Murder most foul

Trans murder. Not, for once, the topic of who gets killed, or why. But trans as perpetrators.

Sadly ironic that this post comes but a couple of weeks after one trans woman has been accused very publicly of murdering another trans woman. Ad mostly nothing whatsoever to do with that.

Rather, this springs from the fact that I write about crime and policing, so probably know a fair bit about the figures behind the reality: and in my spare time, I both read crime fiction – or “procedurals”, as the sub-genre tends to be known – and dabble in writing a bit of it.

This morning I closed the covers on yet another book in which the vicious, sadistic, deranged perpetrator just happens to be transsexual. OK. In this instance, a trans man, as opposed to the more commonplace trans woman: but trans nonetheless.

Which set me to thinking, again, about how common this particular meme is in crime fiction.

First off, crime stories have next to nothing in common with reality. Whether we are talking genteel vicarage murder, courtesy of Agatha Christie, or vicious psychopathic slashing, care of Kathy Reichs and other modern authors, murder, homicide, and even manslaughter are mostly accidental crimes. And one-offs.

As a report by the UK’s most senior judges made clear a few years back, the majority of murders are little more than domestic vioence gone wrong. Which is not to condone the violence: merely to observe that the vast majority start with someone hitting someone, reaching for a knife, or grabbing a weapon in anger: and an episode that might ordinarily have ended in A&E and a short prison sentence finishes with death.

Alcohol, too, plays a major part. Remove alcohol from the mix, and between a third and a half of domestic vioence probably goes away: a third to a half of murder goes away. Shocking…when one thinks of how government ministers toe the line on drugs policy and will hear nothing whatsoever on the subject of shifting the balance against alcohol.

But back to trans murderers. I am sure we do. Kill people, that is. But I have never heard any evidence that we do so in proportions that are in any sense greater than that in the general population (and given how rare murder is, that means in the UK, one might expect a murder to be committed by a trans man or woman once every four years, if that).

(and oh, yes: the serial killer, at least in the UK, is also almost unheard of).

Yet read crime fiction and…the world is utterly awash with psycho trans murderers. I love Val McDermid. OK: I am slightly wary of the unashamed sadism that appears to accompany some of her work, which always makes me wonder just how much enjoyment she gets out of writing it (death by dildo wrapped in barbed wire, anyone? Ugh!).

I also wonder, at times, whether she is slightly old-school feminist…and therefore ever-so-slightly anti-trans. I have no evidence whatsoever for that, beyond a very mild twitching of the gut. I don’t know.

And irrespective of that, I still love her. I also remember reacting with some surprise at one of her early works in which the killer turns out to be…not quite trans…but a would-be trans who has turned homicidal following mis-treatment by the gender identity psychs. Yeah, yeah! I shall avoid the obvious witticism.

I guess it’s a neat plot device: everyone is expecting a bloke. Or a woman. Or whatever: and in the end its “neither”. And Val is far from the first. The latest in my reading list is a book by Meg Gardiner, who also uses the trans confusion as a way to mislead readers until two-thirds of the way thru her book.

Two questions, I guess. Why? And does it matter?

The why is almost certainly to do with the need for plot twists and larger than life characters. Paedophile monsters. Sexual sadists. Ordinary people who do unspeakable things in their cellars at night. These are all the staple for murder mysteries. And trans, so long as it remains mysterious, seems to belong in there.

Does it matter, given that the entire genre is based on a total misrepresentation of crime figures? Possibly. The subject is suitable matter for research. Anyone for a PhD on it?

What it does seem to me to do is to create yet one more stereotype into which to slot “trannies”. As well as sluts and whores and would-be homosexuals, we all also harbour homicidal urges.

A sobering thought. This post is not about the Nina Kanagasingham case. But if I were interviewing jurors before her trial, I might pause to ask whether any of them was a regular reader of crime fiction – and if they were, to reject them out of hand.



About janefae

On my way from here to there
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4 Responses to Murder most foul

  1. Here’s a challenge for those inclined to research this… What is the incidence of homosexual people in crime fiction as a whole (not just murder necessarily) and has the proportion of that changed in the period since they were routinely characterised as mentally ill?

    I appreciate that gay men and lesbian women don’t provide such an easy way to misdirect the reader. However their lives have (in life, as in fiction) provided good a good supply of motives: the threat of ‘outing’, clandestine affairs, score settling with bullies, self defence gone wrong, etc…

  2. Ms Slide says:

    A fascinating article! Silence of the Lambs always bothered me for that reason. It’s a brilliant book, and brilliant film, but I worried that the gender aspect may be misconstrued. Would the unenlightened viewer assume that all trans women would covet a coat made out of the skin of chubby girls? It saddens me that mainstream fiction largely represents any trans, intersex and other non-binary gender character as a homicidal maniac. Saying that though, Hollyoaks (yeah, I know!) has a great trans story running at the moment.

    I also *love* McDermid – gloriously violent! I wrote a blog post on female sadism a couple of years ago that includes some good quotes from her –

  3. Val McDermid says:

    An interesting post, janefae. I’m not going to take issue with anything you say; but I would describe myself as pretty much equal opps when it comes to killers, victims and characters in general. In other words, I see shades of grey across the spectrum, in every grouping. I try to reflect the world I live in, where good or bad behaviour isn’t the prerogative of any one group. (And I do have a positive portrayal of a trans character in two of the Kate Brannigan novels…) So I’ve written gay killers, gay victims and gay detectives, for example. And my latest, TRICK OF THE DARK, is chock full of lesbians!
    I’m glad you enjoy the books — I hope that continues for a long time to come!

  4. Just a note about alcohol – the Scottish government does take this issue seriously and has spoken extensively about its relation to crime. The recently passed legislation in this area is a mess, and agreed all round to be inadequate, thanks either to bad design or party politicking, depending on one’s point of view. It seems likely, however, that more work will be done in this area in future, and perhaps it could provide a spur to action for English politicians.

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