ABOVE: An excerpt from Tracey Wilson’s interview with 16X9. Tracey was born a boy, but has identified as a girl.
For Tracey Wilson, who is ten now, her struggle is making sure people see her the way she does. She is transgender; born a boy, but has identified as a girl for as long as she can remember.
READ MORE: 10-year-old transgender child fights to have gender removed from birth certificate
“He would take my scarves and wrap them around his head to make flowing hair, or he would put on shirts as dresses,” remembers her mom, Michelle Wilson. Tracey was born “Trey” and is the oldest of their three children.
Tracey is enrolled in tap, ballet and musical theatre dance classes. Her bedroom is decorated with dolls, her favourite pair of high heels and a bass guitar. Her hair passes her shoulders and she is often nervously playing with a barrette. But most startling, her big brown eyes reveal a maturity and sensitivity beyond her years that is also little intimidating.
“Sometimes I wish that I was just a girl, just a normal girl so I wouldn’t have to go through all of this.”
Tracey’s parents, Michelle and Garfield, struggled at first to come to terms with their little child, initially thinking that Trey was simply gay. It put a strain on their marriage as they wondered how much to allow Trey to express himself. But after seeking professional help and learning that their son was transgender, the couple embraced their new daughter.
“I never looked back I really didn’t. It changed my relationship with Tracey it completely changed it,” explains Garfield. “I felt like I was holding onto something that wasn’t there.”
Trey dressed and lived as a girl at home, at dance class and with her friends. But soon that wasn’t enough.
Towards the end of Grade 3, Tracey decided to be honest with her mom and tell her the whole truth. “I told her, mom, I’m really going to trust you now and I want to be a girl. Not just a girl a lot of the time and a boy sometimes, I want to be a full-time girl.”
Being a “full time girl” included school. That’s where things got sticky. Tracey was attending Sacred Heart, a semi-private Catholic School and the Wilsons notified the school of Tracey’s wish.
The school said “no.”
“I wanted to use the girl’s bathroom, I wanted to have the girl’s uniform,” says Tracey, clasping onto one of her favourite dolls. “I didn’t know it would all come to this.”
“This” is a human rights complaint that Tracey and her parents have launched against Catholic Independent Schools Vancouver and Sacred Heart Elementary for not allowing Tracey to be “Tracey.”
It is the first time a school board will go in front of a tribunal for transgender issues.
Instead of letting Tracey use the girl’s bathroom the school allowed Tracey to use the handicapped bathroom. But the school wouldn’t approve a name or uniform change, saying they did not have a policy for allowing it.
“This is an emerging issue it’s certainly an issue that’s come to the forefront over a number of years and it’s a very complex issue,” Doug Lauson, superintendent of the Independent Catholic School Board of Vancouver, explains. “The position of the Catholic church is that… you live your life in the sex that God gave you.”
Outside of the theological argument, sex is determined at birth, but gender is not defined until around age three, according to most doctors. Sometimes sex and gender match, sometimes they don’t, often they lie somewhere on a spectrum. Girls don’t have to like pink and not all boys like trucks.
Lauson continues saying that the whole purpose of a Catholic School is to support the Catholic faith. They are researching the various medical studies concerning transgender youth, but have not come to any definitive conclusions.
That medical research reveals conflicting information on whether allowing a child to express the gender they desire is detrimental to their health. Lauson says some children even change their minds when they become older, reverting to their original gender. But of all the numbers and facts tossed around one is clear, 40 per cent of transgender youth will attempt suicide.
To the Wilsons, it is not a medical issue. It is personal. “We just think it’s fear and it sucks. And it’s so wrong and everyone says well what did you expect? I expected compassion, I expected a community that talks about love and acceptance to actually show love and acceptance like I don’t think that’s so strange,” weeps Michelle.
“When they said that they couldn’t let me and that God doesn’t make any mistakes and if he made me a boy then I would have to stay a boy,” says Tracey. “I couldn’t even watch TV I was crying so much, I couldn’t read a book, I couldn’t do anything. Literally I just lay in my bed sobbing.”
Tracey’s human rights complaint is set to be heard this spring.
Don’t miss “Gender Identity” this Saturday at 7pm on 16X9.