All because Isabella Burgos was born a boy: The poison of bullying

Photograph by Benoit Paillé for an art installation in Aomori, Japan on bullying:

What could possibly possess an adult to bully an eight-year-old child? Bully her parents, too? And their school’s administrators and teachers? Because the child in question identifies as female, despite having been born with male sex organs?

Surely not. Surely no adult, whether or not a parent themselves, would be so cruel, so heartless, so devoid of compassion and understanding to do such a thing. And yet that’s precisely what one mother and her husband have been doing to Isabella Burgos and her parents and siblings, and to the administrators and teachers at their primary school in Winnipeg’s Transcona neighbourhood. All because Isabella was born a boy.


Bullying is a vile, pernicious behaviour all too common on playgrounds, in school classrooms and across various social media. Too often the bullying is dismissed as a rite of passage, or a “boys will be boys” phase that must be gone through. “It builds character,” say those who’ve never been bullied themselves.

Except it doesn’t build character. It isn’t a rite of passage. And it isn’t just between boys. Bullying is a behaviour that crosses age, gender and cultural lines. At its core it is abuse committed by someone more powerful towards someone less so.

In the last few years, Canada has seen a number of headline-grabbing incidents of such abuse; tragically, in every case, they ended with the teenaged victims, gay and straight, taking their own lives.

Think about that for a moment: Being so brutally, viciously, unendingly bullied by your peers, and feeling so alone, so isolated, so helpless to stop it you choose to end your own life.

But it need not be so. Bullying, after all, isn’t simply playground tom-foolery or Facebook nit-picking between kids; bullying is borne from the hate-filled crucible of prejudice, which is taught by bigoted parents, encouraged by political and religious zealots, rewarded by those gutless teachers and principals who sit idly by while it occurs on their watch by those in their care.


So why would a grown woman bully an eight-year-old girl? If bullying between children is despicable, surely bullying by an adult towards a child is even more heinous. But what sort of prejudice would drive an adult to bully a child simply because that child, born a boy, identifies as a girl? What could possibly foment such hatred?


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Yes, what else but religion is so utterly obsessed with sex, sexuality, gender and identity. What else but religion could possibly castigate someone for seeing themselves as something other than that which “God” ordained them to be. What else but religion could possibly convince an otherwise rational, thinking adult to spew hateful, knuckle-dragging epithets against a child, her parents, her siblings, her teachers. No, there’s no other possible explanation for the bullying Isabella Burgos has endured but religion.

Which makes this particular case all the more disgusting. Because it makes plain just how destructive, debilitating, deliberately cruel religion can be. For one of the hallmarks of religion of all sorts is its obsession with, and focus upon difference. Despite the overwhelming similarities that unite the human race, religion is devoted to exploiting, or worse manufacturing things that can be used to drive wedges between us. Be it the eucharist, or the sex organs between our legs.


Half a world away, adherents to an especially vile interpretation of Islam are butchering their way through Iraq and Syria. It would be a mistake to think what is going on in those countries is foreign to us here in Winnipeg; that it is the behaviour of religious zealots incapable of existing in an enlightened Western society like Canada’s. No, at their core, the murderous butchers that comprise the ranks of ISIS are inspired by the same sureness of faith that prompted the mother who bullied Isabella Burgos for being trans.

Not that religion has been invoked in any of the coverage about Isabella’s ordeal. Religion remains firmly off limits. Apparently, everyone is entitled to their opinion about the small matters of THE ORIGINS OF THE UNIVERSE and EVERYTHING THAT CAME AFTERWARD. Bizarrely, regardless of how outlandish, absurd or hurtful such opinions, religion is beyond reproach.


The prejudice inspired and encouraged by religion of all stripes has been and continues to be the most destructive, devastating force imaginable throughout human history. And what is going on in the Arab world today cannot, must not be dismissed as a Muslim problem. No, it is a religious problem, and one which is just as prevalent in Canada. And the agents of hatred here in Canada, like the mother bullying Isabella Burgos, adhere to the same sureness of faith and adherence to religion that inspire those ISIS monsters.

Isabella Burgos’ story isn’t one about gender identity or gender issues, but religion. And the bullying she has endured because of the religiosity of her tormentor cannot be reduced or dismissed. If we’re to get serious about ending this abuse on our playgrounds, in our schools, and across social media, then we must start by correctly identifying the source of this prejudice and take the steps necessary to bring it to its rightful end.