It’s been another week when the news has been less than uplifting. Was the collapse of Carillion due to mismanagement or greed, or both? The fact is that many thousands of ordinary people are now not sure about their future while the rest of us may be faced with extra costs via taxes and lower savings interest rates because of government incompetence and arrogance.
I mentioned last week the new ITV programme, Transformation Street. I’ve now watched the first episode and can comment. Like so many programmes focussing on transgender people, it delights in the gory details – pictures of excised breast tissue and testicles. I’m not sure what the point of doing that is, unless it is to justifiably emphasise that this is serious stuff. The programme is largely one long ad for a private gender clinic and its charismatic surgeon, who does all the surgery from facial feminisation through, breast enhancement and removal to the big ones – gender reassignment or confirmation as it is now called. As always, the individuals reveal how everyone has their own story, as do the partners and family of the transgender person. The gratitude shown by the patients as they recover from their surgery is striking. I’d like to see them again many months after their operation. Many, probably most, are satisfied with their treatment but a few find that modifying their appearance doesn’t answer all their problems. The programme did reveal the immense costs of going through the full transition particularly if one wants all the cosmetic treatment. Some will spend their entire life savings (and more) to get what they want. These costs also explain why the NHS struggles meet demand for gender identity treatment. Is the programme of value? Well, it didn’t offer any judgements in the first episode but viewed as a source of information it performs a role. For surgery-porn junkies it probably hit the mark. For keeping trans in the public eye I’ll give it full marks, for anything else I’ll wait and see.
I have at last begun a new Jasmine Frame story, called (for now) Pose. The first episode is below but I think it needs just a short introduction. I know stories should be able to stand alone but as there are now so many Jasmine tales this one perhaps needs to be placed in context. Chronologically, it follows after the recently concluded story, Reflex, but takes place about one year later in, autumn 2007. This is the one period in Jasmine’s career where there is a bit of a gap. The prequels to Painted Ladies cover the years 2000, starting with Discovering Jasmine, and ending with Viewpoint (so far unpublished) set in December 2011 which concerns Jasmine’s last case in the police force. Four of the stories which cover the period 2004 to 2006 will shortly be published in the collection provisionally titled, Jasmine Frame: Training for Murder. There are eight stories in the period 2009-2011 which may get published at a later date. So there is this gap, 2006-2009, where Jasmine is a police officer, married to Angela, but struggling with her identity. Pose deals with some serious issues – I hope you enjoy it.
Pose: Part 1
‘No, no, no!’ James pushed back on his chair and turned his face away from the computer display. Alongside him, DC Colin Green, glanced from his screen.
‘Bad one, eh?’
James shook his head, not in disagreement but trying to free his mind of the image. ‘Sick.’
Colin grunted and looked back at the images flicking past on his computer.
James thought and then declared, ‘No, not sick.’ Colin looked at him, eyebrows raised. ‘Sick implies that the guys looking at this stuff are ill, that it’s not their responsibility. They don’t have an illness, they’re evil. And I don’t mean they’re under the influence of the devil. They’ve made their very own hell for these kids.’
DC Green pushed his chair back. ‘Come on, Matey. I think you need a break. I could murder a bacon sarnie.’ He heaved his bulk off the office chair, which sighed gratefully. James stood too, and they squeezed past the desks, the tower of processors and the evidence bags of CD-ROMs, hard drives, memory sticks and floppy discs. James pushed the door open and emerged into the relative airiness of the corridor. The windowless office of the Child Protection Unit Electronic Evidence Section was little more than a cupboard hastily equipped with a couple of desks, keyboards, display units, processors and a variety of file readers.
James cradled the cup of black coffee in his hands and looked at DC Green munching into his ketchup dripping, bacon and egg sandwich. He wasn’t everyone’s image of the criminal-catching detective. He was overweight for a start, would barely pass the fitness test for an on-the-beat constable, and his unbuttoned shirt had obviously been nowhere near an iron. Yet he was dedicated. James knew that from observing him for the last four months and he looked to him for help in hacking into recalcitrant files and online accounts.
‘How do you cope with it?’ James asked.
Green took his eyes off the sandwich. ‘What?’
‘The disgust.’ Actually, it wasn’t just disgust he felt at the images they were duty-bound to examine. There was fear too. Fear of being drawn in by the overt sexual images. It hadn’t happened, but he was scared that one day he might find himself aroused by what he saw. The thought was appalling but he already felt that his penis had an existence all of its own, separate to the feminine persona that inhabited his skull. It was nonsense really. He knew that his cock and balls didn’t have a mind of their own despite that it sometimes appeared like it; but the fear remained.
Colin shrugged. ‘It’s a tough job that we do. You have to build a shell around yourself.’
‘Yeah. You can’t let anything you see or hear touch you. Just record it, label it, prepare it to be used as evidence. That’s our job.’
James nodded. Our job, yes, just another task for the twenty-first century police officer. He’d been delighted when he had been invited to join the Vulnerable Persons Department and assigned to the Child Protection Unit in Reading. It was his first experience of plainclothes work, his first post as a detective. Except that, ever since, he had spent most of his days in that claustrophobic, cramped closet, hunched over a computer. His apparent familiarity with a computer keyboard had indicated to his bosses that he would be a suitable recruit to the Electronic Evidence Section. He probably did have more experience with computers than officers that had joined straight from school or after some other career, and yes, he had owned a laptop since he was in the sixth form at school, but he wasn’t a computer geek like Colin, or Baz, his other EES colleague. Nevertheless, he was a fast learner and picked up the techniques of searching the internet and accessing files and digging through mobile phone records. He’d been aware of the easy availability of porn on the internet, who wasn’t, but just a few months in the job had shown him how the increasing sophistication of search engines and file sharing websites, the growth of social networks like MySpace and the rival Facebook, and the decreasing cost of mobile phones, made life easier for those who were drawn to the margins of sexual desire – the illegal, sickening and abusive gutters.
‘You’ll cope,’ Colin added. ‘You’re a natural.’
James didn’t feel as confident as Colin’s compliment suggested. He drank his coffee. Colin wiped the egg yolk from his plate with the last piece of bread, popped it in his mouth and chewed.
‘Better get back to it,’ he said through the mouthful, ‘The DI wanted the report on this lot today.’
James groaned at the thought of the hundreds of images still to be accessed, logged and classified, but he heaved himself to his feet. He noticed that Colin had a drip of ketchup on his collar.
As soon as they arrived at the country village hall, Angela went to the hatch to collect a couple of drinks and chat to Susan. Jasmine looked around noting who was present at this month’s Butterflies meeting. Belinda, the President and organiser was chatting to a couple of older members. Jasmine had only managed to attend half a dozen times in the last year, but she recognised the regulars, and they were all regulars. There were no new faces, not tonight. She crossed the room to approach a couple of the girls. They were younger than the rest of the attendees, though still several years older than herself. She felt she had more in common with them. For a start they were in modern fashions rather than “classics”, or to be frank, what mother might have worn. Jasmine did have some doubts about Tina, however. She favoured a teenage, or even pre-teen, style. In public, she would look odd, weird even, but in the private, inclusive atmosphere of the Butterflies she was accepted, as she wanted to be.
As Jasmine approached Tina and her companion, Samantha, she examined this evening’s outfit. Being September, it was still warm enough for summertime wear. Tina wore a baby-doll dress in pale pink which just reached to mid-thigh and had short puffed sleeves. It was tied at the waist with a black ribbon. Through the semi-transparent cloth Jasmine could see suspenders holding up white stockings and a lacy bra. On her feet were white strappy sandals with high block heels. Her long blonde hair, which Jasmine knew was a good quality wig, was bedecked with little pink bows. She carried a handbag in the shape of a pink plastic teddy bear.
‘Hi, Jas,’ Tina greeted her in her artificially high-pitched sing-song voice. It grated on Jasmine for being so unnatural, but she had learnt it was part of Tina’s attempt to build a persona for herself as a young teen. It was make-believe. Jasmine knew that she was a mid-thirties electrician with a wife and a young daughter.
‘Hi,’ she replied and nodded to Tina and Samantha, ‘How are things?’
Samantha smiled at Jasmine. Her style was more adult – denim miniskirt over light blue leggings and a bright yellow t-shirt.
‘Tina’s got problems,’ Samantha confided.
‘Oh?’ Jasmine said.
Tina leaned into the group and spoke in a stage whisper. ‘My wife’s giving me hassle.’
‘About dressing?’ Jasmine asked.
‘But she accepts that you do dress?’
Tina responded grumpily, ‘Tolerates, would be a better way of putting it although that seems to be wearing thin.’
‘Why?’ Jasmine wondered what was going on between Tina and her wife.
‘She won’t let me in the house dressed when Lucy’s awake.’
‘You had to get changed here did you?’ Jasmine asked. Some members arrived as men and did a transformation in the hall’s small Ladies loo.
‘No, I stopped in a layby and did a quick swap. I don’t know about going home. She might go crackers if I turn up at home like this.’
Jasmine inquired further, ‘Why is she less tolerant than she was?’
Tina shrugged. ‘She says that now that Lucy is nearly six and at school, she might get confused if she sees her father in a dress.’ Wearing clothes the girl might herself wear to a school-friend’s party, except for the suspenders and bra, she might be confused, Jasmine thought. ‘It might be partly what I spent on my new boobs,’ Tina added.
‘You need to talk,’ Samantha advised.
Tina looked rueful. ‘I think we’re passed that. She hasn’t spoken to me for days.’
………………………………. to be continued.