The news continues to be mind-chillingly awful but a number of items this week made me wonder what kind of life our children and young people are going to experience. One was about the swarms of paedophiles who descend on any young girl (I think it’s particularly girls) who decide to post photos on certain social media apps. The reporter talked of girls receiving thousands of responses to any picture of themselves followed by requests to “show a bit more”. Are children learning to discriminate between genuine friendships and the creepy, wheedling, grooming by older men? I hope so but I’m not sure how.
The second item concerned “fake news”, previously known as lies. Not many young people sit down to watch the News at 6 or any other time and I doubt whether many use the newspaper apps on their smart phones. The only “news” they pick up are the posts on social media apps like Snapchat. These share lies, gossip, conspiracy theories, and extremist propaganda tarted up as reasonable viewpoints which swamp the truth and informed opinions. How do young people, or any of us for that matter, sort the truth from the lies? It is very difficult and I think we all fall for misplaced blaring indignation from time to time.
The point about both of these news items was that the internet providers and social media services are doing nothing to correct it. Google, Facebook, Instagram and all the others are turning over huge sums of money (largely from advertising), mutter about protecting people, but actually do very little. I think something will (must) happen in the not too distant future which will change the situation but not necessarily return us to a state of internet innocence.
Let’s get back to contemplating the approaching festive season – there’s still plenty of time to purchase your copies of my Jasmine Frame and September Weekes books, either on Kindle or as paperbacks (from firstname.lastname@example.org). And here is the next episode of the novella, Reflex, set in 2006 (before all that social media stuff really got started). Jasmine is having an evening off. . .
Reflex: Part 7
Jasmine parked the Fiesta alongside a few other cars on the gravel beside the low brick building. It was the village hall but was some distance outside the village and surrounded only by trees and fields. A little light filtered through curtains but otherwise it was dark. She and Angela got out and approached the door. Jasmine found herself surprisingly apprehensive. She had been going out as Jasmine for years and had visited clubs on straight and LGBT nights with and without Angela many times. This, however, was her first time at a social meeting for transgendered people.
Angela pulled on the heavy door and a waft of slightly warmer air, a buzz of conversation and the music of the Beegees emerged. Jasmine wondered if there would be dancing. They stepped inside the hall. It was brightly lit with six tables set out around the edge. About a dozen people turned as one and looked at them. They all appeared to be women, although a couple were wearing trousers. A rather buxom lady with dark hair approached them. She wore a flowery dress.
‘Ah, you must be Angela and Jasmine. I’m Belinda,’ she said in a deep male voice, holding out her hand. Jasmine and Angela shook it in turn. ‘Come and meet everyone.’ Belinda ushered them towards the little groups of ladies. The conversation, that had stopped, picked up again.
In a whirl of name exchanging, Belinda introduced Jasmine and Angela to all the other members of the Butterflies Club. There were a pair of married couples but all the rest were single “ladies”; Jasmine was unsure who was a transsexual living full-time as a woman, or a transvestite spending the evening in their alternative femme persona. She thought though that she would be able to work it out after a few minutes observation and chat.
‘Now there’s one last person to meet,’ Belinda said, guiding them to the hatch in the middle of the side wall. There, smiling from behind a counter, was a small lady in an apron, cutting up portions of Tesco quiche. ‘This is Susan, my darling wife,’ Belinda announced.
Susan greeted them and was soon chatting to Angela about Butterflies, her life with Belinda and gossip about the other members. Belinda asked what Jasmine would like to drink. She opted for an orange juice while Angela accepted a large white wine. That means I’m driving home, Jasmine thought, but wasn’t too disappointed.
She went off to chat with the other Butterflies. Most appeared to be in late middle-age, with a taste in fashion that, except for one or two, may have been gleaned from their mothers. The exceptions favoured short dresses with stockings and high heels and shoulder-length hair. There were all sorts of professions represented from road hauliers to doctors with a sprinkling of telecoms engineers. There was one member who Jasmine found herself gravitating to. She appeared younger than the others and was dressed more like herself – a skirt over opaque tights with, in her case, a loose jumper on top. Also, her brown hair, cut in a bob, appeared to be her own. She had been introduced as Rachel. She admired Jasmine’s embellished and more fitted top. They were soon chatting about mundane matters and commenting on the other members’ tastes.
Soon food was served and the Butterflies descended on the buffet more like another species of insect. Rachel however took a small plate of food.
‘It’s the oestrogen,’ she said. ‘It makes me put on weight when I just glance at a currant bun.’
‘You’re transitioning,’ Jasmine said, then regretted blurting it out.
‘All done,’ Rachel said with obvious pride, ‘I had my surgery last year.’
‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed. . .’
Rachel shook her head, ‘No, it’s OK. I don’t mind talking about it, and if you can’t here,’ she waved at the other ladies, ‘where can you talk about being trans.’
Jasmine nodded in agreement. ‘When did you start?’
‘Oh, years ago, in my twenties. It took ages to reach the top of the list.’
‘Did you always know you were a woman?’
‘As far back as I can remember. Although I didn’t know what transitioning would involve until I was in my late teens. It’s easy for kids today, with the internet to tell them all about trannies.’
‘You were dressing as a girl when you were a teenager?’
‘Oh, yes. Every opportunity I had.’
Jasmine nodded. She had done the same although she had never decided to transition.
‘Did your parents know?’
Rachel snorted. ‘Oh yes, they knew alright.’
‘And supported you?’
‘Ah, that’s more complicated. My mother did, my father didn’t. He couldn’t bear me looking like a girl. I think it offended his own masculinity.’
‘My parents divorced when I was fifteen.’
‘Did they blame it on you being trans?’
Rachel shrugged. ‘My father may have done but I haven’t seen him since. My mother has never mentioned it, but she’s always been on my side. If we were out together and someone had a go at me she would tear into them. Nearly got us into trouble with the cops a couple of times.’
Rachel thought for a moment. ‘Once we were out shopping. A couple of lads barged into us and pushed me around a bit. My Mum launched into them whirling her handbag like an offensive weapon. There happened to be a cop nearby and he waded in to separate them.’
‘Mothers can be fierce at times,’ Jasmine said. Rachel asked about Jasmine’s experience and relationship with Angela.
They were putting the tables away when Jasmine realised that the evening had passed. Rachel said farewell and Jasmine was left with Angela, Belinda and a few of the other ladies finishing the washing-up. Belinda bent down to turn off the small CD player sitting on the stage then straightened up.
‘Well, that’s it until next month,’ she said. ‘I hope we see you again, Jasmine, Angela.’
‘Yes, I hope so,’ Jasmine replied, ‘but it can be difficult. I’m on shifts you see, and sometimes don’t get off when I should.’
‘Oh, what do you do?’ Susan asked while folding the tea-towels.
‘I’m a police officer,’ Jasmine replied then wondered whether it was wise to reveal her career, ‘Oh, please don’t spread that around.’
Belinda nodded. ‘Don’t worry, we won’t. All personal details are confidential in Butterflies. Actually, some of the girls are a bit wary of the police.’
‘Why?’ Jasmine asked.
‘They remember times when the police weren’t too supportive of trans girls.’
‘Not now, surely.’ Jasmine thought of the diversity training she had received.
‘No, I’m talking about the eighties and earlier. Some of us have been around that long,’ Belinda winked. ‘It wasn’t unknown for police to arrest men dressed as women, give them a beating and then put them in front of a magistrate for disturbing the peace.’
Jasmine shivered. ‘Things have changed.’
‘I know,’ Belinda smiled, ‘and the Gender Recognition Act has been a help to all of us.’
Jasmine and Angela said their goodbyes and left the hall. They were driving along the country lanes towards Reading and bed before Angela spoke.
‘Well, what do you think?’
‘The Butterflies. Do you want to come again?’
‘Yes, I think so. Doesn’t have to be every month. It’s not the most exciting of evenings and most of them are pretty old.’
Angela laughed. ‘Yes, and look like men in drag.’
‘I think it’s difficult for some. Perhaps they don’t have someone like you to support them. They’re a bit out of date.’
‘Nevertheless, you found someone to talk to.’
‘Yes, Rachel. She’s a post-op.’
‘Really. Gave you ideas, did she?’
Jasmine took his eyes off the road to look at Angela. Her face was in the dark but he knew she was examining him closely.
‘Yes, well no. If you mean do I think I want to be like her, then no I don’t.’ She wanted to convince herself as much as Angela and wasn’t sure she had. ‘She took a long time to complete her transition and her parents divorced, probably because of it, but her mother was really supportive.’
‘Like your friend, Melissa’s mother.’
‘Hmm, yes,’ Jasmine thought about what Rachel had said and about Melissa. She realised that she was dressed almost the same as Melissa had been when they met earlier in the day. Had she copied the young girl’s style unconsciously this evening? The trans-girl was certainly on her mind.
……………………. to be continued