Anton never thought anyone would ever want to date him. Everyone knows nobody wants a transgender boyfriend, right? So he’s as shocked as anyone when seemingly-straight Jude Kalinowski asks him out, and doesn’t appear to be joking.
The only problem is … well, Jude doesn’t actually know.
Anton can see how this will play out: Jude is a nice guy, and nice guys finish last. And Anton is transgender, and transgender people don’t get happy endings. If he tells Jude, it might destroy everything.
And if Jude tells anyone else … it will.
Word Count: 67,000 words
Publisher: JMS Books (Queerteen Press)
Publication Date: 1 May 2016
Lately, I’ve been on a binge of writing transgender characters.
It’s hard to be transgender in the LGBT romance community, especially a transgender man, because the community has such problems with diversity. The overwhelming majority of books are about twenty-something, white, cisgender, gay men. And a series of rows lately have been showing that a lot of minority communities are starting to get fed up with it. I can see why, because the message to guys like me is very much, “Sorry, you’ll never be man enough to be in one of our sexy romances.”
But obviously one of the first steps is to start writing that change yourself, so all the books I’ve been working on in the last year have featured transgender main characters.
I just never expected Spy Stuff to be one of them.
One of my aims is to see more incidentally transgender books. Because…well, transgender people know what it’s like. We don’t need to be told. What we’re not being told is that we can have fun, happy, normal lives. We can have boyfriends and wives and children and pets that run into the screen door too often. We can have happy endings!
We’re not told that, so that’s what I wanted to show more of. I’m a mid-transition female to male transgender man: I have a successful career in a high-stress environment; I just bought my first house; I have a strange on-again, off-again relationship with an army lad; I travel extensively just for the hell of it. As I write this, I’m waiting for an airport taxi to Heathrow, and will be in Amman by nightfall.
Men like me don’t do that in books.
So for my first transgender novel, Spy Stuff, to be an issue book, not an incidental book, was a huge surprise to me.
Spy Stuff is about first relationships: how do you date, when you don’t want your gender identity to be found out? How do you even tell someone that kind of thing? When? And how do you take that risk of your crush turning around in disgust and telling the entire school?
It took a long time — the entire book and halfway through editing — before I realised why I’d written it, and why the protagonists were only fifteen when I dumped them into that situation.
Because it was the kind of book I’d needed at fifteen.
Anton is a kid far more aware of himself and far braver than I was at the same age. I didn’t realise what I was until I was in my twenties, and didn’t start transitioning until I was 23 years old. Had I known, and had I done at fifteen, I would now be indistinguishable from a man. I would not have call centre workers going, “Oh, I need to discuss the account details with the account holder,” because the account holder is a man and I sound like a woman. I would not have to steel myself before going to the gym, in case I’m challenged in the changing rooms. I would not have to explain myself to every new colleague, because they would never know. I would not have been made to feel like such an outsider at the first LGBT fiction convention I attended, and have people directly challenging my gender and name in front of me.
All because, when I was fifteen, ‘transgender’ meant the fat blokes in drag on the TV ads for kitchen roll.
There weren’t books about it. There weren’t films about it. Many kids could and did grow up in environments where it simply did not exist — and how are you supposed to recognise something in yourself, when you have no idea what it even is?
So Spy Stuff will not, to me, go towards improving this community’s understanding of what is missing from transgender fiction.
But it has gone to a long way, for me, towards correcting what I needed to know all those years ago.
Anton slowly relaxed as Jude started to brighten up and just … talk. Jude chattering, Anton was starting to realise, was a sign that everything was alright. And Anton desperately wanted it to be, so he simply clung on to Jude’s hand — even though it was raining outside, and really too cold to not be wearing gloves — and let the noise wash over him all the way home.
Which meant, when he let them into the house and the smell of Aunt Kerry’s drunk spag bol invaded their clothes, Anton was … actually in kind of a good mood. Maybe he could do this. Maybe Jude would listen, even if in the end he still decided dating a trans guy wasn’t for him? There was a chance, right?
So when Lily appeared in the doorway, took one look at Jude, and screamed, Anton laughed.
“What the hell!” Jude yelped as she tore back into the kitchen.
“Mummy, Anton’s friend’s on fire in the hall!”
“– kinda weird.”
“No shi — er, hell?”
“Just ignore her,” Anton advised, hanging up their coats. A nervous swoop made itself known when Jude grinned and kissed his ear, but he laughed it off and pushed him in the direction of the kitchen. “Go get us drinks or something.”
“It’s your house,” Jude said, but wandered off obediently. Anton took a moment to simply breathe before following him.
Lily had firmly decided — despite having seen Jude before and not having really clocked his hair — that Jude was on fire, and Anton had to wrestle a cup of water away from her before it ended up on Jude’s head.
“Nooo, give it back!” she wailed, stretching up to grab his belt as he put the cup in the sink and rummaged in the fridge for Cokes.
“Yeah, Anton, give it back. I might start melting the counter,” Jude said, sliding onto one of the stools at the island counters. Aunt Kerry, busy with dinner, simply chuckled at the both of them.
“You’re being mean!” Lily yelled, stamping her foot, then turned on Jude, skidding across the tiles to grab at his trousers. “You need a fireman!”
“It’s always that colour,” Jude said in a serious voice, but he was wearing an ear-splitting grin, and Anton’s heart clenched hard at the sheer beauty of him, despite the battered face.
“No, it’s on fire!”
“No it’s not,” Jude said. “It’s ginger.”
“That’s not ginger, ginger biscuits are ginger!”
“If they’re brown,” Lily said seriously, “then why are they called ginger biscuits, huh?”
“Because they have ginger in them.”
“Which makes them ginger and that’s not ginger and you’re on fire!”
“Lily, leave Jude alone,” Aunt Kerry interjected.
Jude dropped his head onto the counter with a muffled cackle into both hands, and Anton couldn’t help but laugh at sight of him. “Oh God,” he said. “Come on, let’s go into the living room, and –”
“Noooo, you can’t, he’ll put the living room on fire!”
“Lily, seriously, stop it with the fire, he’s not on fire.”
“Jew!” she screeched, and Jude did a full body twitch like he was trying not to curl in on himself. “Jew!”
“Jude!” Anton corrected.
“Jude,” she echoed scornfully, throwing Anton a fabulously dirty look for a kid who wasn’t even six yet. “Jude!”
“What?” Jude managed, coughing and rubbing at his eyes, still grinning.
“Tell Tasha to stop it!”
Anton froze. Like a bucket of ice water being dumped on his head, every muscle seized up, and the Coke in the cans started rattling in his shaking hands. “Lily! Stop it!” Aunt Kerry barked, but Jude — oh God, Jude, totally oblivious Jude —
“Okay,” he said. “Who’s Tasha?”
Lily blinked, then flung her arm out, and pointed right at Anton. “Anton’s Tasha,” she said, like it was so obvious.
“Lily, that’s eno –”
“Anton was Natasha only then she became Anton and Mummy says I have to say he but I forget sometimes,” Lily continued in a loud, inescapable voice. It bounced off the walls and tiles, and one of the cans slipped through Anton’s hands and burst open on the floor. Coke was flung everywhere in long, fizzy bursts, soaking his socks and trousers, and through Lily’s indignant shriek and Aunt Kerry’s yell, all he could see was — was —
The wide-eyed, confused stare that Jude was giving him. And the single word, that word, the word Anton hated.
Anton opened his mouth, found nothing coming up to save him, and did the only thing possible.
Matthew is an asexual, transgender author dragged up in the wet and windy British Isles. He currently lives and works in West Yorkshire, and has a special fondness for writing the rough-edged British working class society in which he grew up — warts and all.
Matthew roams mainly on Twitter and Facebook, has a free fiction page, runs a blog chronicling his own transition from female to male, and has a website. His young adult backlist can be found on his JMS Books author page. And as a last resort, he can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.