Allison Woolbert is the initiator of the Transgender Violence Tracking Project which I wrote about in last week’s column. For even more details about the project please visit: Although she will never receive a dime for her efforts, Allison has tirelessly worked to inform people about the transgender community and getting this incredibly important project off the ground. She was kind enough to spend another couple of hours with me on the phone for this interview.

Q. Have you received any responses from last week’s column?

Allison: Well, the article spread to many different websites and I received a number of supportive comments on the TVTP‘s Facebook page. Shockingly, I also received numerous requests for pictures of mutilated bodies and immolation victims. It had never crossed my mind that there were people who actually had a fetish for viewing dead members of our transgender community. I also received a personal threat on my life which scared the hell out of me. I banned the picture request people and FB did remove the member who sent the death threat.

Q. During our last conversation you mentioned that a transgender person is murdered about every three days.

Allison: That’s from information that we receive and really only includes reported murders. We actually think the rate is higher. This is why the TVTP is so important. We need accurate factual data in order to get basic protection.

Q. Was this your first encounter with threats?

Allison: I’ve been out now for five years and when I first came out as an affirmed woman I always felt frightened and did have a couple of threatening incidents. I remember one where a group of people in a car tried to run me into a “Jersey barrier” on the side of the highway. Still, this recent murder threat just so people might see my dead body really shook me up—despite all my knowledge about the hatred toward transgender people.

Q. No longer just statistics, huh?

Allison: Right, though there have been a number of murders and suicides that have blown me away. A boy in England, who was not allowed to wear make-up to school to be who she really was despite trying a number of times, finally hanged herself on the same day as my son’s birthday who was also the same exact age. It’s a suicide I’ll never forget. Another boy went to school in the US wearing lipstick and a fellow student just shot him to death. This is another reason why TVTP is so important. We need to know the facts about how many of our children are being murdered and beaten.

Q. You’ve been talking about kids. At what age did you first have an inkling about the war within yourself?

Allison: I remember when I was seven, waking up at night and going to my window and praying, “Please god, please god turn me into who I really am. My family were extremely devout Christians and I believed in miracles so I kept praying and waiting.

Q. Even at the age of seven you knew you were a girl.

Allison: What had solidified by then was that something was wrong. That I didn’t belong in this boy’s body. It really wasn’t me.

Q. You told me a story about putting on a dress and make-up, proudly showing your folks and your mom went ballistic.

Allison: She dragged me back into the bathroom, tore the clothes off and really hurt my face scrubbing the make-up away. It was pretty painful physically and psychologically.

Q. This was at age seven?

Allison: Actually earlier. Maybe five or six. I was always seeking my womanhood. I used to steal my grandmother’s girdle, take clothes from clotheslines, hide my sister’s dress and wig under my mattress. I couldn’t put any reasons to these things; I had to do it even though I felt horrible and guilty.

By the time I was around ten, I kind of accepted my behavior. I had women’s clothes in my tree fort, under my mattress, any place where I could hide them.

Q. Of course all this had to be secret.

Allison: Absolutely! I had to stay hidden in the closet or face violent reactions from my family. There was no choice. In my family, this was evil. Also, remember, at that time there was no language to explain what was happening with me. Transexual wasn’t a word most people even knew—much less understood as a medical issue. What I was, was simply wrong. In those days I was perceived as a gay effeminate boy and gay was a sin. I didn’t even know what I was because I knew I wasn’t gay since I was attracted to girls—though in fact—it turns out that I’m bisexual.

But back then, if I wore women’s clothes I experienced a feeling of normalcy and actually relaxed. Then when I took them off it was “Oh my god, I’ve sinned.” In some ways it was a self-perpetuating punishment.

Q. Elementary school must have been tough.

Allison: Oh yes. I had ADHD, plus I was effeminate. I was regularly paddled in the principal’s office or in front of my class. You see, I grew up in a copper mining community that had very concrete gender roles. Women could be secretaries but never work in the mine. So you can imagine how I was seen.

Q.  I’d guess things grew even worse as you moved through junior high and high school.

Allison: Yes, they did. I can’t put an exact time frame on it anymore, but I remember being stuffed into lockers—no small thing since I was already at least six feet tall. I was pushed, shoved, and beaten up. During high school there was one kid who basically smacked me around every day. Throwing basketballs at the back of my head or breaking my glasses. Essentially I was seen as gay. But I couldn’t fight back because my family kept preaching that fighting was evil and a sin.

Q. You’ve taught me the difference between “sexual orientation” and being a transgender person so you were attracted to girls/women.

Allison: Sure, sure. I’m bisexual so I’ve been attracted to both men and women my whole life. For me there’s no disparity between my sexual attractions and my sexual identity.

Q. During all of those school years was there anyone you could talk to about all this?

Allison: About my sexual identity? Not a single one. I was over twenty before I had that discussion. See, I was caught in a corner. I didn’t know what I was. Gay? Straight, but effeminate? In my own mind I just thought I was a freak.

My mother was unrelenting, overbearing and continually insisted the cure for me was to attend a strict Christian college to be “saved.” During second semester I met a woman and married her ten days later, dropped out of school, and a year later had a child. But when I first got married I began to cross-dress in the house. She thought it was kinda kinky and willing to have fun with it. Of course, at that point in my life I never went outside in women’s clothes or makeup. It was sex play, which was very different than my real issue.

Despite her semi-acceptance of my cross-dressing and our having a child, the marriage was a disaster. I spent a year being unable to keep a job and scrambled from one to another adding to the misery.

Q. Was that when you enlisted?

Allison: Yes, I went into the Air Force. Someone suggested it was a way to at least have a solid job.

Q. You were how old?

Allison: I was 19 ½. I’d just had my little boy. Actually, the military was okay for me. It enabled me to get my feet on the ground and find my way out of adolescence. I thought I’d be traveling, but after training I ended up back home in Tucson for my entire tour of duty.

Q. And it was the Air Force that initiated your computer expertise?

Allison: Yes, but it wasn’t what I wanted at the time. I really wanted a woman’s job. I aspired to be a secretary—though I knew the male twist would mean becoming a clerk. I took a typing test but they told me they were going to make me a statistical analyst and computer programmer—despite my incredible struggles with both algebra and geometry. But during the four years I was in the Air Force I worked hard at it, learned to love it, and that’s how my career evolved to where I’ve become quite good at all things computer. Otherwise I’d never initiate the TVTP. My transgender community means too much to me.

Q. Four years, huh? You’ve described yourself as effeminate. How did you deal with that in the military?

Allison: With mixed emotions. On one hand I was married with a small child and trying to suppress my real identity. Also, the Air Force demands specific postures for standing, sitting, everything really. So it actually helped in presenting as male. At the same time it was extraordinarily painful to keep who I really was in check. I just wasn’t who I was trying so hard to be. You can’t see gender identity but you can see gender expression. How you stand, haircuts, hold your hands. Most of the bias comes as a reaction to expression. For example, a masculine butch woman catches bias because of her gender expression.

Q. What happened after you left the military?

Allison: By the time I left I knew I wanted to devote my life to computer programming and analysis and got supervisory work as such. But after 6½ years my first marriage ended in a divorce. I then remarried and that marriage lasted for 6 years as well, though for half that time we were separated.

In the beginning of the marriage I began thinking about actually transitioning and before the separation my wife actually urged me to go public with my cross-dressing. But after our separation I stopped, buried who I really was, and started dating yet again. I still had my mother’s voice in my head telling me I’d meet a religious Christian woman and become “normal.”

Then I met a good woman who seemed to believe in me. Plus I was older and had better repression tools, telling myself I don’t have to be what I really was. I loved her and during our thirteen years together had two children. When I again began to accept my transsexuality, she thought it was simply a phase and told me to get over it and keep the money coming. I think she believed my transexualism was something I was using to escape the kids. Nothing was farther from the truth. Despite ongoing problems with some of my children, I love them all dearly.

Q. At the point of this break-up, where were you at gender identity-wise?

Allison: At that time I’d really begun transitioning, using black market hormones, even though I was still resisting. I had two psychologists who finally identified that I had PTSD from my upbringing and marriages, that I was a transsexual, and if I didn’t deal with that I was going to die. Kill myself.

At forty five years of age I finally accepted my transsexuality despite having a tremendous amount of anxiety. I had fully transitioned by October 2008 and never turned back. Everything I knew, everyone I knew—including my two older children were gone. I was living fully as a woman though I never thought I could get my surgery because of the cost. Truthfully, there was limited relief at that point in time. For six months I worked through the trauma of living a new life. I did have a coming out party where I wore a beautiful purple gown and, for the first time, there were people celebrating who I was. But it was extremely difficult after living as I had. Terribly painful, despite the deep internal knowledge that I finally was who I was meant to be.

Q. So when did things begin to settle down?

Allison: Soon, I hope. (laughter)

Q. When did the surgery occur?

Allison: I discovered my insurance would cover the cost, but I had to pay upfront. So my friends did fundraising and I took out enough loans to be able to pay. I had my surgery in 2010.Truth is, it’s just been this last year that I’ve felt completely comfortable with who I am physiologically. It really does time for the body and mind’s neurotransmitters to align.

(At this point Allison and I talked about some of the fissures between the LGB community and the T. Rather than include it in this interview I’m posting her open letter, which has been published in a number of places, to her LGB sisters and brothers on my web site’s Happenings page

Q. So what do you perceive as the highest political priority for the transgender community?

Allison: Jobs and safety. If you don’t have a job, you can’t get health insurance, you end up on government assistance, and frequently become homeless. As a transgender person it’s difficult to get into a shelter, and often end up assaulted. Not a pretty picture.

We know that homeless people are assaulted more than others. Which means that transgender people are, as I’ve said before, disproportionally the victims of violence. But our knowing this does nothing for our protection, which is why the TVTP is so important. My community needs the power to present verified data in a way that doesn’t raise more violence upon us, but rather protects us. We can slow down the victimization that happens to our community with actual facts and data. Right now, that information is virtually impossible to get. The core of the TVTP is to create statistical evidence that can’t be disputed.

TVTP has the potential to deliver a number of things. One, to provide information to specific cities about specific violence perpetrated upon our community in those cities. Two, validate information as factual. This will give our community the opportunity to take this information and present it to the appropriate authorities—police, congress, and courts—as indisputable facts and not conjecture. And to finally force prosecutors to utilize the hate crime laws for the transgender community.

Q. Is there anything you’d like to add to what I’ve asked? No doubt I missed something.

Allison: We’re not even counted in the census. The choice is “male” or “female.” The government doesn’t want to change this because if we are counted we’ll have political legitimacy. Something very few politicians want. Let’s face it, how hard would it be to add a T to an M and an F?

This concluded the interview with my newly discovered friend. I want to thank her for the amazing willingness to open her life story. I also want to plead with people who read this interview to pledge anything you possibly can to the project. ( Even a dollar will help. We have a very limited amount of time to make this happen.

What we have here is an invisible oppression that creates poverty, unemployment, suicides and incredibly brutal murders—to say nothing of the internal pain and trauma of a transgender person who, in the eyes of the government, doesn’t exist—despite the recognition of the medical and psychiatric community that this is a medical condition. We need less than $1,800 dollars to be pledged in the next 22 days or TVTP is dead in the water. Dig deeper my friends, please dig deeper.


During the past week I noticed that a Facebook friend, Allison Woolbert, posted a link to a Kickstarter project called Transgender Violence Tracking Project (TVTP) that she had initiated. After reading the description of its goals, I realized I knew little to nothing about the transgender community and its struggles. So I messaged Allison to see if we could talk on the phone about the project and the issues facing transgender people in general. The other day we spent a couple of hours talking about her, her work, and the extraordinary problems transgender people face on a daily basis.

Before I dig too deeply into our conversation, I want to say a few words about Kickstarter and the TVTP. Kickstarter is a platform and a resource; they are not involved in the development of the projects themselves. Anyone can launch a project on Kickstarter as long as it meets their guidelines. Projects are allowed to run for a set amount of time and pledges are collected only if a project meets its stated monetary goal.

The Transgender Violence Tracking Project will only be up and running until 9:07 PM November 21st and has so far collected $1,221.00 of the $3,500 goal.

So what is the TVTP? Well, it turns out that very little specific information is collected or known about the violence that is clearly directed toward the transgender community. Although there is an annual Transgender Day of Remembrance to memorialize those who have been killed by acts of violence directed toward the community, (all those that even knew this occurred please raise your hand) the specifics of those deaths remain unknown. TVTP will not only keep track of those who have been killed, but “will be a portal where the transgender community and their allies will be able to track other acts of violence, and get a full record of those murdered, how they were murdered, arrests (if there are any), trial outcomes (if there are any trials) as well as those who die by their own hands because of the intolerable pressure our society inflicts upon transgender people.” (Allison Woolbert)

As those of you who visit the Kickstarter site can see, the data collection and its organization seems incredibly daunting, so one of my first questions was how a project of this breadth could be accomplished for $3,500. Allison explained that the project will be run gratis by her and volunteers, with the pledged money used to create the software and train those volunteers. One look at her full resume leaves no doubt that the project will achieve its goals.

As those of you who regularly read Just sayin’ know, the only things I promote are my books, my email list, and my Facebook Author’s Page. Not today. Today I’m urging each of you to visit the TVTP Kickstarter site, tell your friends, and donate as much as possible.

To put the violence directed toward this community in perspective, transgender people are about 1 to 1.5% of the world’s population but about 400 times more likely to be assaulted or murdered than the rest of the population. Add that to the US reality that people of color are 10 times more likely to be assaulted and murdered than anyone else, you can only imagine the odds of violence for a transgender person of color. TVTP will include a breakout of racial statistics.

It gets even worse. Transgender individuals aren’t “just” murdered. The nature of the killings are the most violent, horrific acts imaginable. Dismemberments, vicious multiple stabbings (15 times or more), immolation, are routine examples of the violence perpetrated on those who are transgender people. The tragedy is that these types of violence are not the exception but the rule when it comes to transgender murder. TVTP will work toward publicizing that which occurs in the community.

Let’s take a step back. Gender Dysphoria is a medical condition, not a sexual orientation. Although the general public often confuse cross-dressing with transexualism, (I intended to use transgender and transsexual interchangeably), they are very different. Cross-dressers might have different sexual orientations, but they do not experience living in the wrong body. From an early age on, transsexuals do—at the core of their very being. Cross-dressers (unless the cross-dressing is an attempt to reduce the internal pressure between the transgender’s mind/body dichotomy or the “transition” from one body to another) are not people who are at odds with their body. Transexual people are. As Allison said, “I looked in the mirror and didn’t understand what I saw. My skin was thick and didn’t seem like mine. The core of my mind simply couldn’t understand what I was seeing. It wasn’t me.”

So what do we have here? Certainly the general public understands chemo baldness. It’s a result of a medical condition. The general public understands people in wheelchairs. It too is a result of a medical condition. But to this day people continue to reject transsexual people before and after surgery. It’s just too damn threatening, though you’d think that cancer might be more so since it could actually happen to them. Yet transsexual individuals not only trigger fear, they trigger hatred. And, as a result, people who are transexual not only have to deal with the war within themselves, but the outside world’s hatred and violence.

Which is why this column has first focused on the Transgender Violence Tracking Project.  The project a step in identifying, quantifying, publicizing, and hopefully changing a societal sickness that encourages hatred and dehumanization of people who are simply carrying the weight of a medical condition. The project will track all those who fall under the transgender umbrella: drag queens, butch women, effeminate men, and cross-dressers. This is an attempt to significantly reduce a horrible, ongoing oppression.

But the reality of transexualism is even harsher than what I’ve already touched upon. Today I focused on the TVTP.  In the next post or two I’ll move on to my interview with Allison to put a human face on the community—from the hoops transexuals have to jump through to be accepted for surgery, how the LGB community deals with their T, to my friend Allison’s personal journey. But if anything I’ve written here strikes a chord, please pledge what you can and please talk to your friends about pledging as well. These are our brothers and sisters.

Sexual orientation is who you are attracted to and who you want to love. Gender identity is who you really are.”  Allison Woolbert


RScapNo, I’m not talking politics this week. (Is that a collective sigh of relief, I hear?) I’m talking October baseball. And how my marriage deals with it when we both have teams playing against each other.

For me the notion of a “home team” is not as clear cut as Sue’s. I grew up as a Brooklyn Dodger fan until they deserted us for the Golden State and then, with some loving prodding from my Aunt Jeanette, rooted for my old nemesis, the Yankees.DT2

Once off to school at the University of Wisconsin, other than rooting for a few different ballplayers (Bob Gibson jumps to mind), I exchanged sports for sit-ins, protests, and occasional classes.

Politics and social service were too hard to resist.

I eventually quit school before they tossed me out and enrolled in a national program called Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA). Instead of sending me to California as they’d promised, I was assigned to a storefront YWCA in Chicago. The Y was located in Uptown, one neighborhood away from Wrigley Field. While I was never able to wrap my head around the Cubs, I was drawn back into baseball and rode the train again and again to the Southside for my newly adopted White Sox.

After several years, a marriage, and a son, it was time to move on. My wife Peggy was amenable to the idea and Matthew was too young to vote. I got lucky and was hired by a social service workers collective called Project Place. More importantly, at least for this post, I became a Red Sox fan. It wasn’t hard. This is a diehard sports town, and I like to have things to believe in. It was also a team with a curse, which, given my family history and my increasingly likely divorce, I could believe in as well. It might have been these reasons or the fact that I moved to an apartment a couple blocks away from Fenway, but I started to love the Sox. It also didn’t hurt that in those days you could actually get a ticket on game day and they didn’t cost you a house.

A lot of my friends are askance when I tell them I actually root for three teams. I personally see this as a virtue; I’m someone who holds on to old friends. But I’m basically a serial monogamist. I think it’s love the one you’re with; the Red Sox are my current Number One. And having lived in Boston since the very early 70s, if I were to move again, I’m pretty sure the Sox would remain my number one.

Sue’s allegiance to her team is much more straightforward. She’s always been a Detroit Tigers’ fan and always will be. Probably has something to do with living in one place for all of your childhood and staying in state (University of Michigan) during her college years. And, as Detroit’s fortunes have, well, declined is the nicest word you could use for it, she has become even more rabid. “The city needs some good fortune,” she says. But she too has been in Boston for a real long time and has slowly warmed to the Red Sox.

Unless they play Detroit. Which is about to happen this coming Saturday night as the two teams begin their struggle for the American League Pennant.

So far Sue and I haven’t talked about the upcoming best of seven. In part because she doesn’t know her players as well as she did back in 1968. (Sue can still name that year’s entire starting line-up and pitching staff.) But this season that lack of knowledge won’t make a damn bit of difference when the teams take the field. I’m gonna hear her chant and watch her dance around the living room cheering, “Go Tigers, go Tigers,” for as long as the series lasts.

Me, well, I’m a little more hard core. I’ve followed this team’s configuration since last winter when they reworked their roster much to the derision of most baseball pundits. “Victorino for three years at 13 million? He has nothing left.”  “Jonny Gomes? Ben Cherington (the  General Manager) must be crazy.” Given his age, there was even disbelief that the Sox re-upped David Ortiz (Big Papi) for two more years. And who the hell is Mike Carp? Jeez, the Red Sox even had to make a trade for a manager to replace the nut-job who held the position last year. Truth is, most prognosticators had the Sox finishing last in their division just as they had last season when they imploded with a set of different players.

Well, the prognosticators were wrong. We finished first in our division and slashed our way through the opening round of this year’s play-offs—despite losing both our closers during the season and resurrecting a 38-year-old to fill the gap. Go figger.

Historically, sabermetricians, statistic junkies who have created new paradigms for understanding the game and a player’s worth, usually don’t rate a team’s “chemistry” very high on their list of variables. Well, I learned something this season. “Chemistry” does make a difference. These guys enjoy playing with each other and it shows. This is a team of dirt-dogs who play hard and count on each other to play hard until the last out of every game.

They’re real easy for me to like.

So tomorrow night (I’m writing this on Friday) the games begin and by the time you read this you’ll know the outcomes of the first two. And I’ll have “go tigers, go tigers,” ringing in my ear.

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” Rogers Hornsby


The irony was just too much to ignore. The morning after I wrote the first draft of this post (Friday), I opened the newspaper to read that two of my friends and Mel King, a legendary Boston community organizer, had been busted for blocking yet another eviction by a greedy bank.

This gave me great pause since I’d written a scathing denunciation of our right-wing jihadists’ ability to blackmail the federal government into a shutdown. A shutdown which meant that more than 800,000 government employees have been unable to work1, 3,200 children have been locked out of Head Start, 2 and 401 national parks have been closed to the public.3

I’d even gone as far as presenting a chart that listed the number of federal employees in each of our states, noting how the congressional jihadists were hurting their own constituents. But after reading the article about my friends, I began to reconsider.

How would I have felt if the Vietnam Anti-War movement had been able to shut the government down? Truth is, I would have felt great, useful, triumphant. But then I realized this country never closes the military. Wouldn’t have then and didn’t now. Realized that shutdowns are programs that help people or build a better country. War, on the other hand, doesn’t sleep.

That’s when it struck me that the government shutdown was more than a byproduct of Tea Party activists, and the underlying philosophy of shutdown politics is not really less government as much as no government. Some of what this shutdown actually provides. A Facebook friend commented to me, “This is a war about what this country is.” I guess I’d say this is a war about what a social compact means.

One side believes that people ought take care of themselves and their families and choose on their own whether to help those in need. I have no doubt that a huge number of people on this side actually do choose to help. They adopt, give money to many different charities, feed the hungry, and live lives that are a testament to their beliefs. They also believe that government is wasteful, runs on pork, misuses their hard-earned money, and interferes with their lives. While they do acknowledge people need some government, say a military, on the social side of the ledger there is no need or place for the feds.

Actually, many progressives agree with some of these points from their own perspective. For example, who does the government really work for? They see the overwhelming support government gives to the rich and powerful, the banks and multi-national corporations, the 1% and it sickens them. And some of them, like my friends, try to shut the government down by committing acts of civil disobedience to stop ugly and unfair foreclosures.

For this side of the division, though, social compact doesn’t leave the wellbeing of others to individual decisions or buy into the notion that it’s every person for themselves. While it agrees that government wastes a huge amount of money, it relies on a federal government to provide jobs for the unemployed, food for the hungry, and yes, healthcare for our people.

That doesn’t mean those of us with the collective view of our social compact rather than the individual uber alles position think governments walk on water. There’s plenty to complain about. We don’t believe that governments have the right to follow us around, intercept our emails, mess with peoples’ personal lives (or bodies) and the list keeps rolling on.

But we do believe it’s a necessary condition to administer a social compact. Without it people would starve, bridges would crumble, and the quality of most peoples’ lives would hit the shitter.

There’s an enormous amount of problems with this government and I certainly haven’t been shy in writing about them—from institutional racism and unnecessary wars, to our governments’ lapdog ass licking to big business and the greed-heads. But unlike the other side of the divide, I’m not willing to flush it away—even with my significant doubts about potential reformation.

Because right now government does feed the hungry, does fund shelters for the homeless and battered woman, does make sure that back alley abortions are a horror of the past, and does provide educational opportunities for those who can’t get them on their own. (And I’m just naming a few. Haven’t even bothered with the really big stuff like the F.D.A, Medical Research Grants, Transportation etc.)

If the day comes when the private sector decides to do all the above and more at the scale needed, then it might be time to shut the government down. But right now it’s nothing but extortion by people who, at their best, actually imagine that more than 300 million people can go it alone. That’s not thought. That’s delusion.


Sources:  1. “Federal Government Begins First Shutdown in 17 Years,” Time Swampland, October 1, 2013

2. “Shutdown Closes 3,200 Preschoolers’ Head Start Programs,” The Wall Street Journal, October 2, 2013

3. “National Parks: Shutting Down America’s Best Idea,” National Geographic, October 2, 2013