Sparkle is the annual UK transgender celebration, held in July in Manchester. 2019 was my 8th Sparkle. I’ve been every year since 2012, with the exception of 2013 – when my wife gave me an ultimatum: give “it” all up or you may lose me.
I remember the devastation I felt a week before Sparkle 2013 as I withdrew from commitments I’d made. It felt like the end of the world: all my things were packed into a large suitcase and put away. My wife’s original demand was to dispose of everything for good; put it all in a bin bag and get shot of it. But as I looked at the pile of my things on the floor, I broke down and sobbed. It was simply too hard to throw everything away, two years after finally accepting myself for who I was. Of course the pile on the floor was just clothes and shoes, but they symbolised the resolution of a lifetime of self-hatred and a hard-won battle for self-acceptance. To go back down the long dark tunnel having once emerged into the light seemed too awful. The photograph below was the last one taken before the fateful day – it felt like Karen’s last outing.
The next few months were rather difficult. The photograph of a happy, contented Karen at the top of this post would have seemed inconcievable. The past six years have undoubtedly seen trials, but not only am I a happier, more contented person in the summer of 2019, but my marriage is stronger than ever. This progress, this triumph in the face of adversity, has not been made without sacrifice – some of it painful. Some challenges are unresolved – I don’t want to claim that my life is perfect. But I know what I believe in, and I have remained true to my values. If I was to offer any advice based on my experience it would be always to do what you know is right, and to remain true to those who you love. Much easier said than done.
The photograph at the top of the page was taken in Kendalls in Manchester by my very dear friend Pamela. Pamela was in drab, but it really didn’t matter. She’s the same person whatever she is wearing, and we spent a lovely couple of hours together. I have a few friends who I know “both ways” – we’ve met “dressed” and in drab. In each case, ironically (for a condition that is so strongly connected with external presentation), I have found there to be an underlying unity of self that transcends the clothing that is worn. Perhaps I should not be surprised: if the desire to dress as a woman comes from a strong inner sense of identity, then that sense of identity should come through irrespective of the presentation.
Of course, that begs a question – can I not manage without dressing like a woman, just by accepting my inner femininity? It’s a question my wife has asked. The answer seems to be no – I simply have to slip on a frock on a regular basis. I can’t rationalise the apparently contradictory statements in the preceding sentences; I can see an inner unity in myself and my trans friends that transcends what we wear, but the freedom to present myself to the world in feminine guise seems to be fundamentally necessary to my sense of self and my well-being. I’m somebody who understands things for a living, but with much that’s associated with being trans I’ve had to admit defeat, and simply accept the way that things are.
But perhaps the peace of mind that has come with self-acceptance is greater than that which comes through understanding. At last the different, apparently contradictory elements of my psyche seem to be woven together to form a coherent pattern. If I don’t understand myself, I can at last make sense of myself.