A Few Minutes with Mickey Wilson

Local transgender pioneer & advocate Mickey Wilson talks about the struggles and triumphs of finally realizing his true self

by emil tiedemann

WHEN I look at a form with an ‘M’ and an ‘F’ option, I stroke them both out and write ‘T’ for trans,” admitted Mickey Wilson, executive director of the Pride Centre of Edmonton, and the first out trans masculine person in the city. “I refuse to enter into their binary gender politics. That’s not my problem; my problem is you haven’t prepared a place for my identity to exist.” 

Mickey Wilson is the Executive Director of the Pride Centre of Edmonton

Wilson won’t settle for anything other than what he believes is right, because he’s had to deal with a lifetime of sorting through the unimaginable complexities of being born into “a body that didn’t work” for him. That in itself could be seen as an insurmountable obstacle to overcome, but it was reality for Wilson, and one that included the burden of being disowned by his own family as well as repudiated by members of a community that didn’t quite get him. 

“I remember at the time of my transition I was working at the Interfaith Association of AIDS, in the days of the AIDS Network, Feather of Hope Aboriginal AIDS Society and Living Positive,” Wilson recalled. “We all worked together in one space. I was transitioning, and even in that seemingly enlightened environment of queer and queer-positive people, who were entrenched in the community in those days, there was a big kerfuffle over where I would go to the bathroom.

“Back in the early days I was in the feminist community, and I was looked at as a bit of a traitor,” he continued.  “I had ‘gone to the dark side.’ There were people who were upset with the fact that I would transition. They just didn’t understand. Trans people have been misunderstood and remain misunderstood in the LGBTQ+ community, and there is some transverse issues around the LGBTQ+ community being misunderstood by the trans community. But a real serious amount of education needs to happen. It wasn’t always easy, but I love that I’m trans.” 

Wilson with some of his friends from the local LGBTQ+ community

But this sort of exclusion started well before that, going as far back as Wilson can remember. 

“I think I recall once telling my mother when I was young that I wish I had been born a boy; and I recall her answer being, ‘Well, of course you can’t, that’s nonsense,’” he said.

“I think I always knew there was something amiss,” Wilson added. “My birth name, which will remain off record, was always a difficulty for me. I didn’t like it, ever; I just didn’t like it, and so when I was 12 I picked the name Mickey, and I started making people call me that. That was my nickname. I was a tomboy, so it was trucks and sand and tree climbing—all of that more rough-and-tumble stuff kids do.” 

Wilson at the 'Paint the Town Red' event

When he was an adolescent, Wilson was trying to figure out who he was, where he belonged, and he eventually came out as queer—“That was the word my father used when he threw me out of the house. I was 14.” 

From there Wilson engaged in the lesbian community, the only one that seemed to make any sense to him.

“Also not a great fit,” he remembered. “And I recognized that all the way through, because these relationships just didn’t work for me. People wanted to engage me as a woman, and I was very uncomfortable with my body. I didn’t know what that meant yet; there was just no visible box for me to look at and say, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s me.’” 
 
Some current & former staff members of the Pride Centre

Wilson became a truck driver and tried to dress in an androgynous or masculine way.

“When people would call me ‘sir’ when I was filling up with gas I would just have this amazing sense of ‘Ah’ inside,” he added. “But, still, I didn’t know what that meant, because there was no model out there for me to choose an identity from. There was no Internet available; we weren’t on the cover of magazines, we weren’t in the news. There was just nothing.” 

The exceptional frustration of finding his identity, a place where he could feel like he belonged, was taking its toll on Wilson, who began to drink heavily, use drugs and even cut himself. He attempted suicide half a dozen times, and he was in and out of the hospital for the depression and anxiety that is often typical for people in his situation. As is often the case with young people who can’t find a place they fit, Wilson decided to not fit in at all. 

Finally, he met Sharon Lindstrom, a therapist who listened to his stories and understood his struggles. It was during a conversation with her in which Wilson confessed that if he had just been born a boy, everything would’ve been different. It was a watershed moment for him. 

“Unpacking that, I didn’t know if I really meant I should’ve been born a boy or that I was unhappy being a girl, and as I sorted through that I realized this ‘thing’ that I was simply wasn’t OK,” he said. “I needed to be something else.”

Wilson is a regular at LGBTQ+ events around Edmonton

At the time, Wilson was a single parent (his son Justice was born in 1985) who relied on AISH, due to the paralyzing depression and anxiety that he dealt with as a result of the mental, emotional and physical struggles with his own identity. 

But his recent revelation ignited change in the course of his journey, one that included Wilson finding a job, finishing his education, and tending to his inner wounds. 

“It was just figuring out that the box I had been stuck in wasn’t the wrong box, but that it just needed some change,” he said.

His transition began near the end of 1993, at a time when being transgender was far out of the ordinary, but Wilson knew that it was the only option for himself. 

“I had to do this,” he admitted. “Once I did, I had some close friends that really supported me. I started binding back then, wearing Ace bandages and three shirts. I did that for years. And then I had to tell my son and my then partner and my best friend.”

It was four or five years after Wilson began transitioning that he realized it was not just his physical attributions that needed to be redefined, but also his sexual orientation. Following a get-together at a friend’s home, Wilson realized he was ready to admit to his partner that he was gay.

Wilson with Mr. Gay Canada Christepher Wee

“My first attraction, as a young person, had always been to men,” Wilson said. “But that [then] relationship was complicated by the discomfort with my body, so being with women seemed a bit easier, although not without immense complications, either. So I came out at 35 as gay.” 

His son was only about nine when Wilson began his transition. 

“When I told him he was really angry that I didn’t tell him first; he didn’t talk to me for three days,” Wilson added. “On the fourth day, I was having my coffee at the kitchen table, and he comes up and plops himself on the chair next to me and says, ‘Will this make you happy?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘Well, just do it!’ And that was the end of it.

“And he called me ‘Dad’ from that day forward, and never once made a mistake,” Wilson continued. “He was my greatest advocate!”

Wilson looks back even today and has no regrets about his life. 

“Seriously, if someone said that I could go back and be born male, I would say no! It’s just been such a fabulous journey that’s given me amazing insight,” he said. “I’ve seen the world from a variety of perspectives. So many different physical, emotional and psychological experiences. Had I not been born with that body I probably wouldn’t have had my son, I wouldn’t have had the many varied experiences that give me insight into what it’s like to be female in our society, to be a woman or a girl. I wouldn’t have insight into my own privileges as a male.

“I’ve had so many opportunities and worked in amazing spaces with amazing people,” Wilson continued. “Celebrating 35 years of Pride in Edmonton is fantastic, and I feel blessed to have been a part of Edmonton’s rich queer history.” 

Wilson and fellow LGBTQ+ advocate Murray Billett

Wilson’s had a storied history in this very community, spending 14 years as the minster at Lambda Christian Community Church, in addition to holding positions of chair and treasurer of the Edmonton Pride Festival as well as executive director at Interfaith. In 2003, he founded TTIQ (Transgender-Transsexual-Intersex-Questioning), the first mixed trans support group in Edmonton, and it remains active today. 

On a national level, Wilson was the prairies’ regional rep and first trans board member at Egale Canada, and he sat on the first national trans committee for eight years, including five years as chair. 

Wilson is proof that anyone can overcome momentous struggles, and transition into a role model for an entire community. 

“I love my journey—my whole journey,” he said. “I don’t believe I was born anything other than what I should have been born. I think I was born to be trans.”

Wilson runs into friends wherever he goes!

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