Alison Davison ~ Individual Oral History Interview

Dublin Core

Title

Alison Davison ~ Individual Oral History Interview

Subject

Transgender, war, moving, hippies, San Francisco

Description

Alison Davison shares her stories as part of the Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project. Her interview was collected through a daylong workshop sponsored by the Institute for LGBT Studies at the University of Arizona through which collaborative question development and interviewing practices took place.

Creator

Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives

Source

MiniDV tapes recorded on Panasonic DVX-100A digital video camera

Publisher

Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives

Date

3 April 2010

Contributor

Alison Davison for the Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project of the Arizona Queer Archives

Rights

Rights given to the Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project and the Arizona Queer Archives

Relation

Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project

Format

H.264 300Kbps streaming QuickTime movie, 320 x 240

Language

English

Type

MovingImage
Oral History

Identifier

Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project

Date Available

26 May 2015

Date Created

3 April 2010

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Michael Woodward

Transcription

Transcription by Courtney Martinez

Interviewer: Hello Alison

Alison Davison:
Hi Michael…(laughs)

Interviewer: Is Diana coming back in?

Unknown speaker: (inaudible)

Interviewer: Okay, okay…

Alison Davison:
So…

Interviewer: So tell me who you are…

Alison Davison:
Well…okay so my name’s Alison Davison and uh…I’m sort of of at home today in that I’m working here…we’re here at Wingspan where I work these days…uhm…and I have a variety of jobs that I do here given the economic times…so I have three or four different tasks that I do here but uhm…among other things, I’ve inherited the role of coordinator of the Southern Arizona gender Alliance from Michael…uhm…so…uhm…I call myself the croon of saga more than the coordinator…just…cause I’ve been around awhile. Uhm…and…uhm…we…let’s see…I moved to Tucson Arizona from the Seattle area…uhm…nine and a half years ago….no not quite nine years ago….eight and a half years ago; it’s long enough that I can’t quite remember…uhm…and…what else should you know about me? Well, given the nature of the topic today…uh…I’m a transsexual woman…uhm…I started my transition…I was just thinking as I was back in the bathroom I was thinking, I think I started in ’98, the process, so it’s been a…a long journey; it’s taken some time. Uhm…I could say lots of other things about me but perhaps we’ll get to them in the course of the questions…

Interviewer: Perhaps. Uhm…so…what kind of T are you?

Alison Davison:
(Laughs) well…I’m…I…I…self-identify as a transsexual woman…uhm…I think that in a way that’s descriptive of who I am and somewhat of the journey that I’ve been on…uhm…you know…I guess one of my…uhm…idols in the Trans community has been Kate Bornstein and one of the things that Kate and I agree seem to agree on a lot is that…you know…our unique situation is a little different than people who were born to their sex or gender…uhm…so I don’t have all of the knowledge, the wisdom, the experiences that someone who is born female would have…uhm…I lived part of my life as a man so…uhm…and I transitioned…so…and I’ve transitioned with some medical enhancements so...uhm…I’m transsexual.

Interviewer:
Do you wanna say anything more about the medical enhancements?
Alison Davison:
I’ll get to it later…

Interviewer: Okay…uhm…so…uhm…what was it like as a kid?

Alison Davison:
For me…uhm…you know…I grew up in an era when…uhm…the whole notion of transsexuals or even queer or gay or anything like that was…was not something that was discussed it wasn’t in my reality so…I didn’t really have any sense about any of this stuff…uhm…I knew that when I was a little kid I had some girlfriends I liked playing with and they were my best friends…uhm…and most of my growing up years were in Western Pennsylvania…uhm…but at some point it dawned on me that…I think…that the kids that I played with were sort of pushing off and their families were kinda pushing off and that…that I needed…you know…that I was biologically a boy and that I needed to somehow learn to fit in…uhm…and it seemed like that was kind of important; so I made some effort to do that and uhm…kinda did that. I didn’t see any options for…you know… being other than that….so I learned to do that. It was sort of theater I guess and I got pretty good at it and learned how to fit in as a boy and grew up as a boy and…you know…that sorta was…it…I mean I wasn’t the most rugged masculine….I was pretty skinny as a kid and…uh…you know…got teased a little bit…uhm…and…uhm…I…at one point I thought well I would I would somehow prove my manhood a little bit by…I joined the swimming team…(laughs)…not the most masculine of sports…you know…I mean, I didn’t join the football team, I wasn’t interested in that stuff…uhm…you know…swimming team and I could shave my legs on the swimming team…nobody would think anything about it….uh….so…so I swam competitively all the way through high school and part of college. Uhm…that was my sport, and I ran a little bit too. Uhm…so even then I wasn’t really choosing the…uh-stereotypical masculine kinds of paths to follow.

Interviewer:
But you did in some ways because you got married and had a child…

Alison Davison:
Uhm…later on I did, yeah…uhm that was quite a bit later. You know I moved to uh…California when I was twenty, half way through college. I was in…uh…college in Southeastern Ohio…uhm…and got really bored and my parents moved to California and offered me a choice of…you know…going out there or continuing in school in Ohio and…and…you know twenty…southeastern Ohio…California beaches, you know…sunshine…California…

Interviewer: (Inaudible)

Alison Davison:
Yeah and you know…and I got to California in the middle sixties and even at that point…I mean I…I had always had the gender kind of confusion…the gender discomfort, I don’t know what you…the technical term disphoria…was always a thread throughout my life and I was aware of it at a core level I couldn’t express it didn’t voice it very much…but when I lived; for about a year and a half I lived in Southern California…uhm…and I made some friends there…one of the….some of the friends I had were women who were in an all women rock band, it was great, named the Daisy Chain (laughs)…and uhm…I remember going to a party at…at their house, they…they made a couple of records and made some money and they bought a house up in the Hollywood hills, very cool…and I went to a party and one of their friends was a transsexual woman and I was….that was the first one I has ever meet and I was amazed and in awe…I couldn’t even talk to her, I was like, “Oh wow,” uhm…and I didn’t know what I could say…but what I…what I…actually kinda asked through my friends for some information without trying to out myself…what I was kind of interested in and I found out that she saw a doctor in the LA area, so I thought…uh…cool, that’s what I need to do. And so I went to see this doctor to see if I could get some hormones…and uhm…he said no, he didn’t think I was authentic…he should see me know…(laughs).

Interviewer: Surprise (laughs)…

Alison Davison:
You know…but back then they had kind of rigged notions of what…you know…a person should be like if they’re gonna be transsexual. They didn’t even know from trans men back in those days…and trans women…you were…really if you wanted to get help…uhm…in the sixties early seventies…you pretty much well had to be…uh…June Cleaver. You know…you had to be kind of a straight-identified, wanna be a house wife and white picket fence and wanna be married to a guy and...uhm…have that all figured out…and if you didn’t have that kinda path out there in front of you…uhm…you didn’t get to go through the steps. Later, when the University set up gender clinics, often those were the conditions that they wanted to see that people would conform to. So…I was somewhat crushed when the doctor said no…it didn’t stop me and I’m…unlike Michael, I’m one of those folks who did…uhm…steal hormones…took them at times when they were unprescribed…on my own. I didn’t get very many, didn’t get very much and it wasn’t magic. And yes that noise in the background is that there is a mechanic shop next door…so...I don’t know if it will come through on the tape…Uhm…

Interviewer: Can’t hear it too much…

Alison Davison:
Uhm…yeah…so…uh…But I that…I knew what I wanted and I knew why I wanted the changes to take place but I didn’t know what to do about it. Well anyway, I got caught up in the sixties and moved to San Francisco, dropped out of college half way through my senior year…and moved to San Francisco and uh…grew my hair out long and became a hippie…which kind of allowed me to be sort of gender ambiguous…uhm…and…uhm…kinda detoured down that path for awhile. Went off and lived on a hippie communion up in Washington state. Uhm…had to fight off the draft board because I was legally male…but you know I didn’t think that going into the military was going to be a good idea for me…I was not the kind of person that would do well with that…uhm…I already was…you know…uncomfortable enough about gender stuff…that going in the military was about the last…that would have been per hell for me…uhm…and so I became a conscious objector during the Vietnam War. And…uhm…it took several years to work out my alternative service with the government, but ultimately I got uhm…assigned a job at a free clinic in Seattle, where I became the social services director for the open door clinic and uh….it started my career path in social services. Uhm…I was one of those people who could say that…uhm…yeah, I kinda got into social work because it was a choice of that or going to prison (laughs) so…

Interviewer:
So did you have to go through court hearings to become…(inaudible)?

Alison Davison:
Uhm…I had to petition them, I had to write out a bunch of stuff. I…my draft board was back in Pennsylvania, they didn’t make me go back there to talk to them…uhm but they did accept all the things that I wrote to them and I had some support from people who…uhm…thought…that that was probably accurate for me. And I was the first kid in my draft board to file because the Supreme Court had just ruled that you could file on moral grounds, that you didn’t have to belong to a specific organized religion; because before that it was only like if you were a Quaker or a Mennonite or something then you could become a conscious objector but…uhm…I didn’t belong to any kind of organized religion so…I filed on moral grounds…and I guess they didn’t want to challenge that given that the supreme court had just ruled that that was okay. So I was the first one to get it in my draft board. Uhm…so…I went off in worked…doing good works I guess…for…and I kind of enjoyed it. The free clinic was great, I worked there for several years and…uh…we’d uh…we provided free medical care for folks, we provided free counseling services for folks, free dental care. Uhm…we had a free ambulance service…because people didn’t like to…you know…especially people who were using drugs; and there were a lot back in those days, didn’t wanna call the fire department or the police department to come and help them if they were having problems…and they knew we wouldn’t get them arrested. So…yeah we…we had a pretty innovative and wonderful uhm…place…but I’m going completely off the topic aren’t I….(laughs).

Interviewer:
So…so do you wanna talk about your family a little bit and the whole marriage experience and…

Alison Davison:
Yeah….so I…you know…my job at the clinic led to a job working at the crisis clinic in Seattle, then working for Lutheran Family Services, which led to working in community mental health and as I was working in community mental health I met my…uhm…ex-wife…uhm…while I was teaching a class at one of the community colleges. And so, this was a little ways down the road but…uhm…it was one of those sort of almost love at first sight kinda of things; we both really enjoyed each other, we had very similar kind of politics and interests and…uhm…the…the only thing that was a little bit of a complication was that she had a nine month old child. And…uhm…but we really hit it off and so…uhm…after I got to know her awhile and she got to know me…uhm…we decided to get married. And so…I…I got a wife and a daughter…at the same time. And…uh…that was great. The marriage didn’t last, it lasted about well it lasted seven years, so I guess it lasted for a while…uhm…our divorce wasn’t over the gender stuff it was over kinda incompatibilities…uhm…but my daughter continued to spend about half of her time with me and half of her time with her mom…so uhm….we continue to share that. (Exhales) And the divorce was ugly and unpleasant and not something I recommend but if you gotta do it, you gotta do it. Uhm…one of the interesting things that uhm…my ex and I did together; she got very actively involved with Radical Women up in Seattle and Radical Women is a socialist, feminist, uh…sort of political very left wing organization. Largely…uhm…run by lesbians’…uhm...but I loved going to their meetings, it was great. And it was really cool that they allowed me to come…uhm…there were a couple of gay men that went to and I…so we…we called ourselves the men’s auxiliary…(laughs)…uh…but it was a ….it was a uhm…you know…it was a good…uh…- did I just come out of the frame in moving around?- Okay, so, it was a good education for me around Radical Feminists politics and you know…a lot of issues that I hadn’t thought too deeply about and I was really grateful for the opportunity to be around them and to do some of the readings and listen to them talk and be a part of the discussion and the meetings…uhm…you know…they were way left of center and that’s kinda where I identify politically so…that was a good place to be, it was a good fit.

Uhm…anyway so at some point in there, there was the divorce. And I continued to work in mental health as a counselor in the Seattle area. And I worked in all kinds of settings, I did all sorts of work, everything from working with worried well folks around their lifestyle changes to chronically mentally ill folks who…uhm…were pretty…having a pretty hard time in life. Uhm…and…the last place that I worked just prior to my starting transition…I didn’t feel comfortable transitioning while I was working in mental health, I don’t know…you know…what it was about that environment entirely but part of it was I thought that I might become more the focus of folks attention, rather than me focusing on them…that people might be focusing on me. And I didn’t think that that would be good. Uhm…but I uh…I worked at a hospital the last four and a half years, I was in that business and got involved in organizing a union at the hospital which was great fun, we organized everybody from the janitor up to the docs into the union. It was quite exciting…uhm…the union…uh…eventually went in uhm…I got fired in the process…the union then hired me to continue organizing…which I did…uhm and then they…the CEO who fired me got fired because he refused to negotiate with the union. The county who sent patients to the hospital, their staff was all unionized. They stopped sending patients to the hospital…which that meant money was gone. So there was a strike. There was a strike that went on for seven months…so it…so it…was…uhm…it was a really challenging time. Uhm…Jessie Jackson came and walked the picket line with us. The mayor and the city council walked the picket line with us. Uh…we stirred up a lot of trouble and when the CEO got fired, there was quite a party. And…uhm…I didn’t get my job back, but I realized I was burned out and that I didn’t wanna do that kind of work anymore…at least right then.

[Cell Phone Chime]

Oh…so…uh…nice little highlight…anyway. Uhm…so I thought…. I was thinking about transition and that was in the back of my head and I was beginning to feel like there was…you know…because I couldn’t stop thinking…it was always there. And I thought well…I…I need to make money and that was when technology was kinda big in the Seattle area so I thought, well maybe I’ll get into computer stuff…you know…and I taught myself a little bit. And I saw an add for uh…doing work…for support work for Microsoft and so I went to a place to take a…and it was a temp agency, and I had to take a test and it was to do support for Microsoft games…and I didn’t really know anything about Microsoft games…but I…I went and I took the test and I flunked it then I studied and I went back and flunked it again…and then the third time I passed it (laughs). Uhm and I got a job with a sub-contractor with Microsoft…uhm and I wasn’t gonna get rich right away but I thought maybe it would help. And eventually, I got taken on as a regular employee of the company that I worked for, not Microsoft itself but…and became management in the company and started making decent money and at that point I also got good health insurance and was looking through…and I’m thinking you know, “I’m gonna start transition,” and I was looking through the health care book that you know says, these are the providers available to you and I saw the name of somebody that I remembered from my days at the free clinic…and she had been a nurse volunteer at the time but in there…her name was listed as a doctor. So I thought, “Oh wow, maybe she had gone back to med school,” so I called and made an appointment to go see her, thinking well at least I know her…and I went into her office and…uhm…she remembered me from the days we were at the clinic and in fact, it was the same person. Not a lot of (inaudible) around you know. Uhm…and she said, “Oh yeah, I remember you, you were one of my heroes back in the days of the clinic.” I said, “Oh…I…that’s…I’m flattered,” I didn’t know but she said yeah. So I came out to her, I told her that I wanted to transition. And I was so scared you know, cause of the, you know I remember that time I got turned down and I was…it was really hard and sad…you know, I was just really scared…and she said, “Well, I’m really honored you told me and I would be happy to work with you on that.” She says, “I’ve had other trans patients and I love doing that work, and it’s so exciting doing that work with people who are, you know kinda becoming whole and it’s not like curing a disease…. but you know.” Yeah. She says, “Yeah, I’m yeah, I’ll work with ya…but, I want you to see the therapist and I want you to do the…you know…see the therapist.” I think six months was the time limit back then or that’s what she wanted. “And then get a letter and then we’ll start hormones.” I went, “Really? I have to see a therapist first, but didn’t I…I worked as a therapist doesn’t that count? She said, “no.” (Laughs) No.

So I did that and I saw this lovely wise old lesbian therapist who was great and…you know we talked for a number of months and she gave me my letter and I went back…starting on hormones was so exciting. And at the beginning you know…it…when you start on hormones, you know…I think you think it’s going to be magic…and at that first dose…whatever it is…the next day you’re gonna be transformed…and …uhm…it wasn’t quite like that (laughs). And for male to female folks, the hormones work more slowly, so it didn’t even the first couple of months, I mean there’s just really subtle things that you notice. But eventually, things started to shift. And I felt delighted and it felt like a coming home in a way. Uhm…one of the other things that the doctor insisted on…didn’t insist…but she strongly recommended, she said, “You know, you should go to a support group.” I said, “Really?” and I was still really scared you know…socially scared…you know the whole notion of transition just was kinda scary for me you know…and I don’t know why there was so much fear…uhm…I think…I think transitioning male to female…has some even more dramatic challenges in some ways cause it’s…you know…why would anybody wanna do that? (Laughs). You know people can wrap their heads around why somebody might wanna be a guy, but why would you wanna be a woman? (Laughs) Anyway, I don’t know if that… how much that plays into it but…uhm.

So I knew about the support group and I lived a little ways out of town, and I drove into the support group meeting and I sat in the parking lot and I watched people go into the support group and then I drove home (laughs). And I think I did that two or three times, at one point, I think I had a doctors appointment before and she said, “You know…if I need to hold your hand to get you to go, I’ll go.” And I was embarrassed about that and I said, “No, I’ll make it, I’ll make it.” And I went. And they were wonderful and they were sweet and there wasn’t any…you know…I was there right after work so I was all dressed in my guy cloths from work and they didn’t have any issues around that…there wasn’t a dress code, there wasn’t any expectations that I would…automatically look high femme when I went there. And the support group was really useful…ugh…interestingly enough; one of the people that I ran into in the support group was one of the folks that I supervised at my job (laughs). Uh…so that was kinda… kinda fun. So the support group was helpful and…uh…transition was kind of moving along. And then…in my work life…uhm…a bigger company along and bought the division of the company that I worked for in Seattle…and said…you know…it’s expensive in Seattle…and this is computer work…you can do this anywhere, so we’re gonna close down the Seattle branch and you have a choice because you’re management, we’ll move you, so you can be unemployed in Seattle or you can move to (inaudible) Utah or Tucson (laughs); so that’s how I ended up in Tucson.

Uhm…my daughter at that point, had just moved out on her own and we talked a bunch and so I thought, “well okay, I’ll try the desert and see what it’s like,” and I looked up stuff on Tucson online to see if there was like Trans stuff was here, I found TG net, Alexander’s stuff, and I didn’t even know Alexander was trans, just I got, I said, I got a couple of emails back from this Alexander guy in Tucson and he didn’t explain anything about being trans himself…so I didn’t really know quite what his interest was in the trans community uhm…so I was a little confused about that…but at least I know there was a place and there were some resources and I learned that there was a Wingspan here…uhm…so I thought, “Well, okay, there’s something to do,” and I…I moved to Tucson without really knowing anybody here.

So family…I didn’t…I didn’t…I didn’t answer all the family questions…

Interviewer: You didn’t really talk about your…

Alison Davison:
Other Family…other family…. yeah. Well…lis…and…there’s a bunch about family. Uhm…my parents, both are deceased now, but they were older before they died, which is a good thing I guess…and uhm…when I started to come out to family…uhm…I think that is where a lot of the fear is rooted in me is was…I knew they weren’t going to have any easy time with this. They were in their nineties, well they were in their eighties I guess when I…uhm…came out to them…uhm…and when I have difficult things like that that bring up a lot of feelings I tend to want to write them…because if I just start talking about stuff…I get kin of jumbled and I get lost in my emotions so…I wrote my folks a letter explaining my transition and I knew I was going to see them, they live in Southern California, I knew I’d be seeing them and they’d probably notice that something was different, so I thought I should tell them (laughs) and warn them ahead of time. And…then I followed up with a phone call and they were furious…they were really, really upset. Uhm…and…my dad was just really angry and he sorta said, “Well, I don’t know why you just can’t be gay,” (laughs) that was one of the things…that would have been better in his world. Uhm…I tried to say, “Well, I kind of am, but not in the way you think,” and that was just way over his head…you know…and…

Interviewer:
Say more about that because you didn’t really say about your…

Alison Davison:
Well, I didn’t say about my orientation, no, I…I prefer women. So…you know…I self identify as a lesbian. So…to try to explain that to my dad was a little …you know…that was way over the top. He didn’t want to hear about it anyway. So my dad, from that point on…until he passed, refused to speak to me. Uhm…he did not want to talk to me at all. My mom started to reconcile a little bit and she sent me a sweet little letter that showed that she started to wrap her head around who I was and what that was all about…but…uhm…she also was developing dementia…and....uhm…we didn’t have a lot of time while she was still able to kinda connect and make sense and so we had a…my dad would try to intercept phones calls and letters he wouldn’t let get through so…you know…I was really blocked from connecting with her and he felt he was being protective of her; he thought that…you know…that this would be just way to stressful for her and so it was a very hard thing to try and connect, uhm…sad, to be quite honest, it was very sad. Uhm…you know my mom passed away a year, last, well in the fall this last fall…and uhm…you know…we were able to spend time with each other but she wasn’t…you know she was sort of in her own little time warp, you know…and...uhm…not in a bad place…but not really connecting with people…she didn’t really know who I was. She liked chatting with me.

Uhm…I have a sister who’s three years younger and she was…kinda guarded about it at first and she says, “I don’t think you should tell the parents,” so I told her before I told my parents. I said, “Well, you know, I can’t not tell them,” and she was thinking I could but I said, “Well, I…you know that’s not gonna work.” And it took a little while for her to kinda get…work through it and she did. And…and some of the best work that we …you know…kinda coming together was over both of my parents passing…you know… we had to spend a lot of time with each other and that was the upside of it was we’ve gotten a lot closer. Uhm…yeah so she’s okay…I remember going out to lunch with her one time she lives in Pasarobes in California, and going out to lunch and her kinda doing a double take when the waitress would come up and say, “What can I get for you ladies?,” you know and she went, “Oh yeah,” cause occasionally she would be sorta looking at me out of the eyes of the past and not quite getting me for who I am. So…that was pretty extraordinary…uhm…she’s fine with things now. Uhm….I…my daughter, my daughter was the one I was probably the most worried about cause I was a…you know…I mean you know…I raised her and I…I didn’t want to lose her and uhm…I thought she would be okay, but I wasn’t really sure and I did the same thing, I wrote to her and my daughters not very…and I emailed her as well, and my daughters not very good at responding to stuff…you know…I still have to call her if I wanna talk to her, she doesn’t call me. Uhm...she keeps saying, “I’ll get better, I’ll get better,” maybe she will (laughs). But uhm…so I wrote to her and kinda detailed what had…what was going on with me and then I followed it up with a phone call…uhm… and I said did you get my letter and she said, “yeah,” did you get the email? She said, “yeah,” so...so what you think? She says, “Well duh,” (laughs) I said, “What?” She says, “I’ve know that about you since I was little and don’t know what took you so long to tell me.”

Interviewer: Oh my….


Alison Davison:
I said, “Really?” She says, “yeah.” She says, “It wasn’t a secret. I don’t what you thought it was a secret or not but I knew.” And uhm…you know…she’s been wonderful and been wonderful ever since. And she about, I don’t know a year after I came out to her, she called me up and she says, “Guess what,” I said, “What?” She says, “I have a girlfriend.” I said, “What?” She said, “A girlfriend, you know,” I said, “Someone you’re sleeping with?” and she said, “yeah,” and I said, “Oh good so we can go on Jerry Springer as father and daughter lesbians, that’ll be good.” (Laughs). So…so…she’s...uhm…she’s she said, “Oh, I can’t ever, I can’t ever…uhm…shock you about anything can I?” and I said, “No, probably, not.” (Laughs). And then she came on a rode trip down here to Tucson with her girlfriend and that was fun, we all hung out. She came down during October, so we had the Pride thing to go to, went to Bisbee, we did all the Queer stuff, it was great (laughs). Uhm…she has since redefined herself as bi...uhm…and has a boyfriend…you is now the father of my granddaughter, I have a granddaughter whose five now. So time passes. And my granddaughter calls me “Grannie Alli” (laughs) and…it took awhile, some friends of mine and some lesbian friends of mine up in Washington state…uh…I was up visiting one time and they said, “What’s you granddaughter gonna call you?” and I said, “Well, I don’t know I hadn’t really thought about it…I’m not really her grandma, because she has a grandma…she has two grandmas…” And so we kinda came up with Grannie Alli as a sort of a meeting together…and that works.

Interviewer:
So uhm…talk to me more about coming out as lesbian as a trans woman and how that’s been for you…

Alison Davison:
Uhm….

Interviewer: And relationships and dating and….


Alison Davison:
Uh….it’s hard. To be…in a word, it’s hard. Uhm…you know…uhm…the first steps and efforts that I made at trying to date were all really, really awkward. The first person I spent time dating was somebody who self-identified as butch lesbian…(sound off camera; watch out)…uh….and…uhm…we…we spent time with each other for several months and uhm…she decided I wasn’t femme enough for her. That…that was her sense of things, I think…I kind knew how to do too much you know…I was reasonably good with tools, I knew how to do some things. So…uhm…the I dated somebody who’s a bit more femme…and I wasn’t butch enough for her (laughs). You know…and I felt like Goldilocks.

Interviewer: Yeah..

Alison Davison:
And then I…uhm…I was at a nominally CD release party (laughs) and Meredith who I had known since I had been …you know…around in Tucson, who’d worked at Wingspan, said, “Can I come sit with you?” and I said, “Sure.” And Meredith was…she was sort of a friend, she worked at Wingspan as a grant writer some years ago. And we started dating and that was a pretty good fit. Uhm…she self-identified as lesbian but was one of the trans-enamored type of lesbians (laughs); and…uhm…she had had a girlfriend in college that was a trans woman…then she dated a trans man for awhile…dated several cisgendered women…so was really…uhm…kinda…okay with it all, which was delightful to me cause I didn’t have to do a lot of explaining and stuff and we…we were together…I don’t know…about four years maybe? Uhm….got a house together out on the west side of town. It was cool.

Uhm…when I started seeing her, she was kind of self-identified as soft butch, I mean that was kinda her sense of herself. But over the period we were together, she kinda gradually became more and more femme. But she went to far…she decided she preferred men (laughs). And…uh…you know…it had nothing to do with the identity…but…uhm. She decided she was interested in men and wanted to date men.

Uhm…We still are really, really, really good friends, she now lives up in Berkeley. She moved to the bay area to get another graduate degree and thought maybe she would meet a nice guy there and I said, “You’re going to the Bay area to meet men? (Laughs) Come on,” but…and and she’s had struggles with that…to be quite honest…but uhm…she still looking for the illusive good man. She wants a nice Jewish man I think is what she wants (laughs).

Uh…but we’re the best of friends, we talk to each other a lot, we’re real close to each other, we still love each other…uhm…there’s not much we wouldn’t do for each other, she was really great in supporting me around the death of my parents…you know…that was cool.

So that’s it…that’s been a good relationship but it’s not happening right now and uhm…I’m really doing any dating right now. You know…I’m not really looking a lot…I mean…you know…it’s…


Interviewer:
So, talk…talk to me about that part of it; the isolation and the the uhm…the the missing elements that that a happy healthy human seeks around connections…

Alison Davison:
You know, I keep thinking about, I ponder that and you know and I’m open to relationships, and that’s…that’s….but Yes, I also feel sort of awkwardness around it too, cause of you know…meeting the right kind of connections…uhm..I don’t always know…uhm…the best ways to go about it. One of the things that I think is…in self-reflection true…is that for many, many years…I kept, kept sort of who I am hidden from the world. And so in the process of dating…even…even when I was married there was like a chunk of me…a core of me that was hidden. And uhm…there’s, I think a piece, that’s a hard thing to get beyond I think…and…I..I didn’t find it hard with Meredith…uhm…probably wouldn’t find it if I…you know with…somebody who’s a friend. Somebody asked, a woman friend of mine here in town asked me, she says, “Well,”….she was going on and she was saying, “You know, one of things that’s true about me is I don’t date my friends,” I said, “Really?”, I said, “You know I don’t want to date anybody but my friends.” You know…I…I need to have some…you know…sense that they know who I am and I know who they are, cause I’m not interested…in…you know… going through a lot of explaining with people, so maybe that’s a little bit in the way too…uhm…

And one of the things you learn growing up male and also uhm…being trans…is a lot of…sort of…self reliance…I’m gonna get through this, I’m gonna do this on my own…that kind of stuff. Uhm…so I think that adds and complicates the whole thing around the isolation stuff. And then there’s sort of a shyness you know…uhm…and…uh…so there’s a little shyness, a little awkwardness about it. You’d that think somebody of my advanced age and wisdom would…

Interviewer:
So you were talking a little bit earlier in the group about isolation

Alison Davison:
Uh…uh…

Interviewer:
We all agreed that that was a big problem in the community, what..what do you see as..uhm a solution to that if there is one?

Alison Davison:
You know, I don’t the solution, for me what works is to be as out and open about who I am as I can be. Uh…you know, I spent too many years in the closet..uhm…to to wanna go back in…so…for good or evil…you know…I’m really out about who I am and what I am and you know…as a professional trans woman, you know…I’ve even got nude pictures of me sittin around…you know…in…in town (laughs). So, for me, I guess it makes me feel less isolated if I know I don’t have to explain myself to people, and that people get me for who I am right here, right now and that I don’t have to go through all that…you…you know…that I’m transsexual you know; that I didn’t grow up female…you know…what…you know…I don’t…so that part helps me not feel isolated. Cause I know people get me for who I am right now; it’s why I do things like you know, talking in front of a video camera (laughs).

Interviewer:
So the flip side of being out as a trans person, especially as a male to female, uhm…is personal safety…talk about that.

Alison Davison:
you know, I haven’t really felt endangered, uhm…it’s sort of like I’m so out that people know who I am…uhm…that they wouldn’t dare…I think, I don’t know. I mean I haven’t, I haven’t been challenged anywhere on a sorta personal safety level…you know…and…I never…you know being trans, I never really know how well I pass. But generally, I seem to get by okay…uhm…and so…and I think…he didn’t talk about it specifically in this way…but I think that there’s this passing privilege in the trans community that if you kinda get read in the world as…the gender you are…not the gender you used to be, you’re generally safer out there in the world. And so I don’t get a lot of..you know…”Sir’s” and stuff around, which I thinks a good thing. Uhm…and..uh…I also think that Tucson is a kinda of live and let live kinda of place, so I didn’t know if people are just polite with me or…or…you know…there isn’t any question about anything…or you know…I don’t really care (laughs).

Interviewer:
Do you think you’re an exception or do you think you’re...it’s a more common experience?




Alison Davison:
I think it’s more common than I might have thought a few years ago. I think it’s a…you know… and again I don’t know how much of it is people aren’t paying attention or it’s just a…not an issue or what.

Interviewer:
Uhm…so let’s go back and talk about behavioral health, cause I know that that’s been…

Alison Davison:
Oh yeah…

Interviewer:
an interest to you as well as your career and…and you’ve done a lot of work in that in the Transgender community here in Tucson so uhm…what do you wanna say about that?

Alison Davison:
Well…I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be moving around like that uh…

Interviewer: That’s okay…you’re okay…

Alison Davison:
Okay, so uhm…well having worked in that in the behavior health field…in the Seattle area, we used to call it Mental health up there, here it’s behavioral health. But uhm, you know it’s an area I feel really familiar with and really comfortable with. One of the things I mentioned around my own transition is that transsexuals have to get the support of behavioral health folks at some point in the process to go through the steps necessary to complete their journey if they’re gonna do all that. People who are trans who have other kinds of issues, whether it’s depression, whether it’s bi-polar disorder, whether it’s other kinds of things, often confuse people who work in behavioral health in some way. Uhm…and often if we talk about our gender issues with someone in that field and they’re not familiar, they wanna lump that into the mental illness, whatever that mental illness is. So it becomes kind of more evidence that we’re crazy (laughs).

So a few years back, well actually when Alexander, who you mentioned and I knew for the first year I was here I guess, committed suicide, I realized we can…we have our issues. Alexander was completely open and out about being a trans man who’s a wonderful articulate spokesman for the community and powerful person; whose very casuist about his mood disorder, his bi-polar disorder. And he didn’t like to talk about it and he was worried it would discredit his work if he did talk about it so… he kinda kept it down. And one of the factors that I think caused him to die as quickly as was is he wasn’t treated well in mental health facilities here when he went for help. There were issues around his gender and his body not being quite…and his getting hormones while he was in the hospital and stuff. And it pissed me off; it really, really upset me that that stuff happened. And it upset me that people would go see professionals for help and uh…be treated funny because of their gender issues. And uhm…we started that the Goodwin Project back gosh…

Unknown Speaker: 2003

Alison Davison:
2003…thank you. And because we thought that was important that people who were trans and had mental health or behavioral health issues ought to be able to get good help uhm…and thought that doing advocacy for folks would be an important element of that, you know people that got caught in that system might need help. We also felt that maybe we needed to educate the community a little better and especially the behavioral health community about how to work with us and what to do. And we did a little bit of that stuff as the Goodwin Project and continue to have that going as an avenue for folks to connect with us. We’ve also branched out LGBT behavioral health coalition here in town…uhm…which I think I invited myself to their first meeting that I heard about; it was happening up at CPSA uhm…and CPSA is the regional behavioral health authority for southern Arizona. They administer all the monies that come from the State and kinda do all the auditing and oversight of the mental health…or behavioral health agencies here. They had a diversity committee and somebody, a couple of folks up there decided to start a LGBT sub-committee of the diversity committee. And I heard about it and I went to the second or third meeting, I started going and then CPSA decided that it wasn’t appropriate for them to have this committee as part of their diversity committee, I don’t know why exactly. There was some politics around the whole thing but we kinda got kicked to the curb by CPSA and then we kinds went independent and started meeting over at CODAC and uhm…thought, “Well let’s develop some curriculum so we can train folks on working with all LGBT folks,” cause we have some issues that are a little different then some of the straight folks have. And let’s uhm..see if maybe we can even push on policy changes so that around the state people begin to think differently about how to work with this population. So we did some of that, we created some interesting programing; presented at first through CPSA through their training…they do training things for all the local agencies…did a nice little round of stuff over there. Got invited to something in Sedona last summer that was fun. With behavioral health folks from all over the state, although it seemed to me the higher end folks that were there. I noticed there wasn’t a lot of the direct clinical care folks. Uhm and we continue to meet; we’ve been meeting with the state department of behavior health to get them to shift policy and a set trainings to change so that everybody will be able to...across the state…understand how to work with our community. And uhm…behavioral health services…diversity contingent or whatever they call themselves up there. And have managed to get them to agree that it’s important to address the needs of LGBT people. And to see some distinct needs for our community that are unique and to uhm…find ways to uhm…hang on just a second…(off tape, you know we’re not open today right?)

Interviewer: Should I lock the door?

Alison Davison:
Yeah, maybe that would be a good idea. Yeah. So where was I?

Interviewer: Talking about the state behavioral health.

Alison Davison:
Oh yeah, so we were working towards policy changes, I remember having two or three video conference meeting where we spent the entire time talking about definitions of gender and how to put the definitions of gender on the forms that the different agencies then need to use to tabulate their data. And how to include Trans people cause that was an issue and uhm…it’s an interesting dilemma for them who never think about these things normally. And how to capture it all in the computer data bank so that it reflects who people are…whether people actually admit to being trans or not is a whole other thing but at least what we hope is that the state will eventually have everybody well versed enough in working with folks who are trans and LGB that there will be no issues about talking about who you are and being out about it and then being able to cover those issues. One of the interesting things, in the process of putting together some of the curricula for the training when Kate and I were in her office one of the days, we were wondering about…you know because the state has…the state Medicaid program access her in Arizona has exclusion clauses about paying for transitions for transsexuals, they don’t wanna pay for that stuff. And I said, “You know I wonder if that includes behavioral health stuff,” cause it didn’t say in the little exclusion clause whether…yes or no…and I said, “You know, since we’re still categorized as a mental illness, we have a gender identity disorder, right there in the DSM – the Diagnostic and Statistical manual, can they deny care for us?” So Kate knew who the right person was at access to call so we called up there and said, “So if this is a diagnoses that’s listed in the manual, does access pay for people to get help with this?” and she said, “Yeah, of course.” I said, “Good, that’s a step in the right direction.” So at least the behavioral health piece can get covered in the people’s care statewide. Anyway, that’s a bit of a tangent, but that’s one of the many pieces of the complex set of issues…so I’m glad to see that it’s moving in a positive direction right now and I think that it will continue to do so.

Interviewer: So let’s get back to Alison a little bit.

Alison Davison:
Okay…

Interviewer:
Uhm…so your ten years living as Alison…and living as a woman…what kind of differences have you noticed or what kind of surprises have you found along the way in your journey?

Alison Davison:
(Exhales) Wow…there’s been lots of’em you know. One of the biggest surprises is that it isn’t as scary as I thought it would be…you know…it’s more like a coming home than being worried or anxious. And so it’s been much more comfortably for me to be who I am than to be worried about hiding who I am and that it’s not scary is really amazing to me. You know…little things would…especially early on….little things would surprise me when people would address me as ma’am. It used to surprise me when I would be in my car at a stop light and there would be some guy in a car next to me and he would be looking at me and I would think, “Well what the fuck is he looking at?” you know, why is he looking at me? “Oh, yeah right, that’s what it is,” it’s that kind of a look like just kinda checking, checking me out and … “huh, well I’m not into men that’s okay, still kind of affirming,” Okay. I can deal with that.

One of my favorite antidotes about surprises and stuff, it was like, uhm…when Elizabeth my daughter was down here to visit, one of the things that happened was she uhm…she and her girlfriend….I said I’m going to make Mexican food tonight, is there anything you want special and she says, “yeah, I want margaritas,” and I said, “Okay,” so we went to the grocery store to get the makings for margaritas and I probably shouldn’t have this on tape but my daughter was nineteen or twenty at the time, so I shouldn’t have been feeding her alcohol but…anyway we were there at the store, we were at the check-out counter, I have all the makings and uhm the clerk says, “Are those for you?” and I said, “Well yeah,” he said who are they pointing at my daughter and her girlfriend, I said that’s my daughter and her friend…”Well I can’t sell you this,” I said, “what?” “Because I don’t know if you’re going to give it to them” I said, “Well what business is that of yours, I’m certainly plenty old enough to buy alcohol? What I do with my alcohol is no business of yours,” “Well I can’t sell it to you” and I started getting upset and he was sort of getting rude and my daughter, whose not shy said, “You can’t talk to her that way, she’s my dad” and the clerk got all confused and said, “Well I’m sorry sir, I mean ma’am, I mean, I mean,” I then I went over to talk to the manager about it and ended up with a free bottle of tequila so….but it was just really interesting how it caused him to go tilt…”She’s my dad.”

Interviewer:
Talk about the T in LGBT and being at Wingspan and uhm assumptions people make or don’t make or what it’s like being a T around a bunch of LGBs.

Alison Davison:
You know it’s interesting, I’ve watched it evolve over the years and I’ve been around Wingspan for most of the last nine years in some capacity you know whether as a volunteer or a board member or doing saga stuff. You know early on I think there was an awkwardness around the T. You know there was a sort of sense of who are we and how do we…how do we fit with this community? Back when you were working here and a quarter of the staff was trans I think they kinda crossed over some threshold and began to realize that we were a force to be wreckend with. One of the things that uhm…that I noticed and maybe I’m a little bit biased but uhm…trans people do a lot of the stuff here. We’re the most fired up in the community a lot of times. Maybe because we came along a little bit later…but I think that we often feel like we’re still pushing for some of the acceptance that a lot of other people hadn’t quite got yet and that’s true within the community and I think it’s true outside of the community. I think that we’re still pushing a lot for recognition and you know we’re a little freaky compared to a lot of the rest of the folks you know and people don’t quite get their head wrapped around you know this whole gender transformation thing. It’s changing and one of the ways it’s changing is I see it a lot with the youth you know working with the EON youth and stuff like that and they play with gender and some of them transition and some of them don’t and they’re a little bit more playful about it and it’s kinda made it a little easier for other people to kind of get it when that bunch of folks is so easy with it.

I think there’s some folks who are still struggling with it but I think it’s older folks who just haven’t been around it very much but even those folks seem to have kind of gradually eased up on it. We had that whole drama a couple of years back with a group of older lesbians who used to meet and have a group, a social group that met here at Wingspan. I remember the dram that happened with them…there was a point…I think they met on Sunday afternoons and they had a social thing and one of…a trans woman, a member of the community who was also Bi-polar and not at that point willing to take any medications and a little difficult…one of those angry manics as they say in the behavior health bis…. decided that she should go to the older lesbians group and she kind of wondered in during their group and kind was rough and challenging, I think kind of abrasive a little bit with them and didn’t really give an easy face for those folks to uhm kind of understand or an easy person for them to understand and then the next meeting, A couple who were older went to that…at that time one was in her seventies and her then partner, now friend, went to that and they’re both trans women, went to that group. And in the middle of the group, they voted them out and decided that trans women were not okay as part of the older lesbians group and that created quite a hoopla around Wingspan and we went through a lot of stuff to realize we hadn’t really spelled out clearly that that wasn’t okay here at Wingspan and that it wasn’t okay to reject people and when we did make that clear, that group decided to move elsewhere.

Interviewer: I think the group actually disbanded

Alison Davison:
Yeah, they disbanded but I heard that they were still sometimes meeting other places, they were…the meeting where they voted people out was interesting because they went up to what was then the Rainbow Planet coffee house after their meeting and were talking about it up there and talking in derogatory terms around trans people who were trying to infiltrate their group. And I had a friend who owned the coffee house at that time and another friend who was working there and they went out and challenged them and said that kind of language is not welcome here, you’ll have to take your business elsewhere. So I was like yeah, all right. So…but I think in a more gentle way people are getting it you know. I don’t know about other people but I don’t find a lot of push back in very many places around town these days and I certainly don’t see it much here at Wingspan these days.


Interviewer:
So what do you think has been uhm…that Tucson’s become such a trans friendly place?

Alison Davison:
Cause a number of us are out and willing to be in people’s faces, that’s a piece of it. I mean they have people who are visible and people who are willing to talk about it and people willing to educate about it and people willing to have discussions about it and I think that’s really key. You know if people didn’t do that then things wouldn’t have changed I don’t think. So I think you’re responsible for a chunk of that and Kevin and me Erin and a bunch of folks who are sort of in public and out. Ann Jones, she did all that stuff for Habitat for Humanity stuff….that was a really powerful thing. Amanda being out in the ways that she’s been out. I think it’s real important that we’re visible.

Interviewer: Say a little bit more about Amanda for the camera.

Alison Davison:
Oh for the camera? You know what can I say? Amanda Simpson was one of our SAGA members for awhile and was active in our community, she helped to do some of our at work program stuff a few years back when we were doing stuff with employers around how to handle someone who was transitioning at work. Amanda worked for Raytheon. Amanda was a missile engineer…I don’t know what her job title was it was something like that but…


Interviewer:
Something where she said if she told you too much she would have to shoot ya.

Alison Davison:
Yeah, but anyway she worked in that military industrial complex and then she has uhm recently been appointed by President Obama to the Commerce Department as…I don’t remember her title…

Interviewer: Senior Technical Advisor around stuff…



Alison Davison:
Yeah but as a presidential appointee she’s the first, I think, trans woman presidential appointee ever.


Interviewer: The highest-ranking trans person in the public view.

Alison Davison:
Yeah, so she’s back there in D.C. now doing whatever that role does and I don’t know what it does but …and is open and out about being trans there was an ugly bit of humor on the Lettermen show when that happened. But seems to have settled down now as I though it probably would but it’s good that she’s back there.

Interviewer:
So just a couple more questions. Any regrets or anything you would have done differently?

Alison Davison:
No, you know I mean, if it had been possible to do this when I was twelve, I would have..uhm one of the things that’s an amazing thing for me is to be around are trans kids. We have trans kids that I know here in the community that are as young as four years old and they’re able to voice who they are and they’re able to get support from their families and I think that’s just miraculous. And to watch kids transition it’s amazing. When I was at creating change in Dallas this year there was a trans woman there who was part of the presenting crew who had started her transition at fifteen, or fourteen and her parents took her to Amsterdam to get her on puberty blockers and then to go through all of the stuff and she’s gorgeous and she’s transitioning in a really organic kind of way that is nice, her voice is not an issue for her. I think, ah that would have been nice but you know, I grew up when I grew up so I probably did it as well as I could have so it’s not really a regret it’s just like, ah…that would have been nice. And it would have been nice if there was a way to negotiate at all. You know I’m glad, I’m really glad that we’re around and that we’re visible and that there’s the internet and websites and information and people can begin to deal with this stuff and not have to go through a lot of years of hiding. That’s why I think doing videos like this are important to because maybe people will kinda get it quicker and say “Oh yeah, I could do that,” so yes as Michael said earlier on and I’ll echo this, “you know if you think this is so for you, don’t put it off, go see a therapist, start the process, try to figure out what it is that you need to do to get whole with yourself and do it…you know?” Don’t do it if it doesn’t work for ya uhm…but do it.

Interviewer: Any advice? Other than that…

Alison Davison:
Other than that? Yeah, figure out how you want to be with it. There is a lot of different ways I mean there are people who say you know, “You must express your gender in this way and you have to be super high fem or you have to be super masculine or some other kind of thing,” And I say no..you know…find your style and be comfortable with it. There are people who on both male to female and female to male who are opting not to have surgeries. Sometimes it’s an economic decision, sometimes it’s a medical decision, sometimes it’s just not that important if you’re able to live in the world the way you want to live and so live in the world the way you want to live.

Interviewer: Awesome.

Alison Davison:
Thanks.

[End of Transcript]


Citation

Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives, “Alison Davison ~ Individual Oral History Interview,” Arizona Queer Archives, accessed December 8, 2021, http://azqueerarchives.org/items/show/161.