The name is Frame, Jasmine Frame
I’ve lived with Jasmine Frame in my head for about fourteen years now. Strangely, I can’t recall exactly when I decided to start writing stories about a transsexual detective. I chose the surname Frame because it seemed slightly unusual and had certain allusions such as “being framed”, and “in the frame”, hence the story titles with photography or art or mirrors in them. For the forename I wanted something a little bit exotic (so I thought) which a trans person might choose as their femme name. Jasmine Frame seemed to have a pleasant ring to it. I thought it might be unique but there are apparently a few Jasmine Frames in the world and it’s become a fairly common girl’s name. Jasmine’s original, male name came later when I started to create her backstory. I chose James as it shared the initial (as my male and femme names do) was unmistakeably male, (Jamie is genderless, but James is not), was fairly common when she was born in 1983 and is a middle class name (at least I think it is).
I’ve now written (almost) three Jasmine Frame novels, I’m on the sixth novella and there are two early short stories. That means I have also made up quite a long list of other names. Some characters appear frequently, such as Tom Shepherd, DCI Sloane and Angela, others are short-lived (literally) or are bit-part players. For each, choosing their name is a pleasure and a chore. The name has to feel right – don’t ask me what that means as I can’t define it precisely. I avoid surnames that may be confused with other characters and have grammatical problems (any name ending in s for example). I try to choose forenames to match the age of the character and their background. Choosing names of characters from other ethnic groups is quite difficult as I don’t know many personally; names of cricketers are a frequent source.
Many of the names I have used are pretty nondescript and possibly fairly common but today I had the shock of chatting to someone for the first time who turned out to have the name of one of my characters. I’m not saying who. Strangely it wasn’t one of the commoner surnames that I have used. My first thought was that I must change the name in the story – perhaps I will if and when it is edited for publication – but then I thought, so what. It was a fairly random process of selection and pure chance that I should choose a name already in use. What I should say is that all the characters and events in my stories are fictional and no named character has any intentional similarity to a real person of the same name.
So, on with the current prequel. In the ninth episode of Flashlight, Jasmine/James it put on the spot.
Flashlight: Part 9
DC Sparrow didn’t say anything but continued to look around the dingy, dirty lavatory. She sniffed, turned and headed towards the exit.
‘Come on, Jim. We’ve seen enough here for now. Let’s go and have a chat.’
James followed her as they retraced their steps and strode out of the club. They didn’t see the cleaner again. They walked swiftly along the lane back to the main street still without speaking. They came to a coffee shop, a familiar chain, and Milla entered with James on her heels.
‘What do you want, Jim?’
‘Take a seat. I’ll get them.’
James looked around. There were a few tables occupied and there were easy chairs as well as the usual café furniture. He chose a small table with just the two chairs where there weren’t any near neighbours. He sat down and realised he was trembling slightly. Milla was going to question him he was sure; ask him what he had to explain.
Milla arrived quite soon with James’ black coffee and her cappuccino. She sat down opposite James and stared at him. He waited for the inevitable question.
‘So, you’re trans.’
‘What!’ James flushed, ‘Yes, but how. . .’
There was a smile on Milla’s face, a self-satisfied smile. She was pleased that her deduction had been proved by his reaction to be correct.
‘I’ve been watching you, Jim, since we met yesterday and listening to you. You visit a club that caters for the LGBT crowd on nights that are particularly aimed at trans people. Yes, I’ve looked at the Marquis’ website. You’ve shown special interest whenever a trans connection has arisen – Natalie of course, Butler’s liking for transwomen, the trans-man that sold you the heroin; I’ve seen you frown when Sloane and Money refer to Natalie as “he”; and you visit a ladies’ loo. Simple really.’
James felt sick. ‘Is it really that obvious?’
‘No, of course not. I doubt Sloane or Money have noticed anything at all, but I’ve spent more time with you and being a bit out of the ordinary myself, I suppose I tune in to these clues of diversity in others.’
James relaxed a little. Milla was right. As a female police officer, still a minority, and as an out lesbian – a minority in a minority, not rare but scattered and isolated perhaps – she would be sensitive to the attitudes of her colleagues. He was the same; always aware of comments about trannies made, often inadvertently, by people who didn’t know his background; the unthinking prejudice of people who didn’t think they were in the company of a transgendered person
‘So, come on, Jim. Tell me about it. What is it with you? Frilly knickers under the trousers or are you on hormones?’
James winced but lifted his cup and sipped his still hot coffee. He’d never been one of the lingerie-hidden-by-male-clothes brigade and taking female hormones was something he thought about but had not broached with Angela. How much should he, could he, tell? Angela was the only person who really knew most of what there was to know about James and Jasmine. There had been other friends in their circle at university but since being in the force it was something they had kept private, wary of the effect on his career if he was found out. Now it seemed he might be. He had to trust Milla; there was no choice.
‘It’s neither,’ he said quietly, examining Milla’s face; she was listening closely,’ but more in some ways. Uh, this is difficult. I haven’t had to explain what I feel for a long time. Angela has always known. In fact, she met Jasmine before James.’
‘My femme name. I chose it when I was a kid, when I started playing around with girl’s clothes – my sister Holly’s at first. I realised then that there was this urge, this need, inside me to be a girl.’
James shrugged. ‘I don’t know. At first all I knew was that I felt, sort of, comfortable when I was Jasmine. Then I thought that I must be a transvestite or cross-dresser because I swapped between being James and Jasmine. I wasn’t especially unhappy being a boy, or a man, so I didn’t quite feel like one of those people who get suicidal if they can’t transition. I suppose it was because Angela and I met when we were pretty young.’
‘She goes along with it?’
‘More than that. She accepts that Jasmine and James are one person, that sometimes I’ll look like a man and sometimes I’ll be female. Actually she sees more of Jasmine these days.’
‘Being Constable James Frame when I’m on duty means I’m more eager to be Jasmine when I’m at home, with Angela.’
‘Just at home?’
‘No, I, we, go out. We try to avoid places round here where we might meet up with people that know me as James but we go to Kintbridge, Basingstoke, other places. There’s a trans support group, Butterflies, that meets not far out of town. We get to it when I can.’
‘But you’re not thinking of transitioning and becoming DC Jasmine Frame?’
‘No.’ That wasn’t the truth and James knew it. Day by day the feeling in him was growing that Jasmine was the person he wanted to be, that his gender identity was female. He kept it to himself, not even Angela knew the true strength of his feeling although he wondered if she suspected. They were a few years passed the first flush of lust in their relationship but they were still young. Most people in love, Angela included, might expect to have sex more often than they were doing it.
‘Hmm.’ Sparrow pondered.
‘Look, can you keep it secret,’ James appealed. ‘There are officers who are alcoholics, gamblers, having affairs. They keep a lid on things and can sometimes get through it. This isn’t like that at all, I’m not harming anyone; it doesn’t affect my ability to perform as a police officer. It’s private.’
Milla looked at him, her eyes searching his. ‘I understand that Jim. I have no intention of telling tales about you. It doesn’t matter if you spend all your time in a dress when you’re not on duty. If you want to keep it secret, I won’t tell anyone.’
James sighed. A weight seemed to lift off him. ‘Thanks.’
‘But,’ Milla said. James tensed. ‘This case seems to have transgender issues woven through it. The Marquis is the focus and it caters for trans people as well as gays and lesbians. Your knowledge of the trans world could be invaluable.’
‘That’s what Angela said,’ James said. ‘She said I should tackle it as Jasmine.’
Milla nodded. ‘I’d like to meet Angela. I think we’d get on. She’s right. We need Jasmine Frame on this case.’
James tingled with anticipation. Joy at the thought of being Jasmine but fear at being outed. ‘But what about DCI Sloane. I don’t want him to know about me. Not yet, perhaps not ever if I have any chance at joining the unit. Nor Money.’
Neither spoke. Both lifted their coffee cups to their lips finding them cool. At last Milla spoke. ‘We can do it. Sloane is hardly in the office. He just calls in to see how we’re doing. Keith does his own thing. You and me are a team, Jim. We can do our investigating together – you as Jasmine – and the others don’t need to know.’
Relief washed through James. ‘OK. Thanks Milla. What do we do now?’
Milla got out her notebook and flicked through the pages. ‘We need to talk to the people who run the Marquis but they’re not going to be around till this afternoon, are they.’
‘That’s what the cleaning guy said.’
Milla glanced at her watch. ‘We’ve got a few hours yet. Hmm.’ She paused. ‘I think we need to find out more about Natalie.’
‘Yes,’ James said, ‘There was her friend who found her body.’
Milla searched her notebook. ‘That’s right, Amy Baker.’
‘She’s trans too.’
‘You didn’t know?’
‘It didn’t come up when Keith questioned her, but he was only concerned about Natalie then.’
‘She’s post-op, completed all the treatment, except the hormones – you have to take those for the rest of your life.’
‘How did you find all this out, Jim?’ Milla asked.
‘It wasn’t much, a few moments of conversation. The paramedics were dealing with Natalie’s body. Gavin and I were waiting for SOCO and you lot to arrive. Gavin was dashing around putting up tape, while I was looking after Amy. She was pretty emotional.’
‘Not surprising since her friend was dead.’
‘Which is possibly why she revealed herself to me. I said about Natalie being trans and Amy said she was supporting her through her transition because she had been through it herself. That was all really.’
‘She told Keith that she had no idea where the drugs had come from,’
James frowned. ‘I wonder? She may have been covering for her friend, even though she was dead.’
‘You could be right. We need to speak to her again. I have her address.’
James started to rise from his chair. ‘Great. Let’s go and see her.’
Milla grinned at him. ‘First, I’m taking you home.’
‘Why?’ James was confused.
‘I think we might get more out of Amy if she met Jasmine.’