On the Science of Changing Sex

About

Candice2

Kay Brown with her adopted daughter Liz

Welcome!  This blog is written by silly ol’ me…  Candice “Kay” Brown Elliott.  “Kay Brown” is my pen name for writing on trans related history, culture, and science.  I also once wrote an essay using the pen name “Cloudy” and I recently published a novel using the pen name “Seaby Brown”.

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.  Yet other times wonderful people helped me along the way.  I was and remain grateful to them, both named and unnamed in this short but comprehensive bio.

I am the first-born of four children and had a cousin, a boy a year older than I, that was also important as we grew up.  My life was very happy until I started school, where I was often teased and bullied.  Frankly, while my early childhood memories are very sketchy, lost to typical early life amnesia, my mother has reported that I was very different from my two brothers from an early age, obviously gender atypical and it bothered her greatly.  In the late ’60s, when I was ten years old, because of that obvious gender atypicality I was labeled “emotionally disturbed” by the school district psychologist, and sent to “play” every friday afternoon in a room full of only boy’s toys with Dr. Peters (a tall, bearded man as a masculine role model… what a name… you can’t make this stuff up!).  I was seriously and repeatedly harassed, physically bullied, and viciously beaten by groups of boys at my first high school, Homestead High, in Sunnyvale, CA, which an unsympathetic administration tacitly condoned.  I transferred to another high school nearby, Los Altos High, with a zero tolerance policy toward bullying.  In 1973, when I was 15/16, my mother brought me to my pediatrician for evaluation regarding my gender atypical 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 Stanford Gender Dysphoria Program instead.  {My parents were then divorced and my mother had custody of the children.}  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 openly socialized as a girl after school, changing clothes and putting on my make-up at a friend’s house a couple blocks from school {her mother was very supportive and understanding}.  Not everyone at Los Altos High was accepting.  In fact, our singing instructor made very loud homophobic comments about me in class the first weeks of my Senior year such that I was compelled to drop the class to avoid further public humiliation.  Yet several of my teachers and school administrators were very supportive: Mrs. Church, our English teacher encouraged me to write a journal of my transition and subsequent life and more importantly helped arrange for my records to be changed upon graduation; Coach Tom Bottom, whom I had known since I was nine years old, found an alternative to Boy’s PE for me my senior year, and Dr. Madgic the Vice Principle wrote letters of recommendation in my new name and gender to help me with my future college education, such as it turned out to be.

Though I had applied for and been granted a place at a four-year state college, my family flat-out refused to support any such ambition unless I agreed to never present as a girl.  This I refused.  Without their signatures on financial disclosures, I couldn’t even apply for financial aid.  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.

Candice_hospital

Kay Brown in the hospital for SRS, at age 23.

I had SRS when personal finances finally permitted it in early ’81 – I had some savings, borrowed heavily from friends and max’ed out my credit cards – paid off when the insurance company finally reimbursed me.

I earned a BS by examination in ’82, and was admitted to Stanford Graduate School that fall.

Some expansion is warranted here, as many are confused by my statement on “by examination”.  I had about one year of Jr. College, mostly general ed requirements, earned at four different Jr. Colleges over about five or six years, taking one or two evening classes at a time while working various jobs.  At this rate, I might get an AA degree in another five.  I had been working in Silicon Valley pink color jobs and was looking at a career ceiling unless I had at least a four-year degree that my employers would respect, which at my then present rate, I might earn in another 15 years, if ever?  Joanna Clark told me about a little known program called the Regents External Degree from the University of the State of New York (now spun out as Excelsior College).  They offered college credit by examination, specifically, if one could earn at least a minimum score on a Subject Graduate Record Exam (not the general), they would award about a year’s worth of university credits.  Looking at the minimum score needed, it appeared that you had to be at least within one standard deviation of the norm for that exam, typically at least in the 33%tile or so.  Remember, that meant that one is scored against students that had already earned a degree in that field and who wanted to go onto graduate school in that field… a high standard.  I’m fairly certain that the Regents never thought that someone would attempt it, but I figured that if I could earn decent scores on three subjects of the then available exams, I would have a BS.  It would save me 15 or more years!  With little to lose and much to gain, I jumped on it!

The exams are offered only several times a year and one could only take one at a time.  I decided I would try the Biology exam.  I borrowed every biology text I could lay hand to… studied every waking moment not at work.  I took practice exams to hone my test taking skills and to look for areas of weakness.  When I took the test, one of my friends was also taking it.  I left an hour early from the three-hour time allotted and saw my friend give me a quizzical look.  She told me later that she had thought I was giving up.  No, I had already finished an hour before that and had gone through it a second time, catching some dumb mistakes.  I earned a 99th%tile score, the highest available.

I next chose psychology, having taken a psych course at one of the JC’s.  I brushed up on the basics and took a few practice exams.  I got a 93rd%tile.  It wasn’t the perfect score because I hadn’t cared to study up on all of the silly pseudo-science that was still to be found in the exam: Freud, Jung, etc.  I only had a few weeks between the exam dates, so didn’t have much time to study in any case.

I still needed a third exam and was running out of easy {for me} options.  I would have to take one with heavy math… I was advised by my mentors that if I really wanted to have a decent career, given that this was Silicon Valley, of the exams available my only real choice was physics.  Chemistry might have been easier for me, but not as likely to be as impressive in Silicon Valley.  Ugh!  No easy peasy English Lit exam would do…   Please understand, I’m smart… but NOT good at math.  My highest math class was intro to calculus.  Earlier, I had had to repeat algebra in high school after failing it the first time.  Ugh!  No choice, I dug in.  I bought some physics books along with their problem set workbooks and sat down every waking hour not at work to plough through them.  Ugh!  I got math help from some of my mentors, like Dr. West at work.  I was not confident about doing well enough on the physics exam.  But I figured that if I didn’t get a good enough score, I could always try one of the others, the English Lit exam perhaps, just to get the BS and call it a day.  Well that test was worse than I could imagine.  No ducking out early.  I hadn’t finished.  I had answered all of the non-math problems first, but still… I walked for an hour on the lovely Stanford campus w/ a raging migraine before I could drive home.  I was very worried I hadn’t gotten a high enough score.  But… I did, at 45th%tile.  Not bad for someone who had never stepped foot in a college physics classroom!  Some folks have made a big deal about my having been a “physics major”… as though that “proved” something… yep, for all of perhaps a few months part-time self-study in the evenings!

Candice_Caltech

Kay Brown in college

The Regents agreed to grant me a degree in psychology… but not biology or physics because they also required upper-division lab courses in those subjects.  Fortunately, after some negotiation, they agreed to grant a waiver for the lab requirement on the physics degree due to my extensive real world experience in high-tech clean room work, documented by Dr. Belt, Vice President of Fairchild Semiconductor.  I had a dual degree in psychology and physics, very strong minor in biology… and with Dr. Belt and Fairchild’s sponsorship, was admitted to Stanford Graduate School in the Materials Science Dept. as an Honors Coop part-time student.  Why materials science?  That was the department that taught classes and conducted research in semiconductor fabrication/processing.  It also had the highest number of women, w/ near gender parity, unlike the electrical engineering or computer science departments.  There was no hope that I would ever actually finish a degree, as I could only take maybe one class at a time while working full-time as a fab supervisor, which I did, but an Honors Coop has access to far more than just classes… as well as taking classes for credit, I audited several just for the knowledge.  The classes were available for viewing real-time via microwave video link at work.  (And now you know where I ate lunch… not always at “lunch time”.)

So, I went from having a smattering of general ed jr. college credits to a degree and onto graduate school at an elite university in about a year’s time!  With my official status as a graduate student Fairchild promoted me and sent me to in-house management classes.  I was soon supervising a small group of engineers, technicians, student interns, and clean room operators manufacturing microelectronic devices in a small prototyping fab.  {As proof that Silicon Valley was a small world back then, one of the technicians reporting to me was a young women who had grown up only two doors away.  We used to play records and practice dancing together growing up.}  Not bad for someone who only a few years before had been intermittently homeless and couch surfing.

In reaching this goal, I proved my family wrong.  They had predicted, and in many respects worked to ensure that it would be self-fulfilling, that I would be an outcast and a failure.  My sister had even predicted that I would be murdered and made it hatefully clear that she looked forward to it.  In essence, I had caught up with my siblings, and met the very high expectations set for all of us as children by our college educated upper-middle-class parents, in spite of the obstacles I faced and the lack of encouragement and material support.  Our father was a polymath in biology, chemistry, and mathematics, BS & MS.  He once told me that he regretted not continuing on to the Ph.D. in mathematics, but as a married man with a pregnant wife, settled for the MS.  Our mother had graduated with a degree in liberal arts at the age of 19, a married woman with her first child in her arms (me).  One of my brothers became an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley after being an avionics technician in the Navy.  Interestingly, he had begun flight lessons to become a private pilot from the age of ten.  The other went to Stanford as an undergraduate, then onto medical school to become a cardiologist, Associate Professor of Medicine at Stanford, later to be a senior hospital administrator at Duke University.  Our sister earned a BA in business administration… I think…  but I don’t know much about her career as she and I haven’t spoken in decades.  In becoming a graduate student at Stanford, fab supervisor at Fairchild, and later a successful entrepreneur, I had earned back my father’s respect but never my mother’s.

CedarStar_porch

CedarStar

Through the 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 and men lived in and restored during the early ’90s.  I designed the paint and garden color scheme for the main house, shown here.  During those years, I dated a number of straight men, but none ever seemed to stick around longer than six months to 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 in my early 60’s, 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 elementary school 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. If you pass by, you may find me out puttering in my english cottage style garden, tending hundreds of roses, irises, lilies, as well as many flowering annuals.

10398525_1116284467975_430389_nI began taking flight lessons in 2003 and just kept on learning and earning certificates and endorsements.  I found flying allows me to escape the everyday concerns of life and renew my spirit.  Now I teach others to fly as a part-time flight instructor (CFI, CFII, MEI).

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…♫♫}.  You may listen, should you be interested, to a demo tape I recorded back in ’89.  Please keep in mind, this is my hobby… I don’t pretend to be a professional.

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 O’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.  Jeff became a computer programmer after college, later becoming an investigative journalist, then an internet entrepreneur / CEO of a local ISP and an early web-based newspaper.  Now that he is retired he has become a locally respected historian, researching and writing hundreds of articles on local history.  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, in Jr. High and High School, I was a frequent babysitter, volunteer swimming instructor for very young kids for two summers, and even a full-time nanny for a local family with two children my last summer.  {Their mother was very understanding and wrote a glowing letter of recommendation using my new name and gender to help me in my social transition.}  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 transfolk in the 80’s and ’90s… and even today!)  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 short to medium term housing to allow post-op recovery in privacy before they return to their regular lives.  I’m currently on the board of directors of Positive Images in Santa Rosa, a local non-profit LGBT mental health youth center with an active focus on transgender youth aged 12 to 24.

Bhowmik_mobile_9.qxdMy professional career has been in the applied sciences, at the intersection of high technology and psychophysics of human vision, focused on improving color flat panel displays.  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.

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Kay and her colleagues brainstorming at a small display start-up company

When I was a child, my father, a technologist and corporate executive (Vice President R&D, five patents), strongly encouraged, insisted really, brooking no dissent, that I and my siblings 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 neighbors, 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, growing my skills and responsibilities as I worked my way through various positions from secretary/admin assistant, electronics assembler, expeditor, supervisor, manager, executive, and finally CEO of a small international corporation (offices in California and Israel).  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, to set the record straight as some have mischaracterized my skill set, I am not a computer programmer nor an electrical engineer and never have been… in fact all of my formal education (such as it was) was in science not engineering.    Others have mischaracterized me as a “physicist”, likely due to mistaking my unusual undergraduate degree by examination in physics while ignoring my much stronger background and interest and what I actually have built my career on.  No, most of my career is built upon my much stronger interest in biology and psychology, specifically psycho-physics, the branch of biology/psychology that deals with how our nervous systems respond and organize our perceptions of physical stimuli… in my case, vision science, how we perceive color images.  But, my early background as an assembler/clean-room operator and my subsequent experiences managing the development and manufacturing of microelectronics and electronic displays combined with my knowledge of biology and psychology led me to research into how to design and improve color flat panel displays such that they worked in harmony with the human vision system.   Yes, that’s me on the cover of Electronic Engineering Times for a profile article on me and my work to revolutionize the way that color flat panels displays are designed and controlled.  One of my female friends from high school, who had earned a degree in mathematics and similarly had worked in Silicon Valley as a technologist, joked it was like being on the “cover of the Rolling Stone”… sent five copies to my father.

Speaking of high school friends and classmates, a fair percentage of them, both men and women, earned STEM degrees and/or worked in Silicon Valley from assembler, technician, engineer, marketing, to executives.  One young man who was a senior when I was a freshman started a computer company in his garage… Apple.  When you grow up here… it just seems natural to work in tech, like our parents.

candice-eetimes1I 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, I can follow the logic of well written documentation & high level pseudo-code, having written my share, but don’t ask me to write or debug actual code; I can’t.  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.

Candice_singingI’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.  The technology consists of novel color subpixel arrangements and a semiconductor chip core that performs digital signal processing and color management based upon insights gained from research on how the human vision system processes images and color.  The technology allows displays to be higher resolution, brighter, longer life, and lower power.

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 and to Stanford Business School students.  (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.  The plot hinges on future advances in understanding the neuro-physiology, the organization and operation, of brains, etc., taking advantage of my interest in biology and neurology.  But seriously, check it out!  You may learn more about the novel and order it from Amazon here.

TransActivism

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 credentialed because of transphobia ?

ACLU

– 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 Joy D. Shaffer, M.D.  Missing from this photo is Carol Katz.  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).  Carol Katz was a law enforcement officer before her transition and volunteered as a security organizer for various LGBT & Women’s events afterwards.  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 Ken Morris, a 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 nowhere near being or doing such.   I felt privileged and honored to have known and worked alongside 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, including weaponizing my friendships, my activism, my work with young people, and even my career successes, by transphobes, both straight and within the gay and lesbian communities…  and even by misguided angry transwomen, 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

Additional autobiographical anecdotes are sprinkled about among the essays on my blog.

Special note:  Character assignation does NOT invalidate the science explored here.

 

Through Knowledge, Justice…

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