Life Under Water by Matthew J. Metzger
Title: Life Under Water
Author: Matthew J. Metzger
Publisher: NineStar Press
Published: 22 October 2018
Length: 55,300 words.
Keywords : contemporary, academia, trans, non-binary, agender, asexual, interracial/intercultural, disability/phobia, family issues, #ownvoices
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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.
Exclusive Author Talks: Asexual Love
I’ve never seen myself in a romance novel that I didn’t write.
Let’s be honest, that’s probably why I write romance. So, I can have the grumpy husbands like Mike and Stephen (Married Ones). So, I can have the dramatic eye-rolling from Andreas (Erik the Pink). So, I can put my fists up instead of waiting to be saved (Big Man, The Italian Word for Kisses).
My latest novel is no different—but it’s more, somehow.
This is the first time I wrote my intersection.
I’m that double whammy of queer. I’m asexual, and I’m transgender. And living at that intersection is a very weird experience, because I don’t count as anything. Nothing at all. I’m not trans, because I’m a man. I’m not a man, because I’m ace. I’m not ace, because I’m in a relationship. I can’t be in a relationship, because I’m trans. And so, the wheel keeps spinning.
(Oh, and if you think it’s just the ignorant cishets coming out with this garbage, think again. The queer romance community needs to ask itself a lot of questions.)
I hinted at my intersection in Sex in C Major, but with Life Underwater, I finally went there. The main character is both. He’s asexual. He did think he was a romantic, though now there’s a big question mark and he’s more likely to be gay romantic than anything else. He’s transgender. And he’s in the first—and hopefully last—relationship of his life, even though he’s in his mid-thirties. And despite the discourse, these two facets of his identity are entirely independent.
“Despite what everyone thought, he hadn’t avoided relationships for most of his youth because he was transgender or had issues with his body. And he wasn’t asexual because he had issues with his body either. They were separate things. He was transgender, and that was a fact. And he had never been sexually attracted to a single human being in thirty-five years. That was another fact. And apart from both facts being applied to him, a single individual, they were totally unrelated.”
He’s also what I’ve been craving in asexual representation for years: uncompromising. Whenever there’s a pairing between an asexual and a non-asexual lead, guess what happens? The ace one compromises. They’ll have sex. They’ll do it. They’ll make that sacrifice.
Now, I’m okay with this on a very personal level. When I’m in relationships, the sex does tend to happen when my partner wants to. I’m never going to start anything, but if they want to have some fun and I’m in a good mood, I’ll enjoy myself just fine.
Where I’m less okay with it is that it’s the overwhelming majority of ace rep in romance that I’ve read. It’s always this way around. And usually with an added dose of sainthood for the wonderfully accepting partner who of course would never pressure them (but usually does) and of course loves them anyway (um, why do I need reassuring of that? The lady doth protest too much…) and of course…they end up banging like rabbits because someone in this relationship wants to bone.
What am I supposed to take away from that? My partner is a saint for loving me despite my lack of interest? I’ll give in eventually to make things work? I’m going to be the one who has to adapt here?
Or—radical thought—maybe they have to. Maybe they have to face a life without sex, instead of me marking off days in the calendar to buy a good magazine to read during the act. Maybe they have to compromise in order to have me, and not the other way around. Maybe I deserve to make that call too, once in a while.
And that’s what Ashraf does.
He loves Jamie—but he’s a realist. He doesn’t like sex. He doesn’t want sex. He is sex-repulsed. No matter how much he loves Jamie, he’s not going to overcome that barrier. He doesn’t want to overcome that barrier.
“He had his pride. If someone thought being regularly screwed was better than being with him, then Ashraf wanted no part of it.”
That’s me. That’s Ashraf. We deserve better than a sacrificial saint. We deserve to be loved for who we are, not on the condition that we’ll change. We deserve to have our own lines in the sand. We deserve to say no and stick to our guns.
And we deserve love too.
I’m engaged. I’m a man. I’m ace. And I’m trans.
And they are all independent facts.
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.
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.