Former transsexual cop opens up

Former transsexual cop opens up

Now a 'real' woman, Lt. Aiello talks about life after Hoboken PD

01/11/2008 HR

In the spring of 1995, Hoboken motorcycle police officer John Aiello told his superiors that when he returned from his leave, it would be as a woman named Janet.

Rumors of the situation began circulating around the mile-square city, but police officials refused to confirm them for the press. Finally, in July of 1995, the New York Post landed an interview with Aiello, then slapped the officer's photo on their cover with the headline, "Sex-op cop fights for job."

The media promptly descended on the mile-square city, and a media frenzy ensued, with a New York radio DJ calling Aiello "one ugly woman."

Meanwhile, Aiello continued taking hormone pills, and the police had to navigate procedures and policies as seemingly routine as whether to allow Janet/John to use the women's restroom at work.

But after the hubbub died down, Aiello retired and left Hudson County forever, settling in New York City, where she lives today.

Aiello declined to give follow-up interviews to the press when contacted in recent years, even after completing her sex-change surgery. She says she hasn't set foot in Hoboken in 13 years.

But last week, Aiello consented to an interview. It came in the wake of her speaking out publicly about recent national news about the Hoboken Police Department.

Hoboken is now just a memory

In 1997 - the year Aiello was scheduled to receive her pension - she retired as part of a confidential settlement with the city and the HPD over gender bias, she said last week.

"I wasn't satisfied with it, because I wished it would have gone to court," she said. "I wanted to explain to the judge and jury how I felt. Here I am, a 47-year-old woman - because I've always considered myself a woman - and I wanted to cry."

Aiello has been in East Harlem for 10 years. Hoboken, the city she worked in for 25 years, is just a memory. "I can honestly say I haven't been to Hoboken in 13 to 14 years," she said. "I don't even know what it looks like now."

She added, "I remember one day I had nothing to do, and my roommate and I jumped on the Staten Island Ferry and I saw the Hoboken skyline."

She said it was the first time she had seen the skyline in a while. It had changed since the last time she saw it in the late 1990s, and she saw the fruits of the waterfront development that she had contributed to when she gave input on the master plan for the future of zoning in the city.

Will she ever come back?

"I think it would bring up a lot of past memories. I want to probably leave it as best I knew it," she said. She added that she is happy knowing she played a minor part in a lot of projects that have since came to fruition in the city, like the light rail, and the realization of parts of the master plan.

Had a wife and kids

Hoboken was almost a second home for Aiello, who never really had one until she got the job in the mile-square city.

As a child, "John" Aiello and his three brothers were put up for adoption and grew up in orphanages all over New Jersey. He was educated in places like Immaculate Conception, Sacred Heart and Boys Town, until he was taken in by a paternal aunt and uncle, and spent his senior year at Emerson High School in Union City. At the age of 22, Aiello became a cop, and at the age of 47, John physically became a woman and legally changed his name to Janet.

At that time, Janet was married to a woman, and the couple had two children. Their son was 11 and their daughter was 14.

"My son always looked at me and saw me as a big, strong muscular man. That's what he remembered," said the former motorcycle cop last week. "We went into counseling as a family and explained it to the children. We talked about it. I remember my daughter asking if I'm gay, and I said no."

She added, "We did all the right things. At least, we tried to do all the right things. My daughter went to grad school, my wife [the couple are currently separated] is my best friend; my son is fine. I don't regret anything I've done."

On gender

There were some initial problems, but she has re-established relationships with her family, she said. Aiello, now 57, classifies her sexual orientation as lesbian, and says she is not currently involved in a romantic relationship. She has been, though.

She shares her Upper East Side apartment with a female roommate, whom she specifies is "not a lover, but a roommate."

She added that their kids enjoy each other's company and they've become good friends.

She said that the societal definition of gender is not really an accurate one.

"People still rely on society to put gender in boxes," she said. "We live in a binary society where people don't realize the fluidity of gender. I was a big, strong man. I had a deep voice, 245 pounds of muscle, but you'd look at me and you'd say, 'She looks like a woman. She has breasts and hips.'"

"When people look at you they question their own sexuality," she added. "If they're not sure, they can become angry at themselves because they don't know [a transexual's sex], or angry at you because they think you are disrespectful. Gender is a very explosive issue to this day. Just now we're getting to know more about it."

"Being in the minority of the minority, we're still under the hands of doctors, because it's still listed as a mental disability," she added.

Now living off of an unrelated disability that she would not discuss, Aiello spent her first years after Hoboken working as a dispatch officer in Massachusetts, and more recently worked as a youth counselor and as a primary counselor for residences for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adults.

On the recent scandal

Aiello spoke out recently in the wake of a case this past November in which five Hispanic officers filed a lawsuit against the Hoboken Police Department.

In the suit, those five officers alleged that their superior officer, Lt. Angelo Andriani, had engaged in racist behavior in their presence. One photo showed Andriani with a napkin over his face. The officers alleged that it was an imitation of a KKK hood, while Andriani himself has said he was imitating a Robin Williams HBO sketch.

After the lawsuit was filed, embarrassing photos of Andriani and other members of the force began circulating among the national media. Members of the Hoboken SWAT team, which was headed by Andriani, were shown in photos posing with scantily-clad women from an Alabama Hooters restaurant on the way back from a hurricane relief trip, allowing the women to handle their guns.

In a letter Aiello wrote to a local website, Hoboken 411, at the end of last month, she said that certain favorites of the police chief "can be homophobic, gender phobic and distrusting." She did not elaborate on specific behavior in the letter, and she did not criticize the rest of the police force.

Last week, when asked to elaborate further on her accusations, she said she did not want to speak further on those issues.

She also said that she had heard about the lawsuit from national news, not because she keeps abreast of Hoboken happenings. She said she has not followed Hoboken politics since she left the job.

In the 1990s, Aiello and the police chief sparred publicly on a number of issues, including her performance upon returning to work, possibly changing her shift, and other matters.

However, Aiello said she still maintains respect for the officers she worked with.

"They tried to treat me fairly," she said. "If we had problems, we tried to work it out. To me it was all right."

Not a cop-out

Aiello remembered some ups and downs from the time she continued working as a transsexual police lieutenant. "The residents were fine," she said. "I spent my last two years on the force in a mobile unit in the projects. Two rapes happened when I was working. The first thing I did was, I explained to the women that I was a transsexual female. I sat with them in the Medical Center as they went through their exams. I had a lot of empathy for them as a woman."

Both of those crimes were solved, she added. "I think the people of the city were very good," she said. "I believe the officers in general did the best they could in the situation. Who didn't do the best they could were the administration - civil and police. People I had to rely on over the years - like the PBA - didn't help."

She added, "I was an officer and a gentleman and then I became an officer and a lady, and anything they asked of me, I would have done."

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