My Love Letter To Sporty Spice, My Queer Idol Before I Knew I Needed One
Dear Sporty Spice,
Today I was flicking through channels when something life-changing happened: I saw you and the other Spice Girls running through the street, taunting people, teasing the rich and making a ruckus. It was fun and flirty. I didn’t know what flirty was, and I wasn’t rich, but I could recognize a good time when I saw it. Laughter, hair flips, bright colors and flamboyant costumes — this was the most fun I had ever seen anyone have. What was this madness? It swallowed me. I was engorged. I was—
“Jill, what are you watching?” My mom stormed in—she could sense me watching MTV from a mile away. I didn’t mean to land on MTV. I didn’t mean to land on you. But I’m glad I did. She yanked the remote away and turned on Rugrats. I hated being scorned. I hated feeling like I was disappointing my mom. All I ever wanted in this life was my mom and dad’s approval. But today, only one thing could satiate me more than that: music.
As soon as she closed the door behind her, I hammered down on the remote and relished in the cultural epoch: it was the moment I discovered music, the moment I discovered choices, individuality, personality, girl power — the moment I discovered you. Soon after, you became the fifth family member in my household. Your first album, Spice, went platinum many times over in the UK, where half of my family lived. Once my British aunt called my mom and explained what was going on across the pond, my mom was on board. My mom was protective, but she knew that quarantining me from the Spice Girls would have been an act of war.
Halloween 1998: I had to be you for Halloween. My little sister would be Baby Spice because she was the baby and had blonde hair. She liked your music, but shit, she was only three. She had no clue what it was to idolize someone; to treasure them and what they represent so much that you need to embody it.
You and I were parallel. I was the tomboy in school — the only tomboy. I was made fun of. I had only boys for friends. I wore backwards Yankees baseball caps and cut-off sleeves and Adidas track pants. I played every sport I could get my nubby hands on, mostly tee-ball. You were the first time I ever saw someone like me — and not just on TV, in real life. I identified with you.
But things changed. No one stays young and profoundly themselves forever. As I got older I was made fun of. I learned the word “dyke.” I was called a “lesbian.” I went to middle school and I couldn’t live my truth. I had to stop playing so many sports. I needed to dress girlier, accept the pink clothing, try on a dress. I needed girl friends. Without them I would suffer even more. I figured out the fast track to girl friends: blending. When I went to high school, something in me told me I needed to dissociate myself from you. I couldn’t identify with something so athletic, which translated into something gay, which translated into something strange and abnormal.
For my sixteenth birthday, my parents took my best friends and I to see your reunion tour. I had waited my entire life to see you in concert, live in the flesh, to confirm that you were real. To see your bicep tattoo in person was the pinnacle of my existence.
As I got older I was made fun of. I learned the word “dyke.” I was called a “lesbian.” I went to middle school and I couldn’t live my truth. I had to stop playing so many sports
When the day came I was sick with bronchitis and the flu. I still went. We all dressed up. I dressed as Baby Spice. Baby was my “favorite” now. But not for the same reasons I loved you. Maybe I was fooling my friends by pretending I identified with her. I did love her, but it wasn’t because I identified with her. I was attracted to her.
I dressed as Baby Spice. Baby was my “favorite” now … but it wasn’t because I identified with her. I was attracted to her.
Once I was out as someone who liked girls, I was out. The emotions gushed out of the floodgates and the little girl who used to be there found a home in me again. She pulled back the veil, peeked her ponytailed head out, retreated, and finally got the courage to stick her peanut leg out. Then her arm, then her torso. Then she showed her face. She was still sporty. She still liked backwards hats and cut-off tees. She still liked soccer and tennis. And she liked girls now.
The way I feel about you, Mrs. Sporty Spice, is the way I know kids today will feel about Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann. You were my first queer idol and it took me almost 20 years to realize it. You showed me it was OK to be myself. You were there, taking up space, dressing the way you did, and that was important.
You were my first queer idol and it took me almost 20 years to realize it. You showed me it was OK to be myself.
You molded me and aimed my earliest developmental years in the direction they needed to go. Sure, I lost a few years to homophobia and high school. But honestly, I don’t know if I ever would’ve been able to go back, back to my truest form in the days when you usurped our household, if not for you.
Maybe dressing that way and falling into a stereotype or a typecast for years to follow might’ve sucked. I don’t know how you truly felt about that “character” or if it was really you. Maybe it was a persona, an exaggeration. But it was me. It was us. I love you. I’m sorry, that was weird. What I meant to say is, fuck it, I love you. Let me know if you ever dump your husband.