Friday Fictioneers – Knight’s Move

During November, I am participating in NaNoWriMo. I’m excited, but the challenge will take all my time and energy. Therefore, addicted though I am to Friday Fictioneers, I am unlikely to post anything until December. I shall miss you all, stories, comments and friendship! Don’t forget me!

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

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PHOTO PROMPT © Jeff Arnold

Knight’s Move

Susan and her coach, Tibor, had struggled all evening with the chess problem.

“Judit could solve this,” sighed Susan.

Tibor shrugged. “She’s in bed. Besides, she’s only five. Do you think she’s better than I am?”

I’m only twelve…” said Susan, slyly, and let the sentence hang.

“Well, do whatever you want.”

“That was a lovely dream,” Judit murmured as Susan woke her.

Downstairs she looked at the chessboard. Her eyes sparkled. She reached out and moved a knight, then yawned and snuggled against her sister. Her thumb went into her mouth.

Tibor stared. Judit had solved the problem.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Word count: 99

Author’s note

Judit Polgar was the best female chess player of all time. She was an astonishing child prodigy, attaining Grandmaster ranking at an even younger age than Bobby Fischer had. She refused to play in women’s tournaments, holding that women were equal in intellect with men. She was eventually ranked within the top ten players in the world. She no longer plays competitive chess. Both Judit and her elder sister Susan (who also attained Grandmaster status) apparently enjoyed the discomfiture of male opponents who underestimated them…

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Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers – Act of Faith

This is a story for the flash fiction challenge, Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers. We are given a photo prompt that is kindly photographed by our participants and approximately 75-175 words with which to create our stories. It’s fun and everyone is invited to participate. For more information, click HERE.

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This week’s photo prompt is provided by Jade M. Wong. Thank you Jade!

Act of Faith

“Oh. It’s you. I might have guessed. Come in, Dave, come in.”

Dave shuffled past Father Joe into the presbytery. Joe wrinkled his nose.

“Would you like food first, or a bath?”

Dave blinked as his eyes adapted from the pitch-black night, but he said nothing. Father Joe sighed.

“Come into the kitchen, then. Bacon sandwich suit you?”

Dave grunted. Joe sighed, inaudibly. Dave had always been taciturn.

A tantalising aroma of frying bacon filled the kitchen.

“I expect you need a bed for the night?”

Dave nodded.

“Then you have a bath first.”

Dave scowled, but nodded again.

It was eleven o’clock before Dave was fed, bathed and arrayed in an old pair of Joe’s pyjamas.

“Will you say your rosary before you sleep? Would you like me to say it with you?”

Dave nodded. Father Joe recited the prayers in firm, compassionate tones. Dave mumbled. They prayed together, the father and his illegitimate son.

Word count 156

 

Butterfly – a great TV drama

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Butterfly – a great TV drama

“Butterfly” has been a terrific drama. There were three episodes each shown on a Sunday evening at 9 pm on ITV. If you’ve missed it, do watch it on the ITV hub – it’s well worth it!

At the centre of the drama is an eleven-year-old child named Max, who was assigned male at birth on the basis of his anatomy. Max, though, feels that he is a girl, and has felt like this for years. He suffers from a condition known as gender dysphoria. The drama is about the efforts made to resolve this and their consequences.

Before I go any further, I feel I ought to say that although this article is about “Butterfly”, it isn’t a review. It’s my personal response, as a transgender woman, to a powerful drama about the transgender experience.

At the start of the drama we are shown how Max’s gender dysphoria has split the family, with the father, Stephen, living away from his wife and two children. He has access to the children, though, and Max attempts to please him by feigning enthusiasm for football.

But Max must be Maxine. The drama follows the journey made by the whole family as he/she seeks to achieve this. The drama shows us that a sufferer from gender dysphoria experiences acute distress as a result of a mismatch between the gender they feel themselves to be, and the gender suggested by their anatomy. It’s a serious condition. Sufferers, including children, have a high rate of self-harm and suicide.

Max, being eleven, is going to enter puberty soon, possibly within months. His voice will break and he will grow facial hair; his whole body will become, irreversibly, that of an adult male. This will bring two big problems; firstly, Max will suffer great distress at the physical changes; secondly, those changes will make it harder for him to live in his chosen gender role when he’s an adult. What’s to be done?

Well, certain drugs block the hormonal onset of puberty and delay the development of adult secondary sexual characteristics. So, Max’s voice won’t break, and his body won’t develop the characteristics of an adult man. This will allow time for him to mature before any irrevocable decisions about gender role are made.

This is the heart of “Butterfly”; the struggle by Max/Maxine, championed by her mother Vicky, to obtain puberty blockers. We see the family at an NHS clinic, and at a private clinic; we see Maxine start to live full-time as a girl, with the inevitable bullying at school; we see her feeling so unloved that she self-harms, with almost fatal consequences; we see the family pulled this way and that by their response to the situation. The biggest problem is that before anyone will prescribe puberty blockers both parents have to give consent – and Stephen simply will not do this.

Vicky resorts to desperate measures. The courts become involved. The Local Authority child protection team become involved. There is a real risk that Maxine will be taken into care, and then what would happen to her?

I won’t give any spoilers, except to say that the drama is tense, nail-biting, and has a believable finale.

Is it true to life? Yes, very much so. The common theme in all the responses to Max’s gender dysphoria is a personal agenda – I’d call it a moral agenda, except that prejudice is hardly a moral stance. Nobody was actually neutral, even the professionals who really ought to be even-handed. And that is completely true-to-life.

Even more poignantly, and powerfully, the drama captures little details like Max’s difficulties with the school toilets. He couldn’t bring himself to use the urinals, and clearly found the whole masculine environment overwhelmingly hostile. How well I remember that!

So “Butterfly” is both powerful and authentic. It’s worthwhile, therefore, to consider its implications in the real world.

In recent years there has been controversy about intervention where children feel themselves to be transgender, and “Butterfly” contributes to that debate. Watching it, and thinking about it, has crystallised my thinking on the matter (yes, the drama really is that good). In brief, the effective treatment of gender dysphoria requires irreversible changes. One viewpoint is that we should not give such treatment to children, “because they might be mistaken”; the other viewpoint is that where there is a clear and strong diagnosis of gender dysphoria we should intervene as early as possible, before puberty if possible.

Drugs to block puberty blur the lines of the debate a little by allowing time for the child to mature. They seem to be safe, but some people have questioned the reversibility of their effects if administered over a long period.

The current treatment of gender dysphoria is for the sufferer to live in the gender role that they feel is appropriate, supported by whatever surgical and hormonal treatment is necessary. Gender confirmation in this way has a good record of success.

If you don’t treat gender dysphoria, the afflicted individual goes on suffering. Because the suffering is intense, the individual is at a (much) higher risk of suicide. In fact, there’s only one thing worse than not treating the condition and that is treating gender dysphoria as a mental illness. This has a dismal record, especially where it is linked to condemnation of the transgender feelings, and has led to many suicides.

And yet, despite these facts, people persist in wanting to treat gender dysphoria as ‘special’, ‘different’ or just plain ‘morally wrong’. This inevitably finds its way into the treatment of transgender children. People say that they must be protected from these strange urges until they’re old enough to make a mature choice (of course, by that time puberty has well and truly done its worst…).

What would I like to be available for everybody who suffers from gender dysphoria?

Prompt referral to clinical specialists (the current waiting time is far too long).

Where gender dysphoria is diagnosed, prompt availability of treatment (currently once you have your diagnosis it’s at least an eighteen month wait before you can even discuss the options with a surgeon, and many months more before surgery takes place)

Treatment of everybody with a confirmed diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Age should not be a factor (subject to NHS guidelines for consent). Gender confirmation is a life-saving treatment, and this applies to young people as well as adults.

It’s worth looking at the NHS Guidelines for Treatment of Children and Young People

These set out the following criteria for consent.

“Children under the age of 16 can consent to their own treatment if they’re believed to have enough intelligence, competence and understanding to fully appreciate what’s involved in their treatment. This is known as being Gillick competent.

Otherwise, someone with parental responsibility can consent for them.

This could be:

  • the child’s mother or father
  • the child’s legally appointed guardian
  • a person with a residence order concerning the child
  • a local authority designated to care for the child
  • a local authority or person with an emergency protection order for the child

The person with parental responsibility must have the capacity to give consent.

If a parent refuses to give consent to a particular treatment, this decision can be overruled by the courts if treatment is thought to be in the best interests of the child.

If one person with parental responsibility gives consent and another doesn’t, the healthcare professionals can choose to accept the consent and perform the treatment in most cases.

If the people with parental responsibility disagree about what’s in the child’s best interests, the courts can make a decision.

In an emergency, where treatment is vital and waiting to obtain parental consent would place the child at risk, treatment can proceed without consent.”

These guidelines seem to me to be all that is needed to safeguard young people. There is no need to treat intervention for gender dysphoria as something special; it’s just another medical procedure that will improve the lives of most of those who receive treatment.

“Butterfly” has done a great job of highlighting these issues, and I hope it helps to improve society’s treatment of young trans people. And, whatever your stance on the issues, do watch “Butterfly” – it’s a cracking good drama!

 

What Pegman Saw – Scratches in Wax

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Bran Castle, Romania.

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Scratches in Wax

The whole village watched as old man Razvan sang into Bela’s apparatus, where a metal stylus ploughed a furrow into a wax cylinder. Razvan’s beautiful granddaughter, Mariutza, fixed her amber eyes on Bela as he monitored the cylinder intently, blowing away tiny wax flakes.

When the song ended, Bela adjusted his equipment. He smiled at Mariuza.

“Now listen,” he said, and wound the handle of the recording equipment. Razvan jumped to hear his own voice singing to him. Mariuza’s eyes sparkled with delight.

Toma scowled. Mariuza was his betrothed.

“Witchcraft,” he murmured, and then out loud, “Witchcraft!”

Bela drew out a newspaper.

“See,” he said, “my machine is advertised here. It’s not sorcery.”

The village elder scanned the sheet and nodded.

“It’s true,” he pronounced.

Bela breathed a sigh of relief. He absolutely must collect the traditional music of Romania before it was swallowed up by the twentieth century.

Notes

I’ve ventured into historical fiction this week. While there’s more fiction than history, the truth at the core of the story is that Bela Bartok (one of the greatest composers of the 20th century) was a passionate collector of folk music. He travelled extensively in Hungary and Romania in the early 20th century with a wax cylinder sound recorder. Here is a link to one of the recordings he collected.

Bartok recording

Friday Fictioneers – The End

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

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PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot

The End

Silence.

No voices, no footsteps.

No clicking of radiators cooling; no electronic chimes from computers.

Sunlight streams through the great window. The painted figures of the frescoes go silently about their business, unwatched, irrelevant.

Dust.

On the lamps, on the huge circular counter.

On the floor, dust, scarred by the tracks of small scurrying creatures. Dust on the clock, its hands forever resting at a quarter to one – whether day or night nobody knows and nobody cares.

Outside the building, life, luxuriant and green, thrusts through asphalt, chokes water-courses, swarms over rusting vehicles and rejoices.

Man’s day is past.

What Pegman Saw – Payback time

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Lafayette Cemetery, New Orleans, Louisiana | Save Our Cemeteris Jean Mensa Google Maps

Payback time

She was skinny, dirty, and bruised and obstructed his passage through the cemetery. Clark tried to walk past her but, without seeming to move, she still blocked his path. Clark swiped, casually, to knock her out of the way but his blow hit nothing.

He looked more closely; she seemed familiar.

“I was the first,” she murmured, so quietly that he could scarcely hear.

Another girl, perhaps fourteen years old, stepped out bringing the stench of decay. Clark gasped. He’d left this one in a garbage dumpster.

“You sold my body for sex and then you murdered me.” She whispered the words.

Fire crackled ahead of him, fierce and orange.

He bolted from it, but the flames were faster. All around him children stared, accusing; judging.

When his screams eventually stopped, his corpse lay between the tombs, contorted but unburned. The children sighed in unison – and gently turned to mist.

Friday Fictioneers – Flight

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

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PHOTO PROMPT © Jilly Funell

Flight

I pass beyond the bland retail complex to the harbour, where the sea has been tamed. The light shimmers. An old buccaneer of a gull, cross-billed and cross-eyed, squints at my burger. We look at each other.

“Not for you, mate,” I tell him.

The Spinnaker Tower surges skywards in clean curves. Rather than a sail straining in the wind, creaking with the effort, it looks like a sign on a garage forecourt whirling with the futile energy of consumerism.

My seagull friend soars, gliding serenely beyond the breakwater to sparkling waves. How I wish I could do the same.