Today I am so pleased to welcome Liz Jacobs to Joyfully Jay. Liz has come to talk to us about her latest release, Abroad, Book Two. She has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving Liz a big welcome!
On Coming Out to Immigrant Parents
ABROAD: The Series is a New Adult series that focuses largely on immigration, and sexual identity, and cultural clashes, and also growing up.
ABROAD: Book One introduced the reader to the protagonists, setting up who they are, their friendships and wants and struggles. ABROAD: Book Two finds their resolutions.
One of the biggest struggles Nick goes through is coming out—first, to himself, then to others, and eventually, to his family. Coming out is one of those tricky beasts, since in our current hetero-assumptive culture, it’s something that we wind up doing again and again and again.
Everyone’s coming out story is different, but no one’s story is ever over (unless, I suppose, they are a celebrity that is known the world over. Now I want to know if Ellen has had to come out recently, and what that experience was like. Neil Patrick Harris? Sir Ian? Tell us your stories!).
I’ve been coming out for a long time, but the hardest coming out was, predictably, to my family. To my Russian-Jewish immigrant family, who brought my sister and I over to America in August of 1993, which now feels like a lifetime ago.
I first realized I was maybe possibly quite gay when I was 13—two years after we left Russia. It was, predictably, utterly devastating, and I spent a long summer between middle and high school crying in the shower where nobody would hear me. Then I saw a guy I found attractive on my first day of high school and thought, hooray! I’m saved! I’m not gay!
Spoiler alert: I was super gay.
Regardless, it wasn’t until college and my twenties that I came out to myself, and then started a relationship with a woman. Coming out to my parents, however, felt unfathomable. I was out to, it seemed, the whole world—work, friends, fandom, even! But not my parents. Nor my grandparents. Only my sister knew.
One Pride, my friends and I were snapped by various photographers and our pictures wound up online. I scoured all the newspapers just to make sure my dad wouldn’t stumble across his daughter celebrating gay pride. That in itself was terrifying and exhausting.
The deeper I fell in love with my then-girlfriend, now-wife, the more I realized that sustaining being in the closet was going to become impossible. Not only did I want to run around town screaming about how much I loved this person, I was still living with my parents. And T was a frequent visitor. She would even sleep over on occasion, along with my other friends.
When I finally came out to my parents—after having spent that work day in and out of the bathroom, weeping, after which point my (also super queer) boss sent me home to just get it over with (didn’t I say the whole world knew?)—it was a lightness I had never anticipated.
They had been the last big hurdle to utter freedom. Sure, it took them a while to get used to the idea. (You know how I said my parents didn’t know? My parents knew. But now they had irrefutable proof, and were learning to live it all.)
My parents grew up in the Soviet Union in the 50’s and 60’s. That wasn’t exactly a time of sexual freedom and all-around acceptance. Their passports proclaimed them to be Jews, not Russian. There were doors that were entirely closed to them due to their ethnicity. Being different never worked in their favor, and here was their youngest daughter, their baby girl, forcing them to live with her unique identity that nobody else in the family had ever had to deal with. (I still wonder every day who else in our extended family is gay. I cannot be the only one, but boy, does it feel like I’m the lucky one.)
Coming out to immigrant parents is a unique experience all its own. The culture clash—man, is it real. The generational divide is tripled when you’ve also got an ocean between your adolescent experiences.
You know what was easier than coming out to my parents? Coming out to my grandparents. Talk about your culture clash. My grandfather was born in Belorus in 1922. My grandmother was born in Poland in 1924. They had enough pain and loss to last them a lifetime in the first twenty years of their lives. I won’t get into detail, but I will paint this picture—Jewish families, living in Stalinist times, and then World War II happens.
Anyway, we were as far away from that as could be in 2009, when I took my then 85-year old grandma on a walk in a Minneapolis suburb. I sat her down on a bench, and said, “Grandma, there’s something I have to tell you,” before showing her my engagement ring.
My mom had been utterly opposed to me coming out to them. “It will kill them!” she told me. I understood her protestations, but at the same time, it was unfathomable to me that I would marry the love of my life and keep that secret from my grandparents. My grandparents that I had spent every summer of my childhood with, that I loved to the moon and back.
“Well,” said my grandma when I told her I was marrying a woman. “You’ve surprised me.” She paused. “Are you happy?”
“So happy, Babushka.”
“Well, then, that’s all that matters.”
I might have burst into tears then, I honestly can’t remember. My grandpa took a little longer to accept it, but they both love my wife now, and there are no more secrets between us. My cousins in Russian know. My cousins in Israel know.
I am out, to everyone who matters, though it took years. My parents did an incredible amount of work on themselves in order to fully come to terms with my sexuality, which took patience and some hurt and pain on all our parts. I will never not be grateful for how much my family loves me.
What happens with Nick and Dex and Izzy is something I’ll leave to the reader to find out, but in writing ABROAD, I did my best to show just how lonely some of these experiences can be, and how rewarding the results.
Also there’s, like, a lot of sex in it, so I’m gonna have to warn my parents about that before they read Book Two. I guess. Maybe I’ll just move to Antarctica?
They were towards the end of the second bottle when Izzy flopped sideways and tucked her head in the crook of Alex’s shoulder. Over time, she realised there was no compelling reason not to, and once she did, Alex agreeably shifted so she was half plastered against him and wrapped his arm around her middle. It was nice and warm. She was glad she’d changed into her leggings.
“I’m sorry I didn’t know about your brain thing,” she sighed.
Alex snuffled, presumably in amusement. “My brain thing’s fine, thank you. How would you have known, anyway?”
She thought about it. How did anybody know anything? “I could have asked, I suppose. It just never occurred to me.” Was that weird?
“Well, why would it have? I never brought it up.”
“Conundrum,” she sighed, watching the matte blankness of the telly screen. If it’d been one of those older tellies from when she was a kid, she might have seen their reflections. They’d probably look like a distorted sort of blob, because Alex was tall and she was listed sideways. This telly was too modern for that. “Why don’t you talk about yourself more?” she asked after a companionably quiet moment.
“What’d you mean?”
She realised that at some point she had found his free hand with hers, and they were doing this slapping pumping thing where her open palm would come down on his open palm and he would bounce it up and then they’d do it again.
It was strangely comforting.
“Well, like … I dunno. I feel like you know all this stuff about me, and Nat, and Dex, and the rest of us, but we never really talk about you.”
Alex was quiet for a moment. Then, “I suppose you’re all bloody drama queens and a guy can barely get a word in edgewise.”
She elbowed him very lightly, but it was more out of habit than anything else. “Alex. Are we awful people?”
“I mean, like, us, like … not you, but … me and Nat and Dex and Jonny … wait, not Jonny. I guess that leaves … me. And Dex. And Nat.”
He shifted like he meant to move away or do something ridiculous like look at her face, so she sidled closer and kept him in place. “Why would you think that?”
“Well, maybe not awful, but like … are we crap friends to you?”
“What?” He sounded genuinely confused.
“I mean, seriously, do we ever talk about your stuff? Wait, don’t answer that, I know we don’t. Why is that?”
“Oh my God, Iz, what’s got into you?”
“I’m serious! Like, it just occurred to me, you’re one of my favourite people in the whole world, and I don’t even know your favourite colour!”
“What? You want to know my favourite colour?” Now he sounded not only confused but also amused, and Izzy’s mulish side popped out of nowhere, because it wasn’t funny, it was just true—Alex never shared unless prompted, and she wanted to know why.
“No, I mean, yes, but I mean, not just that, all right?” Blearily, she pushed away until she could look at him properly, and he was so fucking gorgeous, fuck. She reined herself in as much as she could and decided to focus on just his eyes, leaving the rest of his face a blur. A pleasant, confused sort of blur. “I just mean that you’re always, like, helping us and–and–and giving us your car if we need it—”
“That was one time—”
“Don’t interrupt me, that isn’t the point—I just mean, like, you dated that one girl last year and then it took you weeks to tell us you’d broken up, and then you never talked about it again, like, what the fuck, we’re your friends, we could have helped, you know?”
Alex was blinking at her, eyebrows drawn, and she couldn’t quite pinpoint what his expression meant. It wasn’t blurry so much as complicated, but he didn’t look … happy.
“Sorry.” She dropped her head to rest it on the back of the sofa when it became too heavy to hold up. “That was well rude, wasn’t it? I mean, just … You don’t have to … I guess you don’t have to tell us anything you don’t want.”
“Izzy … ”
“No, s’okay,” she mumbled. She could feel her face flamingwith embarrassment. Could she lay the blame solely on the wine?
“No, it’s—look.” Izzy watched as he sort of braced himself.
“When Tasha and I broke up, I didn’t tell you because that’s … not what I do, I guess. It was pretty straightforward, and I didn’t feel like talking about it, to be honest. I don’t need to, though. That’s not … that isn’t how I do this, all right?”
“All right.” Izzy thought about it. “You know that’s weird, right?”
He snorted, serious expression evaporating. “Yeah?”
“Well, yeah! I mean, it’s like … stupidly, I dunno, mature or whatever, to work shit out all on your own and be all right, instead of … ”—she waved her arms about to illustrate … well, everything—“you know? Like, how do you manage it all inside your head?”
Alex ran one hand over his short-cropped hair, then emptied his wine glass and reached for a refill. He caught her eye for a moment. More? She shrugged and let it happen. She liked wine. Finally, he spoke. “I guess I find it easier to do things that way. So I don’t have to explain anything. Or excuse anything. Or try to … soften anything. It’s just me, doing my thing, and I know all the ins and outs.”
Oh, man. That sounded bloody awful to Izzy. She needed others to save her from herself. She couldn’t imagine having to wade through all the crap in her brain on her own. She’d sooner take a tumble off a cliff. “Wow. You must be, like, really bloody centered or whatever.”
This time, he burst out laughing. “I wouldn’t call it that. Actually, saying it out loud is making me realise I might actually be a psychopath.”
“Oh my God, you are not a psychopath.” Izzy nudged him with her toes. “You’re … Alex.”
His eyes crinkled over his wine glass, and he kept her gaze as he took a long sip of wine. She watched his throat working.
“So why did you and Tasha break up, then? Just out of curiosity.”
“Wow, not prying or anything, huh?”
“Hello, have we met? C’mon. Tell me your ins and outs.”
Alex shook his head slowly, like he couldn’t believe he was hearing right. She giggled, knowing she’d won. “I guess we just ran out of shit to talk about.”
“What?” She’d maybe expected something like The sex wasn’t that great, or She cheated on me, or even, Her cousin told me that if I didn’t back off, she’d set the dogs on me, but it definitely wasn’t We ran out of shit to talk about. “How does that happen?”
Alex shrugged. “We just didn’t have that much in common, I guess, and I realised that … well, I guess that I liked spending time with you lot more, so why would I bother, you know?”
“Huh. And you never actually brought her out with us, like, ever, did you? I thought that was because you were embarrassed of us or whatever.”
“What? Why would I be embarrassed?”
Well. Izzy thought about it, through her foggy, uninhibited brain, and said, “Honestly, I just figured that any girl who got to date you had to be, like, a step above everyone else, so how could we not be embarrassing in comparison?”
Alex looked flabbergasted. “What?”
“Well, you know!” She waved a free arm around again, this time in an attempt to illustrate how ridiculously cool he was compared to the rest of them. At least, compared to her.
“You’re all—and we’re all—and … I dunno, but like, I thought she had to have been a model or something. And maybe, like, a Nobel Prize winner in science of whatever.”
“Oh my God!” Alex was laughing so hard by then that Izzy had a difficult time understanding what he was saying. She thought she heard, “Gonna fist myself,” but that couldn’t have been right.
“What!” She leaned in, poking him in the stomach with only a minimal excuse of being trolleyed, and when he didn’t stop howling with laughter, she reached out and grabbed his shoulders in an attempt to make him stop and look at her.
“Why are you laughing at me? We all thought that!”
That did stop him. He paused, wiped at his eyes, then stared at her. This close to him, his skin looked unfairly perfect. Even Dex had the decency to have some large pores and imperfections on occasion. “You all thought I was secretly dating a genius model and keeping her away from you? Who the fuck do you think I am, Idris fucking Elba?!”
“Mate, you are even hotter than Idris Elba, and that’s the bloody point!”
She swayed a bit with the force of this proclamation and nearly toppled off the sofa. Bugger.
In that nanosecond, Alex caught her before she could fully fall over, and then they both froze because he had her right around the ribcage, his long fingers wrapped around her sides, digging into her fleshy bits. She grew indescribably aware of her ribcage, and her sides, and—especially—her fleshy bits. Her hair was half in her face, but even through it she could see his expression, and it stilled her like she’d encountered a wall. She bit the inside of her cheek but did not dare move any other part of herself. His hold was becoming a bit painful, and her hands itched to reach out and touch his jaw, his chest, fuck, any part of him, and that was fucking bad, that was so, so bad.
But it felt … good. That want, it sluiced through her like a slash of hot water. She twitched, and maybe that twitch was like the first snowflake of an avalanche, because his grip on her tightened; then she leaned in. Time did this weird thing where it felt like a million years all condensed into a single moment. Alex met her gaze, his lips parting, and then she pushed up into his lap and they were kissing.
The heartwarming and romantic conclusion to the duology celebrated by Teen Vogue as “a nuanced and sexy take on growing up and learning to accept who you are.”
Nick Melnikov has finally done it — he’s come out.
To himself. To his sister. And to Dex, who listens, hears him, and understands. To Dex, who leads him on a sensual journey and shows him all that they could be, if Nick could only find the courage. It’s one thing to let yourself be open thousands of miles away from your family, but exchange student Nick is uncomfortably aware that his time with Dex is running out. Who will he be when he goes home again?
Dex Cartwell is as happy with Nick as he’s ever been, but he can’t ignore the shadow of Nick’s inevitable departure from London, back to his life in Michigan. Is it worth it for Dex to expose his heart to another doomed relationship with a predetermined expiration date? What does Dex really want for the beginning of the next chapter in his life, post-graduation?
Dex wants to turn to his best friend in the struggle to find a way forward, but Izzy Jones has her own problems. She’s got one friend in love with her, and when she turns to another for help things get twice as complicated. Izzy never wanted complicated, but life just keeps getting in the way — and sweeping her off her feet.
Then Nick’s mom and sister come for a visit, and he is forced to decide between living his truth and protecting himself from fear and change. It’s going to take a lot of courage and a few leaps in the dark if Nick, Dex, and Izzy are to find a way to live and love on their own terms.
Liz Jacobs came over with her family from Russia at the age of 11, as a Jewish refugee. All in all, her life has gotten steadily better since that moment. They settled in an ultra-liberal haven in the middle of New York State, which sort of helped her with the whole “grappling with her sexuality” business.
She has spent a lot of her time flitting from passion project to passion project, but writing remains her constant. She has flown planes, drawn, made jewelry, had an improbable internet encounter before it was cool, and successfully wooed the love of her life in a military-style campaign. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her essay on her family’s experience with immigration.
She currently lives with her wife in Massachusetts, splitting her time between her day job, writing, and watching a veritable boatload of British murder mysteries.
Liz has brought 1 signed print bundle of ABROAD Book One and ABROAD Book Two, and two ebook bundles of ABROAD Book One and ABROAD Book Two to give away to three lucky readers. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Friday, January 5th at 11:59 pm ET.
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