On the Science of Changing Sex

Cognitive Dissonance and Vector Transform Miscalculations in Transgender Tensor Space

Posted in Autobiographical, Editorial by Kay Brown on June 2, 2017

Kay Brown 2010Tension said the Tensor
Tension said the Tensor
Tension Apprehension and Dissention have begun

I am turning 60 years old this week.  This means that it has been 42 years since I transitioned full-time the same week I turned 18, graduated from high school, and was informed that I was being kicked out.  Much has happened since then, both personally and within the transsexual and transgender communities.  In the vein of “ya either laugh or cry”, offered for your consideration are random dialogs and events over the decades.  The events were real, only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

In early ’75, I’m 17 years old, in my bedroom in my mother’s house, which looked like an unused spare bedroom, devoid of personal touches, always neat as a pin, ready for that unexpected guest to occupy it; my father is pleading with me not to be transsexual, “No one will hire you.  You will never have a career.  Just live as a man.  We will look the other way when you have boyfriends over.”

I think bitterly, but don’t voice my thought, “yeah… just like you and the rest of the family treat Uncle Charles!” (my father’s semi-closeted gay brother, the one we were never allowed to meet or talk about).

My father then goes on, attempting to bargain with me, bribe me, “If you stay living as a man the rest of the time, I will pay for vacations where you can dress as a woman.”

I lost it! He was confusing me with a transvestite or a drag queen?  I actually yelled back, out loud, “I AM NOT A PART-TIME WOMAN!”

It’s just after my 18th birthday in mid ’75 and I’m sitting in the waiting room of Chope Hospital for an appointment to meet Dr. Laub, Sr., the surgeon with the Stanford Gender Dysphoria Clinic.  Since the room is large, crowded, filled with random non-transfolk, and noisy and I’m hard of hearing, I’m sitting right next to the receptionist window and the clinic door so I won’t miss them call my name at the appointed time.  A young woman steps out of the door and looks expectantly around the room as though to see someone she recognizes.  Her face indicates that she is giving up but calls out, “Candice Brown?”  I stand up right in front of her upon which she visibly startles.  She then glances at the clip board again, then at me, and asks me to follow her.  (Only much later did I realize that she expected to recognize / read, an obvious ‘newbie’ transsexual, but I passed unremarkably as a girl, which surprised her.)  During the physical exam, a nurse, Dr. Laub, and the young woman, who turned out to be the director of the clinic, make remarks about my naturally feminine looking appearance and total lack of a beard, the director saying, “… and not even on hormones yet!


Kay Brown in college

I’m at a “Grooming Seminar” at the Stanford Gender Dysphoria Clinic in early ’76.  This is touted as one of their services for “complete gender reorientation” offered by the clinic, but in reality, another “hoop” one had to jump through.  I had been living full time as a girl, attending a junior college, since the previous summer, after graduating from high school.  I attend this seminar in the hopes of getting my “letter” approving me for SRS.  It is the very first time that I’ve ever met any other “transsexuals”.  One of the speakers that day was a lawyer giving a talk on how to ensure one’s future marriage to a man would be legal.  I can tell no one but me is interested.  When Q&A begins, the questions are all about how to maintain legal marriages to their wives after their sex change surgeries!  During a break, several transwomen, all much older, are crowded, towering, around and over me, making me very uncomfortable as they alternately comment on my looks, my age (just 18 years old), even my body, in an obviously lascivious and simultaneously jealous way.  One of them asks about my romantic life.  I mention that I’m dating some young men.  One asks,

“How is that possible?!?”

“They ask me out, I say yes,” I shrug.

Both they and I are confused by the encounter.

In the summer of ’77, after two full years post full-time social transition and HRT, I’ve just turned 20, I agree to meet my father’s new fiancée, just she and I.  I had heard from one of my brothers that she was not very bright and only a decade or so older than I.  I’m sitting next to her dressed, much like she was, as a young woman, face lightly made up, with natural long hair in the bright warmth of the summer sun, in a public place so that I could leave in haste in case the interview became ugly, as so many with others of my family had in the past.  During our short encounter she attempted to reassure me that she was “OK” with me being “homosexual” and that she “knew all about it” because she had seen The Boys In The Band.

I looked at her for a moment with my mouth open in shock and silence!  I swallowed what I wanted to scream at her, “How clueless are you?  I’m transsexual, not a gay man!”

Still the summer of ’77, I’m at a building in San Francisco where a fair number of transwomen live, some in rather squalid conditions.  I’ve been introduced there by Rachel, a transwoman from San Jose who worked at the same company I did.  (I was working as an electronic assembler on the night shift in an all female group.  She was on the day shift, and had lots of trouble from transphobic employees who wanted her fired, and strongly objected to her using the women’s bathroom, because she was VERY obviously not female, or even feminine.)  I was getting strange ‘vibes’ from the transwomen, a feeling that I wasn’t welcome and was out of place, until a chance comment led one of them to blurt, “You mean your not GG?”  I replied, “You thought I was GG?”  (‘GG’ was HSTS slang for a non-transsexual woman, natal female.  Decades later, AGPs used ‘cis’ to replace ‘GG’.)  “We were all wondering why Rachel was interested in a GG.”  I was confused and likely looked it.  “She’s a tranny-hawk!  She’s only interested in other trannies.  She’s not into GGs.  You didn’t know?  Be careful, she will try to seduce you!”  Word got around the building to the other transwomen that I was also a tranny, which surprised them further, since none had read me.

Once again, I’m at a “Grooming Seminar” in late ’77.  One of the events specially scheduled for this day is a make-over session in which a make-up expert has been brought in to demonstrate how to use make-up to allow one to pass.  She asks for a volunteer.  As the only ‘young transitioner’ in the audience, well-known to the others to wear almost no make-up beyond mascara and eye-liner during the day (if I was going clubbing or on a date, it was a different story…), I was by general acclamation “volunteered” with much cat-calling and barely suppressed jealous jeering, as I was literally compelled toward the stands by gentle pushes and shoves.  As I join the make-up artist on the stage, this young woman does a serious double-take.  She looks at me, looks at her make-up selection, and despairs.  I later learn from her that she had been told to expect that she would have to cover heavy five-o-clock shadows and coarse ruddy complexions.  She examines my face, noting that I was as smooth skinned as she is without a trace of beard (I had never grown one, never needed electrolysis.)  She asks,

“You have such lovely complexion, what do you use to cleanse and moisturize?”

“Cold cream and rubbing alcohol.”  I answer honestly.  I could barely afford to eat, much less buy expensive skin creams!

“Really?” she asks incredulously, pausing to consider what to do, ” I don’t know what to do.  I don’t have the right make-up for your face!”  Which brings more titters and cat-calls from the far older transwomen in the audience who are clearly enjoying her discomfiture, and mine, likely having anticipated this development.  I feel my face blush pink from embarrassment.  “Hold on, I know…” as she grabs her purse and pulls out her own personal travelling make-up kit.  Turns out, we have identical coloring.  She makes-up my face such that I look like a beauty magazine model.

It’s the spring of 1978, I’m underage at 20, but two female friends have dragooned me into going to a trans / gay bar in “the valley”, a suburb of Los Angeles.  As long as I don’t order an alcoholic drink, I’ve been reassured that I won’t be asked to show ID.  This night they are having an “open mic” for an amateur “female impersonator” show.  I had never done this type of show (and never did again), but my friends insisted.  I was hoping that they had a karaoke system, but no such luck, strictly lip sync.  While backstage getting dolled up, along with two other youngsters who were giving me the cold shoulder, at one point they were talking about how boyfriends could be so cruel about them not being “real girls”.  I piped up at just that moment with an anecdote of my own and as I did so, they turned from the mirror and looked me over in astonishment.  “You’re a BOY!?!”  They had thought that I was GG, female, and crashing their scene.  I waved one hand in a mock queenie dismissive manner saying, “Sort of…

During the late summer of 1978, I’m working hard campaigning, as just one of thousands, against California Prop. 6, the Briggs initiative that would have made it unlawful for LGBT folks and our allies to be school teachers.  One very late evening, after campaigning all afternoon, I’m dead tired, too tired to drive home safely so a really butch lesbian I had been working with toward the end of the evening invited me to crash on her couch at her nearby house for the night, which I gratefully accepted.  The next morning, she notices my bare feet, since I had taken off my shoes and socks before settling on the couch the night before, but left on my blue jeans and “No On 6” campaign T-shirt.  This woman takes one look at my painted toenails and starts a long rant on patriarchal / heterosexual standards and how lesbians “like us” shouldn’t buy into them; That I shouldn’t be painting my nails or wearing make-up, etc.  I realized that since I was stealth and passed as female, working so hard against Prop. 6., that she assumed that I must be a lesbian (female and gynephilic).  I then also realized from some of what she said that she was a truly femmephobic and transphobic, “radical feminist”.  I thanked her for letting me crash, and got out of there as expeditiously as I could before trouble arose.

It’s 1982 and I’m at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance at Stanford (GLAS) Halloween party.  I’m a graduate student at the University.  I’m dressed as an 18th Century society lady.  I meet a really cute, tall, young man who seems to be my “type”.  We dance, laugh, then finally drift outside onto a veranda where we can hear each other without shouting.  I’m feeling the chemistry, but also that he is holding back a bit.  Finally, he blurts out, “Are you a guy or a chick?”  My heart sinks.  This is not going to go well.

“Why?” I ask, “Does it matter?”

“Well yes.  If you are a guy, I’d like to take you home tonight.  If you’re a chick, no.”

“Well, then we have a problem.  Because the only people who need to know that are the ones who are taking me home already.”

Being a post-op transwoman, there was no way that he would be interested once he found that out, no gay man ever is.  But I was feeling puckish and perhaps a bit miffed.  You could see this really put him in a bind.  He was REALLY interested in me and really hoping that I was a ‘guy’.  On the other hand, if I wasn’t and he took me home, this would not be to his liking.  He pulled away, politely.  I later got word from a friend who I’d known for a while that the young man had asked him only minutes afterward if I was “a guy or a chick”.  He had answered, “I wouldn’t know.  I wouldn’t be so rude as to ask.”

Some weeks later, at another GLAS event, the same young man came up to me and said, “You’re a chick.”

“Oh, how are you so sure?”

“Because I saw you going to class dressed as a chick.”

It’s the mid-80’s and I’m at the Billie De Frank Gay and Lesbian Community Center, volunteering at various functions.  I started with just staying after to help fold, stack, and store chairs.  Then I began helping put away the sound equipment, coiling cables and power cords, etc.  Then I was asked to come in early to help set up the sound systems.  Eventually, I was helping to run the sound board during concerts, mostly Wymyn’s Music.  There was a book store in the front of the center, run exclusively by women.  Because many of the volunteers at the book store overlapped with the folks that ran the concerts, I was on friendly terms with them.  One day, they invited me to a pot-luck at one of the women’s houses.  It would have been churlish of me to refuse.

During the dinner, things were going fine.  But after the meal, they all sat down in the living room to watch a video.  It was a lesbian burlesque / strip tease video.  The women, especially one really big bluff dyke, were hooting and hollerin’, making sexual comments.  She struck me as worse than most straight men in objectifying women’s bodies.  Me, I was both bored and bothered.  This was NOT my sexuality!  I silently withdrew, first to clean up in the kitchen, then out the backdoor so they wouldn’t know how repulsed I was.

I was never invited back.  They must have finally figured out that I didn’t belong with them.

ACLUAt a political gathering in the summer of 1982 of several dozen transsexuals, mostly ‘late transitioning’ transwomen and their wives, a woman asks my friend Joy,

“Where is your Significant Other?”

“I’m single.”

“Oh, then who did you come with?”

“My friend,” pointing at me, since we had carpooled together. 

“I’m confused.  Then why are you here?  Most of us only came to support our SO’s,” having looked me over and decided that I wasn’t transsexual either.

“I’m a member of the ACLU committee.”

“Oh wait, you mean that YOU are TS?  OMG!  I’m sorry, I thought you were one of us.”  (meaning, one of the natal female wives and girlfriends).

At an FtM International conference in late ’99, where I had been invited to give a talk on TransHistory, a very similar dialog occurs as a transman and his wife ask me,

“Where is your husband?” as he has noted my wedding ring, making the assumption that I’m one of the non-TS wives of a transman attending the conference.

“He’s at home.  He’s not interested in these sorts of events.”

“Ummm… then when are you planning to transition?” as he looks me over, obviously both admiring my trim figure in a cute feminine outfit while frowning in confusion and some disapproval, now assuming I’m a tucute wannabe FtM.

“Transition?  I did that over twenty five years ago!”

“You’re MTF?  Wow!” as he gives me an even more admiring gaze, “Wow!”

Young transitioning, androphilic transwomen, being a small minority, get this all of the time.  We don’t look “transgender” and even other transfolk aren’t that familiar with us.  Of course, it didn’t help that so many of us had died during the AIDS epidemic.

Late transitioning transwomen believe that there is only one type, so they tend to make invalid assumptions.  During a discussion at a local political meeting where all of the ‘late transitioning’ transwomen are huddled together discussing their military service, one snags me and asks,

“So when were you in the military?”

“What?  They don’t let TS folk in the military!”

“Of course not, I meant before the change…”

“They don’t let minors join either.” (Or gay boys… I think to myself.)



On another day, it doesn’t matter when, as similar events happened several times… and I’m having a discussion in my kitchen with a transwoman I invited over for coffee to discuss transactivism plans.  She makes a comment about one of my housemates, assuming that she is my girlfriend, wondering aloud if she will mind that she is there.

“What makes you think that she and I are an item?”

“Well, you live together.  And it’s obvious that you are affectionate with each other.”

“We have separate bedrooms.”


“We have separate bedrooms.  I’m not into women.  I’ve been dating men since I was a teenager.”

“But, if you are only into men, how come you’re hanging out with me?”

“Because I thought you were interesting as a person.  I wanted to talk about working together.  This isn’t a date!”

Serious misunderstandings between myself and late transitioning transwomen have happened repeatedly in my life.  It is understandable, if one knows that people tend to project their own motives and world view upon others as their working assumption until proven wrong.


Kay Brown with her adopted daughter Liz

It’s the late-90’s, I’m with my adopted daughter, Liz, at a large social gathering at the private home of a much older transwoman, literally a rocket scientist, that includes a fair number of late transitioning transwomen in Silicon Valley.  Everyone there is “cool” about transgender folk and I’ve been introduced, and thus ‘outed’ as being trans, before I even got there.  A middle-aged woman approaches me,

“Your daughter is so well-behaved and lovely and looks so much like you.”

“Yes, it’s amazing.  I guess we both just got lucky that way.”

“So where is her mother? Is she here, or is this your weekend to babysit?”

“I’m her mother.”

“Oh… oh yes, of course you are.  I meant her real mother.”

Stifling rising anger I answer, “If you mean her birth mother, I wouldn’t know, I’ve never met her.”


“I adopted Liz.  I’ve never met her birth parents.  And no, this isn’t my weekend to ‘babysit’.  I’m her mother!”

I wanted to scream at this woman who was so completely clueless on multiple levels.  First, she assumed that I was Liz’s sire, that her birth mother was my wife or ex-wife.  I wanted to scream but remained silent, “NO, I’m not her FATHER.  I’ve never even FUCKED a woman in my entire life!  Oh for fuck’s sake, I transitioned a decade before Liz was even born!”

Its early 2000’s or so, I get an e-mail from a straight woman who took my class on 20th Century Transsexual & Transgender History.  She’s all excited and telling me that I should come to an auction where they are selling off memorabilia of a famous San Francisco female impersonator club that catered to gawking straight out-of-town tourists for decades, but was now closing.  I was confused, why should I be interested I asked her.  She writes back, “Because they are a piece of your history!”

I wanted to scream, but didn’t, “NO.  I’m not a fucking drag queen!  You took my class and still don’t understand?  Those were gay men wearing a costume during a drag show!  When they were done they took off those costumes.  When they went home, they lived as men.  This isn’t a fucking drag show!  This is my LIFE!  I am NOT a part time woman!”

Its 2009, I accompanied a young protégé, a 20-something transwoman to Trinidad, Colorado so that she wouldn’t be all alone as she underwent SRS and the painful first days afterwards.  I stayed at a B&B owned by a lesbian.  It was billed as a very trans friendly place where transfolk and their families / friends could stay during and after their hospitalization.  Perfect, I thought.

Well… not so perfect as it turned out.  The first few days went well as I got along well with the relatives of the transfolk, who except for exactly one 17-year-old, were all classic late transitioning transwomen.  The non-transfolk, all female, staying at the B&B were clearly self-congratulating themselves for how supportive they were of their transsexual relative.  The owner of the B&B was friendly, and tried to get me to partake in smoking grass and staying up late to get more than tipsy on hard liquor with her lesbian friends.  As I never drink more than a few sips of wine with dinner, never use pot, and am habitually an early to bed, early to rise type, she was very disappointed in me.

But, after being there several days, as my young protégé lay in the hospital bed recovering, there was some rather animated discussions among the family members of the transfolk at the B&B, it became clear to me that they all thought I was my young protégé’s mother.  Further, it became clear that even though all of these people had transfolk as relatives, spouses, or lovers, they didn’t really have a clue as to certain aspects of trans-life, history, or medical etiology.  I said something that could only be properly understood if one knew that I was trans… Oopsie!

The owner of the B&B suddenly turned to me and said, “But YOU aren’t transgender!”.

Yes, I am.  I had SRS in this very same place twenty-eight years ago.

But you are so womanly!

Yes, that is a verbatim quote, which tells volumes of her perception of and attitude toward the many transwomen that she had met over the years of operating her B&B.

It took several more minutes of question and answers before they actually believed me.

But this was a very bad move on my part, outing myself… even to this ostensibly trans friendly environment.  Where before I had been simply a woman to them… suddenly, I was no longer in that social category.  I was the “other”.


Jeff and Kay saying their vows

I’m at a trendy wine bar in 2013 in Sacramento the evening after having spoken, by invitation, on a panel at a women’s conference earlier.  The conference organizer is drunk, loudly outs me to several other women, then tells me that she has dated transwomen before, making it very clear that she finds me attractive.  She and her friend stand on either side of me, penning me in as they proceed to hit on me, her friend taking my hand and suggestively stroking it for a moment, then puzzled, notes my wedding and engagement rings, soldered together as one, asks,

“What’s this?”

“My wedding ring.  I’m married.”

“You’re married?”

“Yes, I’m married.  His name is Jeff.  We have a daughter, Liz.”

“I thought you were transgender…”


Kay, Jeff, Liz, & Reese

I wave my hands, shaking my head, as I pull away to make a timely exit to walk back to the B&B for the night.  The next morning, I have a very serious talk to the conference organizer about her inappropriate behavior, explaining why it is not cool to out transwomen in public, nor to hit on them so aggressively, and especially not cool to encourage another woman to do so, assuming that we are all sexually attracted to women.  She was shocked.  She sincerely thought that ALL transwomen were attracted to women.

Over forty years of embarrassing misunderstandings.  I sincerely hope that with greater visibility of early onset transwomen, they will experience far fewer of these…

Further Reading:

The Invisible Transsexual


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