion. Like me, the prince is scared gender-restricting-pantsless at the thought of anyone figuring out his secret. But, without giving too much away because I want you all to read this book and whoop and gasp and laugh and cry at everything that happens in this book, ultimately the prince is happiest when he’s just himself. And I absolutely adore how Wang shows that the clothing you decide to wear has nothing to do with being a “correct” man or woman, but everything to do with how you feel best expressing yourself. The restraints on what we say a man or woman can wear are just arbitrary.

THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER was the first major piece of art I’d consumed that really made me think I could be brave enough to wear or carry whatever I want, whenever I want. Then the very next week I saw the documentary The Gospel According to André about André Leon Talley, a legendary fashion icon and longtime editor of Vogue. I fell in love with his personality and sense of epic caftan style when he was a judge on America’s Next Top Model a few years ago. In the documentary, you see photos of André throughout his life and hear him tell stories about growing up in the South as a flashy and flamboyant young black man. Despite the looks and hatred that came his way, André stayed true to himself and turned into the legend that he is now.

The back-to-back “you be you” messages in THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER and The Gospel According to André made me wonder why on God’s green culottes I was worrying so much about what other people thought about what I wore.

So I went out and bought that nowhere-to-hide purse, and I’m never looking back. I’m only looking forward. Forward to this whole new section of clothing options that my head and my heart now realize I can finally utilize and embrace however I want. Forward to hopefully becoming an inspiration like Jen Wang and André Leon Talley and their work was for me. All the manuscripts I have on submission right now are in some way about gender inclusivity, body acceptance, the power of femininity and accepting all sexualities. I hope to be an example for boys and girls and kids who don’t identify with either of those genders who feel constrained by what Heteronormative Headquarters tell them are the “right” things to wear, the “right” way to express themselves, the “right” way to express their gender, the “right” way to express their heart.

And I’ll do it one purse and one book at a time.

Whobert Turns 1!!

It’s the one year Whobert-versary! I can’t believe a whole year has already gone by since my debut picture book flew out into the world. It’s been a year full of school visits and book festivals and bookstore signings and it’s everything I imagined and more. Thank you for making this debut year so much fun! For more about Whobert’s first year, I did an in-depth  interview about the past twelve months with Jennifer Prevost in which I gabbed all about lessons learned and debut surprises and pushing forward.

While you’re here, let’s celebrate Whobert’s birthday! I’m giving away three copies of WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, and you can enter all three! Enter here on my website, over on my Twitter page, or on my Instagram account.

To be entered to win here on the website, all you have to do is click the Follow button over on the righthand side of the page. That’s it! I’ll give a copy away to a random follower.

To be entered to win on Twitter, be sure to follow me and then retweet the tweet about the Whobert-versary giveaway.

To be entered to win on Instagram, be sure to follow me and then tag someone in the comments of the Whobert-versary post who you think might like WHOBERT.

You have one week to enter. I’ll be announcing the winners of all three giveaways on July 25, 2018 – which is the five month mark until Christmas, if anyone’s counting. Ho, ho, ho! Or I should say who, who, who!

Happy Whobert-versary, everybody!

Spreading the Love

I am so unbelievably excited to be able to sing this from the rooftops! I get to have a book out about my favorite topic of all time: LOVE! And the amazing Lori Richmond is going to illustrate! Here’s the PW announcement:

PORCUPINE CUPID is all about a plucky porcupine who fancies himself a matchmaker. I cannot wait to see this book come to life! It’s been a long time comin’. We sold this back in December 2015, and we’ve been waiting for just the right illustrator to sign on. I could not be happier that Lori joined the PORCUPINE team. We’ve been critique group partners for years, and I had no idea she was reached out to to potentially illustrate. Lori is super good at keeping a secret!

Can’t wait for a little more love to be in the world in December 2020 when PORCUPINE CUPID hits bookstores!

The Cleanse

There are few things in life that give me more joy than Anjelica Huston. Her poise, her aura, her soul-searching looks. So if anything comes out with her in it, I have to watch it. Which is what led me to THE CLEANSE.

This movie is twacked, y’all. There’s no other way to describe it. But it’s twacked in the absolute best way. It follows a guy named Paul as he signs up for a cleanse retreat in which a very specific, very disgusting juice is brewed up for each participant that must be consumed in a day. Successful chugging of said juice results in vomiting up your demons, literally. Here’s what Paul spewed out:

First of all, I love things that are so ugly they’re cute. Cleanse vomit baby demons fall into that category. Second of all, this movie reminded me so much of the writing process it’s silly. Paul is trying to rid himself of the negativity that plagues his life to the point that he has to physically manifest it into the world. It’s just like when you’ve got that idea for a story in your head and you MUST get it onto paper. That obsessive clacking on the keyboard is just like Paul’s determined chugging. When you hit Print and hold your manuscript for the first time is just like when Paul picks up his little demon shmoop and has a sense of pride that it came out of him. Paul’s varying emotions regarding the little chunk mirrored those times when you’re loving your story one minute then thinking you’re the most terrible writer in the world the next. There were so many similarities to the writing process that I’m going to start calling my WIPs my demons. But here’s hoping that no one describes my writing as “so ugly it’s cute.”

Austin SCBWI Member Interview

The amazing folks at the Austin chapter of SCBWI asked me to do a Member Interview, and it was such a hoot! Head here to read about how my hometown inspires me, what it means to me to be a kid lit writer in the LGBTQ+ community, and how you could never convince me to become a buffalo!

Whatims – April 9, 2018

Lord and Taylor. You’ll notice that I missed last week’s post. That was because last week was a doozy. The biggest lesson I learned: when life gives you lemons, sometimes you throw them back up.

I was struck by some wicked mystery illness that knocked me out for a couple days, and the timing was terrible. I had to cancel a signing and a meeting with my editor at the Texas Library Association, which was just such a bummer. In this writing biz that can be so solitary, I was really looking forward to getting to interact with people! I’m feeling myself again, finally, and here’s what I’m doing this week.

What I’m Writing: I was able to start the third draft in my fantasy middle grade, and this draft is all about emotional layering, tugging at your heartstrings and all that. For me, the emotional layering is the hardest part. It’s got to feel authentic and right for each character in their specific life situation, but I’m feeling so connected to these characters at this point that I think I’ll be able to make them and me cry as we go down this emotional rabbit hole.

What I’m Reading: Jessica Townsend’s NEVERMOOR. This is such a great middle grade fantasy-adventure about a girl who finds herself in the fantastical city of Nevermoor after one real lousy childhood with parents who should be ashamed of themselves, Bethenny Frankel-y. But all the magical adventures she has with a cast of quirky new friends make her sad beginnings worth it.

What I’m Thankful For: Librarians! I was able to spend one nice afternoon with librarians at TLA before being struck by the Ailment from Hades. Librarians are superheroes, and I’m so thankful for them championing books everyday. Here’s me waving to all the librarians I met last week and all the ones I have yet to meet!

Whatims – March 26, 2018

What I’m Writing: I just finished the second draft of the fantasy-adventure middle grade THIS MORNING! I’m feeling on fire! Got back from Kinko’s with the printed and bound copy so that I can go through that and hand edit for Round 3. I’ll be getting into emotional layers to make sure this puppy really sings (aka makes us cry).

What I’m Reading: Carrie Jones’s TIME STOPPERS. Carrie is teaching the Write. Submit. Support. group I’m in at the Writing Barn, and she’s a middle grade master! I’m having fun diving into her fantasy world and learning from the best!

What I’m Thankful For: Customer Service! Today has been chock-full of needing to call Customer Service numbers for flights I messed up and WordPress issues that technologically-stunted me cannot always figure out. Everybody was so nice and patient with my “Wait, I need to do what-nows.” I have become my grandmother, and I’m not looking back.

Love Letter to LOVE, SIMON

It’s been a week since LOVE, SIMON, Greg Berlanti’s film adaption of Becky Albertalli’s SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, came out (and for the first time in my life, I’m going to say “no pun intended”). I’ve seen it twice. Both times I’ve seen it I’ve been a total mess. The movie opens with Jennifer Garner as Simon’s mom covering Nick Robinson as Simon’s eyes as she is about to give him his first car, and I just instantly burst into tears. You can feel the unconditional love drip off Simon and his parents and his sister. From their first displays of unconditional love, I knew this was going to be a monumental movie. I tried to choke down my tears—sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes empathetic—for the rest of the movie, but I failed miserably.

I realized that—no matter what the reason for or type of tears pouring from my eyes—I was crying because this was 100% the gay love story I needed. Not only as a 30-year-old married gay man today, but as the 17-year-old gay kid I used to be who was so afraid to come out in high school. A TIME article was recently titled, “Love, Simon is a Groundbreaking Gay Movie. But Do Today’s Teens Actually Need It?”

Yes. Today’s teens need it. Yesterday’s teens need it. Teens who turned into 30-something millennials need it. The oldest generation of gays—those who had life-long “roommates” and who feared ever being open about their sexuality—need it.

Let me tell you why.

The TIME article’s author had this to say for his main criticism:

“Kids like Simon, in 2018, already have a good shot of fitting in. They don’t need this movie. Will they look up from Netflix to notice that it has premiered? Love, Simon feels like a film responding to an entirely different culture, like one in which gay marriage was never legalized. That decision both acknowledged that equality for gays had won the day and opened the door for far more interesting and challenging fights, ones the next generation will lead. Movies that integrate those stories are ones worth anticipating with relish. Love, Simon, by contrast, simply feels like looking back in time.”

Kids like Simon, which is to say a gay teen with loving parents and supportive friends may have a good shot of fitting in, but the very fact it has to be labeled as a “good shot” indicates there’s also the chance those teens will be ostracized, ridiculed or bodily harmed when finally taking that brave step to come out.

What the author’s criticism overlooks is even if Simon and the real-life kids like him have a supportive friend group, a loving family, and live in a world where same-sex marriage is legal, those children do not live in a bubble. They still live in a country where state supreme courts refuse rights to same-sex married couples that our right to marry was supposed to grant. They still live in a world where state senators can deny same-sex couples the chance to adopt a child and start a family. They still live in a world in which the U.S. Department of Education said it won’t hear valid complaints from transgender students who are forced to use a bathroom that does not correspond with their gender identity.

We still very much live in a world that expresses hate toward the LGBTQIA+ community, and a world in which that hate is constantly trying to be made legal. Would this make a kid, even with supportive friends and family, nervous to come out?


Just because Simon and kids like him appear “normal”  (whatever that means) on the outside, does not mean that they don’t have a very real emotional struggle going on on the inside. I found myself in a situation very much like Simon’s when I was in high school. I knew I was gay, and I found my own version of Blue. I dated him in secret, not telling my friends and family even though they routinely expressed how much they cared for me, even though I was involved enough in school to be elected homecoming royalty and high school president. This is not to say, “Look at how great my high school experience was,” but to point out that despite these superficial markers of high school popularity, I was still nervous as hell for my “huge ass secret,” as Simon calls it, to come out. I was so scared that my life would crumble and that I would be ostracized by my classmates. I had nightmares about being hated and beaten that stressed me out so much a streak of my hair turned gray when I was 17 and never turned back. So I forced myself in the closet longer than I should have so I could experience what it felt like to be liked before I became hated.

Fortunately, my fears never came true. Like Simon, I was accepted by my family and most of my peers. But this definitely was not the norm for many teens who came out in the mid-2000s, and is definitely not always the case for teens today, especially in Southern states where so much of the anti-gay legislation discussed above is being passed.

Despite being out for 13 years, I still hesitate before coming out to strangers. Even as a confident 30-year-old married gay man in Texas, I’m never sure how people will react when I tell them. There is always that split second of pause where I wonder how the person I’m talking to is going to react when I reference my husband. Will their eyes widen in recognition, their thought of “Oooooh. You’re one of those,” practically audible in the room? Or will they quickly change the subject, their eyes darting around as they try to find someone else to talk to? Sometimes those reactions are not meant with hate, but sometimes they are very much meant to somehow shame me back to heterosexuality.

So yes, we do need movies like LOVE, SIMON. Teens need it, whether they are teens today or were teens years and years ago with the pains from adolescence still holding a place in their hearts. We need movies that say the Boy Next Door doesn’t have to be straight, movies that say love will conquer all despite the world we live in where disgust for the LGBTQIA+ community can so quickly be found.

I know that this post has the potential for me to be called a dramatic millennial, or a liberal snowflake that can so easily melt.

Well you’re right about one thing: I can melt. The love I get from my husband every day makes my heart melt in the best way. If LOVE, SIMON tells us anything, it’s that having your heart melted by the person you love makes any of the lows of the world totally worth it.

And I have to say I agree.

Love, Jason

Whatims – March 19, 2018

Lord. And. Taylor, folks! Just got back home from seeing LOVE, SIMON, and it is the greatest coming out/gay love story I’ve ever seen! More on that later this week. It’s taking everything in me to dry my happy tears and focus on something else, but I’m going to give it a shot!

What I’m Writing: I’m heading into the last quarter of the second revision of my MG fantasy-adventure. These past few days I’ve actually been able to use a couple scenes from the first draft. Although about 80% of that first draft is getting cut, it feels good to know that some of what I wrote before can be used!

What I’m Reading: Holy smokes, y’all! I just finished Tomi Adeyemi‘s CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE this morning, and it is an absolute must-read. It is a YA African fantasy with epic battle scenes full of butt-kicking magic and forbidden romance that makes Romeo and Juliet look like they had it easy. Go. Out. And. Get. It.

What I’m Thankful For: This week I’ve got to give a big thanks to all my Picture Book II students in the online course I’m teaching through the Writing Barn. It is so easy for me to get caught up in middle grade when I’m in the midst of writing one, but these 12 writers have reminded me how exciting and enriching it is to be a picture book author as well. Thanks for reigniting that PB flame, you guys!