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

Continued from Part Two

Academia and Beyond
While she had long ago soured on higher education, by the early ‘80s Stone had reconsidered. “Maybe I should give it a try again,” she thought. She met scholar Donna Haraway, a professor at the University of California’s History of Consciousness program. Stone applied for a spot in the teacher’s assistant program, and landed the job. In between her commitments as a TA, she would “go to the library and do rogue research.”

Stone discovered that she had to play the game to get along. “Faculty members began saying things like, ‘If you want to get into this program, we need to become less afraid of you. Go to parties. Hang out.’” So she did. “I learned to talk like an academic, and a year later, I got accepted into the program.”

Stone became friends with seminar instructor Gloria Anzaldúa, who would go on to acclaim as a leading scholar of Chicana feminism and queer theory. Stone says she bonded with Anzaldúa in part because she saw both of them as individuals “hidden away in the interstices of what’s going on, [people] who are there but don’t really fit.”

One summer day in Santa Cruz, Stone passed by the popular Porter Squiggle sculpture affectionately known as the “flying IUD.” And at that moment, she had a vision. “I saw in front of me a circus train, and each car was painted to represent one of my careers,” she recalls. “At the back of the caboose, there was a clown with a red nose, and he was waving at me.” To Stone, the vision represented all of her previous careers going away. It was then that she realized that she was where she belonged. “I don’t think I’ve ever belonged before,” she says. “And that’s how I became an academic.”

While working on her doctorate, Stone authored a groundbreaking essay (and pointed response to Raymond) titled “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttransexual Manifesto.” Stone’s time in academia had its ups and down: she would be called upon to provide a syllabus for a women’s studies program, only to find that her grant had been withdrawn. The turmoil took its toll. “I was so unhappy at that time that I found a way to cry that nobody would know about,” she says. She would cry her heart out while on a slow elevator on campus, and then steel herself before the doors opened.

Almost immediately after being fired from an academic position in San Diego, Stone was “headhunted” away to the University of Texas. She recalls marveling to herself, “You’re being offered a tenure-line job in a department that wants you to start a new line of study.” She took the job in Austin. In 1993 she launched a New Media program called ACTLab (Advanced Communication Technologies Laboratory). The program would become a leading light in the nexus of the arts and new media.

In 1995, Stone married author and researcher Jeffrey Prothero (Cynbe ru Taben). Years after gaining tenure, Stone retired from the position in 2010, continuing as Professor Emerita. Her spouse passed away from cancer in 2016.

Radio Days, an Award and a Film
In recent years, Sandy Stone has come full circle. Her current endeavors draw upon all of her myriad skills, feed her passions and interests, and contribute to the greater good. “Of course I’ve always been interested in technology,” she explains. “When I had originally transitioned in the ‘70s, there was a new radio station starting in town, KUSP.” Stone says that the station was established upon “these wonderful 1970s freaky, techy, geeky principles of, ‘We’re going to provide a voice for the community and we’re going to change the world through music.’”

The 21st century successor to that community radio station is KSQD. Several of the KUSP staffers banded together to launch the station, and when Stone retired, they reached out to her. At loose ends and still grieving from the 2016 death of her husband, she agreed to get involved as the station’s chief engineer. “I physically built the station,” she says. According to a KSQD press release, today Stone – who celebrated her 80th birthday several years ago – continues to provide technical and organizational expertise to the station.

Dr. Sandy Stone is pleased to have received the recent honor from the Women’s Hall of Fame. (The ceremony was telecast on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network). “It’s a great honor for me as a woman, as a person,” she says. “But it’s complicated.” She notes that her acceptance speech focused upon the ways in which the concerns of trans women and non-trans women coincide.

“We all agree on a number of very important things,” she emphasizes. “We’re together fighting hatred and bigotry and venality.” But she says that trans women bring an important perspective to those discussions. “As trans, we have a particular vision. We see beneath the smooth surface of the world to the way the guts are put together.” She believes that her perspective is about unscrewing that metaphorical lid, and putting the world back together in a more just fashion. The challenge, she says, “is to be able to implement that.”

Artist, first-time filmmaker and longtime friend of Dr. Stone, Marjorie Vecchio launched a Kickstarter campaign a few years ago. More than 400 backers pledged funds to help make her documentary a reality. Due in 2025, Girl Island: The Sandy Stone Story is, in Vecchio’s words, the tale of “America’s most modest rebel.”

Sandy Stone’s journey so far has been a remarkable one, as inspiring as it is instructional. She has lived through eras in which matters of gender identity weren’t discussed openly, yet she has triumphed in turn at each endeavor to which she has applied herself: engineer, author, academician.

“I have a nice plaque,” Dr. Stone says with a smile. “I am greatly honored by it. But that’s as far as it goes. It makes no change in the world other than what we bring to it. But I want that change, so I’m going to use it for whatever leverage I can.”