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We first met Ellie when she was known as Ethan, who was interviewed as part of our ‘Humans of Willoughby’ series after featuring in an award-winning documentary about his triumph over vision impairment. We subsequently learned of the many other strings to this young person’s bow: published author, actor, director, talented ice skater and swimmer. Then we learned that, just weeks after meeting him, Ethan would be transitioning to Ellie, and beginning a journey to her truer authentic self. Here is Ellie’s story, in her own words…


“My name is Ellie.

I was born 1999 in North Carolina in the United States. I was born with oculocutaneous albinism, and my name was Ethan. Some people know me as a blind person, some as a transgender girl, a teenager (and all that that entails), others as an ice skater, or a swimmer. Like everyone else who is so much more than we know them to be, I’m all these people and more.

This is a recount of my experiences being vision-impaired, gender-nonconforming and simply being human in so tumultuous a world as that in which we live today. It’s my attempt to share my experiences; what I’ve learned, who I am and who I hope I (and all of us) can be. I’m not special, not more so than anyone else when it comes down to it. I’m just lucky enough to have been given the chance to tell my story, such as it is so far.

People often ask me about my vision impairment, (a documentary about that aspect of my life is what sparked this article in the first place). Imagine intense light sensitivity, two images layered on top of one another and tunnel vision and you have a rough idea of what my world looks like. I often think about what kind of person I might be if I could see people’s faces clearly enough to read their expressions, or if I had the vision to ride a motorcycle. Would I be a better person? A worse person? Would people still perplex me so? How about math? Would I still hate math if I could make out what the teacher wrote on the whiteboard? Would I still write?

I took up swimming because it was the only sport I could think of that I could do with my vision. My vision never really bothered me; ball sports never interested me and I always thought there was something to like about wearing sunglasses 24/7 – it was something different, something unique that set me apart from the crowd. To me, ours is a world of conformity and that bothers me more than my vision ever did. Collars are worn down, not up (although they look much better up), school uniforms must be worn with the ugliest leather shoes conceivable and heaven forbid a woman (or a man for that matter) wear hot pink lipstick in the daytime. My sunglasses are almost as much a part of me as my hands or my hair – they (and my vision) were something different that I could take with me wherever I went.

*Images of Ethan rock climbing, swimming and ice skating, taken from award-winning film ‘Ethan’ by former Chatswood High School student, Ramon Samson.

And speaking of conformity… the next thing people notice about me is my gender identity, which of course comes with its own slew of seemingly never-ending questions. When did I know? How did I know? How do people react? How did my family react? Who knows? Who doesn’t know?

I first imagined life as a girl at the age of five when, at a friend’s house, I tried on a fairy costume, heels and wings. I sparkled like a chandelier on legs – I thought it was the most spectacular thing, almost magical in its brilliance. Shortly thereafter I became fascinated by fairies and then mermaids. The Little Mermaid was my favourite movie, and I tried over and over to grow out my hair which would inevitably get cut sooner or later every time. Unfortunately, transgenderism was more unusual in those days than it is today and I don’t think it even crossed my parents’ minds that I might have fancied a switch in genders. In fairness to them, I didn’t really get it either, I fancied being a girl, it wasn’t until I found out about the concept of “transgender” that I realized I didn’t want to be a girl, I was a girl, on the inside, very, very deep inside. I was also pansexual but I never really paid that much attention, as my grandmother put it “everyone seems to be nowadays”. This of course, only came about following an intense existential crisis to which teenagers are rather prone.


*Photographed four months apart, Ethan (Photo: Kirsten Delaney) and Ellie (Photo: Ron Irving)

In seventh grade I bought my first wig and set of girls’ clothes. I came out to the first person several months later and my parents soon after that (by accident). Being something of a surprise, things grew… heated, and I found my way back into the proverbial closet for another six months, which is when they found out inadvertently a second time. Surprising even myself, I found my way back to that oh so warm and cozy closet for another six months before coming out to them one final time on board a cruise ship on New Year’s Eve. Being a cruise ship, none of us had anywhere to run. I started psychological therapy three months later and transitioned officially in school on October 31, 2016.

Now as with any other aspect of someone’s identity with stereotypes attached to it, people have expectations of what it’s like to be me. For example, I was supposed to be this tortured soul before I transitioned, never quite fitting in or living happily until I became who I was meant to be. As much as it pains me to admit it, that stereotype is mostly true. But not only did I live as Ethan for many, many years, but by and large I thrived, and I enjoyed life in spite of the dysphoria.

Now people have different expectations again. I’m supposed to have been a repressed female for all my life, so now I’m supposed to embrace all that is feminine – extravagant shopping sprees for clothes and handbags, moving through the world with grace, and my action figure collections are apparently destined for the rubbish bin. The truth is, that’s not me, that’s a caricature of a woman, a cardboard cut-out that should have been left behind in the 1900s. I LOVE my action figures, childish and “masculine” as it may seem, I play with them every day, I see every new superhero movie that comes out, I still play video games and do martial arts. I’m a female, yes, but I’m also me.

*Two of the self-published science fiction books by Ethan Parker Bailey.

A lot of people ask me how difficult it was, and how I coped. The truth is that when you really want something that badly, in my experience anyway, you don’t really need to cope. While walking through a train carriage a boy called out “Yo, that’s a man you know”, and if anything it was nothing more than mildly amusing. I suppose the people around me certainly helped. The Spectrum Social Group for LGBTIQ {Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning} at the Chatswood Youth Centre, and occasional jaunts to Transtopia {a monthly group for transgender and gender questioning youth between the ages of 14 to 19} further south were all I ever really needed.

We live in a world today viewed through a lens of cynicism and irony, of suspicion and in many cases, outright hate. I see something different, and it was transitioning and coming out to so many people that cemented this view to me. My parents, from the start, were terrified for me, even more so in the weeks leading up to my transition at school. This is fair enough of course; parents are supposed to worry about their children, just as teenagers are supposed to begrudge them for their concern. But they worried needlessly. The first few weeks of my transition were some of the happiest of my life, and the way so many people have been so supportive (upon my transition my drama teacher declared me a “bold and beautiful person”) and showed me what I’d hoped for so many years now, that people are better than we give them credit for. Life’s not a struggle for me; in fact, life’s never been better. That’s certainly not the universal experience for transgender people, but it’s my experience, and though it’s not as inspiring or as dramatic a tale as if someone had tried to stab me on the North Shore Line one morning, or if I had been expelled from school, fired from my job or discriminated against in some unbelievable way, I think in some ways it’s a good thing. The world is moving forwards (broadly speaking), and if you just have the courage to show your true self to the world you might be surprised at the kindness the world shows you.

For years, not just when I started transitioning but since I first became cognizant of myself as a person, I felt like I was being pulled in a dozen directions. If there’s one thing that everything I’ve done so far (admittedly it’s only been seventeen years) has taught me, it’s that it’s only when you decide for yourself who you want to be, and be that person, whoever it is, that you’ll be truly happy. It’s a cliché but it’s true. As another of my teachers said “you have to make a meaning in your life.” When you wear what you want, say what you mean and act as you believe you should that’s when you feel like you and there’s no better or more authentic feeling in the world.”


The documentaries mentioned above are ‘Ethan‘ and ‘Impossible‘ and were part of the Focus on Ability Film Festival, which, in 2016, received 194 entrants from 18 countries.

Chatswood Youth Centre: (02) 9777 1062
Transtopia Youth Support Group: (02) 9519 7599