Life, love and laughter

Tracy Barron loves the connections she makes as a volunteer with Uniting AgeWell.

By Cathy Withiel

The first thing that strikes you about Tracy Barron is her kindness and honesty – and the joy she feels from reaching out to others.

And the feisty 71-year-old Uniting AgeWell volunteer is happy to tell her life story just like it is, in the hope of encouraging people from all walks of life to accept and embrace who they are.

Tracy, who brings her special brand of humour and sunshine into the lives of the older people she chats with in her role as a volunteer with the organisation’s Social Connections program, has a heartfelt message she would like to share with ‘Crosslight’ readers.

“Don’t let anyone change you, each person is unique, so stay the same wonderful person that you are,” Tracy says.

She’s hoping this simple truth is timely, with Australia’s premier LGBTQIA+ event, the Midsumma Festival, running until February 11.

Tracy is also thrilled to have joined Uniting AgeWell at its stand at the Midsumma Carnival in Alexandra Gardens on January 21.

Tracy says volunteering enriches her life and she 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.

“I’m just me,” she says.

“I tell people they need to be true to themselves too, and if my story helps them, I am glad.”

So, over a cuppa, Tracy begins: “I’m a hermaphrodite,” she states, 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.

Tracy grew up in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, was raised as a girl and started school as Peta.

When she was seven, Tracy’s concerned parents sought advice from a psychiatrist, who concluded that her inverted male organs meant she was male.

Her parents 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, but I decided if I was going to have to live as a boy, I would become as masculine as possible,” explains Tracy.

Tracy worked in the engineering and building industries, took up boxing and got married.

She is single now and despite the pain of divorces, is hugely proud to have been a stepfather and to have fathered her own daughter, now aged 21, through IVF.

After having lived as a man for 58 years, Tracy took up modelling at the age of 65 and is now proudly wearing heels and dresses and is enjoying being the woman she has always identified as.

Tracy has dealt with, and overcome, much adversity and lives life with a zestful exuberance.

She has also been able to accept that she is one of the 1 per cent of the population who identifies as being asexual.

“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.”

Nine years ago Tracy took 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”.

These days, while lending her voice and experience to debunking myths around LGBTIQA+ and ageing, Tracy says she’s feeling healthy, and there’s a zest about her that is almost tangible.

She still adores clothes shopping.

“My record is buying 40 dresses from op-shops in one day,” she chuckles.

But even Tracy concedes it’s possible to have too many clothes, and she’s turned the lounge of her townhouse into a makeshift shop, with rails of clothes she’s selling.

Tracy has also volunteered as an LGBTQIA+ counsellor and also offers to take those identifying as such out on op-shop sprees.

She is also an advisor for Trans Victoria.

“I’m there to support them,” she says.

And she is delighted to be making a difference to the lives of older people through 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 in their homes or takes them on social outings.

“I enjoy talking to people, listening to their stories and helping make a difference,” she says.

“They say they feel upbeat after spending time with me, and I know people tend to open up to me.”

Tracy is also encouraging people to enrich their own lives, and those of others, by volunteering at Uniting AgeWell.

“Older people are from diverse backgrounds and life experiences,” she says, “so it’s good for volunteers to be as well.”

Tracy is not alone in enjoying volunteering with the Social Connections Program.
A recent survey of 300 Uniting AgeWell volunteers shows:
over 80 per cent are motivated by giving back to the community and meeting new people;
nearly 80 per cent of the volunteers are over the age of 50;
almost 100 per cent say they feel appreciated by the not-for-profit organisation; and
many have enjoyed building skills and continuing to grow as a person.

In her spare time, Tracy, who has a beautiful voice and loves singing, is a member of Sing Australia.
She is also a member of the Uniting Church.“The Uniting Church has always been so welcoming and embraces me, as just me,” she says.

Find out more about inclusion at Uniting AgeWell here

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