This past month Aalayna Spence, a 21 year of female from Nelson House competed in three talent shows in Cross Lake, Norway House and The Pas.
Spence is transgender and has been living as a female for the past three years, which brought a bit of conflict to the competitions in Cross Lake and Norway House. Spence emailed the committees before attending their competitions to let them know her story, and in a call back they said she couldn’t sing in the female category. “I finally got a call back from Cross Lake, and they asked me what it said on my ID. I was reluctant to tell them, because I hadn’t changed my name or gender on my ID. They asked me to sing in the male category. It was the same thing in Norway House, they basically said no. The Pas however didn’t have any gender categories.”
Spence noted that having them say no felt like they were taking away her right to be who she is. “I wasn’t going to degrade myself, so when I got off the phone with these people I felt like I was defeated and striped of my identity. I hung up the phone and I started to cry. I felt like I lost my dignity a little bit because what they said.”
Spence says she was shocked and disheartened because her community had grown so much since she went public with her transition, and she was surprised to deal with a situation like this so early in her transition.
Spence has been singing since she was two. She remembers her grandma singing country music to her in the back of the car, and ever since then music has been her saving grace. Professionally Spence has been singing since she was ten.
The young woman says she always knew she was different, ever since she was younger. Spence says she always gravitated towards dress up, tea parties, and Barbie dolls, but it was never easy to understand. The female says she’s dealt with a lot of bullying through her transition. “When I was 10 years old, I was going through a lot of bullying, and extreme depression. By the time I was 12 I was writing letters to my family saying goodbye, because that’s how extreme my depression was, and how harsh the bullying was.” Whenever Spence needed to escape the bullying and reality she would sing on of her favourite songs, which would take her to a safe place.
In the end Spence didn’t want to give up, so she went to chief and council for both communities and explained the situation, and the need to sing in the female category. “They said they have a lot to learn, and this isn’t going to be the first or last time someone like myself will come to them to compete in anything. The final decision was that I could sing in the female category, and it was a really great experience to have such a great victory behind me.”
Although Spence didn’t place in Cross Lake, she said the experience was something she’d never forget. “I went to Cross Lake, and I didn’t place, but I had an amazing outpour of support from the audience and people I never met told me I did an amazing job. In Cross Lake I had a good experience with a new fan, she called herself, she gave me $150 and she told me to put it towards my next competition. That made me feel on top of the world.”
Spence hopes sharing her story will help inspire and give hope to other transgender individuals in the north. When asked what she would tell others who have been dealing with bullying she says she never gave up, and others shouldn’t either. “I have been trying to find the words to help others who have been through what I have been through and no child should ever go through that. I wish I had someone like myself or activists such as Brielle Beardy in my early years to show me that it is okay to be your authentic self. I want LGBT Youth to be able to find the light in any dark situation, to be able to find their faith and to find something that will allow them to release their pain, because God knows learning to hate yourself because of what others think is a heavy cross to bear. It is okay to be who you are, stay true to yourself and what you believe in.”