Another of my favourites, which I also wrote about for Queer Romance Month.
It really is that simple.
They teach us who we are, and how not to feel alone. They give us hope. And, sometimes they give us a framework to confront the things that terrify us. Perhaps it seems a strange thing to say about romance, this most dismissed and devalued genre that it supposed to pander solely to goodfeelz and fantasies. But, for me, it is precisely the safety of romance, the metatextual certainty that a happy ending is coming that makes it bearable – possible even – to think about the things that quietly flay me. To feel them just a little through some stranger’s words.
So here it is, on the internet, my greatest fear, the murkiest, most sordid, late-night monster that isn’t really based on anything rational but gluts itself nonetheless and grows fat like a toad on every flicker of insecurity, every set back, every moment that isn’t as easy as it should be: I’m terrified my partner will leave me for a life that requires fewer compromises. And, honestly, it makes no sense. I could be the one to make that choice if I wanted. But our life experiences are so different. Mine have taught me to take certain things for granted that his just … haven’t. I still remember the first time we were out together not as friends, but lovers, and the charge between us was different enough, that someone called us faggots from the other side of a line of traffic. And his eyes, wide, staring into mine for an answer I didn’t have: what do we do?
Even then, I think he knew: you live with it.
When you get right down it all relationships come down to learning to live with things. But I’m angry there are things he has to learn to live with beyond the fact I squash right up against at the wall at night, or that I freak out when he puts the teaspoons in the vertical partition of the cutlery drawer, instead of the horizontal one. And I’m sorrowful, faintly guilty, that there are things he has to give up to be with me. Some of them are large (biological children, being the most obvious), some of them are small (the irritation of me not being able to pay the water bill because it’s in his name) and some of them are shockingly unexpected. I think he didn’t get a job, last year, because they asked him – and his wife – to a post-interview dinner. And, after a week or so of angst, half-resolving to call in an Undercover Lesbian Wife Substitute, he took me anyway. But perhaps we were just poor dinner guests.
I would understand if he got sick of it. It certainly wearies the heck out of me.
I think it’s natural enough to fear your partner leaving you. I wouldn’t like it he fell in love with someone else (regardless of gender). I wouldn’t like it if he fell out of love with me. I wouldn’t like it if he decided my snuggle-squashing and teaspoon-anality became too much for one sane human to endure on a daily basis. These things would break my heart, but I’d grieve, and heal, and keep on living. The thing that I can’t fit into my brain, can’t find a way to deal with … is not being able to give the person I love, the life he wants.
Life After Joe is a book all about this. It was the first m/m romance I read that really spoke to me. And I think until the day I die I will always secretly think of it as the book Harper Fox wrote for me. Partially it’s a stylistic thing: I am drawn to pretty words, and it’s stunningly well written. But deeper than that, it’s full of things I recognise. Emotionally and psychologically and … honestly … literally. I grew up very close to where the book is set, and I’m a real sucker for sense of place. My personal articulations of selfhood and queerness are, to a degree, rather landscaped: I remember where I was somewhat better than the people I was with, stealing snatches of myself from a stranger’s skin, under the pier, or down some alleyway, or in the sticky corners of the club the protagonist visits as the book opens. There are so many northeast-specific references in Life After Joe that, to the part of me that will always be a working class northern boy from a council estate, it read as homecoming. A gentler, kinder homecoming that I will ever know. Impossible not to experience such a thing without a deep and slightly painful sense of gratitude.
The rest of this post is over here