Aalayna Spence embracing new life as First Nations woman
When 19-year-old Aalayna Spence examines herpast, she says she can’t believe how many goals she has achieved since she decided to live her life how it was supposed to be. Growing up in Manitoba, she now lives in Calgary and is embarking on a journey to live fully as a woman.
“I’ve always felt like a woman. When I was a kid I would put a towel on my head to imitate long hair,” says Spence, as she flips her long shiny black hair.
She was born a boy, the oldest of three children. Until recently, her family and friends knew her only as Jonathan. Spence points out, however, that her parents knew since early on, there was something different about their son.
Spence explains even though she felt she didn’t belong in her male body, she couldn’t live her childhood as a full-time girl due to the conservative town she was living in. She says she found herself hiding her real essence during her journey through adolescence. Spence recalls having to deal with bullying as far back as she can remember.
“I was very suicidal. There were times where I would write letters to my family saying goodbye because that’s how bad the bullying was.”
Spence explains that music was her main gateway to control her anxiety levels. She says she often performed in school events. But she also recalls people in the audience smiling mockingly. She says for a long time, tormentors eclipsed her will to move forward.
About five years ago, Spence says she woke up and felt differently. She made a decision; nothing was going to bother her anymore.
Living and studying at the University in Calgary, she adds a psychiatrist has supported her since December.
“Sometimes I wake up and think, why was I born,” Spence says. Why am I still here? This little voice never goes away.” However, her desire to keep on showing the world who she has become is outgrowing her fears.
“I feel that when people are talking about me it’s not my problem. It is something they have to deal with, it’s not my energy, ” she says.
Photo by Ingrid MirWhen Spence came to Calgary, she says she felt a little bit lost in terms of meeting new people. She realized that she was not the only one who was struggling with her emotions. Spence was introduced in-person to RuPaul a well-known drag queen, and that’s when she got started doing more professional performances.
Spence says she found out who she was meant to be while on the stage.
“Music is what literally saved my life.”
SUPPORT FOR TRANSGENDER PEOPLE
The Calgary Outlink Centre is a place that provides support services to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (GLBT). The cooperative, funded 30 years ago, encourages community members to feel good with who they are. Since rates of suicide are higher in the transgender community, Calgary Outlink provides group meetings every week..
Brett Mason, executive director and support worker at Calgary Outlink, says that transgender First Nations people are at even higher risk than other communities.
“It’s really tough for First Nations people to get through this, as most of them have experienced violent experiences before due to racism, especially in North America.”
According to GLBT Student Services office of the Colorado State University, trans people need support in developing a sense of self and wholeness, which is made harder because most come from straight families. Some parents find that acknowledging trans children’s disconnect with the bodies they were born into can be disconcerting and shocking.
Mason says it’s important that people have support.
“Parents join our support services by own initiative or just because someone recommend them to come to Calgary Outlink,” says Mason.