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Sandy Stone (US Artist)


Allucquere Rosanne Stone (Sandy Stone) is an academic theorist, artist, and performer, currently Associate Professor and Founding Director of the Advanced Communication Technologies Laboratory (ACTLab) and the New Media Initiative in the department of Radio-TV-Film at the University of Texas at Austin. Concurrently she is Wolfgang Kohler Professor of Media and Performance at the European Graduate School EGS, senior artist at the Banff Centre, and Humanities Research Institute Fellow at the University of California, Irvine. Stone pursued successful multiple careers in film, music, experimental neurology, writing, engineering, and computer programming. Stone is transgender and is generally considered the founder of the academic discipline of Transgender Studies. She has been extensively profiled in ArtForum, Wired, Mondo2000,and other publications.

Biography

Allucquére Rosanne Stone (Sandy Stone) was born Zelig Ben-Natan in New York City. Her date of birth is uncertain but was probably in the late 1940s. She has stated that while a teen she was intensely averse to formal education, preferring to travel in the New England area auditing classes with university professors whose work she admired.

Stone was flagged as an unusually gifted high school student and was offered a job at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. She did not fit comfortably into the corporate research culture, and in addition came under pressure to pursue a graduate degree in engineering, and after a few years she left the company. However, during her time at Murray Hill she met many of the pioneers in a wide variety of scientific and technological fields, which may have sparked her later interdisciplinary work.

After leaving Bell Labs Stone worked odd jobs to support her own research and continued to avoid a traditional academic path. She seems to have changed her mind briefly in the early 1960s, attending St. John's College, Annapolis and receiving a B.A. in 1964. During summers she interned at Fordel Films, a New York production company, and was peripherally involved in the formation of NABET Local 10 in Manhattan. Later she worked in experimental neurology with the Eye Research Foundation in Bethesda, Maryland and a team affiliated with the National Institutes of Health. During this time she contributed to research in feline single-cell retinal color response,10 and, separately, research in the feline auditory system. As this research progressed Stone came under increasing pressure to obtain a terminal academic degree. Instead, as she had done in similar circumstances in the past, she chose to leave the field.

In the late 1960s Stone moved to New York City and embarked on a career as a recording engineer. During her time on the East Coast of the United States she worked in various capacities with artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Edgar Winter, the Velvet Underground, and Todd Rundgren. After Woodstock Stone moved to the West Coast of the United States, where she worked with Jefferson Airplane, Marty Balin, The Grateful Dead, Van Morrison, Crosby & Nash, Captain Beefheart, and other individuals and groups of the period.

In 1974 Stone withdrew from mainstream recording, settled in Santa Cruz, California, and undertook gender reassignment with the Stanford Gender Dysphoria Program in Palo Alto. During this period she published pseudonymously in "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction" and "Galaxy" magazine.1 Later she became a member of the Olivia Records collective, a popular women's music label. This led to an extraordinary contretemps in lesbian feminist circles in the U.S., which has been extensively documented elsewhere² (and vide infra).

In the early 1980s Stone built a small computer, taught herself programming, and became a freelance coder, writing medical software for such firms as Greenleaf Medical; and later became engineering manager for Sequential Circuits, a manufacturer of musical synthesizers, sequencers, and drum machines.

In 1983 Stone met Donna Haraway, an influential cultural theorist and faculty member in the History of Consciousness program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Haraway was in the process of writing A Manifesto for Cyborgs, which was to become a watershed essay in cultural theory and the foundation of the academic field of cyborg studies. The meeting initiated a long-lasting friendship, punctuated by a period from 1987 to 1993 during which Stone was Haraway's student. At the time, and long afterward, she described the period as a personal watershed during which her life radically changed in direction and purpose, and that after years of denial she had finally come home to academia.9

Before Stone finished her coursework in History of Consciousness, at Haraway's suggestion she visited the University of California's San Diego campus as an exchange student in the newly-formed Science Studies program. There she was at first accepted, then cashiered and sent packing in a dispute involving conflicts between progressive and conservative faculty factions, then immediately offered a job as Instructor in the Department of Sociology. She accepted and remained in San Diego as faculty, teaching courses in sociology, anthropology, political science, English, communications, and the experimental program "The Making of the Modern World", until 1992, when she was recruited by and became an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas, Austin. She finally received her doctorate in 1993.

Stone's dissertation, "Presence", which Haraway supervised, was published in 1996 by MIT Press as "The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age". Stone's literary agent, Sandra Dijkstra, arranged the manuscript's sale and publication. As with Stone herself during the Olivia years,5 in some academic areas "Desire and Technology" ignited a firestorm. Its style, in which Stone carefully blended and meticulously footnoted elements of anthropology, sociology, computer science, journalism, and fiction, was anathema to many conservative scholars. Stone described the work as "creat(ing) a discourse which contains all the elements of the original discourse but which is quite different from it...remember that at heart I am a narrator, a shameless teller of stories."7 In the years following the book's publication, several major social science departments fractured into separate departments along lines that in part came to be drawn by reference to "Desire and Technology" and other, similar publications.6

History of the Posttranssexual Manifesto

In 1979, the lesbian feminist scholar Janice Raymond mounted an ad hominem attack on Stone in The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male (New York 1979: Teachers College Press). Raymond called Stone out, naming her specifically and accused her of plotting to destroy the Olivia Records collective and womanhood in general with "male energy", which was at the time a common opprobation. In 1976, prior to publication, Raymond had sent a draft of the chapter attacking Stone to the Olivia collective "for comment", apparently in anticipation of outing Stone. Raymond appeared unaware that Stone had informed the collective of her transgendered status before agreeing to join. The collective did return comments to Raymond, suggesting that her description of transgender and of Stone's place in and effect on the collective was at odds with the reality of the collective's interaction with Stone. Raymond responded by increasing the virulence of her attack on Stone in the published version of the manuscript:

Masculine behavior is notably obtrusive. It is significant that transsexually constructed lesbian feminists have inserted themselves into positions of importance and/or performance in the feminist community. Sandy Stone, the transsexual engineer with Olivia Records, an "all-women" recording company, illustrates this well. Stone is not only crucial to the Olivia enterprise but plays a very dominant role there. The...visibility he achieved in the aftermath of the Olivia controversy...only serves to enhance his previously dominant role and to divide women, as men frequently do, when they make their presence necessary and vital to women. As one woman wrote: "I feel raped when Olivia passes off Sandy...as a real woman. Afer all his male privilege, is he going to cash in on lesbian feminist culture too?"8

The collective responded in turn by publicly defending Stone in various feminist publications of the time, e.g., On Our Backs, etc. Stone continued as a member of the collective and continued to record Olivia artists until political dissension over her transgendered status, exacerbated by Raymond's book, culminated in 1979 in the threat of a boycott of Olivia product. The collective believed the threat to be credible and potentially ruinous. After long debate, Stone left the collective and returned to Santa Cruz.

Subsequently while Stone was studying for her doctorate with Haraway and James Clifford, she produced the seminal essay The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto.12 The work was influenced by Haraway's A Manifesto For Cyborgs (later retitled "A Cyborg Manifesto" and first published in Social Text, 1984) and by the turbulent political foment in feminism of that period, but primarily as a reaction to what Stone perceived as a transphobic strain in feminist academia exemplified by Raymond's book. Stryker and Whittle (Ibid.) situate Stone's work in the turbulent events of the time as a response to Raymond's attack:

Stone exacts her revenge more than a decade later, not by waging an anti-feminist counterattack on Raymond, but by undermining the foundationalist assumptions that support Raymond's narrower concept of womanhood, and by claiming a speaking position for transsexuals that cannot be automatically dismissed as damaged, deluded, second-rate, or somehow inherently compromised.11

An important point of the essay was that transgendered persons were ill-served by hiding their status, and that coming out -- which Stone called "reading oneself aloud" -- would inevitably lead to self-empowerment. Thus "The Empire Strikes Back" rearticulated what was at the time a radical gay-lesbian political statement into a transgendered voice. The importance of this move lay in the political circumstance of the 1980s vis-a-vis mainstream gay and lesbian political action at the national level in the United States. During this period, mainstream gay and lesbian activists generally suppressed transgender issues and visible transgendered activists, fearing that they would frighten the uncertain and still shaky liberal base during a delicate period of consolidation. At this critical juncture, and against mainstream efforts to silence fringe voices, "The Empire Strikes Back" galvanized a largely scattered and disorganized population of young transgendered scholars and focused the attention of this demographic on the need for self-assertion within a largely reactionary institutional structure.

"The Empire Strikes Back" later became the center of an extensive citation network of transgendered academics and a foundational work for transgendered researchers and theorists. Stryker and Whittle, writing in The Transgender Studies Reader, refer to "The Empire Strikes Back" as

the protean text from which contemporary transgender studies emerged...In the wake of (the) article, a gradual but steady body of new academic and creative work by transgender people has gradually taken shape, which has enriched virtually every academic and artistic discipline with new critical perspectives on gender.³

As of 2007, "The Empire Strikes Back" had been translated into twenty-seven languages and had been cited in publications more than four hundred and fifteen thousand times.

History of the ACTLab

Beginning in 1993, Stone established the New Media program she named ACTLab (Advanced Communication Technologies Laboratory) in the Radio-Television-Film department. This work, and research in virtual communities, social software, and novel methods of presenting academic topics, drew wide attention, and contributed to the establishment and legitimation of what is now generally called New Media Art.

Stone's work and presence in the RTF department has been bitterly contested by powerful conservative faculty members, who have repeatedly tried to remove or marginalize her. In 1998 this small but vocal group issued a negative departmental report recommending that Stone be denied tenure. The university overruled this report, citing Stone's contributions to multiple fields and reaffirming its commitment to original or unusual scholarship.

Granting Stone tenure had the negative effect of provoking attacks on her work and credibility by powerful conservative faculty within the RTF department, which for years has responded to inquiries with the statement that there is no New Media program or program called ACTLab within the department. (Based on university course listings and rosters, as of 2007 there were approximately 70 ACTLab students in active courses, 400 former students, and 2500 student webpages on the ACTLab website. The program attracts students from a broad range of departments and from other institutions.) In a 2006 talk at Arizona State University, Stone compared the RTF department's attempts to erase her work and presence to previous efforts by conservative administrators to deny voice to any unfamiliar or emergent disciplines or unusual people, and said it was merely to be expected.

Stone's career has been controversial. In the mid-1990s she gave several highly publicized interviews during which she suggested that the era of academic scholarship, as the term was generally understood, was over:

The reality of the situation is that academicians are no longer the sole privileged custodians of objects of knowledge called books...in an era in our developed nations when the ubiquity of almost instantaneous communication puts us in a situation where almost everything is everywhen, the imperial mandate of the university as a privileged site of truth and an authorization for guild membership has evaporated; though, like the dinosaur, it may take a while for that knowledge to reach the central nervous system.4

Since that time, although Stone continued to tour extensively, to present "theoryperformances" and formal theatrical performances, and to address her work to a wide variety of audiences across broad sampling of disciplines and skills, she has published less and less in print journals. This reached the extent that a group of her students took up the practice of recording, transcribing and printing her in-class lectures for their own use.

Later History

During online virtual community research in 1994 Stone met the researcher Cynbe ru Taren (Jeffrey Prothero). Ru Taren, a high-level programmer and virtual worlds creator, is the author of Citadel , an influential first-generation virtual community system which ramified into hundreds of child systems, many of which are still active. Stone and ru Taren were married in 1995, an event the couple described as "Hell freezing over". Currently Stone and ru Taren divide their time between Santa Cruz and Austin. Her extended family and her daughter, Tanith Stone Thole, also live in Santa Cruz.

In 2006 Stone began touring a theatrical performance titled The Neovagina Monologues, modeled on the work of Spalding Gray, although the title is a tribute to a work by Eve Ensler.

As of 2007 Stone still teaches in the ACTLab at the University of Texas at Austin, and maintains an active international touring, lecturing, and performance schedule.

Name

Stone has a history of evasiveness concerning the origin of her name. The name "Allucquere" appears in both edited and unedited versions of Robert A. Heinlein's novel The Puppet Masters. Stone lived near the Heinleins from some point in the late 1960s.

"Sandy" is not part of Stone's formal name. It is generally believed that Stone wrote "The Empire Strikes Back" under the name "Sandy Stone" because that was the name by which Janice Raymond chose to attack her in "The Transsexual Empire". Stone has written nothing else of an academic nature under that name.

References

Much of the material in this article is referenced to interviews with Sandy Stone published in magazines, books, online, or undertaken as part of a biographical study currently in progress. Specific events and dates will continue to be sourced as the material is developed.

1. Short stories which Stone is known to have published include "Thank God You're Alive", in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction April 1974; "The Langley Circuit", in Galaxy June 1974; and "Farewell to the Artifacts", in Galaxy May 1975. There are probably more. Additionally, ca. 1987 Stone sold a finished novel to the well-known science fiction house DAW Books, but apparently DAW did not publish it.

2. Accounts of these events are still excised from official histories of Olivia Records (including the one in Wikipedia) and no balanced and verifiable account of the period has yet been published, but the field is rife with isolated examples; the earliest is Carol Riddell's "Divided Sisterhood: A Critical Review of Janice Raymond's The Transsexual Empire, reprinted in Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle, The Transgender Studies Reader, New York: Routledge 2006. See also, e.g., , , and

3. From the Introduction to Sandy Stone, "The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto", in Stryker and Whittle op. cit., pp. 221-235.

6. In an interview for the publication Switch (need issue & date) Stone mentions that she once received a midnight phone call from a faculty member in the anthropology department at Rice University during which the caller urged her to repudiate Desire and Technology. Stone asked why and was told that the book "was destroying the department". Not long afterward the Rice University anthropology department did, in fact, break apart into two separate departments, seemingly along lines including, among other factors, who believed Desire and Technology was legitimate scholarship and who did not.

8. Raymond, supra, also quoted in Stone, supra.

9. Stone alludes to this in her profile in Artforum (September 1995), written by Thyrza Nichols Goodeve. She describes it in detail in a transcription from a video recording of The Neovagina Monologues:

I was walking across back campus, coming from T.A'ing one class and on my way to another, with a bunch of books under my arm, thinking hungrily about the topics of both...downhill in the distance there were some cows in the fields, and far below them the sea flashed and glittered like a handful of diamonds...and in that instant I was taken by a vision. I saw my whole life as a circus train. A bright, noisy circus train. It rolled by in front of me, and each of my careers was a car, and each car was painted in bright circus colors in circus motifs with things like "Recording Engineer!" "Neurologist!" "Published Author!" And when the finally the caboose came by, there on the rear platform was a clown with a big red nose. He smiled at me and waved, and we exchanged a knowing look and I waved back, and I said "Bye-bye, bye-bye". The train rolled slowly on and disappeared. And that was it. Finito. The end of my life as I knew it. After a lifetime of circusing around, I had finally come home. I mean in the deepest sense. I was where I belonged, nested. All the wounds had closed up and I was solid. I looked around, and I thought for a bit, and then I visualized myself as a teeny little furry animal with huge digging feet. And I knew if they let me dig for just three months, they would never ever get me out. And that is precisely what happened.

10. One of the ERF publications from this period is Retinal Sensitivity During Photopic Adaptation, online at http://www.stormingmedia.us/corpauthors/EYE_RESEARCH_FOUNDATION_BETHESDA_MD.html.

11. Stryker and Whittle, Op. Cit.

12. In an interview in Brillo (need date), Stone commented:

Most people who describe this stuff say something like "And then she wrote the Posttranssexual Manifesto". I don't want to give anyone the idea that something like this just appears when the geist says it's time. I didn't simply sit down and write it. The truth is that writing it was scary. I had to work up the nerve. There were no visible transies in academia, and there was good reason to think that if one stood up, a lot of people I had no way to anticipate in advance would try to hammer her down. Donna and I discussed it several times, and Donna was amazing. Not once did she say I should or shouldn't. What she did say was that it was my choice, and nobody else's. During those discussions I realized very powerfully that I was in the presence of a person who in her own time had made her own hard choices, and sometimes paid a terrible price, but kept on stepping up to the plate and hitting them out of the park, and that's what I was learning from her. Theory, of course theory. But courage, how do you teach courage? American academics give plenty of lip service to speaking truth to power, and then they run like scared rabbits, but here I was, gifted with being in the presence of an astonishingly courageous person. Now it was my turn, and I had to stand up to that level of self-honesty and be equal to it. We both knew that publishing the Posttranssexual Manifesto could be a career-ending move. But I think Donna knew, as I knew, that if I didn't publish I wouldn't be able to live with myself afterward. So I published. You know the rest.

Selected publications

  • "Will The Real Body Please Stand Up?: Boundary Stories About Virtual Cultures", in Michael Benedikt, ed., Cyberspace: First Steps (Cambridge, 1991: MIT Press)
  • "Sex, Death, and Architecture", in Architecture- New York (New York 1992: ANY)
  • "Virtual Systems", in Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter, eds., ZONE 6: Incorporations (Cambridge 1993: MIT Press)
  • "The Architecture of Elsewhere", in Hraszthan Zeitlian (ed.), Semiotext(e) Architecture (New York 1993: Semiotext(e))
  • "The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto", in Kristina Straub and Julia Epstein, eds., Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Sexual Ambiguity (New York: Routledge 1996), extensively reprinted in other publications. (This essay is frequently cited as the origin of the academic field known as Transgender Studies.) Available online at
  • The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age (Cambridge 1996: MIT Press)

Web references

Stone maintains a personal website at http://sandystone.com. Stone's academic program is at http://www.actlab.utexas.edu.

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