By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
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By Erin Sherbert
Newsom's spokesman, Nathan Ballard, said the mayor chose Sparks because he was impressed by her leadership and consensus-building skills on the police commission. "She's intelligent, hard-working, and thoughtful," Ballard wrote in an e-mail. "The mayor was convinced that she was the right choice for the job."
But what political insiders are whispering about most these days is the news that Sparks is "heavily leaning toward" running for supervisor in District 6, which includes SOMA and the Tenderloin. If she won, she wouldn't be the first openly transgender elected official: According to the database of the Victory Fund, a political action committee dedicated to getting LGBT people in office, there are transwomen serving as an elected alderwoman in tiny Centralia, Mo., and as a state school board member in Hawaii. Robert Haaland, a transgender man, is an elected member of San Francisco's Democratic County Central Committee.
Yet in a city as symbolic for LGBT people as San Francisco is, Sparks has the potential to become for transgender America what Harvey Milk became for gays.
Sparks scoffs at the comparison. "Harvey Milk was a real hero and groundbreaker; I don't see myself that way," she says. "If I ran for supervisor, I wouldn't be running under identity politics, but on issues, and because I love this city. I'd run in spite of being transgender, not because of it."
Don't cue the motion picture just yet. Sparks just moved into her new apartment at Van Ness and Turk in District 6 last weekend and, as of press time, still hadn't officially announced her candidacy.
The move meant leaving behind the Nob Hill flat that has been Sparks' home for the past decade. At first glance on a recent visit, it looked like the abode of a conservative spinster: dark wood, Persian rugs, doll collection, black-and-white photos of her grandparents from Missouri. But then there was the collection of vibrators arranged just so on the hallway shelves, a remnant from her days at Good Vibrations. On the wall, an SFPD jacket commemorating her time on the police commission hung next to a trucker's jacket she had re-embroidered from her former name to read "Theresa." The jacket is one of the only remaining possessions from Sparks' life as "he." (Sparks says she prefers to be called "he" for the years she lived as a man.)
So when did he know? Sparks always knew, but at first he didn't have the word to name it. Growing up in the post-WWII suburbs of Kansas City, Kan., the young Sparks realized secretly slipping into his mother's clothes didn't really fit into the delineated gender roles of his Leave It to Beaver upbringing with a salesman dad and stay-at-home mom.
Sparks read stories about Christine Jorgensen, the first widely publicized transsexual woman the press salivated over in the 1950s. But Sparks wouldn't actually recognize himself until he sneaked off to the University of Kansas branch library in high school to look up the word in the card catalog, which led him to a scientific volume from Johns Hopkins' gender clinic. His curiosity led him to thumb through porn magazines at an adult bookstore on Skid Row: "Shemale." "Chicks with dicks."
"I knew it wasn't right," Sparks says. "I knew it wasn't accepted. I knew I would be rebuked."
So Sparks convinced himself it would just go away if he attempted to lead a normal male life. He was a demolition worker in high school. He enlisted in the Navy, pushing papers on a boat in the Atlantic. In his early 20s, he got married (to a woman who, yes, he was attracted to) and raised two sons and a daughter. But his gender identity issues continued. He would wait until his wife left for work, then put on her clothes instead of heading to his engineering classes at Kansas State University.
Sparks' secret eventually became too big to hide. After nine years of marriage, he told his wife. "I just said I was cross-dressing, and I don't know what's going on, and I'm going to seek counseling. It was a six-hour discussion, a seven-hour discussion. It's literally like going in and telling people you're gay or you've got some serious disease." She kicked him out that day.
Months later, Sparks moved to California for a job overseeing construction at a refinery in Fontana he had designed as a recycling technology consultant in Kansas. He didn't come to California to come out. After seeing the disastrous results of revealing his confusion about his gender, his shame had only mounted. His resolve to "fight this thing" hardened. He twice drove to see a psychologist in Los Angeles he hoped would cure him, zapping him "I'd rather not say" where with electric shocks "because they thought [the problem] was sexual."
While Sparks' personal life fell apart, his professional life took off. He was promoted to president of the recycling division for a Netherlands-based company. When in Paris on business trips, he would visit the red-light district where the transwomen hung out and splurged on women's clothes that he'd wear in his hotel room, later shoving them into a plastic bag he'd drop in a public trash can before leaving. Binge and purge.