Manitoba

Transgender singer breaking new ground on First Nations

Aalayna Spence is singing in Treaty Days talent competitions across the north this month. She says at first she wasn't allowed to compete because she is transgender.

Aalayna Spence says at first organizing committees didn't know which gender category she should compete in

Aalayna Spence, who is a transgender woman, says she had to fight for her right to compete in the female category in singing competitions on First Nations. (Aalayna Spence)

Aalayna Spence is singing in Treaty Days talent competitions across the north this month. She says at first she wasn't allowed to compete because she is transgender.

"I called and they said no," explained the 21-year-old. "They asked me, 'What does it say on your ID?' I said for the time being, male. They said, 'We can't have you singing in the female category.'"

Spence said she was devastated by the decision.

"I essentially felt that I was being denied my right to sing and sing where I felt comfortable." 

Aalayna Spence has been singing on stage since she was 10 years old. She says it saved her life while she was struggling with depression and with her identity. (Ingrid Mir Iniesta)
Spence is from Nelson House. She began her transition from male to female in 2013.

She said a lot of people in First Nations communities don't understand what it means to be transgender. She said that is why she called both Norway House and Cross Lake to let them know who she is.

"My mom didn't want me to have to go through any flack just in case say I won or if I placed," said Spence. "She didn't want me to have to step down just because some ignorant people complained."

Spence said she has been bullied since she was a child. She said that experience has given her the strength to fight for who she is and what she thinks she deserves.

With the help of her HR specialist, both communities changed their minds and allowed her to compete in the female category at their Treaty Days talent shows.

"I felt on top of the world, It was a small victory; but for me it was the biggest victory of my life," said Spence.

 "I wholeheartedly believe I was meant to transition," she added.

"As hard as it is, I believe my mission in life to bring forth a generation of acceptance and tolerance for everybody. Not just for the LGBT community, but for everybody."

Spence already competed in Cross Lake last weekend and said it was a great experience. She competes in Norway House on Saturday night.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jillian Taylor

CBC Reporter

Jillian Taylor has been with CBC Manitoba since 2012 and has been working as a journalist for nearly 15 years. She was born and raised in Manitoba and is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation. In 2014, she was awarded the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's travel bursary, which took her to Australia to work with Indigenous journalists. Find her on Twitter: @JillianLTaylor

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