I’m a little early this week with this blog as I am away for the weekend at the National Association of Writers’ Groups annual Festival of Writing at Warwick University. It should be a fun couple of days meeting up with people I met last year, making new friends, learning more about writing and publishing and perhaps even selling a few copies of Painted Ladies. That would make up for the depressing news I have had from Troubador. Royalties from e-book sales in the last quarter have only just covered the costs of managing my account. However I did have two appreciative comments about PL this week so it’s not all bad. I am still certain that there is demand for stories about a transgender detective and all the reviews I’ve received suggest that I’m on the right track. It is just a question of reaching the purchasers. I really need to get my marketing working so ideas would be gratefully received.
Anyway, on with the writing. Below is the next episode of Close-up, the third prequel to Painted Ladies. In this episode there is a little more about what it means to be trans…
Close-up: Part 4
She only had to wait for a few minutes before she heard her name called. Hearing “Jasmine Frame to Dr Gould” gave her a thrill as it confirmed to anyone listening or looking that she was really who she thought she was. She stood up and hurried down the corridor to the doctor’s office, eager to speak to Dr Gould even though she knew that time was short and that Sloane would be expecting her back on duty soon. Jilly Gould welcomed her in with a smile stretching from one rosy cheek to the other.
‘Hi, Jasmine. Lovely to see you. I expect you’re delighted with your letter.’ She waved a sheet of paper which closely resembled the one that Jasmine had in her hand.
‘Yes, but it’s taken months and two examinations before I got it.’ Jasmine’s impatience dulled her pleasure a little. ‘Sometimes they acted as if I was making it up, that I was wearing a skirt as a lifestyle choice and not to provide evidence that I am a woman.’
‘But you have your diagnosis – gender dysphoria – so you’re on the programme.’
‘Hmm. I wish it didn’t sound as if I’m ill. All I want is for my body to resemble my image of myself.’
‘I understand, Jasmine. I’ve been reading up on gender reassignment. The problem, as you know, is that medically and surgically it’s more than just a bit of simple cosmetic work. It’s a long, difficult op.’
‘Oh, yes, I know what’s involved, Jilly.’ It was the thought of the scalpel cutting into her body to make the necessary changes that made her shudder. A scalpel was just a sharp knife after all and any knife scared her. ‘The thing is it’s going to take me years, isn’t it.’
‘Well, there is a long waiting list and limited funds for gender reassignment,’ Jilly said, regret replacing joy on her face. ‘There is an alternative, you know.’
‘You mean, going private.’
‘Yes. You could have the full works – genitals, breasts, larynx, facial – done in a few months.’
‘It would be great but there’s no way I can afford the bills. Angela and I put all our savings into the house. I don’t know what we’ll do when we divorce…’
‘You’re definitely splitting up?’
‘Yes. Ange has supported me all the way but she doesn’t want a lesbian relationship and I wouldn’t want to stop her finding a man she can have a relationship with. She’s started the proceedings – you know she’s organised like that.’
‘It’s another bit of stress to add to all the rest I suppose, Jas, but I understand why you have to stick with the slow, plodding NHS. Anyway we can make a start with the medication.’
Jasmine smiled. This was what she had expected from the appointment.
‘You can give me the prescription?’
‘Yes. I’ve had the go ahead from the consultants.’
‘You know it’s possible to get the pills on the internet.’
‘You haven’t done that have you?’
‘Of course not.’
‘Good, because it’s very unwise. You need to have the prescription tailored to your body and metabolism and it needs to be monitored. You know it’s not just a question of taking the female oestrogens.’ Dr Gould began to tap at her keyboard.
‘Yes. There are the, what are they called? The anti-androgens as well.’
‘That’s it. They counteract the effect of the testosterone that you will be producing while you still have testicles and allow the oestrogens to begin the feminisation process.’
‘I understand that.’
‘Getting the balance right is difficult. It’s going to be like going through puberty again and menopause, all at the same time. You’ll get mood swings, headaches and a variety of other symptoms. I hope we can get it balanced as soon as possible but there will be changes all the time. Let’s hope you don’t have to wait too long before your surgery. It’s not good to take the anti-androgens for very long.’
‘Hmm. Thanks, Jilly.’ The printer started chuntering and a blurted out a sheet of paper. Jilly tore it off and passed it to Jasmine. Jasmine stared at. She’d done enough research to recognise the names of the drugs that had been prescribed and despite Jilly’s warnings she still felt a sense of celebration.
‘As I said, that’s just a starting formulation based on the tests that you have had. I’ll need to see you fairly frequently at first. If you get any discomfort give me a call straight away.’
‘With your diagnosis you’ll be able to apply for your Gender Recognition Certificate.’
‘In two years’ time!’ The wait seemed an eternity to Jasmine.
‘Of course. I forgot that you have to prove yourself.’
‘I’m legally a woman now despite my body not being right yet, but I will need the certificate to get a new birth certificate.’
‘I’m sorry that you have to be patient, Jasmine. Is there anything else you want to discuss?’
‘I’d love to, Jilly,’ Jasmine glanced at her watch, ‘but we’ve got a lot on today so I’d better get back.’
‘Oh, well, we will have that cosy chat over a glass of wine someday.’
Jasmine stood up and stuffed the prescription and letter into her bag.
‘Thanks, Jilly, for everything.’
‘It’s a pleasure. Take care.’
Jasmine left Dr Gould’s office and the health centre feeling lighter on her feet. At last she was starting to make the changes that would turn her into a real woman, albeit one without a womb or ovaries. She longed for the time when the drugs Jilly had prescribed would soften her features, give her breasts and slow her beard growth. She hoped all those changes would happen quickly.
The rain had stopped too to add to her improved mood. Now all she had to do was walk back to Police HQ and resume her tasks. Except, while she was out, why not have a look at what was going on where the pushchair had been pulled out of the water. It was only a short(ish) diversion from her direct route.
She walked quickly through the old town streets to the riverside. There she took the newish metal swing bridge to the other side. The gravel road from the bridge led to a tall narrow building which had been, obviously, a Victorian mill despite the lack of a waterwheel. Now it was a block of small flats. The flats in which the sex offender, Stephen Parnell lived. To the right blue and white police tape fluttered, barring passage along the towpath around a bend to the lock where the pushchair had been found. A couple of bored CSOs stood on the towpath ready to turn back any walkers. Jasmine could see activity and a diver’s head bobbing in mid-stream. Even with a wet-suit on she didn’t think swimming in the river would be a pleasant occupation on this cold November day. Presumably the continuing search showed that they had not yet found the child’s body.
Was it just coincidence that Parnell lived so close to where the missing child’s pushchair had been found? DCI Sloane always said he didn’t believe in coincidences but DC Money’s visit to Parnell hadn’t turned up anything suspicious and probably a name from the list would appear close to any crime scene. Nevertheless Money’s report had given Jasmine some thoughts. She turned towards the old mill and climbed the exterior metal stairs to the top. From here she had a good view along the river although the scene around the lock was obscured by some tall trees. She pressed the doorbell. A few moments passed before it was pulled open by a man. He was shorter than Jasmine with a paunch covered by a long, loose rugby shirt. He wore baggy, grubby jeans and soft slippers. His face was smooth and his short brown hair was flattened against his head.
‘Yes. Who are you?’
‘I’m a police officer.’ Jasmine held up her warrant card.
‘Why are you here again? I’ve already had a visit from one of you lot.’
‘That’s right. DC Money called on you. I’ve got a few more questions.’
‘Is it about that missing baby?’
‘Yes.’ Jasmine was trying to edge through the door but Parnell was immoveable.
‘This is harassment. Just because I’m on that fucking list I get called on whenever there’s a kid missing.’
‘Well, if you let me in, I can ask my questions and you can decide whether we’re harassing you or not. Or we can argue about it here where your neighbours can see us. Which is it to be?’
‘Oh, alright.’ He moved back and Jasmine stepped into the small entrance hall. Parnell closed the door behind her. She noticed a long, pink, plastic mac hanging from the hook behind the door. He led the way into a room which doubled as lounge and dining room. There were two large mirrors on walls at a right angles to each other, one opposite the window looking out over the river. Parnell turned to face Jasmine.
‘I’ve never harmed anyone, especially kids,’ he said.
‘But you were put on the sex offenders’ list for exposing yourself and masturbating in front of two teenage girls.’
Parnell’s puffy face turned the same colour as the mac.
‘That was wrong. I know that. I don’t do it anymore.’
‘Good, but when you did it you were wearing a bra, suspender belt and black stockings under your coat.’ Parnell turned away from her, hiding his face. He didn’t reply. ‘The girls’ statements were correct weren’t they?’
‘Yes,’ he whispered.
‘You’re a transvestite in the original medical definition of the word, aren’t you – someone who gets aroused by wearing clothes of the opposite gender.’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available in paperback and as an e-book from all booksellers.