Jame Wallack came out to her wife three days after they married in Drummond. She couldn't bring herself to do so earlier.

"I was afraid she'd leave me," Wallack said.

Jame, who lived her life as a man at the time, packed her belongings and put them in the family room. When Kim Wallack walked through the door, she was confused.

"Are we going on a trip?" Kim said.

"Not exactly," came the reply.

Then Jame told her a story.

"You know how I used to tell you that nobody could ever love me for who I truly am? Now, I'm going to tell you my secret," Jame said.

"She told me that since she was a little kid, 6 years old, 8 years old, she used to wish she could be just like her sisters. She wanted to play with dolls and not trucks," Kim said.

"I said, 'OK. What does this mean?' "

Said Jame: "I wish I could be a woman."

Jame worried that Kim wouldn't be able to handle the news, and the couple talked, and still talks, about their potential for longevity.

"There is a lot of hardship and trial and tribulation. And I knew there was a lot of stuff that I wasn't prepared for," Jame said.

She was right.


Last semester, Jame Wallack withdrew from Missoula College despite her own wishes.

The story Wallack tells isn't tidy, and a couple of incidents in her recent past make her a flawed poster child for the cause she holds dear. She was admitted to the university conditionally because she has a felony conviction on her record; Wallack volunteered the information to the Missoulian.

Despite the unwieldy tale, Wallack's experience raises questions about whether every UM campus is as prepared for a diverse student body as it could be. It also shows the way a student on a difficult journey can get crosswise with an institution and feel blindsided by its policies.

In January 2014, Wallack enrolled in the paralegal studies program at Missoula College. She immersed herself in classwork, and began taking hormones.

"I was the first trans individual that most people had experienced," she said of her fellow students.

Later, the couple moved into town, and Kim enrolled in school, too.

Last fall, Jame Wallack grew more outspoken on transgender issues. Other students picked on her once in a while, she said.

"The more outspoken I became, the more enemies I obviously would make," she said.

A report released in June by the New York Civil Liberties Union said 75 percent of transgender students report being verbally abused at school; one in three is physically assaulted; and more than half avoid going to school because of harassment.

Wallack fell into the majority of students who are taunted. She heard insults in class, she said, and when teachers tried to stymie the snide remarks, she heard them in the parking lot and the halls.

"I've been called a tranny. I've been called a fag. I've been called every dirty word that a transgender person could be called," she said.

One day, someone called Kim a "fag lover" on campus.

"I've never cried so hard walking to my car," Kim said.


Tom Stanton is director of the paralegal studies program, and he said Jame Wallack performed well in class and was engaged in discussions. She also had an obvious focus.

"She's very interested in working toward the rights of transgender people, and to that end, I believe her motives are relatively good, if not pure," Stanton said.

She confided that she had been harassed on campus, and he listened. Stanton never witnessed the bullying himself, but he took her stories as fact.

"I would tell you that every institution, not just in western Montana, but probably in the United States, could (benefit from an) equal rights review," he said.

He believes Wallack was brave to identify herself as a transgender person on campus, and he also figures her outspoken stance might have offended some.

"I think western Montana tends to be a pretty conservative place. Don't you?"


This past January, Jame Wallack grew depressed and anxious because of fluctuations in her hormones, and Kim decided her wife should go to the doctor and get medication.

"Boy, did that backfire in my face," Kim said.

Over spring break, Jame Wallack took painkillers for slipped discs in her back, and she took antidepressants.

One day in March, Kim asked if she had taken too many pills. Jame gave her a blank stare.

Then, she attacked her wife. A police report provided to the Missoulian by Jame Wallack said Jame grabbed her wife's throat and pinned her against the wall.

Kim told police that Jame let her go when she realized she was hurting her. Then, Jame panicked and put Kim in a head lock.

Kim escaped, Jame fled and Kim called police.

"(Kim) wanted the police to make sure Jame did not hurt herself," the report said.

After police promised Jame she would not go to jail, she arrived at the station. She received a misdemeanor citation for partner and family member assault; the charge is pending.

The couple said the attack was an anomaly, and both believe it was brought on by Jame's prescriptions.

Jame does not remember those 48 hours. A doctor's letter confirms the drug Jame took can cause blackouts and aggression, and the physician said he discontinued the prescription.

"I think it is quite likely that Jame unintentionally took an overdose of her medication in an effort to manage symptoms of a severe anxiety attack, and this could certainly explain any mood changes, anger or violence that occurred," the doctor said in the letter.


Earlier the same month, another student at UM was violently attacked with a tire iron at student housing. The attacker struck the victim's face, broke his jaw, severed his ear, and left him bloodied and battered.

The Wallacks said the suspect in that case was their neighbor, also a transgender person.

The repercussions were immediate, and severe.

Said Kim: "School became hell for Jame."

"They thought if one transgender person was willing to do that, we all were. I'm not the only trans person who lived in fear on campus," Wallack said.

In response, Jame took action.

She was already speaking on transgender issues in classes. Now, she talked with the interim dean about starting a Diversity Day for the Missoula College campuses; she began combing through school policies and the conduct code.

"I tore it apart," Wallack said. "There's got to be a violation here. I'm getting bullied in school for this reason."

The University of Montana prohibits harassment, including name calling based on gender identity, in its discrimination policy; it prohibits harassment in general in the conduct code.

You have free articles remaining.

Become a Member

Wallack, however, did not see a policy in the conduct code that explicitly addressed bullying or the type of aggression she had experienced.

She believes one should be in place, given the high rates of assaults transgender students experience on campuses and their high suicide rate. Forty-one percent of transgender people nationally will attempt suicide, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"If we're not going to allow bullying in our high schools and middle schools, then why would you allow it on the college campuses?" Wallack said.

She collected some 50 signatures for a petition to advocate for amending the conduct code, and she made plans to run for the student senate.


Then, Wallack's plans unraveled.

On April 14, she received an email from Dean of Students Rhondie Voorhees asking for a meeting. Two days later, Voorhees handed her a letter that stated Wallack was being placed on interim suspension.

The letter, which Wallack provided to the Missoulian, stated she had violated the conduct code. The letter named three specific incidents, which Wallack disputes.

• It notes Residence Life responded to numerous noise disturbances at Wallack's home. Wallack said she never received notice from Residence Life.

• It notes a citation for alcohol use. Wallack said police responded to a noise complaint at her home last December because she and Kim had gotten into a loud argument. She said she never received a citation, and she relayed the outcome to Voorhees. "I said, 'They didn't cite me for anything.' (Voorhees) said, 'No. But they should have,' " Wallack recalled. UM Police Chief Marty Ludemann confirmed police did not cite Wallack.

• The letter notes the event in March that led to her pending misdemeanor citation; she offered her doctor's note in response.

At the meeting, the dean told Jame that if she did not initiate the conduct code process to clear the violation, the dean would move for her expulsion, Wallack said.

Voorhees also told her she could drop out to avoid being expelled, Wallack said.

Wallack did not want to address the violation at UM, at least until she had taken care of the misdemeanor citation in the courts.

On April 20, she withdrew from Missoula College.

"I felt pushed into that situation, where I really had no choice," Wallack said.


Wallack feels blindsided by the university.

Up until the meeting, she believed she had put her life on the right track. She found the source of personal problems that led to lapses in judgment, she started to transition and she applied herself at school.

"I felt I owed it to myself, to the community, to try to give something back, to try to make a difference," Wallack said. "My first opportunity to do that was pulled out from underneath me."

No one warned her she was on the brink, she said.

In an email to the Missoulian, Dean Voorhees said UM is not obligated to give warnings to students admitted conditionally. She could not speak to this specific case, but she shared UM's general standards.

"If students are given conditional admission to the University because they have past criminal convictions, we do not need to give warning or notice before taking action on any new violation of the Student Conduct Code, local, state or federal laws, or conditions of their probation, no matter how minor," Voorhees said.

"These conditions and expectations are made very clear at the time of admission; failure to adhere to any conditions of admission means they may be suspended or expelled.

"We can move quickly and without warning, especially if new behaviors are so serious or disruptive that we are concerned about the safety and well-being of others in the campus community."

In a letter to Wallack, Voorhees noted UM may impose interim action "effective immediately."

The letter, which Wallack provided to the Missoulian, notes UM was concerned about the threat she posed to other occupants of the apartment.

"The police report indicates that you had attempted to strangle another student in the apartment," the letter said.

Wallack believes she has adequate evidence, including the letter from her doctor and statements from her wife, to show the incident in March was an isolated episode linked to the medication she was taking to help her through her transition.

She does not have a violent past, she said; she said her prior conviction was for burglary, bail jumping and criminal endangerment. 


Last spring, UM officials pulled Kim aside and told her that she should not be with Jame Wallack, Kim said.

Kim, though, is sticking by her wife.

"This is not what you think it is," Kim has told them.

Jame had demons in the past, and her decision to transition has quieted them, according to both Wallacks.

The police report notes Kim would not have been surprised if Jame had tried to strangle her in the past, as a man.

"The person she used to be in a heartbeat, I would tell you, yeah, he tried to strangle me. He would have killed me," the report said in a summary of Kim's remarks.

"Her, she is not like that. Blows my mind as much as it blows anybody else's."

Kim confirmed the sentiment in an interview. She said Jame had never raised a hand to her, but she had witnessed the anger in her partner.

"The minute she started transitioning, everything was way different," Kim said.


Jame knows some of her transgender peers on campus have a different experience than hers, but she also knows she isn't alone in being bullied at Missoula College.

She would like UM to put as much effort into diversity at the college as it does on the main campus.

"The west campus gets swept under the rug," Wallack said.

She told more than one school official about the bullying, but she said no one encouraged her to file a written complaint. She said the harassment included people repeatedly addressing her as a man.

UM's discrimination policy calls for employees to report sexual harassment within 24 hours to the Equal Opportunity Office.

Legal counsel Lucy France said she did not believe an employee would be disciplined for failing to report a student's complaint about being referred to by the wrong gender, but she said such behavior could constitute discrimination.

"It is something that more education could help people understand," France said.

On the other hand, the seed Wallack planted about holding a Diversity Day at the east and west college campuses appears to have taken root.

Penny Jakes, who was interim dean of the college in the spring, confirmed she and Wallack talked about such an event. They disagree on how far the effort went, but Jakes said Missoula College now plans to coordinate with UM on a Diversity Day.


Jame's hardships aren't over.

She is working, but finding a job that will allow her to support her family has been difficult. In her day job, she presented herself as a man up until a couple of weeks ago because she had trouble getting work in the midst of her transition.

She wasn't allowed at university housing, so she lived out of her car for a period because it was hard to come up with first and last month's rent.

Kim was evicted from UM housing because she fell behind with rent, and the couple finally found a place to live off campus, together.

Jame said it is small, but it will do for the time being.

Some day, Jame would like to finish her degree in paralegal studies and enroll at a university.

Get local news delivered to your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.
You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.