Monday, 13 July 2015

Sparkle Sensation

Sparkle is a national transgender festival in Manchester. It celebrates all things trans by putting on music, talks, workshops and events over a weekend. It is also the largest trans charity known to do this across the globe.

Sparkle, now in its tenth year, is mostly run through venues in and around the gay district of Canal Street as well as events put on by the Sparkle founders in Sackville Gardens.

Sparkle in the park, as promoted by the Sparkle website was a tiny garden, more like a green than a park. It certainly would have sounded more appropriate as Sparkle in the Garden, but credit where credit is due, they did pack rather a lot in. And when the sun is shining and the wine is flowing, the people are friendly and the music is going, who cares how big it is? It's not about size is it? It is what you do with it that counts!

Sparkle was great fun from beginning to end. We arrived on the Friday afternoon to the welcome event, which was a very civilised yet low-key affair. We found the gardens small but bijou, with its VIP marquee and friendly helpers scattered about in their purple T-shirts. We had a quick seat, a quick wander and then went to Canal Street. 
The atmosphere there was exciting. 
There were girls and boys parading their beauty up and down the cobbles, which led for some difficult small steps in some huge heels. But it all adds to the fun of people watching and glamour admiring!

Friday evening was spent taking in the sights all around us. We met some interesting and gorgeous people. Canal Street just buzzing with hilarity and hype. Due to the amount of afternoon drinking and lack of eating, an early night fell upon us when we returned to get into our evening wear and stupidly laid down on the bed for a cat nap.

However waking on Saturday morning was very rewarding and exciting as we were as fresh as daisies and ready to get dressed up and take the day by storm.

We stayed at the Britannia Hotel in Portland Street, where the Sparkle Crystal Ball would be held Saturday evening. The staff were wonderful, helpful and respectful. This was the first big city event my trans female girlfriend had ever been to and that I had been to with her. So it was a big deal for us both to find that we were treated with respect and felt not only safe but able to be ourselves.

And that we were. The hotel staff went out of their way with our requests for help, putting our picnic in their cold room when we arrived on Friday so it would be chilled for Saturday and helping us numerous times with our hoards of luggage. They helped to make the weekend wonderful.

So Saturday morning, after a large tasty breakfast at the hotel, my girl and I went traipsing up into the city for a quick spot of shopping to get flat shoes for her ball gown. Naturally.
Mission accomplished we then went back to the hotel and changed into outfit number two, pretty and glittery in the park. We recovered our ice cold picnic from the staff and made our way cautiously down the cobles of Canal Street and into the park. 
What a surprise greeted us. The whole place had been transformed! Stalls and market places everywhere, with so much information about trans life and issues, beautiful wigs, make over stands, nail extensions, clothes, accessories and of course the yummy food and crepe stand. We were delighted! The bar prices were reasonable, which was a pleasant surprise and we were glad that every drink we bought had a contribution going back towards the Sparkle charity. 
We found a seat at one of the many tables and chairs available and much to the amusement of everyone around us, cracked open our picnic and munched our way through the afternoon of entertainment.
And again, Sparkle surprised us with the range of the acts. Concerned it would be low key and a bit cheesey we were delighted with the quality of the programme. Not that we knew anyone but the fact they had great voices, and great charisma is what performing is all about. We caught the singer January who absolutely belted out “If I were a boy”, the lyrics very interesting and agreeable. The Tacky Tarts were also great, as was Cherelle whose incredible soulful voice just blew us away. 

Danny Beard compared some of the acts and was very funny as well as sporting such a gorgeous glittering purple beard, I wished I could grow one myself.

We enjoyed the contestants for the Stallion Talent contest but were so disappointed that the winner was not the dude doing a sing along impersonation of the Tenacious D song Tribute. Absolutely brilliant, bold and brave.

Speaking to different people in the park it was clear that this event is a highlight of the year for many. One couple who were spending the weekend together as trans female and cis male spoke of how they met and fell in love. The lovely gentleman told me of how he had to re-evaluate his values when he met his girlfriend as he had some prejudices and unknown boundaries. But through knowing he was falling for the person she is, had to realign those, because at the end of the day, gender is irrelevant if you like, lust and love someone.
That is the whole point really isn’t it? Recognising that people are people. And some people may have barriers, quite often unknown to them, as they accept the social conformity in which they have grown up and live. The point being that when that perception is challenged, you should not be mean to others, or shallow or closed off towards acceptance. But rather ask yourself, why does this feel weird? What basis have I built my sense of normal? Is there such a thing as normal when you think about the incredible diversity of people?
Gender is not sex. Sexuality is not gender. So therefore if you like someone, are attracted to someone, it’s not about what they have outside but what they have inside that matters. The rest is all experience and the potential to grow.

By 5pm we were slowly heading back to the hotel to begin getting ready for the Sparkle Crystal ball. Both of us totally on a high and enjoying the friendly atmosphere, even down to the police support!

Three magical hours later (and one hour late due to all the hair spraying, make up re-do and hook-eyes to be fastened) we walked arm in arm to the ball. It was such an exhilarating feeling.
Partly to do with all the sliding down banisters and our heightened sense of acceptance.

 Taking each other’s pictures beneath a HUGE crystal chandelier in the foyer of the hotel, having doors opened for us by suited and booted staff and both of us going ooooohhhh as we walked into the nicely decorated warm and small ballroom. 
Because we were late everyone was already getting their food but we were happy to take a seat at a back table, and found one that had a cooling breeze blowing through the window. We soon made friends with everyone at our table and other people we met at the bar.
What a great night. We had some really funny conversations and some very insightful ones too. Met some gorgeous people and enjoyed  the warm up act Errol, who sang swing and ratpack golden oldies. But the highlight had to be meeting Cherelle, who looked absolutely stunning and again, wowed us with her incredible voice. Especially when she sung Uptown Funk. What a feeling, twirling my girl around the dance floor. Truly magical memories were made in those ballroom moments.
We danced a little more once the DJ came on and then we went back to our room for outfit change number four! We head into Canal street and catch up with more new friends. Making even more friends along the way and enjoying the dancing and drinking in places such as New York New York and Iconical before ending up in Kiki’s VOID nightclub until 9am in the morning!!

Needless to say our 11am check out of the hotel was a little delayed and a lot rushed! Sadly we had too far too travel home, to spend more time in the park, but the pictures and updates from all our new wonderful friends tell us that Kym Marsh was a hit and the rest of Sunday was an absolute scream.

Well done Sparkle! You certainly did make our week a sparkling sensation of success.
See you next year! 

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