Last Sunday’s Observer newspaper was quite a bumper edition for transgender articles (hardly a week passes without something on the topic). There was a full page profile of Grayson Perry and a full page article about the work of the Tavistock and Portman clinic which advises young people with gender issues and has seen a huge rise in demand for its services in recent years, particularly from girls transitioning to boys.
There was also an article by Catherine Bennett on bullying and the terms of abuse used by bullies. It began with comments on the Daily Telegraph attack on the “Brexit Mutineers” with its front page pictures of all the Conservative MPs who rebelled against the government over Brexit. Strangely though, the article segued into a discussion of the bullying tactics used by transgender activists against women who do not see transwomen as women. Bennett’s language in the article was very convoluted but I got the impression that she actually sides with the people who think that those who have transitioned according to the rules of the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA) should not enjoy the rights of the gender they identify with. She seems to think that the transgender lobby is the stronger and more successful at getting its way. The amount of publicity about transgender people these days may suggest that but I think she is wrong.
I have to say that I disagree with the belligerence shown by some trans-activists. I don’t agree with preventing someone speak on any subject, provided there is provision for the other side’s views to be given at the same event. I also don’t agree with calling people names. Bennett refers to the acronym TERF being used as a term of abuse. It actually stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist i.e. those vocal feminists who do not embrace transwomen into their movement, such as Germaine Greer. Is calling someone a “terf” or a “yuppie” a statement of fact or abuse? Bennett seems to include trans anger at the views espoused by such women as being an example of the misogyny women experience in other areas of their lives. The suggestion that “transphobe” be used as a more readily understood term of abuse for these people is treated ironically. Bennett makes a lot of the attacks by the trans-activists on those that speak against transgender and non-binary reforms but seems to ignore the reverse – the attacks on trans-people and the lack of rights for those that are gender-fluid or agender.
It is clear that the interaction between some trans-activists and some feminists has become violent and out of control. I think, however, that both sides have lost sight of the issue – that gender equality is still a long way off and that society has yet to understand that gender identity is not simply male or female with medical intervention for those who don’t fit. In my imagined genderless utopia, all people have equal rights and opportunities and can adopt whatever personal style and appearance they wish. Those people who want to have babies and bring up children can do so with assistance from society (with the caveat that populations growth is discouraged). Nobody should impose their sexual desires on another without their consent and no person should be singled out for abusive “banter”.
That’s all for now on that. Let’s get on with the fiction. Here’s part 5 of the Jasmine Frame novella, Reflex. Just a reminder that the events described in this story take place in 2006, not long after the passing of the GRA when police forces were still coming to terms with diversity in all its forms. It is a prequel to Painted Ladies (set six years later).
Reflex: Part 5
James followed DS Sharma into the staff rest room. The DS filled a kettle, switched it on then turned to glare at James.
‘Don’t ever correct me in an interview again, PC Frame.’
Again, James thought, there will be an again? He wanted that opportunity, although not necessarily with the detective. Nevertheless, he needed to mollify Sharma.
‘I’m sorry. It just came out. I think of Melissa as a girl.’
‘Do you think he looks like a girl?’
James thought of the young person slouched in the chair in the interview room, wearing jeans, sweat shirt and trainers. Although small and slight for a fourteen-year-old, with a long and thick head of hair, the lack of any hint of breasts presented a boyish figure.
‘Not particularly,’ he answered after a pause, ‘but it’s what’s in her head that matters. Melissa thinks she’s a girl.’
Sharma scowled, ‘But legally he’s a boy and that’s how he’ll be when he goes to court, so that is how we will address him. Got it?’
‘Yes, Sir.’ James wondered when or if he would have an opportunity to speak to Matthew/Melissa again. The DS dropped a teabag into a mug.
‘You seem to have been quite affected by this trans person you knew. Tamsin was it?’
‘Er, yes, Sir.’
‘The urge that these people have, it’s strong.’
‘Yes, Sir.’ James nodded.
‘Strong enough that it persisted even through the beatings his father meted out?’
‘Yes, Sir. Nothing makes the feeling that you’re in the wrong body go away.’ James felt that himself and empathised with Melissa’s wish to be female, but he had never experienced the abuse she had, nor had he felt so much pressure to transition. ‘Perhaps being isolated so that only her, sorry his, mother knew and supported him made the desire even stronger.’
‘Hmm.’ The kettle clicked off and Sharma turned to pour water over the teabag. ‘Strong enough to murder your father?’
James was shocked. When a police officer used the word “murder” it had a particular meaning.
‘I don’t think Matthew planned or intended to kill his father, Sir.’
‘Don’t you? You’ve told me how strong this need to be female is. He’s been denied it by his father for ten years. He’s growing up, going through puberty, as you said. We know what effect those hormones can have; all that testosterone churning around his body. Young bull, old bull. He decides to fight back. Keeps the knife handy for when his father returns.’
‘But he wasn’t expecting his father to come back when he did. Matthew said so.’
The DS shrugged. ‘So, what do you think happened, Frame?’ He hooked the teabag out of his mug and dropped in the sink.
‘I think it was an accident or self-defence, Sir. In the surprise of being attacked by his father Matthew just picked up whatever was to hand to defend himself. Unfortunately, it happened to be a knife which ended up in Mr Chapman’s chest.’
‘Through his heart, Frame. He was dead in moments.’
‘Yes, Sir, and we know that Matthew was very upset by that.’
Sharma took a sip of his tea. ‘So, it’s murder versus appropriate use of force in self-defence.’
‘His father was a lot bigger than him, Sir.’
Sharma ignored James’ comment. ‘To decide which it was we need evidence or a confession.’
James was confused. ‘What evidence, Sir? It happened in the heat of the moment.’
‘The knife, Frame. Why was it there just where the boy could grab it?’
‘It was the kitchen, Sir. Things get left lying around in kitchens, even knives.’
‘Did you look at that kitchen, Constable?’
James stared. Had he looked around the kitchen? He couldn’t recall anything of it at all except for the bloody body of the man on the floor and the sobbing mother.
‘Er, no, Sir.’
‘Spotless, it was, except for the blood of course. Nothing out of place. Apart from the brush, comb and hairdressing bits and pieces that Mrs Chapman had been using on the boy, the only thing not in a drawer or cupboard was that knife. Just that knife out of all the kitchen utensils happened to be on the worktop when the boy needed it. Don’t you think that is suspicious?’
James thought that Sharma was being a bit pernickety about the tidiness of the Chapman household.
‘Perhaps Mrs Chapman had been going to use it or put it away when Matthew interrupted her to have his hair styled.’
Sharma nodded. ‘A valid point, Frame. We’ll have to put it to Mrs Chapman when we question her.’
‘Yes, you and me. You seem to have some empathy with her son, so she might open up to you. She’s waiting for us in the other interview room.’ He put the empty mug down. ‘Come on.’
Once again, James followed the DS along the corridor to another small, sparsely furnished room. Mrs Chapman sat alone at the table.
‘Good afternoon, Mrs Chapman. Thanks for coming in to see us. No, don’t get up.’
The woman sank back into the plastic chair. James looked at her, seeing her properly for the first time. With the dark eyes revealing loss of sleep she bore a close likeness to her son or daughter. Matthew/Melissa shared her build and facial characteristics.
‘When can I see. . .?’ she asked. Sharma and James sat down facing her.
‘Your son? Very soon, Mrs Chapman. I can understand your wish to see him. He is in the care of Children’s Services. I’m afraid you won’t be able to be alone with him as he is suspected of a serious offence.’
The woman opened her mouth in horror. ‘Serious offence? What do you mean?’
‘Your son killed your husband, Mrs Chapman.’ Sharma’s tone suggested that it was an everyday occurrence.
‘But that was an accident,’ the mother cried.
Sharma leaned forward. ‘He thrust the point of knife though his father’s chest and pierced his heart. Was that an accident?’
The woman sat with her mouth open. She closed it, shook her head. ‘But, it wasn’t meant. Eric was swinging his fists.’
‘Did you see what your husband was doing, Mrs Chapman? I understood that he had hit you to the floor.’
‘Yes, yes, that’s right, but I saw him hitting Melissa around the head, before she grabbed the knife.’
The DS sat back in his chair and stretched. ‘Ah, you said Melissa. So, you believe your child is a girl.’
Mrs Chapman was startled, surprised by the Detective Sergeant’s change of tone and topic. She mumbled.
Sharma cocked his head, ‘Sorry, Mrs Chapman. I missed what you said.’
The woman looked directly at him. ‘I’ve known she was really a girl since she was a toddler. As soon as she started to talk she insisted that she was a girl not a boy. I don’t know where she heard the name Melissa, but she couldn’t have been much older than four when she told me that was her name not Matthew.’
‘But your husband didn’t accept that did he?’
‘No, he couldn’t bear the idea that he had a daughter not a son.’
‘He used violence on you and your child?’
Mrs Chapman nodded, and James noticed tears form in her eyes and sobs vibrate her chest.
DS Sharma pointed to James. ‘PC Frame, here, apparently has experience with people like your son. Transsexuals. He has some questions for you.’
Do I, James asked himself. What questions? The woman looked at him with an appeal in her eyes.
‘Um, yes,’ he began, ‘As DS Sharma says, I knew a transgirl. She had transitioned when she left home after finishing school. Do you know that that is what Melissa wanted?’
The mother nodded. ‘Yes, we were just waiting for her to reach sixteen.’
James felt sympathy for the mother, but he knew he should ask some other questions. ‘The two or three years when a boy is going through puberty feels like a long time to them, an eternity in which they can see their bodies changing, making it more difficult to pass as a woman. How did it affect her?’
‘Melissa hated what was happening to her.’
‘Couldn’t you have got her help, despite her father?’
The woman froze. ‘I couldn’t do anything that Eric disapproved of. He wouldn’t let me take Melissa to the doctor.’
Sharma butted in. ‘You say you wouldn’t disobey your husband but time after time you helped your son make himself look like a girl – doing his hair and make-up. That was against Mr Chapman’s express wishes wasn’t it.’
The woman broke down into a sob. ‘I know, but Melissa so much wanted to look like a girl. I couldn’t refuse her.’
‘You encouraged him in his wish to be a girl,’ the DS accused.
Mrs Chapman looked confused. ‘Yes, but I had too.’
‘You encouraged him,’ Sharma continued, ‘until he so hated his father that he decided to kill him when the opportunity arose.’ Melissa’s mother shook her head violently. ‘He got the knife out of the kitchen drawer and kept it with him for when his father returned and predictably lost his temper because you were pandering to his girly urges. Your son planned to kill his father because he thought that was the only way he could become the girl her thought he was.’
’No, no,’ The woman cried, ‘She didn’t mean to kill him.’
…..to be continued.