In 1967 after the October anti-war demonstration at the Pentagon I made my way to San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury and eventually moved with a cadre of radicals to Berkeley.
When I came out in 1969, the first places I went to seeking help were the Welfare Department and a pair of gay rights organizations, SIR (Society for Individual Rights) and the Mattachine Society.
From them I got three names: The Center for Special Problems on Van Ness Avenue. Dr. Fong in Oakland and a Dr. whose name escapes me.
I was poor. The Center was free. Dr. Fong was cheap and did a couple of tests for hormone base levels and a sperm count. Plus he gave a hormone shot.
The other Dr. ran a number on me. He hypnotized me and asked me my “real name”, a trick question considering the only identification I had at the time had the name given me by my parents. Because I gave him my legal name, which coincidentally I was still using as I was just starting hormones and had not yet started living as a woman full time. He told me I wasn’t really transsexual. I told him to go fuck himself.
Easy for me to do as I had two other Doctors who said I was and soon Dr. Benjamin would concur.
Suppose I didn’t have other Doctors contradicting this semi-quack’s evaluation. How many sisters did he sucker into not looking for treatment at that point by running his hypnosis game? For what it is worth I went about as far under as I would behind a joint of Thai stick weed and nowhere as deep as I had on even 200 mikes of acid. I was a veteran of a few 1000 mike trips where I had gone deep into the memory files. His question was a trick question aimed at furthering his own agenda.
We were lucky in the Bay Area we had our own Transsexual Counseling Service, run by us and for us. We had the Center and Stanford University Medical Center’s Gender Clinic. We also had several reputable Doctors and an alternative to the Center named Fort Help.
The only problem was that one had to be sane enough to work one’s way through the programs. The myth is that one had to be pretty to be accepted by these programs and get surgery at Stanford. The reality was that one had to look enough like a member of the sex one was changing to to be able to hold down a job, even if that job was sex work.
Los Angeles had a Dr. Gaunt who had an office operating room in the Max Factor Building across Hollywood Blvd from Grauman’s Chinese Theater. He did castrations and breast implants on the transsexual and transgender sex workers of Hollywood. He had a reputation of asking only one question, “Do you have the money we agreed upon, in cash.”
He operated in his office. In 1972 he started doing SRS, something completely over his head. Cash up front, no questions asked. We had a person with MPD (DID) who came to our office. Molly was transsexual, Johnny was not. Molly got SRS from Dr. Gaunt, Johnny jumped off a building and died. Dr. Gaunt’s surgery techniques were crude at best and it is to his credit that he stopped performing SRS after several attempts although he continued doing castrations and boob implants for sometime after that.
In the summer of 1973 a new player rolled into San Francisco, Dr. John Brown and his sidekicks the Spences. They were full of promises, one of which was that Dr. Brown had developed a technique of constructing sensate clitorises. No waiting in line like at Stanford, no pesky psychiatric evaluation. You paid your money and took your chances.
I questioned the legitimacy of Brown almost immediately based on having seen the same pattern with Gaunt. I wanted to know what his medical credentials were. I was bothered by his sudden appearance from nowhere claiming a skill that seemed to require a fairly high degree of training. I was bothered by not only his operating in an office lacking the equipment to care for someone who might experience a medical emergency during surgery, but also by stories I heard of his operating, in at least one instance, in a kitchen and another instance in a garage.
When I raised questions regarding his qualifications and methodology some sisters accused me of not wanting them to get their surgery because they couldn’t afford Stanford. I never particularly enjoyed having my motivations questioned particularly when I wasn’t being paid for my opinions.
Besides I was off learning photography and in the process of becoming a lot of sisters’ “Lesbian Experience”.
I later moved to Los Angeles and in about 1977 I learned that Dr. Brown had killed at least one sister and maimed a few others. He had his license to practice medicine yanked in California and had gone underground, resurfacing in Tijuana where he was once again doing cut rate SRS of varying quality based on his relationship with his various forms of substance abuse and his state of sobriety on any given day.
There was a new danger on the horizon: Silicone pumping. I was an out lesbian feminist, by the time that one hit and had rejected the ultra glamor scene. I watched silicone injections become the new heroin among transsexuals and transgenders. People cited positive articles from Vogue and other fashion magazines on the benefits of silicone injections in erasing lines and filling acne scars. The logic I heard often went like this: I have silicone breast implants therefore silicone injections must be harmless.
I naturally had a feminine body, developed even more so by hormones. I was accused by some of not wanting them to have the same rounded hips and ass because I warned them of the dangers of silicone injections to enhance one’s hips and butt. I told people wanting to get it shot in their cheeks to give them the high cheek boned look that there was a safe way to do that with solid silicone prostheses implanted atop the bone.
Well, Dr. Brown is in jail now. However not for botched SRS procedures, not even for botched SRS procedures that killed women with transsexualism. The action that went too far to be ignored was Dr. Brown’s amputation of a healthy leg from an amputation fetishist that resulted in said fetishist dying.
The silicone pumpers are still out there pumping silicone bathroom caulk and floor wax into people who are having their bodies disfigured by the eventual reactions to the silicone and its impurities.
The invention of the psychiatric diagnosis of GID in 1979 brought forth herds of quacks with dubious credentials all eager to exploit people with transsexualism and transgenderism.
Not to mention the religious mind fuckers with their fraudulent cures for homosexuality, transsexualism and transgenderism. They are all out there trolling the internet, pushing books offering salvation from transsexualism by praying it away. One can find several books by just such people on Amazon.
I automatically presume someone who emerges from nowhere, who makes strange sounding claims and citing certain people is a fraud. There is a pattern to their spiel that says to me, “This person is running a con game.”
It really doesn’t matter if it is silicone pumping or the opening of a radical new form of counseling service. Legitimate people have histories, they do not emerge from the ether or hide behind aliases and credentials that seem shady.
One can trace their credentials. Too often the silicone pumpers and others claim medical degrees from foreign schools, something that requires them to pass strict licensing requirements to practice medicine within the US.
Counseling service licensing requirements are often much more flexible although not if one bills oneself as a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, psychologist or clinical social worker. When looking for services look for the license and the degree. Ask yourself if you really trust someone who vacillates on producing the same documents and references that one normally sees on the wall of the office of a legitimate licensed professional providing those same services.
Peer to peer counseling is one thing. You can get that in rap groups at LGBT/T centers. But if you are being asked to pay then you have the right to know the qualifications of the person or persons asking for that fee.
There are many New Age forms of fraud and medical quackery out there, often hiding behind offers of validating magical thinking or wish fulfillment. The old adage of “If it sounds too good to be true then it probably isn’t.” offers the same advice that I took nearly 1500 words to offer.