Tru Wilson looks and acts like a typical 12-year-old girl - her eyes light up as she talks animatedly about her friends, shopping and her excitement over moving on to high school next year.
There is one thing, however, that sets her apart from other girls her age. She was born a boy.
Wilson's story has been in the spotlight over the past month after she was named to Vancouver Magazine's Power 50 list - a list of the 50 most powerful people in Vancouver - and featured on the magazine's cover.
Mom Michelle Wilson says being on the list gives the family a platform to share their story and a chance to raise the profile of transgendered people.
"At first I thought, we need to be doing more to warrant being on the list because you look at the other people on the list and it's like David Suzuki and Rick Hansen, and we're just a little family in Ladner," Michelle says. "It was really nice to think that having Tru on the list, I think, reflects where we are as a society and this issue of trans and how it's being talked about more and more. People are really thinking about the impact it has. I think it's like the human rights movement of our era right now."
The family's goal is to keep talking about it until there isn't a reason to talk about it anymore. "I want to start public speaking," Tru says. "It's really fun. It's really fun because the more you talk about it, the less of an issue it becomes."
"We want it to become so part of the norm that it's not an issue to talk about anymore," adds her mom. "The only way that can happen is if we talk about it and talk about it and talk about it and talk about it and share stories that are really personal."
Born Trey Wilson, Michelle says they suspected something was different about Tru from an something was different about Tru from an early age. early age.
"I would say pre-school was when we started really noticing the preferences that were geared towards your stereotypical girl preferences," she says.
Tru preferred playing with dolls rather than trucks and cars. There was a lot of role playing in female characters, dressing up as a fairy and pretending to have long hair.
Michelle and husband Garfield spoke to the preschool teacher about Tru's behavior and were told at such a young age it's not a flag for anything; kids are just curious and try things out.
"And then it progressed and kept getting stronger and stronger, and every chance she had to dress up she was wearing a dress and fairy wings," says Michelle. "As soon as I got home, I would put on my favourite fairy wings, my favourite sparkly dress, my favourite wig," Tru says.
Michelle says it was at this point she started doing some research and found a U.S. study on gender and kids. The study, she says, found that up until age seven kids are gender fluid and play with whatever they want. It's at age seven they become more aware of the gender divide and start leaning to one side or the other. It went on to say that for girls to persist in male-style - typically called tomboy - behavior isn't as much of a trigger.
"It's acceptable for girls to be tomboys," says Michelle. "Who wouldn't want to be masculine and tough? But for boys to persist in [feminine] behavior, it usually is an indicator of something more."
The study found boys that persist in more feminine behavior between the ages of seven and nine have a higher chance of being gay and within that a really small percentage have a likelihood of being transgendered.
"We just thought that, 'Oh, Trey's probably gay," Michelle says.
At that point the couple wasn't on the same page on how to support their child, she says, and started seeing a psychologist. The first one they saw as a couple wasn't convinced anything was going on. Then they started seeing a family counsellor.
"We talked to her ourselves and Tru started talking to her on her own," Michelle says. "Just talking about feelings and emotions and what was going on inside, and having a safe place for Tru because she was always really worried about us and worried about how we were reacting. It was like she was slowly feeding us little bits of information to see how we would react."
She says Tru would say things like, "I'm half boy/half girl. I'm a boy on the outside but I'm more girl on the inside."
However, it was in a session with the counsellor that Tru started to reveal more of what she was really feeling. Something that she's always felt.
"I just considered myself a girly-boy or something like that, and I thought that was just me, but it was always kind of off," she says. "There was always something that was kind of off and I was always so shy."
"It was when we were talking with Tanya that Tru said, 'Well, I actually want to spend more time as a girl and can I spend the summer as a girl.'"
At this point, the Wilsons knew something more was going on.
"We went to see a psychologist who specializes in gender issues with kids and got an assessment done and we had the Summer of Trey," Michelle says. "She was just able to be herself, we didn't correct anyone. We got girl clothes. She got to pick what she wanted to wear, it was longer hair, we didn't correct people if they called her 'her.'"
At the same time, they watched some shows about gender and sexuality.
"We watched a show about kids with gender diversity and there were a couple of kids in there that were trans... and after the show Tru just broke down and she started crying and said, 'Oh my God, that's me. I'm not a boy, I'm a girl."
There was no denying it anymore, Michelle says, adding the psychologist had also diagnosed Tru with gender dysphoria - when someone feels their emotional and psychological identity is the opposite of their biological sex.
Once the family recognized what was going on, Tru's official transitioning began just before her 10th birthday. One of the first orders of business was a shopping trip.
"That was amazing," Tru says with a wide smile. "I got my first girl shirt. I got my first skirt. I got my first tights, a headband, hair elastics. It was really amazing."
Michelle says there were also concerns and many questions as the couple started telling friends and family what was going on. They didn't know how people would react.
"The most surprising comment was from the children, who said, 'Oh, well that makes sense," says Garfield, adding there were a lot of nerves around telling people, especially his family.
His family is Jamaican and the culture is known as being extremely, and sometimes violently, homophobic.
"I was more than a little nervous talking to my family, my parents, brother and sister... It was a very nerve-wracking and a very emotional conversation but I was blown away by the love and support I received from immediate family," he says. "Michelle and I were prepared to close chapters on relationships if we had to just to support Tru to make sure that she was emotionally safe and felt good about everything that was going forward. That was really important to us to be strong as a family."
The family received nothing but love, support and understanding from most friends and family.
"The best thing that I heard from Garfield's dad was he said, 'You know, we don't understand but she's our grandchild and we're going to learn.'"
The Wilsons did, however, run into resistance at school. Tru and her younger brother Jude were attending Ladner's Sacred Heart School. When the family approached the school about Tru's transition and her wish to be seen as a girl at school, they were told no.
While at school she had to wear the boys' uniform, use the boys' bathroom and when classes were divided up by sex, she was made to be part of the male group. She had changed her name to Tracey, but the school still referred to her as Trey.
She was living as a girl in all other aspects of her life - at home, at dance and basketball.
"For six hours [five days a week] I had to pretend I was someone else," she says. "It was frustrating."
The family fought, but the school wouldn't budge.
Michelle says she remembers crying in her car in the grocery store parking lot following a meeting at the school.
"We weren't naïve thinking it was going to be bells and roses but we had to try," she says. "We expected compassion. We had to try."
The Wilsons made the decision to withdraw Tru from Sacred Heart and move her to Ladner Elementary. Michelle says at the time she met with the principal to explain the situation prepared for a fight but found nothing but support.
"The school has been absolutely amazing."
In 2013, the family launched a human rights complaint against Sacred Heart and Catholic Independent Schools Vancouver. As a result Catholic Independent Schools Vancouver last year crafted a policy around gender expression and gender dysphoria that states where a family makes a request for accommodation of gender dysphoria, the administration should respond "in a prompt and supportive manner."
Three years after transitioning, and with a new name, Tru is happy that her outside, and how people see her, matches how she feels on the inside. The changes aren't just physical.
"We used to think that the world would just eat her up because she wore her heart on her sleeve and she would cry at the smallest little infractions from people who would be mean to her and since she's transitioned she's the strongest person I know," Michelle says. "She blossomed."
"I've become so courageous and I just love how much I've come out of my shell and it feels so good to stand up for myself," says Tru. "I don't have to be afraid all the time anymore. I wear my heart with an iron guard but I can open the gates for someone that I trust."
Garfield and Michelle say the family is lucky to live in a community that has accepted their daughter.
"There are people that we know who are having to fight with their schools just to have their kids go to the bathroom... some kids aren't going to the bathroom all day and getting bladder infection after bladder infection or wetting themselves because they don't feel safe going to the bathroom," Michelle says. "Even to send a kid to the nurses' bathroom or the handicapped bathroom is targeting them. You're other. You're something different. You don't belong with us. That's horrible. "I can't reiterate enough how fortunate we feel to live here. It's huge. We hear time and time again of stories of families who feel rejected and alienated and kids are suicidal because they're not getting the support they need and we are so lucky to be here."
"We absolutely love the Ladner community," Garfield says.
With the diagnosis of gender dysphoria, Tru's birth certificate and all her identification now say female.
"The only people that need to know physically what is up are her doctors," Michelle says. Tru is currently on hormone blockers to prevent the surge of testosterone that typically comes around this age.
"All that does is just hit the pause button and stops testosterone from entering her body," Michelle says, adding there are no side effects or long-term impacts and she will start taking female hormones between 14 and 16, and will then go through female puberty.
"I'm going to stay a kid for a while," Tru says.