JAY’S GAY AGENDA

OMG, where have I been?!

I was holed away in my house writing for the past few months. Most notably, I had one of those THIS IS THE ONE Aha Moments where a gay YA rom-com came to me almost fully fleshed out. I could hear the characters, see them, and I knew I had to tell their story.

Cut to me in a cave, blinded by light having just now emerged after I sent that YA manuscript to my agent yesterday morning.

I adore this YA so much, y’all. It’s called JAY’S GAY AGENDA. I posted a Twitter thread about it that you can read here. The main point of the thread is that I LOVE THIS STORY WITH ALL MY HEART, but it may be an impossible dream to get this manuscript published. It’s set in Fall 2020, and many publishers already have their Fall 2020 lists full. But I’m so going to try and make this happen.

JAY follows the title character, the only out student at a rural high school, as he finally gets to experience his gay firsts when his mom moves his family to the big city his senior year. It’s full of crushes and kisses and mishaps and mistakes. It’s the story of finding balance between romance and friendship.

But why 2020? 2020 will be a very intense year with the presidential election. Something that always makes me cringe during campaigns is that the LGBTQ community is used as a tool by politicians of both parties to get votes. It’s unsettling when your sexuality is constantly politicized, and I imagine many teens in the LGBTQ community will be stressed because of this. I hope JAY can be an escape for these readers, a reminder that a world exists in which they don’t have to be someone else’s tool, but a person who gets to experience love and lust and all the things that come with that.

If this doesn’t work out, I’m still so happy that Jay’s story came to me. You hear a lot in the writing world that no writing is wasted. JAY has already given me so much. It was so uplifting to write, remembering the excitement that comes with all those firsts. It also opened in me this huge passion for YA, and more ideas are starting to pour out of me.

So I may be heading back into the writing cave soon! But in the meantime, I’ll be posting a bit more about the journey of JAY and some firsts of my own I experienced while writing it.

xoxo,

Jas

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?

Absolutely.

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!

Whatims – March 5, 2018

I am SO into a book right now (you’ll see which one at the end of this post) that it took everything in me to turn away from it to write this entry!

What I’m Writing: I’m deep into the second draft of my MG fantasy-adventure and I’m loving it! I’m feeling that excitement that comes from knowing what direction your story needs to take, and I’ve been able to up my daily goal to a new chapter a day, whereas in the first draft I was writing 500 words a day. I’m hoping to have this draft done by the end of the month, and have it submission ready by the summer so I can relax and look like this:

What I’m Thankful For: This week I have so much love for author Carrie Jones. She is an amazing writer, and a SO-FANTASTIC-THERE-SHOULD-BE-A-PARADE-IN-HER-HONOR writing mentor. Carrie is leading the Write. Submit. Support online program for novelists through the Writing Barn this spring (and you can sign up for the summer session with her here) that I’m currently taking. Every note she has given me has been outrageously helpful. Carrie, thank you for your enthusiasm, encouragement and thoughtful feedback.

What I’m Reading: Dhonielle Clayton’s THE BELLES. You guuuuuuys. I’M ROBSESSED! This young adult book is set in a world where six young women control the power of beauty and can alter anyone’s appearance. In THE BELLES, we follow Camellia “Camille” Beauregard’s journey as she becomes an official Belle and navigates the political maze of a world obsessed with beauty. AND THINGS ARE NOT AS GORGEOUS AS THEY SEEM. I’m so freaking into this that I have to get back to reading it right n—