Monday, 28 July 2014

A tale of two celebrations

    A long hot day in the park on Saturday, this time promoting the Dawn Skinner Fund at Brighton Trans Pride. A small park right on the beach, and perfect weather for it. Met a lot of people, was very pleased to bump into Lucy, got our message in front of a lot of eyeballs. A successful day for the Dawn Fund.
    This was our second outing in as many weeks, having previously been up to Manchester for Sparkle and its mirror FtM event, Buff. There's an interesting comparison to be made between the two, one that tells you something about the differences in LGBT culture across the UK and the uneasy relationship our community has with its own diversity.
    Manchester is a much more in-your-face city than Brighton, and this is reflected in its gay quarter. Wandering along the main drag - is that an appropriate word in this context? - in Kemptown I had the feeling of a slightly bohemian British small town, while a walk along Canal Street in Manchester feels more in common with Las Vegas. So the cities' respective trans pride celebrations reflect these differences, Sparkle is big, brash, and colourful while Brighton Trans Pride was much more serious, political, and dare I say it, conventional. There were none of the drag queens, LGs or French Maids in Brighton that you might see at Sparkle, instead the field was full of earnest young queer activists. In that I think Brighton did much better on the diversity front, it was very encouraging to see a healthy mix of people with MtF, FtM, genderqueer and other identities together in a community that is normally so segmented.
    It's interesting to watch the reactions among the more conventional parts of the trans community when you mention you are going to Sparkle. You'll see plenty of uneasiness, and in some cases outright internalised transphobia as they struggle with the idea of proximity to the outrageously dressed wing. In some people I sense there are some uncomfortable reminders of earlier points in their gestation as a trans person, in others I'm afraid I start to see just a little bit of intolerance.
    It's a shame, I see the more out-there parts of Sparkle as a pageant, an exercise in street theatre. Sit down on the bench next to the Alan Turing statue, and enjoy the show! If you do that, you'll notice something; unseen among the actors half the crowd are very conventional. Sackville Park has become an extended closet for the day, and holds no danger of outing for anyone.
    There is plenty of room for events to cater for the different ends of our community and I'm very glad to see Brighton Pride survive to a second year. I hope the Dawn Fund will be back next year.
    I still worry slightly though that our community's Pride celebrations are at the polar opposites in style.  We may not all follow identical paths, but we travel the same road.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The things you do in a good cause

    Last year my friend R and I went off to Sackville Gardens in Manchester for the Sparkle trans pride celebration, to promote the Dawn Skinner Fund. We had a gazebo, chairs and table, and a load of leaflets and banners.

    Though a lot of people stopped by and we gained a lot of support, we didn't get much publicity.

    Sparkle you see is a bit "out there". The whole spectrum of our community is out in the sun, and some of them wear costumes that put a couple of jeans-wearing charity trustees firmly in the shade. Nobody's going to take a picture of  us when there are more interesting sights aplenty.

    Clearly a publicity stunt was called for.

    The trouble is, what? Some kind of costume, but nothing too out there. No bum cheeks on display, nothing borderline-inappropriate. Historical perhaps, Dawn was a fan of historical recreation, she used to be in the Sealed Knot. As an end-of-life organisation we briefly considered old-fashioned nurses uniforms, but given that the NHS would be there that was probably inappropriate.

    So in the end I broke out the sewing machine and put together the barmiest outfit I've ever worn, an 1860s style crinoline day dress, pagoda sleeves and all.

    It's a surprisingly easy task, making a crinoline dress. I had a bit of help from Hathaways of Haworth, but didn't follow their design exactly. Once you've found a hooped underskirt of the type sold for brides, the skirt is a simple cylinder of fabric to the outer hoop circumference, then gathered at the top round a waist band. In my case I made an 18 foot long sash, and once the skirt was attached to its centre the two trailing ends made a large bow to fasten it. The bodice was adapted from my basic shell dress pattern with a neckline copied from a contemporary photograph, and with lacing replacing the zip I'd use on a modern garment.
    The sleeves were a little more challenging. Pagoda sleeves in the 1860s style are quite short, but very wide indeed. The pattern looks something like a crescent moon with a third removed from each end, and was something I produced by careful calculation of the two radiuses followed by plotting on tracing paper.
    To be authentic I should wear it with a fully laced corset underneath. Victorian corsets were very tight indeed, I'd have no chance at all of fitting into one without the lifetime of waist training they had. I considered a modern corset but in the end decided a Manchester park in July would be too hot. Since I didn't follow Hathaways suggestion of using a corset as the base for my bodice the only shaping would come from the bodice lacing. So authenticity was sacrificed in the name of comfort. Fortunately I'm not too lardy and it didn't look too wrong.

    The handy thing about a dress with such a barmy amount of fabric is you can change into it in a Manchester park as an event sets up around you. It makes its own tent. So off on a day perambulating with a Dawn Fund placard.

    Surprisingly it was very comfortable to wear. I guess it is made exactly to my measurements, so it should. And under such a voluminous skirt there is plenty of ventilation, so it wasn't hot either. Easy to walk in, and you always have a two foot gap around you in a crowd.

    Most importantly though it did the job it was made for. Very noticeable, plenty of exposure for the Dawn Fund brand. Which while I'm on the subject is the only way you'll get to see it. Go to our Twitter feed for a few pictures, and while you're there give us a follow if you're a Twitter user.

    So now I have a crinoline in my wardrobe. As Dawn would have said: You wouldn't wear it to Tesco. What on earth am I to do with it!