Hi, I'm Gemma Torry, new girl to the Transliving volunteers, and Sparkle 2023 was my 1st experience of Volunteering on the Transliving stand. Not my 1st experience of Sparkle. My 1st Sparkle was 2015 and what an experience that was. A real eye-opener! To see so many people like me, up until then, I had been quite closeted. But with help and encouragement from friends, I ventured out in public for the 1st time. Through that first outing, my circle of friends grew until I met some who introduced me to the Transliving organisation, another turning point in Gemma's growth. I now have a circle of friends because of being part of Transliving. Those are friends for life, and they have given me the confidence to be me. This has also given me the desire to give back to the community that has helped me grow.
To Sparkle 2023
Departed Dunstable around 10:30 on Friday with my 2 besties; heavy traffic and hold-ups on the M6, 2 wee stops and a large latte later, we arrived at our hotel around 15:00hrs. Dump our bags in our rooms after a mix-up with the room bookings was sorted (panic)!!!! Straight to the bar in the hotel to unwind and catch up with the rest of our group; I am a lucky girl: nearly all my friends attended Sparkle this year.
As always happens on the 1st day, too many drinks!! I did try to be good as I was working the next morning, but the influence of my peers led me astray. Before we know it's time for dinner, a quick change and makeup freshen, and then off to Chinatown. Good food, good company and nearly a bottle of rosé later, I wobble out of the eat-as-much-as-you-can buffet. Next stop, Via for dancing and drinking; being good has gone right out of the window. A very dainty stagger back to the hotel around 02:30.
Up at 07:30 for 08:45 set up (thanks for putting me on early, Richard) feeling slightly worse for wear, I manage to get a little breakfast down before a quick walk to Sackville Gardens to meet Richard, Jessica & Sophie.
The setup goes well, all up and ready to go with time to spare. Now the nerves are starting to kick in, and the gates open, oh crap, I'm actually going to have to speak to people I've never met before. As my friends know, this is totally out of my comfort zone (and I really mean totally), new people! Talk? Panic…. But as I force myself to approach people and talk about what I know best, my journey, and how Transliving has helped me, it gets easier. I also began to realise a lot of the people I'm talking to are more nervous than I am. Confidence is growing by the minute I tell anyone who will listen about all the great things Transliving has to offer and giving out goodie bags. Before I knew it, my shift was over, and a little reluctantly, I left the stand in the capable hands of Jennifer & Roxanne. To head straight to Canal Street and a long overdue drink with friends. Sunday was much of the same but thankfully, Richard had been kind, and I didn't need to be there until 12:00.
As I mentioned at the start, this is not my 1st Sparkle; I've been to all since 2015, apart from the covid break. Sparkle has so much to offer: entertainment, food, drink and such a diverse group of people. But the feeling of belonging to a community is the overwhelming feeling. I have enjoyed everyone mostly because of the people I've been lucky enough to go with, who have become my closest friends and sisters. But this one was different, special in a different way… To give something back!!! To talk to some of those girls who were so nervous, like I was that 1st time, so nervous their eyes wouldn't leave the ground, let alone look at me, to tell them they're not wired, that they are not the only one and more importantly that there is help & support out there. That we are there for them! What an amazing feeling when they actually look up, and some of the fear has gone from their face.
What have I taken away from this Sparkle?
I have spent time on the Transliving stand with some lovely people whom I now call friends. Not just passing acquaintances, friends I intend to keep in touch with. But also the feeling of giving something back to a community that has helped me so much. It feels really selfish, but to think you may have changed somebody's life for the better just by talking to them is the most amazing feeling!