Welcome to Girl Island: The Odyssey of Sandy Stone (Part 2 of 3)

Continued from Part One

Stone soon relocated to the West coast. Over the next few years, she would work closely with some of the biggest names in popular music. Her résumé includes sessions for Van Morrison, The Byrds, Crosby and Nash, Joni Mitchell and many others; some of the more off-the-wall and obscure artists included Lothar and the Hand People, a group that made use of the otherworldly Theremin. “It was a grand and glorious time,” she says.

At the same time that Stone was working in recording studios, she launched a literary career. Using the pen name Sandy Fisher, she wrote several science fiction pieces; those were published in popular sci-fi magazines of the era. Looking back on that period, Stone doesn’t draw a distinction between her writing and her studio work; it was all part of one creative journey. “Whatever came by that I felt I could do something with, I did it,” she says.

All through those years, Stone had feelings that she didn’t fully understand. She says that the New York scene was populated by many gay and bisexual people. “They were hitting on me, and I had no idea why,” she says, “because I wasn’t yet facing what was going on with me.” Eventually she realized she was unknowingly giving off signals. “But nobody had a language for that,” she says, “so it was interpreted as gay.” It wasn’t until Stone relocated to San Francisco in the 1970s that she came to terms with her gender identity.

Gender Confirmation
Dr. Stone recounts a recurring dream she had as a young boy. “I used to dream of this place that I called Girl Island,” she says. “There were a lot of other people with whom I was doing all sorts of strenuous, nature-type things: swimming swift rivers, building canoes, learning to climb trees, talking to animals.” In the dream Sandy was a girl, too. “We were all little girls,” she emphasizes, “but we were not doing anything that little girls at that time did.” She says that while the dream was persistent, those thoughts never entered her waking mind. But they remained a part of her subconscious.

Stone left the world of mainstream studio production and engineering in 1974. To make ends meet, she took a job at a stereo repair shop in Santa Cruz. She began identifying as a woman, but when she went public with her transition, Stone was immediately fired. “So I scuttled across the street like a little crab,” she recalls, “rented a storefront and opened my own stereo repair business!” Her business thrived while her former employer’s shop went bankrupt.

Stone’s shop eventually attracted the attention of what she calls “the queer element in town.” Her storefront became a popular LGBT space. Soon, members of Olivia Records approached her with an offer to collaborate. A lesbian separatist collective, Olivia Records was a label dedicated to women artists. “Oh, great!” Stone thought to herself. “Another adventure! When I got to the collective, I looked around and thought, ‘This is Girl Island!’ They were a bunch of strong women, working together on a high and common purpose, and it had nothing to do with being a stereotypical woman in society.”

At Olivia, Stone taught many of its members electronics repair. “My store, The Wizard of Aud, was perking along very well on its own,” she says. “We had a bunch of women in there who were learning electronic skills. I started out with, ‘Here’s how you repair stereos. Here’s how a transistor circuit works.’” Eventually she trained some members of the collective on recording techniques.

Stone was living as a woman, but she hadn’t yet undergone any medical procedures to make that a full reality. “I had been approved by Stanford a long time previous, but I didn’t have the money for the surgery,” she explains. “So in the meantime, I was trying to live my life as best I could. I had all this talent, and here was a way that I could use it in a way that not only helped the collective, but that agreed with my politics at the time.”

But eventually, Stone realized that her then-current biological status put the collective at risk. After three years working with Olivia Records, Stone scheduled gender confirmation surgery at the Stanford Gender Dysphoria Program in Palo Alto. But she made that journey largely on her own. Lacking the funds for the operation, she revealed her status to the core collective. “They were angry and horrified,” she says today, “because I didn’t trust them to tell them originally.”

The collective offered to provide the gap funds needed, on one condition. “Do it in secret,” she was told. “Nobody knows: not your family, not your friends, not the rest of the collective. Nobody.” Surgery was scheduled for September 1977. “And the core collective worked out a way for me to disappear,” Stone says.

Because of some legal matters at the time, Stanford’s gender confirmation surgery program had been relocated to Chope Community Hospital (now San Mateo Medical Center). Stone says that the change of setting posed some challenges for the medical staff: “Where do we put a trans person?” The answer was the hospital’s prison ward. “So on top of everything else,” Stone says, “with no support network and all this weird, dis-affirming stuff, I just went straight ahead and went through the whole thing.”

Lesbian feminist scholar Janice Raymond published her book The Transsexual Empire in 1979. Highly critical of trans persons, the book included a specific and scathing attack on Stone. While the collective initially defended her, in the face of a boycott against Olivia Records, Stone left the collective in 1979, returning to Santa Cruz.

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