Miranda Sparks: An Unsent Letter
Hi. I’m Maeve Marsden and welcome to Queerstories – the podcast for the LGBTQI+ storytelling night I host and programme. Queerstories events happen regularly in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, and I’m also now hosting them in regional towns. If you enjoy these stories, please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast, and consider buying a copy of the Queerstories book: A collection of 26 of the stories edited by me and published by Hachette. I’m really proud of this collection and I hope you enjoy it too.
Originally tonight I planned to read an unsent letter titled Dad, I Take It in the Arse. Get Over It.
A true Queensland piece, that one, I feel. But then someone gave some important advice to fall out of love with my own misery. I’ve acknowledged the tragedy of my past and mourned it, and so now it’s time to stop wallowing in it, not to let my past be my future.
At first, I was a bit pissy about it. My first thought was, “Just because it’s true doesn’t mean you should say it,” but they were right, and so I’m up here to tell you about the things that I know more than am the things I survived.
2018 has been a huge year for me. Two weeks ago, I celebrated my thirty-sixth birthday, and while thirty-six might seem like an innocuous number on the surface, it marks exactly half my life-time as a legal adult. Jury is out on whether I’ll be a mature adult, but we’ll see.
I remember being a kid sitting in the 7/11 parking lot, minding my own business while grown-ass adults take the long way around to go to the other entrance just to avoid me. Now, I am the grown-ass adult who takes the long way around to avoid the teenagers sitting in the 7/11 parking lot, and I have no idea what the fuck happened.
2018 also marks ten years since I finalized my name change, cementing that my transition was happening and that Miranda Sparks was real. And I am here, folks.
Once upon a time, that was the scariest thing in the world, and now it is so ridiculously mundane, and, for that, I am so thankful. I remember being a very shy, closed-off young woman, wearing exaggerated femininity I didn’t know how to feel comfortable in; scanning the area for a reason to flee.
One day, I stepped onto a very, very crowded bus. I was panicking, and nothing had even happened yet. Then, as I squeezed inside, I took a wrong turn and I whacked my boob against the pole. I did not have breasts as I do now. Estrogen promised me more than this but you take what you can get.
But, rather, I had these fake foam titties that kind of shielded me from the world, and I couldn’t go outside with them. So, lefty goes flying out of my top.
*Audience laughs and groans*
Somehow, there is room enough for folks to part like the Red Sea, leaving my breast room enough to go roll down the aisle. *Imitates clunky rolling rhythm* And then hit the middle step *Imitates clunky landing* Falls flat.
And I’m thinking, “Shit! Shit! I’ve lost my tit! Fuck… That rhymes!” And the world is about the end. Survival mode is kicking in, in the back of my head going… *Imitates panicked aggressive voice*
“Leave it! Ditch the other when you have got the chance! Go flat! You can be flat!”
So I sit in the one spare seat in the priority seating area and stare into nothingness, and I am praying in that moment that I just do not have to exist anymore, but unfortunately for me, the bus was feeling very, very kind that day. One person picked up my tit off the ground and passed it along the aisle…
Hand to hand to hand…
*Audience laughs louder*
Until finally it was presented before me. “Excuse me. Is this yours?” And I say… *Stage whisper* “Thaaank youuu.”
Two rows back was a pair of teenage boys, snickering and poking fun, despite my humiliation, and they did not stop. I just couldn’t stand it. But it was then an unlikely angel appeared. A nurse… Because this was on the way to the Royal Brisbane Hospital, a nurse sat between us, stood up, and turned to them, and she said in a stern, serious voice that only a nurse or a mum – probably both – can muster, “Have a little respect. Can’t you see this woman survived breast cancer?”
I remember feeling like the world was going to explode with all the fear and confusion. And ten years later, it’s one of the best stories I have. I don’t know if there’s a lesson in there. Safe to say that it’s good to laugh at yourself, and small favours come from the most unlikely of places.
I was going to talk about my Dad tonight, but I’ve learned a lot more from life than tragedy, and like the old sunscreen song, if you remember that, I’d like to share some of that wisdom. I’m haggard enough now that some of it is actually worth a damn.
First of all, wear sunscreen. Shit, wrong notes. Umm…
So, the first real important lesson I learned as an adult was to, yes, laugh at yourself, but be kind when you do.
I remember sitting in the office of my psychologist, telling her what a loser I was, how anxiety got the better of me every single day. It was so bad that I’d gotten into fights with my doorknob before going outside, and most times I would collapse on the floor, crying. I was trapped in my house for weeks on end, for going on years. I laughed about how pathetic I was, but she didn’t and, God, that pissed me off. So, I asked her, “Why?” And she said, “Because none of it is true. Why would I laugh if it’s not true.” Which is also how I learned that laughing at your perceived worthlessness might convince other people it’s true or, worse, yourself.
I’ve yet to meet someone who has hurt, shamed or humiliated themselves into being a better, more worthwhile person, and I doubt I ever will.
My next piece of important advice: Wear an extra set of knickers over your tights. Not only does it help them to stay up, but it has the benefit of making you feel like a superhero. Yes, I’m living that advice right now.
And, no, I’m not going to show you.
Superheroes are very important to me. They helped me to survive, these adolescent power symbols. On one side, I imagined there was Wonder Woman, Ambassador of Peace, soothing me with kindness in a hostile world. On the other was my namesake, Jenny Sparks – yes, I got my name from a comic book character – smoking cigarettes that smelled like a gas can, yelling at strangers to sod off and mind their own business. I remember, six years ago, deciding I’d had enough.
Sometimes when people are asking for help they’re not actually asking for help; they’re asking for salvation, and that was me. Then, one day, I worked out that I had to do the work myself because nobody can reach into your head and reset the gears. It’s an internal system. The gears are more fiddly for some than others, but I managed. Finally, I bit the bullet and I started taking medication.
Medication is not for everybody – I don’t have to tell you this – but it was a miracle for me. I remember taking my first Xanax and passing out for fourteen hours. Anxiety accrues a massive sleep debt if you haven’t experienced anxiety. And, when I woke up my jaw was killing me and I couldn’t work out why. Later, I realized it was because I was walking around with an unclenched jaw for the first time in years. I was thirty when that happened.
Since then, I’ve learned to advocate for myself, to forgive myself for not being perfect, and to appreciate the people in my life. I’ve learned to believe the good things people say about me, to be critical of the bad, and to acknowledge honest, humble criticism.
I’ve gotten into the habit of telling my friends I love them, and I’m proud of them, and why, because it was so crucial when they did it for me. When I started all of this I had no idea the kind of person I would turn out to be. I never thought I’d be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the really awesome people we’ve got tonight, and I do feel a little bit humbled by some of the cool line-up we have, truly. You know, people of profound experience and achievement. And, side note: I never thought I’d be celebrating one year hosting a radio show, either. I’m pretty sure somebody would’ve snatched my other microphone away from me, or even this one if I ramble on enough.
I remember steeling myself, once upon a time, for a lifetime of rejection because the world is cruel to people like us. And, as a kid, knowing that I was a girl and that I liked girls, and sometimes not girls, and that losing my family was probably inevitable. I remember transitioning and expecting an onslaught, even if a part of me hoped it would be the cure to all my problems. It wasn’t. But who would have thought that with a little work, and by giving myself permission, I could love and be loved and, fuck, even be a little bit happy?
Now, I can see some of the future, and even in a more than imperfect world, I can still picture something better.
So, before I go some final words of advice. Advocate for yourself and others will be inspired to do the same. Learn to accept no for an answer. Accept all gifts that are given freely. Refuse all offered with condition and learn to tell the difference. Look after your teeth. Note to Self: See a dentist.
The only difference between you and the person who has done the thing is the doing. Caution may be wise, but never let fear make your decisions for you. And remember always, wear sunscreen.