Please join me in welcoming author Matthew J. Metzger to my blog. I’m so thrilled that Matthew is stopping by today to talk to us about coming out in romance and to celebrate the recent release of his latest novel, Life Underwater. Welcome, Matthew!
Life Underwater by Matthew J. Metzger
p style=”text-align: center;”>Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: October 22, 2018
Heat Level: 1 – No Sex
Length: Novel / 55,300 words
Genre: Contemporary, contemporary, academia, trans, non-binary, agender, asexual, interracial/intercultural, disability/phobia, family issues, #ownvoices
Ashraf never thought he could fall in love. So when he falls hard and fast for marine biologist Jamie Singer, it’s a shock to the system—in more ways than one.
Even if he can wrap his head around what love is and how relationships work, Ashraf’s not sure this is viable. He’s hydrophobic. And Jamie’s entire world revolves around the sea. What’s the point of trying if so much of Jamie’s life is inaccessible to Ashraf?
But Ashraf has vastly underestimated the pull of loving Jamie. For the first time, he wants to face the water, rather than flee from it. He has underestimated the power of love in making people brave, stupid, or a little bit of both.
Maybe it’s time to take a leap—and sink or swim.
Matthew J. Metzger © 2018
All Rights Reserved
He was getting funny looks.
It was an airport. Of course he was. It didn’t matter that he was waiting at the arrivals gate, and he didn’t have a bag. Ashraf always got funny looks in airports.
For once, though, he didn’t care.
Because the flight from Sydney had clicked over to “arrived” nearly forty-five minutes ago. And Australian accents were starting to float out of the tunnel. His phone had already beeped in his pocket twice.
Jamie: Landed safe, see you soon, love you! xxx
Followed, not ten minutes later, by a second.
Jamie: Don’t go to mosque tonight? I want you all to myself. Please? xxx
Six weeks was almost over.
Mosque could definitely wait.
He saw Professor Hanley first, with his customary battered backpack and fresh-from-the-jungle look. The man was a walking biohazard, and ticked every one of the absent-minded professor stereotypes, from the shabby jacket with the patched elbows to the Einstein-after-electrocution haircut. At his elbow loped his research assistant, George, looking like he’d not slept for the whole trip. He probably hadn’t. And behind them, weighed down with souvenirs and suntans, their brand new PhD students, Meg and Jamie.
Ashraf began to smile.
The sight of Jamie, even after six weeks, was as familiar as though it had been six hours. That fluffy beanie hat. The strays of light-brown hair escaping around the edges. The spray of freckles that had eluded the sun cream. The small ears and sharp jaw, where Ashraf liked to trail his fingers down from shell to shoulder and feel the life underneath his touch. The bright, brilliant brown eyes that would dim shyly when he did.
That lit up like fireworks in the dark when their gazes met.
The yell was like coming home. Warm. Wanted. Safe—even if the weight that smashed into his chest was anything but. Ashraf staggered, squeezing tight around skinny shoulders and trying to breathe past the scarf that smothered his face. Legs snaked around his thighs and clung too. He hadn’t had a four-limbed hug in six weeks, and he never wanted to put them down.
But he did.
If only to catch both arms around a lean back, and kiss them.
Fists clutched at the front of his jacket. That beautiful face turned up into his own. Feet pushed up into perfect ballet points, and Ashraf could have stayed right there, holding his entire world in the circle of his arms, holding that weight like it was nothing, forever.
Even if he wasn’t allowed.
The kiss was broken by a laugh, a nose rubbing against his own, and the brightest eyes in the world.
“Welcome home, Jamie.”
“Missed you,” Jamie enthused and wriggled against his chest as though hugging, without actually putting their arms around him. “What are you doing here? I was all set to surprise you at work!”
“I win,” Ashraf said simply and squeezed. Jamie squeaked, coming up off their feet entirely. “I borrowed Tariq’s car.”
“Oh my God!”
“So do you need to go back with the others, or…”
“Or,” Jamie said firmly and bounced up on the balls of their feet again to deliver a short, sharp kiss. “Let me just say goodbye. Stay right there. Right there!”
Ashraf obeyed. He couldn’t stop smiling. He was getting funny looks again, but for an entirely different reason. Six weeks had been hard—but harder than he’d realised when Jamie smiled like that. Missing them had turned into a sharp, awful pain just with that one smile, and Ashraf didn’t even like the ten feet that parted them as Jamie ricocheted around the others, collecting hugs from Meg and the professor, and pompously shaking George’s hand before dragging him into a hug too.
So when they came back, still wearing their entire personality on their face, Ashraf reeled them in by the jacket and locked his arms around the small of their back.
“Hello,” Jamie whispered against his mouth.
Ashraf silenced them, but only briefly before the laugh spoiled it, and Jamie was nuzzling his cheek.
“You’ve not shaved.”
“I like the bearded look. Very professorial.”
“Bet Tariq doesn’t know you borrowed the car to pick me up.”
“Bet he’d be pretty upset to get sin all over it too.”
“Want to get sin all over it?”
A smile creased against his cheek, and teeth gnawed lightly on his jaw before the warmth, the weight, the wonder, pulled away. The loss was staggering. Painful. Too soon.
“Come on,” Jamie said. “Take me home in style.”
Ashraf slid their fingers together and decided to take the scenic route.
☆ Guest Post ☆
Coming Out in Romance
In queer romance, there’s almost always this big question hovering in the background.
In or out?
It’s not hard to spot its shadows. The incredulity when queer readers read a scene of two men kissing in public on a busy street in the middle of 1950s Peckham. Almost every young adult novel going. The moment when everyone sighs and goes, “Here comes the infodump!” after a sexuality or a gender identity is revealed. The rage when authors bring someone—or worse, force them—out of the closet as a plot twist instead of a sympathetic and respectful evolution of the character.
On its own, it’s not at all a bad thing. I didn’t even know how I could come out as trans when I did. I didn’t even realise coming out as asexual counted back in the day. But—
Sometimes I feel like there’s three problems jostling for room. One is the ongoing presumption that we need to come out, followed closely by the idea that it’s a one-time thing. And the third is that other people need to know.
They’re all wrong.
I just switched jobs. I had little queer flags up on my computer in my old job, and my colleagues bought me a fluffy unicorn with a glittery rainbow mane and tail for a leaving present. Everybody knew I was trans. (Even people I never told…) But in my new job, nobody knows that. Nobody knows the people I used to work with. Nobody knows me. And I pass consistently enough that I will probably be assumed to be a gay guy, but a guy all the same.
I’ve gone back in the closet. And—yeah, I’m planning on staying here.
The main characters in my latest novel are both queer. Jamie is agender. Ashraf is ace and trans. And while Jamie—it is implied—is very open and has a closets-are-for-clothes mentality, Ashraf is the reverse. He is intensely private. It is his business, nobody else’s, and he parts with the information only under duress. In his eyes, the only person who has to know is Jamie.
And moreover, it’s different for each aspect. When Jamie accidentally outs him as asexual, Ashraf isn’t particularly bothered. So what, he figures. It doesn’t matter. But at the same time, he notes that he would have been much angrier to be outed as trans. One is a non-issue; the other is an intense breach of his privacy that is much harder to forgive and something he will only ever give vague hints towards. And yet having undergone a full medical transition, it’s obvious that at some point, Ashraf probably had no choice but to be out. While Jamie can pass for whatever and whoever they like, there is likely to have been several points in Ashraf’s life where he was obviously trans even to the ignorant bystander. He has likely been out before—but is no longer.
This is a nuance I often find missing from queer romance. The in/out binary doesn’t ring true. I am firmly in the closet in every queer aspect going in the male changing rooms at the gym. I am out about absolutely everything to my partner and best friends. I am out as trans to my family, but not asexual.
And the reasons change too. I’m not as ace to most simply because I can’t be bothered to explain it. I keep my trans identity to myself at the gym for safety reasons, but at my new job for privacy reasons. I am out to my best friends because I don’t want to watch what I say, but out to my partner because they share my life, and it’s an aspect of myself I feel that they need to know in order to know me properly. I will attend pride parades wearing trans and ace colours, but drop the ace flag for the nightclub so I don’t get stares and offers to fix me.
Will my future in-laws ever know? I don’t know. Will my flags return to future offices? I don’t know. Will I wear trans colours in another country’s clubs? Maybe, maybe not. Things change. The closet is as fluid as everything else in our lives.
Nobody should be forced to be there—but many of us choose to be, at various times throughout our lives and for various reasons, not all of which are horrible. Sometimes we’re too lazy to explain. Sometimes we’re too private to bare our souls. Sometimes we’re not quite sure ourselves yet.
They should all be in fiction. Not just the in/out binary, and not just the closet that serves as a coffin.
Meet the Author
Matthew J. Metzger is an ace, trans author posing as a functional human being in the wilds of Yorkshire, England. Although mainly a writer of contemporary, working-class romance, he also strays into fantasy when the mood strikes. Whatever the genre, the focus is inevitably on queer characters and their relationships, be they familial, platonic, sexual, or romantic.
When not crunching numbers at his day job, or writing books by night, Matthew can be found tweeting from the gym, being used as a pillow by his cat, or trying to keep his website in some semblance of order.
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