Meeting Tracy Barron, you cannot help but be struck by her kindness and honesty.
During Pride Month, which is celebrated each June, the feisty 71-year-old volunteer at Uniting AgeWell is telling her life story just like it is, in order to encourage people from all walks of life to accept and embrace who they are.
Following hard on the heels of National Volunteer Week, Tracy is also using this opportunity to encourage people to enrich their own lives – and those of others – by volunteering. “Older people are from diverse backgrounds and life experiences,” she says, “so it’s good for volunteers to be as well.”
And so over a cuppa, Tracy begins: “I’m a hermaphrodite,” she says, explaining how she has lived with all that comes with having both male and female organs, including having prostate cancer while experiencing menopausal symptoms a few years ago.
Although Tracy has lived as both a man and a woman, the core of who she is remains unchanged. She’s Tracy. The compassionate volunteer who loves bringing her special brand of infectious humour and sunshine into the lives of older people.
“I enjoy talking to people, listening to their stories and helping make a difference,” says Tracy, who is proud to be part of an organisation that has inclusion as one of its core values and which champions and celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community.
She volunteers with Uniting AgeWell’s Chat-A-Ring program where she regularly chats to an older person on the phone and in another program where she visits older people at their homes or takes them on social outings.
“They say they feel upbeat after spending time with me,” says Tracy. “I know people tend to open up to me.”
With good reason. Tracy has the wonderful ability to see people just as they are – regardless of their sexual orientation or whether they identify as male or female, both or neither.
After having lived as a man for 58 years, Tracy is now proudly wearing heels and dresses and is enjoying being the woman she has always identified as. Back to that little girl with long hair in a swirly dress before she underwent surgery, had testosterone therapy and re-emerged in the world as a boy.
A long journey
Tracy grew up in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, was raised as a girl and started school as Peta. Then aged seven, her concerned parents sought advice from a psychiatrist who concluded that her inverted male organs meant she was male. Based on the thinking of the time, her parents acted on his advice, and took the difficult decision for her to undergo surgical intervention and drug therapy to enhance her masculinity, sending her back to school as Peter.
“It was hard,” says the beautifully dressed woman, who reinvented herself as Tracy when she was finally able to ‘come out’ as a woman in later years. “I’ve always felt like a girl because I am one. But in between, I decided if I was going to have to live as a boy, I would become as masculine as possible.”
And that’s what Tracy did. When she finished school she joined the Australian Defence Force where she worked as a technical engineer. After that she became a building manager. “I even took up boxing,” explains Tracy.
Tracy is single now and despite the pain of divorces, is hugely proud to have been a step-father and to have fathered her own daughter, now aged 21, through IVF.
“I have given and received a lot of love,” she says. “I’ve been blessed.”
And Tracy has also been able to accept that she is one of the one per cent of the population who identifies as being asexual.
Nine years ago Tracy retired to take on the biggest fight of her life. Prostate cancer. She was told the cancer was very aggressive, but with her usual optimism she thought, “There’s no way I’m going to die, I’ve got too much living to do.”
Making a difference
Tracy is a doer. She has volunteered as a LGBTQIA+ councillor and is an advisor for Trans Victoria, where she supports people to understand, accept, and be themselves.
“I tell them, ‘don’t let anyone change you. Stay the same wonderful person that you are. Each person is unique. You need to learn to love yourself.”
Over the years, Tracy has spoken publicly about her life. “Sadly many people still find it taboo to talk about these things,” she says “Especially older people, who were raised not to discuss anything like this.”
Living her best life
These days, Tracy is loving life and there’s a zest about her that is almost tangible. She took up modelling at the age of 65 and admits one of her favourite hobbies is retail therapy. “My record was buying 40 dresses from op-shops in one day,” she laughs.
Tracy also takes those identifying as LGBTQIA+ out on op-shop sprees. “I’m there to support them.”
But even Tracy admits that it’s possible to have too many clothes! She’s turned the lounge of her townhouse into a makeshift shop, with rails of clothes she’s trying to sell.
But will she use the money to buy more dresses? Her laugh is infectious. “Maybe!”
Tracy’s other love is singing. She’s in the church choir and is a member of Sing Australia. “The Uniting Church has always been so welcoming and accepting of me,” says Tracy. “They embrace me, as just me.”
In between all that, Tracy spends time at the library where she’s a member of the crocheting and scrabble groups, and also goes swimming as often as possible.
And she’s fighting fit these days!