A friend in need

Community comes together to support Aliza Shapiro
By THOMAS PAGE MCBEE  |  August 5, 2011


For the last 15 years, Aliza Shapiro has been the heart and brains of Truth Serum Productions, the rabble-rousing outfit behind the irreverent TraniWreck cabaret. She's also famous for her drag-king persona, the mustached Heywood Wakefield. But even more than her individual contributions, Shapiro is well-known for somehow being everywhere queer community happens. Her energetic, passionate, and generous engagement with Boston's arts and activist communities have made her the de facto, bespectacled, high-haired symbol, hospitality committee, and promoter for queer Boston — as artists, writers, organizers, or musicians who've lived, worked, or even passed through these parts know.

So when word spread that Shapiro was hospitalized on July 25 after a stroke resulting from a cerebral hemorrhage, her Facebook page lit up with local and cross-country well-wishes, offers from businesses to donate food to her hospital visitors and helpers, and, soon, news of a fundraising Web site, alizabraintrust.org, that asked Shapiro's enormous community to contribute to her rehabilitation. The site informs visitors that Shapiro currently suffers motor, vision, and language impairments as a result of her stroke, and " . . . will have a long, challenging road back to full recovery."

Susanna Bohme, Shapiro's partner, was amazed by the quick outpouring of support (within four days of going live, the site had collected more than $13,000). "I feel really moved by people's generosity," Bohme said in a phone interview. "It makes me feel proud of Aliza, and it's really a testament to how she's touched people's lives and the importance of the work she's done."

Shapiro, like most self-employed artists and community organizers, does not have the financial resources or the employer benefits to support her own medical treatment and expenses. The goal of the site is to raise at least 10 months' worth of funds to support her recovery when she returns home. When asked what might be motivating people to turn out so quickly, and with such force, to help Shapiro, Bohme said, "I think that if you look at the Facebook page or the Web site, you can see people talking over and over about how Aliza has helped performers get started, or connected people in the scene, and provided a space where queer people — and all people — can see themselves reflected. . . . She's really an instigator and connector."

For more information and to donate, visit alizabraintrust.org.

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