OPINION: Transitioning with Sugar – my memories of past Prides

Ms Sugar Swan July 31, 2017

Sugar Swan: Photo Hugo Michiels
Ms Sugar Swan: Photo Hugo Michiels

Sugar Swan reflects back on her Pride experiences over the last 20 years.

My first experience of a Pride event was back in 1997, some 20 years ago. A fresh-faced 16-year-old kid, who knew she was trans but only in her wildest dreams did she think she could transition, made her way to Clapham Common for Pride London. I was absolutely terrified as I made my way there with my cis girlfriend. She was the first person who I confided in who understood my gender feelings. Following a string of disastrous teenage relationships with men, she was my first real partner. Being bisexual herself, we had a beautiful open relationship where we really did have it all. We didn’t know the word Poly at the time but we knew that we were different from other people and we embraced that.

As we got closer and closer to the event we were surrounded by more and more queer people all making their way to the park in high spirits. I couldn’t help but notice amongst the crowds that we didn’t really fit in. The crowd was mostly white, gay and male. There were very few women and even less trans and BME representation. I was happy though, I was surrounded by queer people, covered in glitter, intoxicated on love, and I felt the love, from my girlfriend and from the friends and sexual partners we met along the way.

I hark from the London home counties, in a small village between Ascot Racecourse and Windsor Castle. Schooled in the very depressing satellite town of Bracknell, consisting of council estates and office blocks, I was beaten to the ground and kicked in the stomach for being different. We were lucky to have found each other. We were very much the minority. Unfortunately that was our first and only Pride together, as she died some months later in a car accident that would shape my future.

After her death and my subsequent recovery period following the car accident I was terribly bereft and consequently pushed my gender identity deep down inside. I presented for the next 15 years as a cis gay man to most of the outside world, as that is what they read me as, and at the time I thought it was easier to live that lie than to find the strength to transition.

During the two years following her death I attended Prides in London but they were never the same. I felt like no one understood me, no one got me. That was until I was fortunate enough to find myself, at 19 years old, working in a call centre and meeting an established group of queer alternative and goth friends that included my life long friend and short time show biz partner, Spice, and my beloved companion for the rest of his life, Mouse. They both knew that I was a girl from the very beginning, I didn’t have to explain myself, they just knew, I didn’t have to hide my breasts from my first puberty.

“The crowd was mostly white, gay and male. There were very few women and even less trans and BME representation”

My Pride experiences were very different in the 20 years since that first one back in 1997. Back then I stood out. I was notably different from everyone else, but as the years went by I blended in more. By 2001 I was establishing myself on the drag circuit with Spice and we were atop open buses in the parade and performing in the cabaret tent in Preston Park and at the village street parties. Drag afforded me a certain invisibility around my gender and sexuality, or so I thought. I clearly wasn’t fooling anybody as it came as no surprise when I came out last year.

During those 20 years of moving down here and religiously being part of Pride, be that as an entertainer, a barmaid, or a spectator, I still felt out-of-place just as I did back in 1997 on Clapham Common. I always felt that I didn’t see many other people I could really relate to, people I could see myself in. The trans community was almost invisible at many of the Pride events I attended. These included events both here in Brighton, London, and across Europe.

I struggled with how whitewashed and corporate everything was and how Prides the world over seemed more about brand names and white muscled guys in speedos as the main line of advertisement. Where was the fat representation? The black people? The trans people? Lesbians? Bisexuals? The Disabled? I guess we weren’t deemed beautiful enough to represent Pride, which has led me to ask the question of late, Where is my Pride?

I still recognise that Pride events across the globe are a right of passage for many a young queer that have never been in a large group of like-minded people. It’s important for them to have that experience of love and acceptance on a mass scale. Therefore I support Pride events but believe that greater representation of the umbrella is paramount.

This is something that’s just as apparent today as it always has been. Following the worldwide debates over the inclusion of black and brown stripes to the Pride flag of the city of Philadelphia back in June, the banning of the Jewish Pride flag in the Chicago Dyke March, and most recently Pride London’s horrific cis hetero led advertising that was dutifully pulled following uproar within days of launch. These three separate Pride events this year opened up frank and honest discussions about minority representation at Pride events and whether ‘Pride’ across the globe has lost its way and has forgotten that it is supposed to be about the marginalised people, not just those who conform to the gay masses. There is an increasingly diverse LGBTQIA umbrella and we’ve been under represented for too long. It’s this new-found awareness by the masses, fuelled by the advent of social media, that brings me hope. Hope for a brighter tomorrow, where trans women, especially those of colour, are back in the forefront of the Pride movement, for that is its roots.

“The crowd was mostly white, gay and male. There were very few women and even less trans and BME representation”