Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Transition: from Grime to Sparkle
As a child growing amongst the grimy rust belt and worked out coalfields of the UK's West Riding, Manchester was 40 miles away, also scarily grimy with a grim and dour northern neo-gothic aspect. Even so, it still seemed to me as a child like somewhere where everything happened. If my parents wanted to shop for anything out of the ordinary, Manchester was the place. It seemed a bit like where I lived, only far, far bigger and a great deal noisier.
I had a rough time as a teen back in the 70's, what transgendered teen didn't back then? I knew that I had to escape home for more than the usual reasons. As a teen you long for that opportunity to finally be yourself. I guess I wasn't really sure who that person was but I did know for sure that she wasn't the young guy I appeared to be. At the same time I was way too scared to move too far away from home. I would have loved to go to London but I settled for this grimy city separated from my own little town by about 40 miles of wild moorland, strange choice. I spoke good fluent French, why didn't go to France? Instead I enrolled at what is now The Victoria University of Manchester to study the language.
I lived in Fallowfield in one of the college halls. It was a short bus ride up to the main campus. Being finally free of my family was very liberating. I realized that I was less 'weird' in a place like this but sadly I still didn't feel I could be myself. There I was in a big city, first time away from home, suitcase and a guitar, a university place and a whole load of emotional baggage too. It was a great buzz to be there but I still couldn't break free.
Throughout my teen years I had coped with being transgendered by being inwardly shy but with an outward 'stage' persona that allowed me to experience success and praise without anybody getting to know who I really was. Playing in folk clubs, social clubs and small coffee house venues had given me some outward confidence. I sang mainly covers; material by guys like Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, Tom Paxton, Ralph McTell. I hardly ever sang any of my own songs, they were the usual teen stuff only even more depressing.
In Manchester, I knew nobody, had no contacts and had to start over. The only music I played was for other student friends or for myself alone in my room. Practising over and over did wonders for my playing but little for my self confidence. In college, I met others who reminded me so much of who I was inside. It was the late 70's, before AIDS and some of the gay friends I knew seemed to have a great time being out, at least within their own circle. I never ventured onto Canal St at night but I knew those who did. Canal St had a reputation as a place for Gay guys to meet up. Sometimes I wondered if I too was Gay, after all, I did fancy guys. It never felt quite right though. In the end I became even more mixed up and then finally suicidal. Getting to an incredibly low point just before Christmas 1977, I decided that I couldn't carry on living a lie and a double life and wanted it end it all. I didn't have the courage to go through with that decision either. Reluctantly I dropped out of College and went back home.
It has taken half a lifetime for me to sort my life out and become the person I was inside but desperately needed to be in a complete sense. After seven years, that seems like ages now. It has been a butterfly experience and a long reluctant period in a cocoon. Manchester has not stood still either. Whilst I have been transitioning so has the City. The experience has been so similar.
It is only within the last 7 years or so that I have returned. I have seen Manchester too emerge from the cocoon. So much has changed. It is now a truly cosmopolitan and vibrant European City with great events and a fantastic atmosphere. It still has those neo-gothic buildings, but the context is so different. With a 21,000 seat concert arena and great theatres and clubs, I've found myself returning to the city again and again, this time to enjoy myself, as a woman. There is another reason too. The Village in Manchester, centered around a Canal St changed beyond recognition, is now the undisputable capital of UK Gay culture. It now has some of the best bars and clubs. Manchester Pride is one of the high spots of the year, a fantastic event for the whole Gay community. Around the time I came out, Sparkle too was born. For the last 7 years (this is its 8th) Sparkle has become probably the biggest event for the Trans community in the UK if not the world. It is with good reason. Sparkle is the most amazing celebration of the whole TG spectrum from those who occasionally crossdress to people living full time like myself. It is a such a welcoming and inclusive event. The atmosphere is truly amazing. Both myself and Manchester have come home. If you want to be there, Sparkle takes place this year from Friday 13th to Sunday 15th of July. Maybe I'll see you there.