“All rise !”
It was finally our day in court, and I had done my level best, together with help from Rach and Larinda, to present as neatly and femininely as possible. Will was beside me, with John Wilkins, as we waited for the formality of the plea.
“Aneurin Wynford Prentice, you are charged…”
It droned on, in that oddly flat voice used in courts throughout the country. I wondered if they had special classes in it, like the men who read out the football results, where you knew who had won, lost or drawn by the intonation used on the second team’s name. This wasn’t a silly game, though, it was wilfully assaulting, occasioning grievous bodily harm with intent, contrary to section et cetera of statute whatever.
“How do you plead?”
“Not guilty on account of I was provoked”
The Clerk whispered to the Bench, and the Chairman, who was a woman, nodded. “Mr Prentice, the plea is either that you are guilty or not of the charge. Anything else is either defence or mitigation before sentence, unless you are to claim unsound mind”
“Not guilty then, aye, your honour. I was protecting my boy”
She sighed. “You nay sit, Mr Prentice”
The CPS lawyer (‘Call me Lawrence’) was up first, and smoothly outlined the case before giving me a sharp nod. Oh. Of course. Out of the court room till called to give evidence. A little group of us hurried out, and I spotted Von in the public gallery, looking dreadful. Her eyes couldn’t hold mine, and went down to her lap. Ten minutes later, I was called back in, and by my real name. The Book, and the oath, and the memory of the quick bit of coaching from Dennis and Kirsty. Look at him, listen politely, then answer the Bench. Don’t argue, don’t get drawn, don’t try to be clever. The CPS man took me smoothly through the events, and then it was Nye’s brief.
“How do you know the accused, Ms Carter?”
“I used to go out with his daughter, Siobhan Prentice”
“Was this as a man or as a woman?”
Fuck Dennis’ advice. “As a woman pretending her hardest to be a man”
“So the relationship was one entered into under false pretences?”
“To that extent, yes”
“So you were rather careless of the affections of my client’s daughter, then?”
“No. I was trying to be something I wasn’t, for her sake, and I couldn’t, so I ended it, for her sake”
“I see. But after she had made very clear her dissatisfaction with your…situation, did she not debar you from any contact with her family?”
“Yes, she did, which was when the accused threatened to kill me”
There was a cough from the Bench, and the Chairman spoke up.
“This threat to kill. Does it form part of the matter here?”
The CPS man bobbed up. “No, Your Worship”
I could almost read her mind. Threats to kill would have been a serious enough charge without the assault, battery and GBH, so she was wondering where we were headed. The defence bloke started up again.
“Why did you continue to contact her son William?”
“I didn’t. He contacted me”
“And why would he do that?”
“Because he needed help. He is gay, and had no idea how to deal with his family”
I looked at Nye as I said the last, and saw his face clench in hatred. I hoped Will would be able to get through his own ordeal without breaking.
“A young man would turn to…you before his family?”
There it was, laid out for the Bench to make of it what they would. Pervert. Deviant. Corruptor. The bastard was banking on the potential bigotry of the magistrates, and there we would hang. I took a breath.
“Yes. His mother had expressed her opinion forcibly and often”
Again, the Chairman spoke up. “Counsel, is any of this germane? We have a charge of assault, in essence, and that is the matter to be tried. These are matters surely more proper to mitigation. Does your client contest the essence of his alleged attack on the witness? I will not have this trial descend into some version of an old-fashioned rape trial”
Something was going on with her, something dark, but she was right. Will deserved better than having his private life, his most intimate self, pinned out for public display. The lawyer took the hint, and the rest was simpler. I opened the door, he hit me, kicked me, I woke up in pain. He still had a snipe at me, and I had his version of ‘weren’t you going to get them cut off anyway?’ before I stepped down, dismissed, which meant I could stay in the courtroom.
They went easy on Will, as it turned out, just taking him through the argument with Von and his warning to me, and then my lover did her bit, and then John.
It was amazing how he perked up, and I remembered how he had been at work, so anal, so controlled, and I realised that he was actually in his element. What, after all, is giving evidence other than the most extreme form of pedantry? There was a moment, though, just one, when Lawrence asked him how he had felt on seeing me on the ground.
That was the first time I had ever seen him really cry. He took a moment, and the tissues, and then straightened up.
“How would anyone feel on seeing their closest friend broken and beaten? I thought she was dead, and so I did what I could, but yes, I was devastated. I love that woman dearly, as a friend”
And then it was Nye, and this time the beaks let him run through his build-up to the attack, how he had warned me to leave his boy alone, but how I had conspired to infect him with gayness, and what else was a grandfather to do? It was our man who led him through that, and I tried to catch a glimpse of the defence lawyer’s face, for this was not what he wanted. He did his best, though, playing up the surrender at the nick, the remorse…which didn’t exactly work for the old man.
And so the bench retired, and their return was quick, their verdict unanimous. The Chairman turned to the defence.
“Now, Counsel, we have your moment for mitigation”
“Your worships, the mitigation is simple and obvious. It would have been better-presented by the accused himself, but I shall do my best”
A little snipe back. He continued.
“Mr Prentice is a loving grandfather, a proud and honest man. His daughter, Siobhan Prentice, present in this court, is one of his most precious possessions, as is his youngest grandson, William Roberts, who has given evidence today. When it was discovered that the then partner of his daughter was a fraud and a liar—no, Your Worships, it is clear that as she has decided that she is female, any other presentation would have been fraud and deceit. When the deceit was admitted, he most naturally looked to protect his family.
“Despite his best efforts, however, he discovered that the person he assaulted was still in contact with his grandson, and when the child admitted that he had been drawn into that same world of deceit, this good, honest, proud, loving man snapped. He did what any other loving father would have done, and defended his family. He acknowledges absolutely that the manner of his defence was wrong, and in his remorse he went to the nearest police station to surrender.
“In the light of this, and of his previous good character, we would ask the Bench’s clemency”
The Chairman’s mouth twitched slightly as she turned to our side. He popped up.
“We have a Victim Impact Statement, Your Worships”
She stared hard at me, but I rose, with the bundle of pages, and began.
“Your Worships, this statement may come across as a little unusual, given the crime involved, but I hope it will be understood. I am transgendered. That is something that has been made very clear in this hearing, but the actual experience is something that cannot be guessed at. I fit a rather common profile for people like me, in that I have gone through life trying my level best to deny what I am, what I have always been. Women like me overcompensate. We do the whole male thing, we sometimes become more masculine than anyone else, and we hide and suppress who we really are as long as we can.
“Then we break. That is the only word I can find that fully describes the experience. We break in different ways, though. Some transition to their true gender, badly or successfully depending on their circumstances, and very late, but they do it. Some do not succeed. They turn to alcohol, or drugs, or start taking extreme risks, or self-harm, or…or they simply opt out of life. Suicide the slow way, or the quick, but it is suicide.
“That is where I was a short while ago”
I had turned to look at Von as I said that, and the effect was as I had hoped.
“I had found a partner to ease my loneliness, and I loved her dearly, but I knew I could not carry on with my life. I had a plan, which was a simple one. I have heard it called ‘flensing’, where every external aspect of a life is cut away so that the end hurts as few as possible. Von was to move back to Wales, I was to ease out of her life, and as soon as I had cleared up a few more problems, I would step out. Jill Carter has left the building, left the fight I thought I could never win.
“Things happened, then, and they were the gift of friends, the gift of life. The woman over there entered my life, and shook it to the core. She has stayed with me, supported me, accepted me despite her own nature, and shown me that living is a far better option than anything else. Other friends have spoken to this court, and there are many who are not here. Into this renewal came William, who was as lost as I had been. William is gay. That is something he has finally made public, but just like my own dilemma he was in a hard place with nobody to talk to. A family that has always expressed their hatred, openly and clearly, of perverts is not the place to feel safe in opening up.
“I will not even stoop to denying the odd idea that gay people are made by others, and as has been said formally here the parts that have been removed were of no value to me, but I will say this: Nye hurt me. I do not ever want to feel such pain again, and I have seen the pain he caused others in the eyes of my friends. That is something I will never, ever forgive him for, and nor should this court. However…
“However, I understand him. He is wrong, so wrong it cannot adequately be expressed, but what he did he did through love. He loves Will, as his counsel has clearly expressed, and I know, because I also love Will as if he were my son, that Will loves his old Bamps to distraction, just as he loves his mother. There are two people in that family who need to learn the meaning of those words, who need to grow up, but none of that will be served by locking up one foolish old man.
“Accordingly, I beg the court not to pass a custodial sentence on Nye Prentice. No good would be served by it. Nye, I will never forgive you, but for Will’s sake, I offer you my hand”
Von stood up and hurried out of the court, face streaming, while her dad sat with his mouth open. I put away my paper and sat down, making sure I did it as elegantly as my body would allow.
“We will adjourn to consider sentence and to await reports”
They rose, we rose, and once more the appraisal from the Chairman, eyes flat on mine, but just a hint of a smile as she turned away. My friends gathered round me as Nye walked past, his face unreadable, and Lawrence shook my hand. I had to ask the question.
“What was going on with that Chairman? I was expecting a lot more of the godless pervert stuff, but she slapped him right down, like”
“Ah, Kathleen Powers. Bit of a name on the local circuit. It was when she was a lot younger…look, not here. Perhaps over a coffee?”
We gathered our bits and pieces and he led us over the road to the fortunately quiet Costa, and to my surprise insisted on paying.
“Who wrote that statement, Jill?”
“I did, along with Larinda, my friend Rachel and my therapist”
“Neatly done. You care for that family, don’t you?”
“Ye bugger, aye. I just couldn’t, well, do THIS to them”
Larinda snorted. “Did it to me, though. Anyways, this beak, yeah?”
Lawrence nodded. “Bit of the shitty end of the stick, sort of thing. She was on the receiving end in one of those old-style trials she mentioned”
Larinda looked puzzled. “What did she do?”
Lawrence sighed. “She got raped, twice. Once in her flat, by her then husband, and once more in the witness box. Allegedly, that is, because he was found not guilty, even though she waived her anonymity. Got balls, that woman”
He looked around the table, and sighed.
“Ah, perhaps not the best-chosen of remarks!”
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