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Gender Wars History Series: The Sandy Stone and Olivia Records Controversy
Lesbian Connection, 1977
Imagine if an avowed all-women record label announced today that they had a trans-identified male working as part of their music collective. Radical feminists and other gender critical people would likely feel betrayed and criticize the label, while liberal feminists and the “be kind” crew would welcome the news and accuse the critics of hatred and bigotry.
Well, this is exactly what happened in 1977.
In November of 1977, Lesbian Connection magazine published “An Open Letter To Olivia Records” written by Candace Margulies.
Olivia Records had apparently announced several months prior that a trans-identified male named Sandy Stone had been hired by the label in 1976 (Other sources note that the relationship actually goes back to 1974).
Margulies begins her letter by expressing a sense of betrayal at the revelation, accusing Olivia Records of keeping Stone’s identity a secret because they knew they would face significant disagreement.
Here are some choice excerpts from the rest of the letter:
Olivia exists as a women’s recording company to be run by women and to provide women’s music; Olivia concealed the sexuality of an employee; the concealment was revealed; and Olivia has attempted to convince the women’s community that this transexual is a woman.
I am willing to believe that Stone has contributed greatly to your expertise, that he is an excellent technician and that he now looks and behaves like a lesbian/feminist. I also believe that your fundamental purpose is to be a women’s recording company and you have crossed that objective by hiring a transexual. I do not agree with either your conclusion that Stone is female or with the logic that leads you to that conclusion. Stone is not a woman because he now experiences women’s oppression.
Having a women’s recording company in existence has meant a great deal to me. I buy Olivia records because I believe I am supporting women who are bringing us closer to the dream of self-sufficiency and because I can buy music that is about my experience, in a way, music that I am part of.
The term Women's Recording Company, women’s anything for that matter, has been a term that I’ve come to trust and respond to. You at Olivia have violated that trust; not only because you’ve hired a non-woman, but also because you chose to decide for me that that was alright, and continued to trade as a “women’s” recording company. I am stunned by the audacity of your making such a decision for your consumers.
It is one thing to believe you are female and to undergo a physical change to resemble the female. It is a very different thing to invade women's space as Stone has invaded you.
She ends on an uncompromising note:
That a man can go anywhere he wishes, even be taken wholly into the female realm, is a devastating injustice. By admitting Sandy Stone into Olivia, you have permitted men yet one more.
In February of 1978, Lesbian Connection published a few responses to Margulies’ letter, spanning a range of perspectives you would also see today on such an issue.
One writer offered her full support to Margulies. “He’ll always be a man,” she said about Stone, “and it’s pretty obnoxious that he can worm his way into women’s spaces!”
Another felt tension between her discomfort with exclusion and her recognition of the important differences between “transsexuals” and “womyn".”
A third was upset with Lesbian Connection for publishing such “distorted filth” in the first place!
The responses read remarkably like modern-day Twitter replies.
But the controversy was not over yet. Janice Raymond also wrote about Stone in her 1979 book The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male.
Masculine behavior is notably obtrusive. It is significant that transsexually constructed lesbian-feminists have inserted themselves into the positions of importance and/or performance in the feminist community. The controversy in the summer of 1977 surrounding Sandy Stone, the transsexual sound engineer for 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 national reputation and visibility he achieved in the aftermath of the Olivia controversy is comparable, in feminist circles, to that attained by Renee Richards in the wake of the Tennis Week Open. This 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. Having produced such divisiveness, one would think that if Stone’s commitment to and identification with women were genuinely woman-centered, he would have removed himself from Olivia and assumed some responsibility for the divisiveness.
Though Olivia Records defended Stone publicly throughout all of this, he left the label in 1979, reportedly due to threats of a boycott.
As for my own thoughts on the issue? On the one hand, I have an instant negative reaction to anything that resembles guilt-by-association or to suggestions that Stone weaseled his way unscrupulously into the collective. By all accounts, the other members desired his inclusion and stood by him as long as they could.
On the other hand, I completely understand why women were upset that Olivia Records had presented itself as an all-women and women-centered collective when it was working closely with a man. I find their grievances pretty justified and reasonable.
Had Olivia Records been upfront about Stone’s inclusion since the beginning, I wouldn’t really see a problem.
This may have all happened more than four decades ago, but similar scenarios are only popping up with greater frequency today. I find it worth looking at and thinking about the past to see what’s been done before and what we may be able to try differently.
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