I did something earlier this week that I didn’t used to do. I was giving a talk about being transgender and mentioned both my male and femme names. At one time I would never reveal my male identity when I was being Penny, but my use of two names is one of the remaining indications that I can’t completely get rid of my gender stereotypes. I may have given up wearing a wig and false breasts to accentuate my femininity but I still present myself as male or female. Gender fluid, I think I am, but non-binary is a difficult concept to realise. Most people still want to categorise you as one or the other and forms still demand a title without giving a genderless option – unless you happen to be a Dr or Rev. Most important is the need to blend in rather than making an issue out of my gender.
I chose my femme name a long time ago because I didn’t consider that my male name, Peter, worked for me as a female. Yes, I know there are feminine variants such as Peta and Petra (I have known women with both those names) but I didn’t feel comfortable with them. I wished I had one of those names that could be used for either gender. There are names used by both genders, such as Evelyn, Hilary, Leslie/Lesley, Lee/Leigh and Robin (male in UK, female in USA) or names that have a genderless diminutive e.g. Chris (Christopher/Christine), Alex (Alexander/Alexandra), Nicky (Nicholas/Nicola) etc. There are new names which are genderless such as the hippy names River and Willow, and others, like Jayden, that I don’t know where they come from . As I am not going to change my legal name then I think I am stuck with Peter and Penny although I may use them interchangeably.
Choosing names for characters is one of the important but fun parts of planning a story. A character’s name must not be anachronistic and can convey their origins both in ethnicity and class. I chose Jasmine as the femme name for my transsexual detective, back in 2001, because I thought it sounded a little unusual and exotic. In fact it is a much more common girl’s name than I thought but I’m afraid Jasmine is Jasmine now. Many of the trans characters I have created have pairs of names that connect such as Glen and Glenda when Jasmine was acting as a transvestite and Sandy/Sandra (both spoilers from Painted Ladies.). Vernon/Valerie and Gerald/Geraldine (The Brides’ Club Murder), David/Diana (Darkroom), Andy/Andrea (Aberration) are some of the many others. I don’t think that trans people do choose names like that but I think it helps readers to connect the male and female sides of the character.
There are no new names of characters yet in Viewpoint, the new prequel to Painted Ladies, but we’re only at part three so far. Here it is.
Viewpoint: Part 3
Jasmine let the hot water cascade over her for minutes longer than her usual showers. She knew the electricity meter would be spinning but she waited till the last vestige of cold had been driven from her body. All the while she saw that cold corpse lying on the towpath. She tried to make sense of what she had seen. When she finally turned the shower off she felt she had an image of the person it had been, and she was worried.
She stepped from the cubicle and quickly wrapped a towel around herself, not merely to dry her body and keep warm but to avoid having to see herself naked. Her body didn’t match her self-image. Surgery was needed for the most dramatic transformation but that was a long way off. Nevertheless, now she was taking the drugs she was hoping for some changes but the hormones had yet to make a noticeable change to her figure. The doctor at the gender clinic had not been too confident of her developing the breasts she desired and nothing could change her broad shoulders and narrow pelvis. Still, she had hopes that one day her body would be recognisably female.
Once dressed in thick tights, a colourful but short woollen skirt and a thick jumper over her bra and false breasts, she prepared her breakfast. She was later than usual and there were things to do – not a lot, but she needed to continue preparations for going into business. She was munching a piece of toast and peanut butter when her mobile phone gave out its urgent ring.
She picked it up and wasn’t surprised to see that it was Tom Shepherd calling. Of course, they would want a statement from her on the discovery of the body.
‘Hi, Tom,’ she said cheerfully.
‘Jas! How are you? Have you warmed up?’
‘Yes, I’m fine now, Tom, but it was cold out there.’
‘Yeah. Look, you’re needed here.’
‘For my statement?’
‘Not just that. Sloane wants you on the case.’
Jasmine felt her muscles tense and heart beat increase.
‘But, Tom, I’m not part of the team any more. I resigned. Remember?’
‘I know that, Jas, but you’re still employed to the end of the month, aren’t you?’
‘Yes, I know, but what is it called? Gardening leave? I’m not expecting to work as a police officer anymore. I’m sure Palmerston doesn’t want to see me in that office again.’
There wasn’t an immediate reply but Jasmine heard conversation at the other end, and one familiar raised voice. The muffled exchange was brief.
‘Frame, are you there?’ It was DS Denise Palmerston’s voice blaring at her from the phone.
‘Yes I am. I thought I was talking to DC Shepherd,’ Jasmine said as calmly as she could manage.
‘Well, it’s me telling you to get yourself to this office, now!’
‘I’m not part of the V&SCU,’ Jasmine insisted, knowing that she was just dragging out the inevitable. What DS Palmerston wanted she invariably got.
‘Do you want me to send out a car to arrest you for obstructing an investigation.’
‘No, but . . .’
‘You are still a police officer, DC Frame. Get here now.’ There was an abrupt click of the call being ended. Jasmine imagined that if Palmerston could have slammed the phone down on its cradle she would have done. Perhaps, fortunately, you couldn’t make the same gesture with a mobile phone.
She wondered why her senior officers were so keen to call her into the Violent and Serious Crime Unit’s office. It surely wasn’t because Denise Palmerston valued her assistance on a case; her tone revealed her discomfort at that prospect. So why had DCI Sloane taken the initiative of bringing her in? That presumably was the cause of the DS’s anger – having to accede to her boss’ request. Jasmine wasn’t looking forward to facing the female detective again but she was intrigued enough by the case and the reasons for her recall to want to find out more. She pulled on her boots, put on her old puffer jacket, grabbed her bag, dropped her phone in it and was about to open the door when she remembered the electric fire. It had been blasting out heat on full power now for a couple of hours and she had got used to the comfort. She turned the fire off knowing that the flat would be cold when she returned but did not want to deplete her meagre funds.
She got into the red Fiesta and turned the ignition key. She was always grateful when the engine started but was not sure how she could perform as a private detective, which would presumably mean a lot of time spent on the streets, with the battered old Ford. At least it was pretty undistinguished and she could not foresee being able to afford a newer model until her income grew, if ever.
It took just a few minutes to drive into the centre of town and to pull into the police station carpark. That action felt both familiar and strange – it wasn’t something she had expected to be doing after walking out a couple of weeks ago. She tried to feel confident as she entered the building and strode passed the desk.
Sgt Gorman glared at her and growled, ‘I thought you weren’t coming back.’
‘Sorry to disappoint you GG but this is as unexpected for me as it is for you.’ Jasmine continued through the secure door without a hesitation. She climbed the stairs to the unit office and only paused, for just a moment, as she pushed the door open. There was a small group of people standing around the whiteboard, the sign that a case conference was taking place. Tom Shepherd turned his head, saw her and smiled. He drew himself up to his full two meters plus height and nodded for her to come and join him. The other two male officers, Derek Kingston and Terry Hopkins, like Tom were facing DS Palmerston who was at the board.
‘Ah, we have Detective Constable Frame,’ Palmerston said. ‘We are pleased to see you, aren’t we gentlemen.’ Her tone revealed the exact opposite but Kingston responded with a smile towards her. Hopkins managed to hide any emotion at her reappearance. ‘Come and join us and give us the wisdom of your experience,’ Palmerston continued in the falsely gracious voice. Jasmine took her place beside Tom, and undid the zip on her jacket. She wasn’t going to make it look as though she had slipped comfortably back into her old environment, but it was warm in the office.
‘We were going over the facts in the case,’ the DS explained. ‘We have a body with no clothes or means of identification so our first problem is finding out who this woman was.’
Jasmine half raised her right hand as if in a classroom. ‘Um,’ she muttered to draw attention to herself while wondering if she needed to or even desired it.
‘Yes, DC Frame,’ Palmerston’s eyes glared at her as if wishing to strike her dead for daring to interrupt. ‘You have a contribution to make.’
‘Yes,’ Jasmine said, ‘I don’t know how much has been reported about the body, but I don’t think the deceased was a woman.’
Palmerston’s eyebrows rose and her cheeks took on a pink tinge. Jasmine felt, rather than saw, the three men stiffen beside her. They were either expecting the DS to explode in rage or had been jerked out of their complacency by her words.
Denise Palmerston spoke softly and slowly, ‘I know you were suffering from the early stages of hypothermia at the time, DC Frame, but I am sure that you in particular might have noticed that the body lacked a penis. In fact, she has, according to the pathologist, the complete female genitalia – vulva, vagina and clitoris. But of course, you don’t consider them a necessary part of being a woman do you.’
The three male officers squirmed. Jasmine told herself to remain calm. To have made such a blatant reference to her pre-op transsexual status Palmerston was obviously going to the limit to incite her.
‘Yes, I did observe that, ma’am,’ Jasmine said equally quietly and carefully, ‘I also observed that the body had had a double mastectomy. Coupled with the short hair and a hint of beard growth I suggest that the person was a transitioning transman, a female to male transsexual.’
‘There are other reasons for having a mastectomy,’ Palmerston’s voice had risen a few tones. ‘Cancer for example. She was a woman.’
Jasmine took a deep breath. ‘We have different viewpoints,’ she said, ‘but I think the possibility that I suggested should be taken into consideration when seeking the i.d.’
‘I think DC Frame has a point.’
The three men and Jasmine turned to see the speaker, DCI Sloane, standing in the doorway of his office as imposing as ever in his three-piece grey suit.
Sloane went on, ‘I think you should take the possibility that this person presented as a male in planning the investigation.’ He turned around and returned to his office. Jasmine wondered how much he had been listening to the exchange between her and Palmerston.
The DS sniffed, shook her head and pulled herself upright. ‘We shall use all the evidence available to identify the victim and determine what and who caused her death.’
…………………..to be continued.