Matthew J. Metzger’s latest release, Life Underwater, is a straight up love story that is beautifully detailed with rich imagery that focuses on the frank discussion of what it means to be both asexual, transgender, and Muslim in today’s world. With his usual clarity, Metzger tackles both homophobic and racist viewpoints and what it takes to be the person who is under the scrutiny of those who hate.
Ashraf is a Muslim who has worked hard to make the transition to the man he has always known he was meant to be. He is also asexual, preferring a cuddle and kisses to any physical sexual intercourse, which he finds unsettling and slightly abhorrent. So, finding anyone to share his life was, in his mind, always going to be a long shot, at best, and that really didn’t bother the quiet history professor one bit. Then, after a debate club meeting, the whirlwind that is Jaime does the unthinkable and kisses Ashraf. The kiss isn’t what really startles Ashraf; it’s the feelings of wanting more of them with Jaime that definitely does.
Jaime is agender and has also undergone some physical changes in order to make their body conform to what they know about themselves. While they enjoy sex, it is the emotional connection that drives their needs and Ashraf fills that bill completely. They are imperfectly compatible and deeply in love. However, there is one area of their lives that may end up derailing a forever kind of relationship for the pair and that has to do with a horrific incident in Ashraf’s past that has left him aquaphobic. Normally such an intense physical and mental fear of water could be overlooked—unless your partner is a marine biologist whose Ph.D. study will take them to multiple locations in order to dive and do research. When Ashraf realizes his fear may be the end of their forever after, he is determined to do something about it.
This novel covers a vast array of issues from what it’s like to be Muslim in a world that despises and mistrusts you based on appearance and beliefs, to the idea that an asexual man can not only find someone who loves him unconditionally, but wants to make theirs a forever relationship. As usual, Matthew J. Metzger helps to dispel the myths and misinformation surrounding the other end of the rainbow as it concerns trans, asexual, and agender queer folks with an incredibly satisfying story that exudes romance and pure unadulterated love. It wasn’t hard to like Jaime and their dazzlingly joyful attitude. While maintaining their youthful age, the author also imbued Jaime with a maturity that spoke of a life lived on their terms and no one else’s.
When coupled with the quieter, multi-layered persona that was Ashraf, the novel took on a complexity that resulted in a rich tapestry of emotions. Just the idea of viewing a life through the lenses of one of the most feared and misunderstood communities was a big item to tackle and yet the author goes deeper into the life of a Muslim transgender man who is also asexual and, as such, written off as weak and unlovable. However, lest you think this is no more than commentary on how we view each other, remember the real thrust of this novel is love—and it is sheer perfection.
I love Metzger’s novels not only because they challenge me to rethink what I assume I know of the LGBTQIA+ community, but because they give me a story that ultimately comes down to love in all its many forms and expressions.