Today I am so pleased to welcome Jay Northcote to Joyfully Jay. Jay has come to talk to us about his latest release, Starting from Scratch (which I reviewed here and loved), as well as writing a trans main character. Please join me in giving him a big welcome!
When I decided I wanted to write a book with a trans main character in it, I had a lot of worries about how some m/m readers might react. Let’s face it—a lot of m/m readers are here for the sex (at least in part). I’m not judging. I enjoy reading books where the sex is an important part of the relationship development, and if you’ve read any of my books you’ll know I like writing those stories too.
The Housemates series seemed like the perfect opportunity to introduce a trans character, because it’s a new adult/college series and is all about sexual discovery and new experiences. I wanted to write about a trans guy having his first relationship with a guy as a guy, so it seemed to fit the Housemates themes perfectly. But I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to ‘sell’ a trans main character to m/m romance readers.
When I began writing Starting from Scratch, and started talking on social media about the fact that I was writing a trans main character, I had several conversations where potential readers wanted to know whether he was ‘fully transitioned.’
At this point I need to point out that the phrase ‘fully transitioned’ is problematic anyway. Transition is a journey and the final destination is different for everyone. Social transition is just as important as any sort of physical transition. Some trans people take hormones, some don’t. Some trans people have surgery (or multiple surgeries), some don’t. For trans men there are various potential surgeries that someone might have, but having every single surgery available to you doesn’t make you any more trans than someone who doesn’t have any at all.
So, having got that PSA out of the way—I decided to write Ben as a guy who has been on T (testosterone) for a couple of years. He’s had chest surgery, but he hasn’t had any lower surgery and isn’t planning on it for now. The reason I decided to write Ben this way is because this is the reality for a lot of transgender men. Some guys do have lower surgery, of course, but others choose not to for a variety of reasons—cost, risks, recovery time, or simply because they reach a point where they are happy with their body as it is.
Given Ben’s anatomy, my anxiety was pretty predictable. (Or pre-dick-table. Heh). Would m/m readers be prepared to read a story where one of the main characters doesn’t have a penis—or at least not the sort of penis that a cisgender man has? And as Starting from Scratch is part of the Housemates series—which is quite sex focused—I couldn’t shy away from writing the sex scenes. Was I stupid to risk killing a successful series by writing a book that too many people might skip?
Was I wise to risk my mental health by writing a story that was so close to home for me? As a gay trans man myself, it would be hard not to take any negative reactions to Ben personally.
As I wrote Ben’s story, I had to confront a lot of my own anxieties and internalised transphobia. But I actually found it quite cathartic. It was so clear to me that Ben is a man, and Sid never sees him as anything other than a man. They learned to navigate the physical side of their relationship in a way that was very satisfying for both of them. Moreover, as I wrote the sex scenes, I realised that they really weren’t that different to any other m/m sex scenes I’ve ever written. Ben and Sid were two guys, having hot sex, and the exact details of Ben’s anatomy didn’t really matter.
Now the book has been out for a week or so, and based on the sales, reviews and reactions so far I’m very happy to report that it seems lots of readers see it that way too.
Starting over isn’t easy, but Ben is ready to live his life as the man he was always meant to be.
Ben is transgender and back at university after hormone treatment and chest surgery. His new housemates have no idea about his history and Ben would prefer to keep it that way. He’s starting from scratch and his life is finally on track, except in the romance department. The idea of dating guys as a guy is exhilarating but terrifying, because if Ben wants a boyfriend he’ll have to disclose his secret.
Sid is drawn to Ben from the moment they meet. He normally gets what he wants—in the short term at least. Ben’s guarded at first, and Sid’s not used to guys rejecting his advances. He eventually charms his way through Ben’s defences and helps Ben on his journey of sexual awakening.
It doesn’t matter to Sid that Ben is trans. He’s attracted to the whole person, and isn’t worried about what is—or isn’t—in Ben’s pants. They’re good together, and both of them are falling hard and fast, but Ben’s insecurities keep getting in the way. If Sid can convince Ben he’s committed, will Ben finally be able to put his heart on the line?
Although this book is part of the Housemates series, it has new main characters, a satisfying happy ending, and can be read as a standalone.
Series Information and Links
The Housemates Series is a collection of standalone stories set around a student house in Britain. This new adult series focuses on themes of self-discovery and sexual awakening.
Helping Hand (Housemates #1)
Like a Lover (Housemates #2)
Practice Makes Perfect (Housemates #3)
Watching and Wanting (Housemates #4)
Jay lives just outside Bristol in the West of England. He comes from a family of writers, but always used to believe that the gene for fiction writing had passed him by. He spent years only ever writing emails, articles, or website content.
One day, Jay decided to try and write a short story—just to see if he could—and found it rather addictive. He hasn’t stopped writing since.
Jay writes contemporary romance about men who fall in love with other men. He has five books published by Dreamspinner Press, and also self-publishes under the imprint Jaybird Press. Many of his books are now available as audiobooks.
Jay is transgender and was formerly known as she/her.
It’s a lovely book, full of all that first-love self-discovery, because I couldn’t not count this as Ben’s first love. And with that came all the usual worries as well as all his concerns as a trans guy. I thought it was sensitive, sweet, and informative without being preachy. And the sex? Well, that was just fine ?
Thanks Karen. I’m really glad you liked it. First time/first love stories are some of my favourites to write.
I love this series. Very hot sexy and (warning, TMI) these books turn me on.
And this book had just the same effect as the others!
It was just a sexy as the others and i’ll certainly be reading it again 🙂
One of the reasons this book works so well (just like the others) is because it’s about the relationship between the guys and the way they feel about each other, including physical attraction. The size of your dick isn’t central to any of that. In fact, it’s irrelevant unless you want a career in porn.
I’ve read quite a few terrific books featuring trans characters and I’d encourage readers to give them a go.
I love your fiction Jay and I’m pleased you’ve chosen to share so much of your personal life with readers. Hopefully, it will help readers learn more about LGBT people and that what a person has in their underwear doesn’t determine their gender.
Thank you, and haha. Well… it wouldn’t be a Housemates book if it wasn’t steamy.
Jay, thanks for writing an #ownvoices book into your already established series. 🙂
thank you 🙂
Thanks for a thought provoking post, Jay. And best wishes for the success of Starting from Scratch.
Very curious about the book. Thank you for the post.
thanks for taking the time to read the post 🙂
My words are failing me right now. I’m not sure what to say that others haven’t already. So as long as you continue to write great stories, I’ll continue to read them.
thank you so much!
I’m so glad you wrote this book. It has become my favorite of the Housemates story. The characters are amazing. In my oppinion Ben being a man started the instant he knew he was one. Whether he transitioned any physically is not the deciding factor. You are who you feel you are. The body is just the gift wrap and will change many times in your life.
I liked it. Wasn’t sure if I would. The cover is good too. Representing most top surgery, but some do have keyhole too. Pretty recognizable the double incision, so good job there.
Yes, I liked the cover as well. I mentioned it in my review, but I am glad that the cover was definitely representative of Ben.