Events will take their course, it is no good of being angry at them; he is happiest who wisely turns them to the best account.
Upon visiting Manchester 10th – 13th July 2015 I was witness to an extraordinary event – SPARKLE – THE NATIONAL TRANSGENDER CELEBRATION. And what a celebration it was. My aim for this post is to give a brief rundown of the event, the sites, the atmosphere and my personal experiences.
So what is Sparkle? On the one hand it is a national transgender event that brings together many people that identify on the trans spectrum. Whether that be people that are fully transitioned or transitioning to those that want to spend some time cross-dressing in a safe place. It includes those that are gender fluid, queer, non-binary or however anyone identifies. Drag queens and kings, trans, CD or GF. If you do not fit societies basic gender format you will fit in at Sparkle.
The other side to Sparkle was the literal mayhem that ensued on the streets of Manchester’s famous gay village – Canal Street. Never, anywhere else in the world where you witness such a spectacle of people on the spectrum all crammed into such a small space. It was a sight to behold and the freedom of expression takes your breath away at times. It truly is a celebration and certainly the biggest trans-spectrum inspired event anywhere in the known world.
The event is run as a charity and put together each year in July. Sackville Gardens is where the main event itself takes place and a stage is erected to house the acts that perform over the weekend. The park is fenced off to provide security with one entrance open so numbers in and out can be counted. From my understanding over 4000 attended this years event which is amazing and truly shows the scale of it.
While the acts play attendees can grab food and drink or have a look at the many stalls providing anything from wigs and clothing to trans orientated services. Organisations, such as other charities, also took some of the stall spaces. Fundraising volunteers rattled buckets in aid to pay for the event and Sparkle clothing could be purchased in support of the funding. There were medics and police in and around for safety and a VIP area to raise further funds. Many of the local bars and shops were fully involved in the weekend and put on special events and provided support.
Manchester’s LGBT Foundation hosted a special Sparkle Weekend by providing a space for seminars and talks on trans issues as well as a host of other services and information. They also held some extra vendors that could not fit into the main area. I will be honest in stating I missed every single one but have heard from others it was worthwhile and had its place.
The main aspect of Sparkle is its huge main stage situated at the back of the park with speakers and lights to bring to life the many music acts, speakers and performers that provide the great entertainment of the weekend. There was a beauty pageant on the Sunday to find Miss Sparkle and Miss Golden Sparkle with guest judges and prizes.
The pageant was one of the most popular entertainments of the weekend and it drew crowds right up to the stage. I did not have a particularly good view but all the girls looked lovely and the stage antics was quite entertaining throughout. It was kept light hearted and added to the atmosphere of the day. There was also an event for the trans-masculine contestants but I missed this as I think it was held somewhere else, which I was disappointed with. The winners were well deserved in my opinion and everyone that took part had good community spirit in line with the events principles. I was a little surprised that they did not have to show off any talents except being pretty but I guess time restraints and the logistics of all that may make it impossible. Some were worried that moving this to the Sunday prohibited those who could only attend Saturday from seeing it, but you will not please everyone and it rounded off the weekend nicely.
The guest speakers, for what I saw and heard of them, were all positive and were good at bringing awareness to proceedings and made a good bridge between the acts while the stage was set for the next. I, personally, was not particularly moved by any of the speakers and some of their words were quite generic but being a public event of this nature it is thoroughly understandable things were kept simple and to the point. I found some of the mini interviews tedious at times and noticed people turning away or looking somewhat disinterested. They seemed to hold no real purpose and seemed to be thrown in as a last resort.
Moving onto the main entertainment which was the music acts and performers. There was a mixed bag if truth be told and although there were many acts that clearly identify on the spectrum, some just seemed out of place. Kim Marsh, she is a singer and actress, made the awful decision to allow her teenage daughter to perform some covers and I really felt for her daughter. She was very disconnected from her target audience and many commented on the ‘pushy mum’ routine. I do wish her the very best of luck but in terms of Sparkle this was not a good pick of performer. This was the only real low point on the stage as the remainder of the entertainment was very good.
My personal favourite were the Drag Kings who lip-synched to some cool rock tunes and I really loved their involvement. They brought something different from what I was expecting and they were great to talk to after they had performed. It really highlighted the broad diversity in the performers and went some way to making the event inclusive for all.
Another highlight was Jordan Gray AKA Tall Dark Friend who has something for everyone. She put her heart and soul into the performance and really got the crowd going. The vastness of her vocal range and piano planning is wonderful to behold. It was the first time I had seen her live and was moved to tears after hearing her classic, Corridors. Prepare to cry!
Amy Winehouse tribute act Amy Housewine was another standout performer, she really made me think I was watching the legend herself. Everyone around me in the garden was swinging their hips and the place was rocking. Her voice was stunning and her stage presence was amazing.
All in all, apart from the odd dodgy act, the entertainment on the main stage was first class and considering they all performed for free it really magnified the spirit of the occasion and there was something for everyone.
Also, it is worth noting, that there were ‘fringe’ events taking place throughout the weekend in the many bars and venues in around the garden. I did witness many of these and it was great to see that the Sparkle spirit had spread far and wide across Manchester’s gay village. One stand out was the Gay Gordans who performed traditional Scottish dance outside Bar Pop. They were awesome and so much fun to watch.
The stalls on show throughout the two days were plentiful, some commented they took over more room then was needed in the park. It certainly was full to the brim with services and vendors. Anything from handbags and wigs to laser treatments and make overs were available. Many seemed to be doing a roaring trade and many of the girls were clearly making the most of the opportunity to look their best. It certainly catered for many tastes but the stalls were heavily orientated toward cross-dressing, which is fine as this was the majority of the clientele. It would have been nice to have more charitable organisations and transgender support groups. But it was fun to speak with the vendors about their experiences in providing for the spectrum and their awareness was amazing, all I spoke to asked or just knew how to address me.
The faculties were ok and the food on offer was inexpensive and tasted about as good as you could expect for an event like this. The alcohol tent was average in price, inline with the rest of Canal Street for all intents and purposes. Choice was lacking a little but all the main beverages you would need to satisfy yourself were on offer. The VIP area was a good money spinner for the event and you could buy a day or weekend pass to enter it. There was a goody bag on offer and close access to the stage, although the view was somewhat blocked by a speaker stack which tarnished the ‘VIP’ feel. It also acted as a break area for many who needed a comfy seat or a place to rest.
At any event of this kind it is the people that make it and there were some real characters that I bumped into. The people of Manchester were very liberated and accepting which added to how special the whole weekend was for so many. Their warm smiles and helpful nature made everything so easy and it there was never a dull moment down Canal Street. I want to thank this great city for welcoming me and my friends to its inner circle and it really feels like a home from home now.
I will mention, however, that the majority of people at Sparkle were Trans-feminine or cross-dressers from older generations. This is not a problem, just an observation that I started to notice as the weekend progressed. I took a positive that maybe the younger generations feel free enough in the world to not need such events? Also, the low numbers of trans-masculine folk as well, this I feel may have something to do with either the event name (Sparkle – read girly!?) or they felt it was far to focused on the feminine side of the spectrum. I do not have the answer but hope things improve.
It was wonderful to see so many families who brought their children along. It really shows that attitudes are changing and that we are accepted on a wider scale than ever before.
A big shout out to the event staff, organisers and volunteers alike. Thank you for such an excellent time, your energy and enthusiasm shone through the entire weekend. Also, a huge thank you to the LGBT community of Manchester for putting up with us and being so much fun, you can have Canal Street back now!
I wanted to end this post with some experiences of my own that made my Sparkle wonderful.
I was interviewed for Sky News but sadly they did not air it, but did show me dancing! Dexxy Dance – oh yeah! (I can be seen about 20 odd seconds in for a millisecond.)
Following this a lovely student also interviewed me for her documentary about the different labels for us among the spectrum and how it can be confusing for those with no exposure to it all. I told Jessie Beaumont that the best thing to do is ask the person how they want to be addressed or what gender, if any, they want to be referred in. (I got that right, didn’t I team?) It was brilliant to see someone thinking and helping to raise awareness for us in such a good way.
There was an amazing woman I met who helped me find the most perfect of heels and her awareness of the troubles trans women have finding shoes was remarkable. She just got it and a big shout out to Nicola at Big Beautiful Feet for making feel every bit the girl I am!
On the TG/CD scene the admirers come in various shapes, sizes and demeanours. One I met outside my hotel was nothing but a real charmer and had all the time in the world to simply chat and make friends. Tom was every bit the gentleman and had wise words about life in general, even during a typical Manchester rain storm! Thank you Tom for restoring my confidence in you lot!
The friends I hung around with most of the weekend were veterans of Sparkle and made me feel like part of the team right from the off. Everything from enjoying the park to prowling Canal Streets looking for chicken at 3am! They made me feel special and looked after me and I looked after them. We got so drunk every night we would have put sailors to shame. This weekend really helped me with my own transition and find my place in the big, bad world. Knowing I am not alone, but with my sisters and brothers.