Arguably the best thing about Teddy De Luca’s father was his death; the insurance money provided a hefty sum that Teddy and his mother agreed would be put towards his gender reassignment surgery when he turned 18. Then, he could finally be rid of binders and the feeling of being an alien in his own skin. Until then, he has his friends: Shiloh, a trust fund baby whose endless flow of cash makes up for a near drought in the friend department, and Lucas, his neighbor and one of the few people to be there for Teddy through his social transition. And, of course, Lucas’ smoking hot older brother, Ian, with whom Teddy quickly falls into a steamy relationship. Teddy needs this small but steady social safety net when he is betrayed by his own mother, who admittedly has struggled with alcoholism herself for years. Instead of talking to Teddy about their financial situation, his mother has gone behind his back and completely depleted the entirety of Teddy’s inheritance from his father.
The last thing Teddy wants is to delay his medical transition because of a lack of funds. When Lucas informs Teddy that his new friends can help, Teddy jumps at the offer. All too soon, however, Teddy learns that these so-called friends are actually a local drug cartel and Lucas is more deeply involved with them than either of them want to admit. When Lucas ends up in serious trouble, Teddy is swamped with guilt for not speaking to someone, to anyone, about Lucas’s sketchy friends. Teddy is also hyper aware of his own predicament, being tens of thousands of dollars in debt to that same cartel. When Ian learns what is going on, their relationship falls apart, leaving Teddy alone and Ian ghosting everyone. It isn’t until a few years later than their paths cross again. This time, Teddy is working multiple jobs to pay off his debt and Ian is part of the FBI. The spark is still definitely there, but the guilt between them threatens to be overwhelming. Time will tell if these two can clear the air between them or suffocate from feeling unworthy because of past rash actions.
Teddy’s Truth is the first book in K.D. Ellis’ Out in Austin series. It takes place in contemporary Austin, Texas and features a fairly diverse cast. Teddy was assigned female at birth, but transitions socially well before the story ever opens and is prepared for a full gender reassignment surgery as soon as he’s 18. Ian is of Latinx descent and described as “an equal opportunity lover [p]ansexual and proud.” These two eventually settled into a Daddy/boy type of power dynamic. In the context of the story, I can see Teddy wanting a partner to act as a Daddy because of how he’s had to step up from a young age to make up for an abusive (off page) father and an alcoholic (on page) mother. Similarly, Ian is very clearly depicted as someone who just wants to take care of the people he values in his life. That said, I was personally very put off with how (nearly?) every time these two are on page together, sex seems to permeate every aspect of their interactions. It’s not just a lead up to actual sexual intimacy, it’s like they cannot look at one another without popping a boner, regardless of whether someone (Teddy) has just suffered some huge trauma.
Another aspect of the storytelling that I could never quite let go was Ellis’s timeline for things. The way it’s handled in the book, it sounds like Teddy undergoes a double mastectomy, hysterectomy, and phalloplasty all in one fell swoop. Not only does this seem too compressed and perhaps unrealistic (like, where did he get the skin for his new penis?), but everything is apparently healed plenty to have heavy petting sessions with Ian a few weeks later. The same seemingly compressed timeline happens with Ian, who goes from taking on-line accounting classes to a full-fledged FBI field agent in the space of four years. Adding to my disbelief is how Ian acts as a federal agent, often putting his personal feelings ahead of duty. Like when Ian does not do anything with a known cartel member in his living room (like call someone to say he’s got a known cartel member in his living room), because he’s primarily concerned with immediately seeing to Teddy’s (non-emergency) needs.
While I was deeply turned off by how the Teddy/Ian dynamic was so sex-drenched, I did appreciate seeing a transgender man being portrayed so comfortably and confidently in his own skin. Early in the book, Teddy is shown to dress in ways to hide his body. I think this is meant to show how uncomfortable he is with himself. After his procedures, though, Teddy embraces everything about himself. Ellis does a fine job making it clear that Teddy loves being Teddy—and that includes embracing his queerness. Teddy goes so far as to say he’d borrow money from the cartel all over again if it meant being able to transition medically. And while I disliked how Ian seems incapable of non-sexual thoughts about Teddy, I did like that he enthusiastically accepted everything about Teddy. If nothing else, Teddy and Ian as a couple really meshed…at least in so far as what they wanted in a partner and what they wanted out of a sexual relationship.
Overall, however, I thought this was a middling book. Again, I thought our two main characters’ timelines had some significant issues. Then, their relationship felt like it was almost exclusively portrayed through the lens of sex and sexual desire. There are some significant side characters who have issues of their own (the alcoholic mother, for example) that don’t get a very solid wrap-up in the story. I thought the portrayal of Ian as a federal agent was severely lacking in realism. That said, I was happy with how positively Teddy is portrayed and the chemistry he has with Ian.