20. Tru Wilson

Student

November 17, 2015

By Staff / Photo: Evaan Kheraj

20-

Age: 12 | First Appearance

“I remember when I was in kindergarten, the teacher got a new dollhouse,” says Tru Wilson, a bright-eyed 12-year-old with shiny braces on her front teeth. “I started playing with the dolls, and one of my guy friends was like, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Playing with the dollies.’ He’s like, ‘But that’s not what boys do.’ And I’m thinking, yeah, but I’m not a boy.”

“At first we thought Trey was gay,” says Michelle Wilson, a graphic artist. She and her husband, Garfield, an actor and personal trainer, share their Ladner home with their three children and a dog. Having grown up in a Jamaican household in Edmonton, Garfield—macho and muscular—at first had trouble accepting that his son was not a little version of himself. Michelle was caught between not wanting her child to be bullied, and wanting her to be able to live as her true self.

One day Trey told his teacher at Sacred Heart elementary in Delta that he was “a girly-boy.” The vice-principal called Michelle and said, “We’re a little concerned with the language your son is using. You might want to tone that stuff down.”

Instead, understanding that Trey had gender dysphoria, the Wilsons began lobbying the school to let her attend as a girl. The school firmly refused. Garfield was polite and rational in the discussions, thinking that would yield the best results. Michelle got quietly furious that he was treating school officials with the respect and consideration they were failing to show their child. “There was a lot of stress,” says Garfield. “It put our marriage in a rocky place.”

“They kept asking for supporting material from doctors,” says Tru. “When we gave it to them, they’d ask for an opinion from a doctor they chose.” Then they wanted a third opinion. “Then they played the religion card,” says Garfield. Recognizing a transgender child, they said, would go against Catholic teachings. Tru was living as a girl at home, at her dance class, on her basketball team. “Then I had to go to school and pretend to be a boy.”

“We wanted her to be able to wear the girl’s uniform and they just shut us right down,” says Michelle. “I remember sitting in the parking lot after one meeting, bawling my eyes out, thinking, so this is what it’s going to be like.”

Tru transferred to a public school, and the Wilsons filed a human rights complaint. “We wanted a policy in place so that other kids wouldn’t have to go through what we did,” says Michelle. The Catholic School Board was finally pressured into developing such a policy; the Vancouver School Board was already working on one. Meanwhile, an interview on Global TV, which the family posted on Facebook, became a way to let everyone hear their story in a safe way. “We had no idea what the reaction would be,” says Michelle. “Would people shun us? Which friends would be left standing? Would we have to move?”

On the contrary. They were amazed by how open and supportive friends, family, and even strangers were. “It was overwhelming,” says Michelle. “Even Garfield’s parents, who are pretty traditional, said, ‘We don’t understand it, but we love you and support you.’” A year later, as the Vanouver Parks Board was developing a transgender policy, they asked Tru to be a poster child. A photo of Tru and her parents now appears on Parks & Recreation posters around in the city.

It wasn’t until the whole family was benefitting from therapy that they began taking comfort in the realization that normalcy and conformity don’t move the world forward. “If you look back,” says Garfield, “you see that people who make a real difference usually go through hardships along the way.”

Gender identity is the social-justice issue of our time, brought into focus, and media prominence, by the likes of Chelsea Manning, Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black, Jazz Jennings on the reality show I Am Jazz, Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair—and by a child at a Catholic School in Delta who knew she belonged in a girl’s uniform.

“I didn’t expect to be on posters and people recognizing me and making a difference for other kids,” says Tru. “I just wanted to be me.”

To see who else made 2015’s Power 50, click here >>

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