On the Science of Changing Sex



Kay Brown with her adopted daughter Liz

Welcome!  This blog is written by silly ol’ me…  Candice “Kay” Brown Elliott.

I’ve always chosen to work at the cutting edge of things.  If “everyone” is already doing something, they don’t need my help.  I tend to work getting things started, blazing a trail.  I take chances and do the things that need to be done, and say the things that need to be said, when no one else is willing.  But I’m content to let others take the limelight as it becomes popular.  I believe we should all study the past, live in the present, and invest in the future.

My life has at times been challenging because of being transsexual.  My life was very happy until I started school, where I was often teased and bullied.  In the late ’60s, when I was ten years old, I was labeled “emotionally disturbed” by the elementary school psychologist, and sent to “play therapy” every friday afternoon with Dr. Peters (a masculine bearded man as a role model) in a room full of only boy’s toys.  I was seriously harassed, physically bullied, and viciously beaten by groups of boys at my first high school, which an unsympathetic administration tacitly condoned.  (I transferred to another high school nearby with a zero tolerance policy toward bullying.)  When I was 15/16, my mother brought me to my pediatrician for evaluation regarding my feminine behavior and “homosexuality”, who referred me to a therapist, Dr. Kansky, a specialist in “troubled” adolescents who, with instructions from my mother, was to “cure” me, talk me out of being transsexual.  At 17, I convinced my father to let me see Dr. Norman Fisk at the newly formed Stanford Gender Dysphoria Clinic instead.  Dr. Fisk is the man who coined the term gender dysphoria and told my family to support, rather than deny me medical help to transition.

I came out as an androphilic transsexual in high school in the early ’70s and transitioned as a teenager in the mid ’70’s.  Toward the end of high school, I attended class presenting as a boy, but socialized as a girl after school.  I even dated several (straight male) classmates.  My ‘phobic family kicked me out after I graduated from high school and turned 18 the same week in ’75.  After that, I had no need to present as a boy, and didn’t.  I’ve mostly made my own way, supporting myself, since.  Life was a bit hard for a while, on my own like that, but worked out OK in the end.  Had you met me when I younger, say from age 18 to 22 you would have thought I was stereotypical of such “young transitioners”, experiencing housing and food insecurity, aimless, working a succession of low pay pink collar jobs, unlikely to achieve much in life.  But I got very lucky and my life became much more stable when I was 22/23 years old.  I had SRS when personal finances finally permitted it in early ’81, earned a BS by examination in ’82, and was admitted to Stanford Graduate School that fall.



Through late ’70s and into the ’90s, I lived in various situations, most often sharing LGBT friendly communal space with other women & transwomen.  My favorite was “CedarStar” a large suburban communal property (0.7 acre) with two houses in Portland, Oregon, I and a number of women lived in and restored during the early ’90s.  I designed the paint and garden color scheme for the house, shown here.  During those years, I dated a number of straight men, but none ever seemed to stick around longer than a year or so, mostly due to their fear that their families wouldn’t accept a transwoman…  until I met my future husband.

Comstock-House_sI’m currently 60 years old, married to a very understanding and loving man, and have an adopted daughter, the second of two foster daughters, Cassandra and Liz, both now grown, and five god children, from toddler to fully grown.  My husband, Jeff, and I live in Northern California, in the Wine Country, north of San Francisco, in an historic house (on the National Register) we have restored. 

On the weekends, I teach others to fly airplanes, working as a part-time flight instructor (CFI, CFII, MEI).  If I’m not flying, I’m out puttering in my english cottage style garden, tending hundreds of roses, irises, lilies, as well as many flowering annuals. In my “me” time, I play the Mountain Dulcimer, modern full chording/fingerpicking style, mostly British Isles folk tunes.  I still love to sing old ’30s – ’60s pop tunes as well, especially musicals, though the pipes are getting a bit raspy these days {♫♫Somewhere… over the rainbow…♫♫}.

Comstock-House-inside_sIn the evenings, Jeff and I enjoy our extensive library of slightly over 10,000 books (no exaggeration), surrounded by antiques, living as though it were the turn of the last century.  We share a love of history, but have very different tastes in fiction.  I love Jane Austin, he John Kennedy Toole and Eric Kraft.  The house is filled with musical instruments, a ‘parlor grand’ piano, flutes, clarinet, dulcimers, guitars, Irish harp, etc.  In music, I love folk,  musicals, and big band; he likes jazz, opera, and serious ‘art’ music, as he has degrees in music.  I love my life with him.

Jeff, Kay, Liz, & Reese

Kay, Jeff, Liz, & Reese

Children and young people have been and continue to hold a special place in my heart.  As a teen, I was a frequent babysitter, volunteer swimming instructor for very young kids, and even a full-time nanny for a local family with two children.  As an adult, I volunteered through several organizations whose mission is to encourage children and young adults, especially girls, to pursue STEM educations and careers.  I’ve taught STEM classes at a private school.  I’ve been a licensed fostermom in two states, Oregon & California, and most recently served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for an FtM transkid in foster care.  (If you are also a foster/adopt parent, then you know the level of scrutiny, background checks, and parenting classes that I had to go through, but multiply that by suspicious bias against tranfolk.)  In addition to officially fostering children through child protective / social services, I have unofficially fostered and mentored a small number of LGBT young people, of both etiological types, occasionally even offering medium term housing to allow post-op recovery in privacy before they return to their regular lives.  Of course, my god children have been known to live months at time at our house, one of whom I’m teaching to fly!  I’m currently on the board of directors of Positive Images in Santa Rosa, a local non-profit LGBT youth center with an active focus on transgender youth aged 12 to 24.

Kay Brown in college

Kay in college

I have a strong background in science, physics and biology, including a degree in psychology.  My professional career has been in the applied sciences, at the intersection of high technology and psychophysics.  I’m regularly invited to speak at international conferences and universities.  I’ve published papers, journal articles, and contributed a chapter to Mobile Displays – Technology and Applications, a textbook in my field.  I have over a hundred granted US patents and hundreds of foreign cognates.  In 2014, I was awarded the Otto Schade Prize by the Society for Information Display, of which I’m a Senior Member, specifically for my contributions to that field.

When I was a child, my father, a technologist and corporate executive, strongly encouraged, insisted really, brooking no dissent, that I study and take every available STEM course (though he had no objections to my personal passion / interest in Individual Voice – singing classes, as he loved to sing as well).  In college, my boyfriend’s mother encouraged me to follow in her footsteps, as she was then the president of the Silicon Valley chapter of the Society for Women Engineers (SWE).  Surrounded as I was by high-tech executives and technologists as role models and mentors, both men and women, I literally, as well as figuratively, grew up in Silicon Valley, bicycling distance from Stanford University, starting my career as a teenaged secretary / administrative assistant for a small high tech firm, working full-time while I studied part-time, earning a BS with a dual major, later attending Stanford Graduate School, growing my skills and responsibilities as I worked my way through various positions from electronics assembler, expeditor, supervisor, manager, executive, and finally CEO.  These days I’m semi-retired but continue to consult for a number of high tech client companies in Asia and the U.S.

candicecover3To be clear, I am not a computer programmer and never have been… in fact all of my formal education was in science, not engineering.    I like to quip that half my career was spent in a bunny suit (clean-room garb) and the other half in a business suit.  I know what code looks like, but I’m a people manager / idea person, not a heads-down engineer.  I have managed programmers and engineers though, just as I have managed clean-room personnel.  I was once asked, decades ago, in an interview if I would rather be around people or machines.  The hiring manager, a woman a decade older, was very surprised when I answered “people”.  I love being around smart, energetic people, so I love both teaching and managing people.

I’ve worked for and founded several Silicon Valley high-tech start-ups, selling one of them to Samsung, a large Asian consumer electronics company you may have heard of.  There’s a very good chance that you are using the tech, PenTile Matrix, that my amazing team and I developed, as it is shipping in hundreds of millions of smartphones, tablets, notebook PCs, and televisions, each year, most notably in the Samsung Galaxy series and the Apple iPhone X.  I currently serve as an advisor to two venture capital funds that focus on women led start-up companies and serve as a mentor to aspiring entrepreneurial women through an organization of women entrepreneurs.  (On the flip side, I’ve learned a great deal myself from these inspiring women!)

All the Stars are Suns ebook completeLately I published a Science Fiction novel, the first of many I hope.  And yes, while not the main protagonist, there is a transwoman in the story.  And no, she is not a reflection of me or my life.  But seriously, check it out!  You may learn more about the novel and order it from Amazon here.

Since the late ’70s, I have been quietly involved as an activist.  My resume as an activist includes the following highlights:

-I first rode in the ’77 parade in San Francisco, on top of the roll-bars of a jeep representing the Mattachine Society. I participated in many subsequent pride events in several west coast cities, from Los Angeles to Portland.

-My first introduction to serious political activism, was in 1978 campaigning (as just one of thousands of LGBT folks) against California Proposition 6, the “Briggs Initiative” which sought to ban lesbians, gays, and our allies from teaching.  Sadly, it was this experience seeing how hateful many were to LGBT folk that made me deathly afraid of pursuing a career as a public school teacher, something that I had thought seriously of pursuing.  It would be bad enough to have to be a closeted gay or lesbian teacher… but the risk of being outed, ridiculed, and blackballed from teaching after having spent years getting credentialled because of transphobia ?


– I was a founding member of the ACLU Transsexual Rights Committee in 1980, (that’s me in the middle) with Jude Patton, Joanna Clark (AKA: Sister Mary Elizabeth), and working along side my college roommate, Joy D. Shaffer, M.D.  Joy is an amazing individual; after transitioning as an undergraduate student at CalTech, went on to attend Stanford Medical School, later to found a private primary care practice for the LGBT community in Silicon Valley.  She was on the front lines fighting the AIDS/HIV epidemic in the early years.  Joanna similarly fought the epidemic by operating a BBS and later a website providing much needed medical and scientific information about the disease, posting journal articles, skirting copyright laws to save lives.  Jude was a physician assistant and had been active in HBIGDA (now WPATH).  This was an amazing group of people!

-In the mid-80s I volunteered at numerous LGBT organizations including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance at Stanford (GLAS) and the Billy DeFrank Community Center in San Jose.  {You don’t remember seeing me there?  I was the one who stayed late to help put away the folding chairs and sweep the floor… the stuff that needed to be done that no one else wanted to do…}

-In the early to mid ’90s, I helped organize the Portland trans-community, with the help of the Lesbian Avengers, to reclaim Oregon historical hero, transman, Dr. Alan Hart from a gay rights organization who were misappropriating his memory, using him as a mascot to raise money, misgendering him, falsely claiming he was a “lesbian / passing woman”, as an example of a lesbian who was forced to pass as a man to escape homophobia.  To this end, I co-founded, along with an FtM transman, the Ad Hoc Committee of Transsexuals to Recognize Alan Hart, which worked to educate the wider gay and lesbian community about transsexual and transgender people, our lives, and our need to be included in gay rights legislation.

Kay Brown

Kay in ’96

-I was a volunteer full-time legislative lobbyist with It’s Time Oregon in the mid-90s, working alongside transactivist/lawyer JoAnna McNamara, successfully removing language from a bill that – had it been included when the bill eventually passed – would have stripped transsexuals of recently hard earned employment non-discrimination protection, protections Ms. McNamara, serving as attorney for a transwoman wrongfully terminated, won in court.

-By the mid-90s, it became clear that more transfolk were willing to step up and take on the burden of transactivism.  In fact, it became a cliche that every newly transitioned transperson was a “transactivist”, whether they had actually done anything or not.  My work there was done, let others take the lime-light, time to move on to other issues.

-In the mid to late 90’s I was dismayed that so many recently transitioned transfolk had no sense of our history, often claiming to be “the first {fill in the blank}” when they were no where near being or doing such.   I felt privileged and honored to have known and worked along side many of the key early transactivists of the late 20th Century and wished to ensure that they were remembered.  I began to conduct research and education about our collective transhistory, teaching classes at the Harvey Milk Institute in San Fransisco and publishing both online and in the Transsexual News Telegraph magazine in the mid to late-90’s and into the early 21st Century.  By the mid-oughts, my classes and early documentation led to a wider interest in research and education of our history and of our heroes among the transcommunities.  My work there was done, let others take the limelight, it was time to move on to other issues.

Kay Brown 2010

Kay in 2010

This past decade, I became interested in learning and spreading knowledge about the science advances in understanding transsexuality and transgender experience… and in combating myths and misinformation…  thus this blog.  What that science says about us isn’t always comforting, but needs to be known and understood.

Although I’ve been smeared with lies, half-truths, and innuendo by misguided angry transwomen (thus the need to ‘overshare’ in this bio, to set the record straight), and taken criticism from fearful members of the various other branches of the transgender community, it is my sincere belief and hope that a greater understanding and acceptance of who and what we really are, without false tropes and denial, will lead to a happier & emotionally healthier community, reduce the pain & confusion of our friends, families, & neighbors, and reduce stigma.  If you agree with these goals, please post links to this blog on your blog, social media, discussion fora, and news comments.

I warmly welcome polite inquiries.  I am available as a speaker at schools, parent groups, CASA/fostercare/social workers, and medical practices that are interested in providing appropriate care to transkids.  I can be reached at formertranskid@gmail.com

My facebook page is:  https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004135099069

My general interest blog is https://candicebrownelliott.wordpress.com

Through Knowledge, Justice…

%d bloggers like this: