Jasmine surprises herself

Hardly a day goes by without something else to worry about. Perhaps I shouldn’t read the papers or watch the TV news.  There was Turkey, with a chance to democratically overthrow a dictator, but no, the majority apparently voted for Erdogan and more restriction on free speech and more power for the religious zealots.  Then there was Airbus, BMW, Nissan, the CBI etc. saying they needed some certainty about the future and what do they get from the brexiteers? “We don’t need to be friends with business. They can fxxx off.”  They probably will or at least freeze their investment so that employment will decline. Since most of the big business in the UK is multinational or foreign owned, (Conservative governments encouraged  foreign takeovers) there is no such thing as “taking control”.  What will happen? Who knows? The government certainly don’t. My worries are selfish – what will happen to my pensions when the country goes broke?

20180621_185126I have another worry, a lesser one and perhaps it isn’t a worry at all, more of a release. I have to cull some of my books. With the move to a smaller property maybe imminent (I’ll believe it when it happens, actually) I need to fit my books into less room. I’ve got well over a thousand SF books, purchased over the last 55 years. Which ones will I get rid of? Probably the more recent ones actually. I don’t think I can part with my ancient Aldiss, Anderson, Asimov, Ballard, Blish, Brunner, Cherryh, Clarke, Heinlein, McAuley, McCaffrey, Niven, Simak, Wells, Wyndham, to name just a few of my favourite authors. That’s not mentioning my complete collection of Banks (with and without the M).  There’s also a lot of history of science books including several biographies.  Surely I can make space. . .

……………………………

And so to my writing. Just a fortnight to go now to the Southport Bookfair (BLISS) and a chance to sell a few Jasmine and September books, I hope.  With the move beginning to take precedence, I haven’t got any further with the novels but at l am still ticking over with Jasmine’s prequels (and sequel) so here is the third episode of Negative.  As I promised it is more reflective than action-packed, but I hope still readable.

Negative: Part 3

Jasmine looked at the young woman. Ceri’s fresh face and that gorgeous, long blonde hair gave her a feeling she did not expect. She wanted to hug her, kiss her on the dark red lips, feel her hair run through her fingers. What did it mean? She’d always loved Angela but thought that becoming a woman, taking the hormones, meant that she’d be attracted to men. That hadn’t happened yet, not really. Was she lesbian then? She put the question on hold. Ceri was still talking.
‘There were a few kids at school, boys and girls who didn’t get it, but I had some good friends who looked after me. So, it was some positive some negative. I also had my brother.’
‘You had a brother that supported you?’ Jasmine had Holly, her older sister, but even she hadn’t found out about Jasmine until she left home.
‘Yeah. Alun’s four years older than me. He’s a sweetie really but he always defended me, from back when I was a little cissy boy. He had a bit of a reputation at school, so after I transitioned one dark look from Alun and the bullies went to find someone else to torment.’
‘Is he still around?’
‘Yeah. Works in one of the huts along the front selling buckets and spades. He’s still there if I need him.’
‘But he can’t be with you everywhere. Are you planning on staying here too?’
‘God no! I wanted to get away from people who knew me as a boy. When I was sixteen I left school and went to college. I didn’t know anyone there, so I could start my transition seriously.’
‘How’s it gone?’
Ceri shrugged again. ‘College was ok. I’m waiting for the results now. Then I can get away full-time.’
‘Waitressing is a holiday job then.’
‘God, yes! I wouldn’t want to spend my life doing it like Tegan, the old cow.’
‘She doesn’t like you?’
‘I don’t whether it’s me, because I am who am I am or whether she just doesn’t like young people, or any people for that matter.’
‘Does she know you’re trans?’
‘Of course. Everyone does in this town. Tegan knows my Mum.’
‘I can see why you want to go somewhere else.’
Ceri looked a bit sheepish. ‘I can’t wait, but. . .it’s a bit scary too. Starting in a new place. College was the same, but I came home every day.’
‘Your mother. . .’
‘I’ll miss her. I’m not sure if I could have done this without her.’
Jasmine felt the same about Angela, but they had to part too. ‘How’s your transition going.’
Ceri nodded her head from side to side. ‘It takes so long. I was already on the list before I turned sixteen, so I thought I’d be there with my prescription on my birthday. But, no, it took six months before I got my first supply. Now I’m waiting for the surgery.’
‘Like me,’ Jasmine agreed. ‘You should get priority, being so young. You’re looking good though; the hormones are working.’
‘Yeah. I’ve even got tits.’ Ceri drained her cup of coffee.
‘They’re all yours?’ Jasmine said gazing longingly at Ceri’s curves.
“Well, no. I’m still using fillers, but I’m up to a B.’
Jasmine snorted. ‘Lucky you. I had problems getting my antiandrogens balanced. The nausea and the moods. . . Well, you don’t need to hear about all that. Let’s just say I’m sorry I’m not ten years younger, like you.’
They chattered on about Jasmine’s life, Ceri’s plans for uni., what there was to do in the area. At last Ceri got up.
‘Sorry, I’ve got to go, Jas. I said I’d meet my mate, Gwen at lunchtime. We’ve got some clothes to swap. She’s not as tall as me but we can share some things.’
Jasmine felt awkward. ‘I’m sorry I’ve kept you talking Ceri.’
‘No, it’s been great. It’s lovely to share with someone like me. Look, I have a day off on Thursday. Perhaps I can show you around this place. There’s some gorgeous scenery. Unless you’ve got your own plans.’
‘No. No plans at all. That would be great. Thanks Ceri.’
‘See you at dinner then. Unless Tegan the witch stops me serving you.’
‘Would she?’
‘Oh, yes she would. Bye.’
Ceri skipped off. Jasmine watched her go, admiring the way her short dress swayed from side to side as she swung her hips. She walked like a girl, with grace and sexiness.’

Jasmine enjoyed a walk on the headland recommended by Ceri. It was some weeks since she had been running so she felt out of condition. The steep climb got her breathing deeply again and made her conscious of her leg muscles. She paused in various places to enjoy the views across the sea and the mountains. She especially enjoyed the solitude. Despite the fine weather she met no-one on her walk until she reached a small shop and café at the summit. She joined the tourists who had arrived by cable-car but after a refreshing drink she set off alone again.
As she wandered, taking paths almost at random, she thought about Ceri, comparing her tales of transition with her own story. Both had had a steady and secure home life while commencing the changes that would lead to them presenting as well as identifying as female. They were the lucky ones, Jasmine knew. There were many who struggled against prejudice and without support, but Jasmine was also aware that Ceri had faced problems and would have more to confront in the future. Her boss, Tegan, was just one amongst many.
It was late afternoon when Jasmine finally returned to the metalled roads of the town and arrived, footsore and tired back at her hotel. She relished a long bath before making herself ready for the evening meal.
Ceri served her but was subdued and barely said a word. Jasmine tried to engage her in conversation but noticed her casting worried glances to where Tegan was serving other guests. After dinner Jasmine retired to her room to read and watch TV before finding herself getting sleepy.

The grumpy waitress was not to be seen at breakfast. Ceri skipped around the dining room with a broad smile on her face. She was assisted by an older, plump woman who also had a cheerful demeanour. Jasmine was interested by how the atmosphere of the dining room was different this morning. The weather outside was sunny again and now it seemed to have spread inside as well. As Ceri cleared the last of Jasmine’s plates, Jasmine decided to ask a question.
‘Would you like to meet for coffee again?’ She hoped she hadn’t read too much into their pleasant encounter the previous morning.
‘I’d love to,’ Ceri replied with a smile.
‘Same place and time?’ Jasmine asked.
‘Super.’ Ceri staggered away with am armful of dirty crockery.

Jasmine decided to wait outside the café. The incoming tide was again providing an interesting pattern of waves on the wide beach. Ceri approached after just a few minutes, her golden hair again released from the elastic bands that held it captive in the dining room.
They sat with their coffees at the same table as the previous day.
‘You were happier this morning than you were last evening,’ Jasmine observed.
‘You can guess why,’ Ceri replied with her lips covered in foamy milk.
‘No Tegan?’
The girl nodded.
’Is it her day off?’
Ceri put her mug down. ‘Yes. The one day of the week when I can get on with the job without her grumbling. Myfanwy is lovely to work with. I wish she’d do more than the two days.’
‘Two days?’
‘She covers my day off too. She’s retired really. Says she doesn’t want to do more than two days a week.’
‘I could see the difference in you. You weren’t a happy bunny last evening.’
Ceri frowned. ‘I wasn’t. Tegan had a go at me.’
‘What about?’
‘Us.’
‘Us?’ Jasmine didn’t know what Ceri meant.
‘You and me. Meeting like this. Apparently, she was hanging round the pier when we met yesterday and saw us come in here together.’
Jasmine shrugged, ‘So what?’
‘Tegan says staff should not fraternise with the guests. She thinks I’m trying to get a better tip from you or something.’
‘It’s none of her business.’ Jasmine was annoyed that another person should have an opinion on her relationship with her new friend.
‘It isn’t, but she is my boss, so she thinks she can have a go at me for anything. She’s glad she’s found something else other than just my work to go on about; as well as being trans of course.’
‘Does she know I am too?’
‘Oh, yes. She used some words for both of us.’
Jasmine felt herself stiffen at Ceri’s statement. ‘You do know that if she is intimidating you and using derogatory trans terms that could be a hate-crime. You could report her.’
Ceri looked horrified. ‘I don’t want to go to the police.’
‘They are on our side.’ Well, most of them are, Jasmine thought. There were a few of her ex-colleagues who couldn’t see past their own gender certainty.
‘Yeah, perhaps. I can sort it. I won’t have to work with Tegan for much longer.’

………………….to be continued.

 

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Jasmine’s back

WP_20180414_09_47_33_ProIn four weeks I’ll be at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Southport, Lancashire for the BLISS Book Lovers event (Sat. 14th July.)  It’s another of those bookfairs where the authors display their books and engage visitors with enthralling chat about their work. It really works best if there are lots of people wandering around who aren’t the participating authors. For that reason I have a few free entry tickets available for anyone wanting to attend.  Just send me a message on paintedladiesnovel@btinternet.com and if they haven’t all gone I’ll see that you get a ticket. Also send me a message if you want to pre-order any of my books for delivery at the event.  They will all be priced at £8 on the day except for Painted Ladies, which is free with either Bodies By Design or The Brides’ Club Murder. The Evil Above the Stars trilogy will be £21 for all three volumes.  There will also be free bookmarks and postcards of scenes from the September novels, particularly Cold Fire.

Of course, if you can’t get to Southport you can order the books direct from me by sending a message to me at the same email address above.  All books are £9.99 inc p&p each and the free offer for Painted Ladies stands. The package of the three Evil Above the Stars books is £25.

……………….

And so Jasmine returns. I’ve had a rest from writing Jasmine Frame stories for a couple of months although the fourth novel, Molly’s Boudoir, is still on the stocks. This new story is something of an innovation.  It is both a sequel and prequel.  It fits into the short period of time between the events of Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design. I am not going to give away any of the plot of Painted Ladies other than to say Jasmine is recovering.  You’ll have to wait and see how the story develops but I do want it to be a little more reflective.  Jasmine is stuck at the stage in her transition where she’s living as a woman and taking hormones but the body she wants is a distant goal because of the time it takes to get Gender Confirmation  Surgery. She’s alone and self-employed and has just completed a traumatic case so she has reason to be reflective.

By the way I’d welcome beta readers for Molly’s Boudoir.  If you would like to read it in its pre-copyedit state and are prepared to make comments (positive and negative) then please send me a message on the email address above. In  return you’ll get my grateful thanks and a signed (yes, really) paperback copy when it is published.

So here is the first episode of Negative.

Negative: Part 1

The forest of wind turbines on the horizon in a flat calm sea seemed to be unchanging. It was only the rattle of the railway carriage that told her that she was moving. She kept her face close to the window gazing at the scene. It had been a long time since she’d seen the sea, but it was almost like coming home having grown up in a coastal town. This was a different bit of sea though and turning away to look out of the other side of the carriage she could see that she was travelling through unfamiliar country. Hills clothed in bright green grass and dark trees rose steeply from the narrow coastal strip and beyond, partially hidden in cloud, were the dark blue hints of higher mountains.
Jasmine looked back at the sea. She needed a holiday, a break, a change of scene, but it felt a little like she was running away. Angela had recommended it, as did Jilly, her GP. While her injuries were healing, the dreams still disturbed her nights. She woke feeling she couldn’t breathe. The media interest in her, though lessening, was irritating and stopped her from getting back to work. Not that she was sure she would have much work. Frame Investigations might be defunct. Who wanted a private investigator whose picture had appeared in the local and national newspapers and on the internet?
She’d argued. She didn’t want to go away. She wanted to curl up in her drab, small flat. She was alone. What was she going to do on a vacation? Anyway, she couldn’t afford it.
Angela had argued back. The change would do her good, refresh her. She’d meet new people; people who didn’t know her. She had some money coming from the Police for her work and in victim compensation, and why didn’t she use some of her savings. That was for her transition, she’d responded.
Angela had replied, ‘Your wellbeing now is more important than having money in the bank for whatever surgeries you decide you might need in the future.’ Jasmine had wanted to retort that future treatment was what was going to make her what she wanted to be, but she had accepted Angela’s point.
So here she was, on a train to somewhere unfamiliar. On her own because, of course, Angela had her own career she couldn’t desert at short notice and anyway they were divorced now. There was no-one else.

The train pulled into the terminus station. Jasmine collected her small case and stepped onto the carriage accompanied by a couple of dozen fellow travellers. It was summer, but not yet school holiday time so the season hadn’t really taken off. Her companions were largely grey-haired. Though they might have noticed her in her t-shirt and short skirt, none seemed to take any interest in her. She checked the map on her phone and strode out of the station towing her case behind her. The hotel she’d booked wasn’t far. It was in one of the streets that lead down to the seafront, but she noted, didn’t have a direct view of the sea. It was a small independently run establishment. The grey stone Victorian building looked as though it had had a coat of paint applied to its woodwork but didn’t seem to have had any recent improvements. Not seedy anyway. She’d booked it because it was cheap, offered breakfast and dinner and had a single room spare for a fortnight – that was as long as she thought she’d survive being on holiday.
The owner showed her into the room. Its narrow window looked out at the row of buildings in the next street with just a peek at the hill that rose beyond the town. He was welcoming and explained the idiosyncrasies of the plumbing and informed her of the mealtimes. She examined his face. Had he guessed what she was? Did his eyes display any sense of judgement? No, he was treating her as she thought he would any other guest who happened to be a single woman, taking care not to fuss over her in case it was interpreted as being sexist.
After asking if there was any other assistance she needed, the proprietor left her alone. Jasmine unpacked her bag and then decided to explore. She left the hotel and walked down to the seafront. Although the sun was still shining it was now late afternoon, her journey had taken most of the day, and there was a cool breeze blowing in off the water. Her bare arms and legs felt a bit chilly. To keep warm, she strode out along the promenade. She passed retired couples and families with young pre-school children, but the wide concreted pavement wasn’t crowded. On one side were the large, at one time grand, hotels and on the other, brightly painted wooden huts offering the usual seaside goods for visitors – buckets and spades, sunhats, ice cream, soft drinks, and fast food accompanied by the sickening smell of over-cooked fat.
She went to the iron rail that marked the boundary between the shore and beach and gazed out at the curve of the bay with the mountains on the right and the headland to the left. Why was she here? She knew no-one and knew nothing about this area. It was simply a retreat, somewhere to be herself, unknown and hopefully unbothered. For a moment she wondered what the attitude of the locals was to transitioning transwomen. Were they likely to be more or less accepting than in the cities and towns she was familiar with? She didn’t know, and it gave her a little anxiety about what she might discover. Holiday-makers, surely, were only interested in their own enjoyment so would be unconcerned by her, that is unless there were some young, single men looking for women to satisfy their vacation lust. She’d have to avoid them.
She wasn’t sure what she would spend her time her doing. There were plenty of things to do and see, walks to do and she’d brought a few books. Swimming in the sea was out. No bathing costume helped her look more feminine, and her scars would show. Relax, that was the main thing – and recuperate; dispel the nightmares of the slashing knife, ripping through her skin, chopping at her penis and scrotum. Yes, she wanted rid of them, but in a controlled, clean, anaesthetised manner where they would be used to build her new genitalia. She shivered, not just with the breeze on her shoulders, and turned to walk back to the hotel.

After kicking off her shoes and lying on the bed to read a not very interesting novel for a while, her watch told her it was time for dinner. Did one dress for dinner in hotels these days? She wasn’t sure but decided to change from the clothes she had travelled in. Instead she put on a calf-length dress with a thin cardigan. She powdered her face and re-did her lipstick. She looked in the mirror. What impression did she give? A young(ish) woman on her own in a small holiday hotel. Would people wonder why she was alone and perhaps examine her for reasons for her aloneness? Would their examinations note the wide shoulders, the mannish angle of her nose, and firm jaw-line? Would they suspect her for what she was?
She was used to these worries although it was the first time for a long time that she had been in a new place to test them. She took a deep breath, picked up her bag, checked her new smart phone was in it and stepped outside her door.
The dining room was half full. Most of the occupied tables by couples although one had two pairs sitting at it. Glances noted her entry, but none lingered. A waitress, dark hair, probably in her forties, indicated that she could sit at any of the smaller tables set for two, and left her to choose. She went to a table at the corner of the room which, while unobtrusive, gave her a view of the diners. She sat, pulling the hem of her dress under her bottom and looked at the brief menu.
There was a buzz of conversation around her. She caught snippets of conversation about the day’s activities, and discussions of the news of the moment – the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and preparations for the London Olympics, now less than two months away and the media, at least, becoming frantic that the organisation was incomplete.
Jasmine was approached by the second of the waitresses on duty. She was young, slim and tall, at least as tall as Jasmine’s five foot nine. Her long blonde hair was tied in a bun so that it wouldn’t flop into the dinner plates when she served the diners. Like the other waitress she was dressed in the typical waiting uniform of short, black skirt, black tights and black pinafore but the younger girl’s skirt ended higher on her thighs. She gave Jasmine a thin smile but there was a nervousness about her, her eyes not looking directly at her, that caused Jasmine to examine her. She noted the heavy foundation on her chin and cheeks, and the bold colour of her eye and lip make-up. The shirt was tucked into the skirt but the girl didn’t have much of a waist. The hand that gripped the notebook had painted nails but was large with stubby fingers.
“Are you ready to order?” the girl said in a way that Jasmine suspected she’d prepared herself to speak rather than just spill the words out. She smiled at the girl and the thought came to her, what were the chances that the hotel I chose to stay in had a trans employee?

………………………..to be continued.

 

Jasmine has an opinion

WP_20180516_13_28_54_ProWhat makes a woman?”, the Channel 4 programme with Munroe Bergdorf continued the exposure of gender issues in the media and to which I referred last week. The first part dealt with Munroe’s facial feminisation surgery which covered the same ground as Transformation Street.  What was more interesting was Munroe’s meetings with various people to discuss the question of whether transwomen are women.  This brought out many well-worn opinions e.g. women have beauty (!), women are mothers, women have a vagina, what you are born with is defines who you are. There were also scenes outside and inside a meeting of radical feminists opposing changes to the Gender Recognition  Act which would allow some form of self-identification of gender. The speeches were frightening in their dismissal of transwomen and using fear of men to whip up anger at transpeople using the spurious argument that if men could self-identify as women they would invade women-s spaces in order to rape them. If men wanted to they could already dress up and lie in wait in those spaces. It doesn’t happen.  The bitterness of these feminists made me sad and worried.

The problem is that 99% of the population are not only satisfied with the gender they were assigned and brought up by family, friends and society to accept, but they have given little thought to what gender is. Most people accept the binary view of the world without noticing or acknowledging that everyone has their own identity, characteristics and individuality.  If you examine the behaviour of people it is easy to see that there is a spectrum of gender. The 99% see no reason fir changing their views. But modern society has changed. On the one hand western society has become somewhat more accepting allowing transpeople (and other minorities) to be more open and assertive. Hence all the media attention. But on the other social media has provided a platform and a shield for people to be more outspoken in their views. The Brexit business in the UK and the election of Trump in the USA showed that the population is split with a sizeable proportion holding entrenched bigoted views. People are less prepared to allow others to express views that they don’t hold.  It is dangerous.

Going back to the question Munroe posed, I don’t know what the answer is, except that gender or identity is not determined by the physical form of a baby at birth. I identify as gender-fluid, although I still use “trans” for convenience. I do not know how a “woman” or a “man” thinks, despite having lived my working life as a man and being married to a woman that I love for over 30 years. I don’t think any person can know what every other person feels and, to be specific, radical feminists cannot know how other women feel about themselves.  I do know that I am comfortable being feminine rather than overtly masculine and that I am attracted to styles of dress and appearance that are labelled female. For us 1% I think it would be wonderful if there was no such thing as gender and that everyone was treated as an individual, but I’m wishing for a fairytale.

………………………

To change the subject. I had a lovely day in Aberystwyth this week attending a meeting of the Society of Authors.  As always I find writers wonderfully accepting and I am increasingly seeing the SoA as my union, providing advice and support to me as a writer. I’m looking forward to the next meeting of the Welsh chapter.

And so to the next episode of Benefactors, my SF novella or fragment of a novel.

Benefactors: Part 6

Chapter 6

The sky was bright blue but the Sun was still below the peaks of the eastern hills when Ekuru Lengabilo started up the Toyota. The boy and the old woman sat in the seats behind Jock, the boy pointing the direction to take. It took just half an hour bumping over the rough ground till they came to the entrance to a gully.
Ekuru pulled up. ‘I think it’s too narrow for the car.’
Jock got out and helped the woman and boy step down from the vehicle. ‘Lead the way,’ he said to the lad. Ekuru translated and they set off with Ekuru and the boy helping the old woman to walk. The steep-sided valley weaved left and right but within a couple of hundred metres it opened up slightly. There, standing alone on the patch of sparse grass was the tree. It was less than a metre taller than Jock with twisted, gnarled branches which were thinly leafed.
Jock stopped to take in the view. He felt joy that at least one tree still existed.
The air fizzed just above his head. The tree exploded in flame and smoke and splinters.
Jock, froze, his breath halted. On the ridges on either side of the gully, figures in full camouflage kit rose, weapons trained on him and his companions.
‘Don’t move,’ one soldier commanded in English. Ekuru turned and ran back the way they had come. Jock turned to warn him but a gun fired and Ekuru fell.
‘No!’ Jock ran to him and knelt beside his body. Blood covered the flesh-torn back. Jock knew there was no hope. The boy and woman joined him muttering in their own language. The soldiers surrounded them.
‘You will accompany us,’ the commander said and signalled them to start moving. They retraced their steps to the Toyota. A helicopter stood a short distance from the smoking wreck of the vehicle. Two of the soldiers carrying Ekuru’s body placed it by the side of the burnt-out car.
‘Get into the ‘copter,’ the commander said. Jock did as he was told helping the boy and woman to clamber on board. There was nothing else to do.
‘What’s going to happen to us?’ Jock asked. He felt the loss of Ekuru, the trees and almost all the people more than fear for his own safety.
‘Not my business to know,’ the commander said. ‘Sit down and belt yourselves in.’

Jock still didn’t have an answer to his question. They had flown at low altitude over the sparsely populated country until they reached the coast and then on out to sea. Far out in the ocean they approached a small flotilla of ships. One was an aircraft carrier that Jock recalled seeing in the news at various times in the last ten years. They landed on the deck and sank into the hanger beneath. Jock, the boy and the woman were escorted off the helicopter and then separated. Jock found himself in a small cabin with a hard bed, a toilet, a light that was permanently on and no windows. He’d taken the opportunity to rest and had dozed. The door had opened briefly at intervals of some hours and he had been given a bowl of typical naval fare but the sailor had not spoken a word.
One, two or it may have been three days later, Jock was marched from his cell to a larger cabin where he was surrounded by armed marines. He was brought to a halt in front of a desk. A senior officer, the ship’s commander sat behind the desk. He examined Jock.
‘Dr Fraser, I am instructed to inform you that you will be taken from this vessel and transported to an unnamed location.’
Jock cleared his throat trying to find his voice. ‘What about the boy and the woman?’
‘I cannot tell you.’
‘Is Ekuru Lengabilo’s killer under arrest.’ Jock felt renewed anger.
‘Mr Lengabilo was a terrorist,’ The officer said without hint of emotion.
‘Like heck he was.’ Jock clenched his fists. The commander nodded to one of the marines. Jock heard the sound of a cork being released from a bottle, a sting on his neck and his legs became like jelly.
Chapter 7

The bed was comfortable, there was an efficient shower in the en-suite, and there was an easy chair and desk. It could have been a reasonably priced hotel room. It was a cell and Helen knew it. The door was locked, there was no window and she had no access to the Net. All there was to do was read one of the paper books that had obviously been selected according to her reading tastes. She’d read them all before.
Meals were brought to her and she considered trying to make an escape but there were always guards in the corridor outside the door. Helen wondered how long she could stand this pampered but restricted existence – two days, three?
She thought it was four before he came to her. Of course her sleep pattern may have been distorted but it felt like four days.
‘Professor. I do hope you are comfortable,’ he said. He was younger than her and obviously kept himself fit but he acted as if he was at least her equal. He obviously wasn’t just an interrogator. They stood facing each other.
‘What a pointless question,’ She said, ‘I’m a prisoner. This is intolerable. You must release me.’
He smiled. ‘I’m afraid we must not. You see Professor you are a danger to the security of this nation.’
‘What on earth do you mean?’
‘You intended to distribute restricted material. That is what I mean.’
Helen glared at him. ‘I was about to share scientific data in order that we might learn its meaning and importance.’
‘Data whose owner had not released it for public consumption. Data that had been classified by the government as of national importance.’
‘Why?’
‘I do not have the authority to tell you that.’
Helen turned her back on him, walked to the easy chair and sat down. She crossed her legs and looked up at him.
‘Who are you?’
The man stared at her impassively. ‘You can refer to me as Orange. That is my designation.’
‘Are you and your colleagues all named after fruits?’
He gave her a thin smile. ‘My boss is Apple but that is not proof of the pattern you have postulated. We use the Naval Phonetic Alphabet from the First World War for our designations. Letters and numbers are somewhat clichéd. As you can tell I am quite low in the department.’ Helen wondered what government organisation he was referring to but the trouble they had gone to to keep her captive suggested something.
‘You’re scared. Or your bosses are. You think there is something in that plant genome that could threaten your position of power.’
‘That is pure supposition. It is unusual for you, Professor, to follow such a fanciful line of thought.’
Helen bit her lip. He was right of course. What was it in the plant’s genome that had caused her to ignore her normal caution? Was it Jock Fraser’s incomprehension, Darmaan’s excitement at solving the puzzle, or simply her hunch that it was special?
‘But Darmaan found a pattern, figures, mathematical formulae, physics, chemistry, biology beyond our understanding, stored in the genome of the tree.’
‘I’m afraid, Professor, you were misled. There is nothing remarkable about that tree.’
Anger welled up in Helen’s throat. ‘Misled? By whom? Not Dr Fraser. He may be an excellent botanist but he doesn’t understand genomes or binary code.’
‘How well do you know Jock Fraser?’
Helen paused. ‘We met once.’
‘And you spoke to him in Kenya.’
So they had been hacking her netlink. ‘Yes.’
‘That was all?’
Helen snorted. ‘You know it was.’
‘Well then, you didn’t know him at all.’
Helen leaned forward. ‘Are you saying that this is all a put-up. I’ve been conned by some scam or other into throwing away my scientific reputation.’
Orange shrugged. ‘There. You’ve said it.’
Helen flung herself back in the chair and looked away from him. ‘I don’t believe it.’
‘And that Professor is why you are here. The government considers your attitude and behaviour dangerous to the general well-being of the nation. That is why you have been served with a Neurological Adjustment Order.’

………………………to be continued

Jasmine is worrying

WP_20180223_21_21_16_Pro (2)

This is what a transgender/gender-fluid person may look like.

It is disappointing (probably an understatement) when a group of people trying to end discrimination break into factions which fight each other. It’s happened in the fight for female equality where certain radical feminists now seem to devote their time to accusing transwomen of not being women and of retaining their “male privileges”.  That dispute has become very bitter with trans activists attempting to prevent well known feminists have a stage to speak their anti-trans thoughts.

Now there is a split in the transgender/non-binary world caused by possible changes to the Gender Recognition Act. A group of transwomen (it looks like all women, I can’t see any men named) wrote to the Guardian last week, and perhaps other papers, and at  least one of the named has spoken out in public.  They are protesting at proposals to make it easier to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate, mainly by demedicalising transition, if someone declares that they will live for the rest of their lives in the gender they identify with. This is already being done in a number of countries.  It will of course mean that there will be transmen and women who have not undergone any surgery and possibly not even taking hormones. The protesters say that this change will “blur the distinction” between themselves i.e. those who have gone through gender confirmation surgery (they have vaginas), and others who have not.  Actually at the moment there is no distinction because the current act only asks for an intention to go through with surgery when the time is right. For many transpeople the time is never right for health or other reasons.

These transwomen are setting themselves apart from other transgender and non-binary people. They want to be considered as “real” women and so wish to cut themselves off from other trans/non-binary people who they see as “damaging our credibility”. They are asking the politicians who will have to vote on changes to the act to “show courage”, presumably to resist the overwhelming numbers of transgender/non-binary people who are lobbying for the right to be women (or men). No, we’re not.

Since the GRA become law in 2004 under 10,000 people have obtained certificates while the total number of transgender people in the UK is a half to three-quarters of a million.  The GRA is obviously not working.  Also the Equality Act of 2010 only recognises those with a GRC (or applying for one) as a protected minority with all sorts of safeguards against hate-crime etc. Not all of us want to transition; there are many non-binary/gender-fluid people who just want the freedom (and protection) to be themselves. Unfortunately this group of transwomen want to retain stereotypical gender roles so that they can blend in as women. But they will never be accepted by the “women have babies” faction.

It is all very disappointing and worrying.  The more infighting there is, the more prejudice is allowed to bubble to the surface so that even comedians like Peter Kay (Carshare Unscripted) can use the beating up of a trans person as grist for a joke.

…………………………..

Now for something completely different, as they used to say. Here’s the next episode of Benefactors. Here you will easily detect two influences on the story (if you know your 1960s SF) which made me ultimately decide that it wasn’t original enough. What do you think?

Benefactors: Part 5

Chapter 5

Helen met Darmaan by the lake that formed the centrepiece of the campus. It was a hot summer day and Helen was sweating. She wondered how her father’s family survived the heat of summer on the Indian sub-continent.
‘They’ve deleted the lot,’ Helen said, ‘and threatened me with a memory wipe if I make a fuss. I’m not risking that. Who knows what else I might lose if they start zapping my brain.’
Darmaan held her shoulders trying to calm her. ‘It won’t come to that.’
‘Won’t it? You’ve seen what was in that genome. They know how excited people will get if people learn what’s in the code.’
‘And we’ve got to make sure that that is just what happens,’ Darmaan said staring into her face.
‘I’m scared Darmaan. We’ve got lawyers threatening us and the government hacking our comslink.’
‘Which only shows how important that data is. Think about it Helen. You said that the genome is about two-hundred-thousand years old and only found in one spot in the Rift Valley where it’s been tended for generations by a local tribe. Yet it contains ideas and data beyond my knowledge and I suspect beyond any scientist on Earth today.’
‘You’ve found out more?’
‘Yes. I did a comparison search with the equations in the genome and what’s on the Net. I got some very strange matches with theories on the edge of quantum and cosmological physics. I saw hints of ideas that I can only describe as science fiction. And there’s that whole section of DNA that isn’t but is something similar. I think it is an organism but one like nothing that exists on Earth now or ever.’
‘But how. . .?’ Helen was scared of the answer as she knew it would tear her sense of being a rational scientist apart.
‘Aliens,’ Darmaan said in a whisper, ‘It’s got to be. They came here millennia ago and left a gift for us.’
‘But modern humans were just evolving then.’
‘Yes, right where those trees got planted. My parents came from Somalia when they were children. They thought of themselves as coming from an ancient people but the Rift Valley is where humans became human. You know what Fraser told you about those leaves. They make people more cooperative. Wouldn’t that have been a useful trick for those primitive people.’
Helen considered, ‘It’s too incredible.’
‘Is it?’
‘Whatever. It’s too important to let this Company whoever they are and the government turn it into a secret. We’ve got to do something.’ Then Helen remembered, ‘But it’s all gone, your copy too.’
Darmaan smiled and leaned to whisper into her ear. ‘Not quite. They wiped my Net files. They thought people like you and me would only keep data uploaded via our net storage.’
‘I do.’
‘Well, it’s not only old guys like Fraser who keep personal memory backups.’
Helen’s eyes widened. ‘You’ve got a button?’
Darmaan grinned and tapped his pocket, ‘A few here and there. It’s not all lost.’
Helen grabbed his arm and started to walk around the lake. ‘They could be watching us now. What are we going to do, Darmaan?’
‘We’ve got to get this out to some physicists, chemists and synthetic biologists who would know what it means. You move in the upper reaches of science, Helen. Surely you know a few Nobel Prize winners.’
‘Hmm. I’m not sure they’re the best – but their postdocs may be. The more we can spread it the more protection we’ll get.’
‘You get me the list. I’ll get copying.’
‘How? As soon as you logon the hackers will be on to you.’
Darmaan grinned again. ‘I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen for ages. I’ve got a scroll which I disconnected from the net and a few more buttons. I can make copies and get them couriered to the people you name.’
‘Hmm, well, let’s split and meet first thing in the morning.’

Helen tried to act naturally on her journey home but in actual fact she was anxiously looking for people watching and tailing her. It was a long time since she had felt that she stood out as a woman with an Asian appearance but now she was worried that everyone was looking at her. She didn’t pick out anyone though. She got home, made some supper, tried to read a book. Finally, she unrolled her scroll and put in a call to Jock Fraser. The screen announced that it was “searching” for some time until a fuzzy picture appeared with Jock’s weather beaten face in the centre. There was darkness behind him and he appeared to be out in the open.
‘Hello, Professor,’ Jock’s voice was somewhat distorted.
‘Where are you, Jock? It’s a very poor signal.’
‘I’m in the Rift Valley. The nearest Stratonet balloon is probably a long way from here. But I can hear and see you.’
‘You went back.’
‘Yes. I wanted to see the trees again. I hoped the People would let me take more samples. But . . .’ His voice broke up and Helen felt that it wasn’t due to interference or a weak signal.
‘What’s happened, Jock.’
‘The People have been killed and the trees destroyed.’
Helen sucked in her breath, ‘All of them?’
‘Nearly. There may be one tree left.’
‘What happened?’
‘The government did a deal with the Chinese mining companies. There are rare earth metals in these hills. They didn’t realise the value of the Trees.’
‘Are you sure. I think your Company and our government have. They’ve confiscated your data and wiped my files.’
‘What? Did you find anything in the genome?’
‘Yes, Jock. It’s remarkable, there’s . . .’
‘Don’t tell me. We mustn’t talk like this. They’ll be listening.’ The connection broke.

The following morning, well before her usual time for starting work, Helen was strolling through the park next to the university campus. It was definitely not her normal routine and she felt exhausted. Sleep had not come for thinking about what Jock had said and the warnings from the company lawyer and anti-terrorism officer.
A figure jogged towards her. It was Darmaan. He stopped when he reached her barely showing a sweat.
‘This isn’t where I usually train,’ he said, ‘Running is in my genes.’ He grinned.
‘I’ve got the addresses of some people who may help us,’ Helen said, ‘Have you made the copies of the decoded genome.’
‘I left them hidden away in my flat,’ Darmaan said, ‘I didn’t want to carry them.’
Helen held out a folded sheet of paper. ‘Here you are, then.’
‘I’ll take that thank you.’
Helen turned to see the tall anti-terrorist operative. There were two other men beside him wearing helmets that covered their faces. They carried weapons. Darmaan grabbed the paper from Helen’s hand, turned and ran. One of the helmeted men raised his arm and aimed the gun. It fired with a soft “pfft” and Darmaan fell, convulsing.
Helen gasped. ‘You haven’t . . .’
‘Just a knockout pellet,’ the man said, ‘You’ll get the same if you resist arrest.’
‘Arrest?’
‘For conspiracy to assist a person with terrorist associations.’
Helen felt an unusual anger, ‘If you are referring to Jock Fraser again, he’s not a terrorist. He’s told me what’s happened to the people who tended the trees. They were just defending their homes. They didn’t hurt anyone.’
‘I do not know what you are referring to, Professor. I am commanded to arrest you and Dr Adams. Please come with me.’ He took Helen’s arm and marched her towards the park exit. His two subordinates pocketed their weapons, picked up Darmaan and followed. A van with dark windows waited at the gates.

………………………….to be continued.

 

Jasmine socialises

20170930_153501 (2)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.

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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 paintedladiesnovel@btinternet.com).  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.’
‘What happened?’
‘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.’
‘Really, how?’
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?’
‘About what?’
‘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

Jasmine faces a dilemma

cover mediumToday, viz. Saturday 2nd December, I am spending two hours at the Castle Bookshop in the fine Shropshire town of Ludlow. The idea is to sign copies of Cold Fire that visitors to the shop purchase.  The difficult bit is persuading them to buy.  I like meeting potential readers but I am not the best salesman.  I could talk about September Weekes, Cold Fire, the settings and the plot for hours but making that vital sale, well, it doesn’t come naturally. Still, I’m looking forward to the session and it is very kind of the bookshop owner, Stanton, to allow a relatively unknown, if local, author the opportunity to take over (a little bit of) the shop for a couple of hours.

One boost is the delightful review published on the Rising Shadow website  (read it here).  It is very gratifying to find someone who has enjoyed my previous September Weekes books (Evil Above the Stars vol, 1, 2 & 3) and who appreciates the features I included in Cold Fire.  I do hope the review gets read widely and spurs many people, of all ages, to buy and read it.  Here is the “headline” quote.

“This is . . .a well-told fantasy story that will intrigue adult and young adults readers alike.”

Of course I will also have my other books with me – Evil Above the Stars and the three Jasmine Frame novels (Painted Ladies, Bodies By Design and The Brides’ Club Murder).  You don’t have to travel to Ludlow to buy them – just email your order (with the delivery address) to  paintedladiesnovel@btinternet.com.

They are £9.99 each except for Painted Ladies which is £8.99 (including postage).  In fact I am giving Painted Ladies away free with either (or both) of the other Jasmine novels.

Oh, and they are all on Kindle.

And so to the freebie – the next episode of Reflex, the Jasmine Frame prequel.

Reflex: Part 6

‘Are you sure about that Mrs Chapman?’ DS Sharma said, glaring at the woman. He pushed his chair back and stood up. ‘Come on Frame. We’re done here.’ He took the few steps to the door, turned and spoke to the sobbing woman. ‘You can go Mrs Chapman but we’ll have more questions for you.’
James followed him from the room. He wanted to comfort the woman, tell her he understood a little about how Melissa felt, how she felt. But he didn’t. In the corridor, Sharma faced him.
‘Any thoughts, Frame?’
‘She’s overwrought, Sir. She’s lost her husband and her child’s been taken away.’
‘You’re right. We’re not going to get much from her until she’s settled a bit. Perhaps if we let her see the boy, she’ll be less emotional. Thank you for your assistance, Frame.’
‘Is that all?’ James felt as though he was being cast off.
‘For now. I’ll call you in when we interview the boy again. You can go back to your duties.’
He walked away. James went in search of PC Ward, his partner, but she had gone out in the car. He sighed and settled at a desk to deal with paperwork until she returned.

James parked outside the secure unit for young offenders on the edge of Abingdon. He should have been heading home to Angela. She would be waiting for him as it was a Saturday afternoon. Having just completed a morning shift following his afternoon shift yesterday he was feeling quite tired. Nevertheless, he felt he had to make this call. He pulled his anorak around him and got out of the Fiesta. There was a cold, northerly wind blowing leaves into the drab vestibule of the building. James pushed the door open and entered a small foyer with a bored looking man in a uniform sitting at a reception desk.
‘I wonder if it is possible to see Matthew Chapman?’ he asked.
‘Are you family?’ the security guard/receptionist asked.
‘No, but I have an interest in his case. I’m a police officer, PC James Frame.’ James showed his warrant card.
‘A bit irregular,’ the man muttered but lifted a phone. He spoke into it, listened, then looked at James. ‘Someone will come out to see you.’
James thanked him and stepped away from the desk. A few minutes passed then the automatic security doors leading to the interior of the building swung open. A woman emerged. James recognised her as the person who had accompanied Matthew/Melissa at the interview the day before. He hadn’t looked at her much then but now he noticed that she was probably just a few years older than himself, was dressed in a casual pair of trousers and jumper and had a smiley, welcoming face.
She held out a hand. ‘PC Frame, we met yesterday. I’m Karen Finlay.’ James shook her hand. ‘Are you on duty?’ she added.
James looked down at his civilian clothes. ‘No, I’ve left my gear at the station. This is a personal call. I wanted to see how Melissa, er, Matthew is.’
Karen gazed at him, her head cocked to one side, as she considered. ‘Um, I’m not sure. . . but you said you knew someone who was transsexual?’ James nodded. She paused again. Finally, she spoke. ‘OK. It might do some good to see someone who understands. Come through.’ She lead James through the double set of doors into the building. They entered a communal area with brightly coloured chairs and a soft carpet.
‘Stay here,’ Karen said and left him. James examined the pictures of superheroes on the walls. A few minutes later Karen returned accompanied by a girl. James did a double-take before he recognised Melissa. She was wearing a short denim skirt with a sparkly top showing a hint of breasts, and her hair had been back combed into a mass of curls with tiny bows placed randomly. She wore eye liner and lipstick and her nails were painted bright purple.
‘Melissa!’ James cried. ‘How are you feeling?’
The girl stood in front of him, smiling, with Karen at her side.
‘They’ve let me be me,’ she said, grinning.
‘So I see. I like your hair.’
‘That was Jude.’
‘Jude?’
Karen answered. ‘One of the girls who is, um, resident here.’ James nodded understanding that Karen meant that she was one of the young offenders.
‘Yeah, she says she wants to be a hairdresser when she gets out,’ Melissa said.
‘I’m pleased for you,’ James said.
‘Do you really know someone who has transitioned?’ the girl asked.
James thought about the question. While at university he had met a few trans women at various stages in their transition, but Tamsin was supposed to be a reflection of himself and transitioning to live fulltime as a woman was a fantasy he toyed with.
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘Were they happy?’
There wasn’t a simple answer. ‘Transitioning is hard,’ he replied, ‘harder for some than others, but I think all transgender people want to be themselves, just like you do. You look as though you’re happy.’
The girl beamed at him, ‘I am. I will be if I can stay like this always.’
He addressed Karen, ‘Will the court let her be herself.’
‘We’re looking into that,’ Karen said. ‘Early days yet, but it was felt that Melissa needed the opportunity to express herself while she comes to terms with what has happened.’
‘She’s been charged,’ James stated.
‘Yes, manslaughter. Her defence lawyer will be hoping to change that. I don’t think we can discuss that here, PC Frame.’
‘Call me James. Yes, I understand.’ He looked at the girl, ‘You look fantastic, Melissa. I’m sorry you have to go to court.’
The girl’s face darkened. ‘I didn’t mean to hurt him.’
James shook his head. ‘I know. You were defending yourself. If that knife hadn’t been there. . .’
‘That’s what I don’t understand,’ Melissa said,
James was confused, ‘What do you mean?’
Melissa shrugged. ‘Why was the knife there? I’ve been thinking about it ever since that Asian guy asked me those questions about it.’
‘Wasn’t it just left on the worktop?’
‘Mum wouldn’t do that.’
‘No?’
‘She’s a bit OCD about keeping the kitchen tidy, and she was manic about knives.’
‘Well, I suppose just once. . .’
‘No really manic. She was always going on about how easy it is to cut yourself on a knife.’ ‘Oh.’ James wondered what it meant.
‘She was right, wasn’t she,’ Melissa went on, her smiles gone. ‘If it hadn’t been there just by my hand, I wouldn’t have picked it up and, and . . .’ She covered her face with her hands.
‘But god knows what might have happened to you and your mother, if you hadn’t stopped your father. Discovering your mother helping you, he could have killed her.’
Melissa shook her head. ‘But he shouldn’t have found us. Mum said he was doing overtime and wouldn’t be back till late.’
‘Maybe his plans changed. It’s a terrible tragedy, Melissa.’
The girl clung to Karen with tears running down her cheeks. James felt that he’d made things worse by stirring her feelings up again.
‘I’m sorry Melissa. I shouldn’t have come. There’s nothing you can do now, but we’ve got to make sure that the charges are dropped and it’s recognised that you were defending yourself, and your mother for that matter.’
Karen looked questioningly. ‘Do you think that’s likely?’
James shrugged. ‘I don’t know. DS Sharma was talking about a charge of murder. Look, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be talking about it.’
The woman wrapped her arms around the girl. ‘Of course. Look perhaps it wasn’t a good idea letting you see Melissa; not this soon. Perhaps when we know a bit more.’
‘Yes. I’d better go.’
‘I’ll let you out.’ Karen released Melissa and told her to return to her room, then she unlocked the doors and let James out. He hurried from the building, distraught at the upset his presence had caused. He got into the car and sat gripping the steering wheel. The things Melissa had said bounced around in his head. Why had that knife been lying around waiting to be picked up and why had Eric Chapman been able to surprise his wife and child?

James put his key in the lock and opened the door. Angela came running and flung her arms around him.
‘At last! I thought you were caught up in some incident or other.’
He kissed her on her lips, then paused for breath. ‘No, I stopped off to see Melissa at the centre. That’s why I’m late.’
‘Melissa?’
‘The transgirl. Matthew. Killed her father when he attacked her. Remember?’
‘Yes, of course. Should you have done that? Gone to see her.’
‘Not really, but I wanted to see how she was. They’re letting her dress as a girl. She’s happy – when she forgets what has happened.’
‘Good, but you mustn’t get too involved.’ Angela showed her concern. ‘Unless you want them to find out about Jasmine.’
‘No, of course not. Now where’s that cup of tea?’
‘What cup of tea?’ Angela grinned.
‘The one you were going to offer me when I walked in.’
‘Of course, Sir.’ Angela walked into the kitchen while James slumped on to the sofa. ‘You have remembered, haven’t you?’ she called out.
‘Remembered what?’
‘That group, Butterflies, meets tonight. You do still want to try it out, don’t you?’
Things clicked into place in James’ mind. It was Saturday afternoon, which explained why Angela was at home, and she had discovered that a trans group met somewhere near on this Saturday evening. Jasmine was going to have an evening out.

…………………..to be continued.

 

Jasmine takes sides

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.

WP_20170824_11_55_17_ProI 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”.

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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.’
‘We, sir?’
‘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.