"Girl Island" Documentary Celebrates LGBTQ+ Icon Sandy Stone's Journey

Girl Island: The Sandy Stone Story documentary poster.

Embark on a remarkable journey into the world of Sandy Stone, a transgender woman whose audacious path has left an indelible mark on music, technology, and culture. Through an engaging documentary that explores her life, as unique as it is exceptional, you'll gain insight into her captivating story.

But before you delve into this enthralling documentary, let me introduce its protagonist based on our insightful interview.

Sandy Stone: A Life Of Unparalleled Audacity

Sandy Stone and Kate Bornstein.

Her Daring Journey

The documentary "Girl Island: The Sandy Stone Story" invites us to explore the exceptional journey of Allucquére Rosanne 'Sandy' Stone, a Jewish transgender woman from New Jersey, born in 1936, who left her mark on her time with remarkable audacity.

Her unique adventure takes us through iconic periods of rock music, technology, feminism, transgender history, philosophy, and art in the United States. It offers a captivating panorama of the evolution of history from the avant-garde to the digital age.

Her Impact On Rock Music

Over the decades, Sandy Stone shone as a sound engineer, participating in the remix of Cris Williamson's album "Changer and the Changed," recording legendary musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison, the Grateful Dead, and Miles Davis. She also played a central role in the intimate circle of the radical lesbian separatist music company, catalyzing the international movement for women's music.

Her Transition: A Decisive Moment

In 1977, at 43, a decisive moment marked a major turning point in her life: her gender-affirming surgery. Then, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Sandy embraced the academic world in turmoil. Her quest for knowledge leads her to the side of famous scientist-philosopher Donna Haraway at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she expands her intellectual horizons.

Additionally, she had a brilliant digital media career, creating ACTLab at the University of Texas in Austin. As a recognized media pioneer and theorist, Sandy Stone has left an indelible mark on an ever-evolving field, contributing immeasurably to the digital future.

Manifesto, Reflections, And Life Lessons

A Revolutionary Manifesto

The documentary will indeed unveil her audacious feat: the publication of "The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto."

This work was a powerful tidal wave, sweeping through the shores of feminist, queer, and social justice movements, giving rise to exciting discussions and previously unexplored academic fields: Transgender Studies, Gender Studies, Masculinity Studies, to name a few.

To better understand the impact of this revolutionary work, I asked Sandy how her manifesto was received upon its publication in 1987. I also asked her how her ideas had evolved since. 

After exploring Sandy Stone's extraordinary journey and revolutionary impact, I had an interesting conversation with her, discussing topics ranging from her manifesto to her thoughts on gender identity's future.

"It got a standing ovation at 'Other Voices, Other Worlds' and then went spurlos versenkt," she told me. "It may have been working underground, but I wasn't aware of it."

She added: 

"A few years later, Christina Straub and Julia Epstein asked if they could include it in their 'Body Guards' anthology. At the time I wrote it, calling for universal self-revelation and publicly claiming one's identity needed to be said; of course, reality is more complicated when there are fascist maniacs itching to harm you and social media influencers egging them on.

"I don't think the essential message of speaking your true self, as you conceive that to be at some particular time, has evolved; I don't think it can or should. I do think that given the situation in 2023, it's imperative to study the history of fascism in Europe, in case you don't notice the parallels, as well as the history of oppressed groups in the US who articulated thoughtful positions and fought back with varying degrees of success, e.g. the Black Panthers and the labor movements, and to start now thinking about how to organize, learn and practice tactical skills, and protect each other — I mean physically, not in the abstract — in parallel to whatever political maneuvering may happen. Nobody wants to have to do that, but we may be heading for some crazy times. I hope that a few years' time will prove me wrong."

Beyond printed words, this revolutionary work shaped a living legacy, guiding and inspiring future generations. It also established Sandy as a bright star in the firmament of social change.

Thinking About The Future Of Gender Identity: An Inspiring Insight

At the heart of this interview, I also asked Sandy about her vision for gender identity's future. 

"Anything I think is most likely going to take place against a background of increasing political and cultural polarization, so what I claim here is only going to be valid in a few of the possible frames," she said.

She continued:

"In 1987, I wrote about gender identity as a boat momentarily at anchor in a sea of possibilities. In 2023, I'm more likely to describe identity as a matrix consisting of n-dimensional vectors in state space, each dimension corresponding to a continuum identified by such names as gender, ethnicity, class, age, education, opportunity, skill, resources, etc.

"Gender identity is a position within a field which is acted upon and which acts on other factors and which is characterized by a particularly charged relation to desire and power. You could also say that if a particular constellation of social relations attracts a great deal of attention from random people who display irrational horror, anger, and loathing and who babble incessantly about genitalia, chances are that the constellation of social relations is gender. (Why do transphobes have such a huge, unwholesome fixation on genitalia, and what does that tell us about transphobia?)"

Sandy's Nine Life Lessons

Beyond her public achievements and her personal vision, I also wanted to discover the essential lessons she learned throughout her life. Here's what she told me: 

"My nine lessons:

  1. Show up.
  2. Find your voice. Speak your vision. Imagine your community and speak as if to it. It will find you.
  3. Show up.
  4. When you get knocked down, bitching is wasted energy. Change the terms of engagement. Strike back.
  5. Show up.
  6. Never stop looking for the best chocolate.
  7. Show up.
  8. Fuck your brain out.
  9. Show up.

"Your place in the world does not exist until you make it." - James Baldwin"

In summary, the nine lessons shared by our interviewee reflect a life philosophy marked by the importance of persevering, staying authentic, and enjoying the simple pleasures of life. I love it! 

The Friendship That Shaped The Documentary

Marjorie Vecchio and Sandy Stone.

After exploring Sandy Stone's exceptional career, her influence on rock music, her decisive transition, and her revolutionary manifesto, it's equally fascinating to delve into the story of a friendship that gave birth to the "Girl Island" documentary.

This strong relationship between Marjorie Vecchio, the director, and Sandy Stone, the protagonist, adds a genuine personal dimension to this bold project. It highlights the deep respect and passion that underlie this captivating portrait.

During our interview, Marjorie shared fascinating details of her encounter with Sandy and her journey to this project.

Clarisse: "What inspired you to create a documentary about Sandy Stone's life, and how did you meet this remarkable woman?"

Marjorie enthusiastically replied: "Sandy was my teacher over 20 years ago at the European Graduate School. I had heard of her and the ACTLab because she was already very well known in the art and theory circles I was in. Sandy and I became friends when I took a gallery director job in Reno because she and her husband Cynbe spent summers and winter holidays at nearby Lake Tahoe. I'd go to the lake regularly when they were in town, spend a few nights, eat pizza, swim off the back of their little boat, go cross-country skiing, talk about whatever we were working on, watch movies, be lazy together.... During that time, I curated a show in Reno around Sandy's work, so we also successfully survived a professional gig together. LOL.

"Years later, I decided to leave the art and gallery scene in order to go into film, which was a secret lifelong dream. I figured a documentary might be easier for my first project instead of fiction. I put together a little team and was thinking of ideas when I was invited to Sandy's 80th birthday party in Santa Cruz. It was there that I saw all these amazing people from all parts of her life in one room, and it hit me. I saw the future, and luckily, Sandy said 'yes' to that future when I asked her if I could make a film about her life. She said folks had asked her along the way - and I'm sure there are better people who could make it - but nobody followed through. I showed up, and here we are."

Marjorie's words resonate with a palpable passion for her project, and it's clear that she admires her friend.

She continued: "But I should also mention that soon after that happened, I had to leave the country for a year, so we really got to know each other through Facetime and phone calls every 2 weeks. I gave Sandy assignments so that I could get to know her life more thoroughly than what I knew or read on the internet.

"That year was incredibly valuable to the progress of the entire project of the film, book, audiobook, and her archive, as well as our deepening friendship. I realized just how incredible her life has been from her earliest memories.

"Something that I really appreciate about Sandy was that she was weirdly at the right place and time during crucial moments in American history, especially as a child in the 40s and 50s. And she made sure to participate in these major social and cultural transitions.

"As much as the film is about Sandy, it's also about moving from one era to another, from the Avant-Garde to the Digital. To see it through Sandy's life is truly incredible. In order to show this, the film will have many details from her childhood."

After delving into the friendship between Marjorie Vecchio and Sandy Stone, we can now explore the creative and narrative approach adopted by Marjorie to bring this extraordinary story to life. The unique approach actually blends testimonies, animation, and a vibrant color palette to offer a cinematic experience that fully celebrates Sandy's life while exploring the boundary between fact and fiction.

Creating "Girl Island: The Sandy Stone Story"

When delving into the complexity of narrating a story as rich and nuanced as Sandy Stone's, it's fascinating to discover Marjorie's approach.

Prioritizing Intimate Testimonies

She explains: "Early on, I had to make many choices about what would or wouldn't be in the film. The first was to decide who to interview and for what purpose. I decided to only interview people who knew Sandy well at pivotal points in her life or for a long period of time."

Marjorie continues: "The purpose of the film is to show who Sandy is through a variety of lenses, not what people think about her from the outside. That meant there would be no commentary from someone who didn't really know her."

A Panel Of Exceptional Collaborators

She thus enlisted renowned collaborators such as scientist and philosopher Donna Haraway, outlaw writer and actor Kate Bornstein, founding member of Olivia Records Ginny Z Berson, and Stephen Barncard, an expert in music production.

Marjorie also made many creative choices to capture Sandy's essence through creative and personal perspectives.

Animation: A Solution To Unseen Stories

In the face of a lack of archives and witnesses, animation became an invaluable solution to bring to life Sandy's unseen stories and to seamlessly integrate art into the project.

"Animation solves the problem of both showing Sandy's amazing stories and using art to tie everything together," Marjorie explains.

Thus, the fictional island "Girl Island" plays a central role in the documentary by becoming a true centerpiece of the narrative structure. This fictional island embodies Sandy's childhood refuge. 

Marjorie: "When Sandy was a very young child, she went to a place in her head she called 'Girl Island' to do what she couldn't do in real life: be the girl she knew she was and enjoy the outdoor activities and adventures girls were not allowed to have in the 1930 - '50s."

Sandy: "My dreamworld occasionally irrupts into real life, and the boundaries between the real and the phantasmatic become generous. Girl Island is the place to which I went as a child, on which I adventured with other girls, and on which I was also a girl. But our adventures were not those of girls in the real world of that time. Instead, we were swimming or kayaking swift rivers, climbing mountains, running through jungles, and learning to speak with animals — that is, active, assertive, in control of themselves and their destinies, etc. — things usually associated at that time with boys.

"Some decades later, I encountered at least three instances of Girl Island in the waking world: first, the Olivia Records collective; later, a group who called themselves The Amazon Nine; still later as the neopagan group known as The Five, who crossed in the other direction from the real into the symbolic and became part of my novel 'Ktahmet.'

"For me, Girl Island — dream or reality — was an organizing principle: the metaphor of strong women uniting in high and common purpose."

The representation of "Girl Island" allows the film to skillfully navigate between animation and reality. This creates an unforgettable and deeply emotional cinematic experience where the fictional island becomes a character in its own right, connecting the different elements of the story.

It also serves the film's ultimate purpose. As Marjorie highlights, "The purpose is to show how Sandy grows up into her power and creates Girl Island in real life." And Bishakh Som, an award-winning artist for her graphic novels and creations of imaginary trans worlds, has proven to be an essential element in realizing this unique artistic vision.

"Bishakh Som was already making incredibly beautiful award-winning graphic novels and artwork about imagined trans worlds," Marjorie explains.

"Early on, I sent her book 'Apsara Engine' to a bunch of the team. Sandy read the book in one sitting and was excitedly texting me throughout the night; she cried reading most of it. I invited Bishakh to make my company's logo, then invited her to do our graphic novel re-release of Sandy's manifesto, and then it was obvious she had to be the film's animation director. Luckily, she said 'yes' to all of this insanity; nobody can imagine the project without her!

"My entire career until this point has been as an artist and curator, so working with Bishakh feels like home when the rest of the filmmaking process is new. That collaboration will be the visual cornerstone."

Balancing Authenticity And Engagement

Similarly, it was crucial to reconcile the preservation of Sandy's story's authenticity with creating a captivating narrative for the audience, as Marjorie highlighted in our interview.

"There are facts, like when Sandy did things on her resume based on dates we know. However, the way we understand ourselves and each other is a whole other beautiful, complicated problem, and that's what the film will showcase.

"Sandy and I both are interested in where fact and fiction complement each other, where you can't tell the difference, where memory gets funky, and how fiction has the power to be more authentic to who we are.

"I do not see this film as a traditional talking-heads documentary that squishes Sandy's life into a preconceived resume/timeline. Sandy doesn't want that, and neither do I. You can find that online.

"I want to explore the amazing qualities that Sandy exudes: combining her personality, life choices, her varied projects, events, stories, and careers, and make a film that celebrates Sandy and how she has been and is in the world.

"I think the film will be fun for folks expecting to see Sandy's life the way it looks if you google search her. The film will embody Sandy and everyone she has affected. The entire project is about art, yet remains steeped in what she did, with whom, and where, so it's not artifice. The point is to show how imagination reveals authenticity as much as anything else."

A Vibrant Color Palette

Therefore, when it comes to telling this extraordinary story, the choice of a color palette and visual aesthetics is of particular importance.

"As for the visual approach, the color palette is jewel tones from Lake Tahoe and Santa Cruz, places Sandy deeply loves and considers home," Marjorie describes. "Also, given how many trauma narratives are out there about trans and queer lives, I instead wanted beautiful colors to celebrate Sandy's story, even with the horrible parts. I also half-jokingly remind people that Sandy pretty much only wears black and grey and has always had dark hair, so we have to contrast that! LOL."

In the end, the documentary promises to be a captivating exploration of this transformative figure's life. Thanks to the innovative approach of its director, the integration of animation, and a vibrant color palette, the documentary appears to be an artistic celebration of Sandy Stone's story, revealing its multifaceted nature engagingly.

Let's now explore the details regarding its release and how you can get involved.

Release Date And Distribution

Screenings And Streaming

David Bychkov and Sandy.

Once the film premieres, they plan to reach a large audience by screening it through diverse channels, including in-person viewings, online streaming, LGBTQ+ centers, colleges, universities, museums, and art centers.

Sandy's Archives At Harvard Radcliffe

Sandy at the Harvard Schlesinger Library for her archives.

Subsequently, when the film is finished, Sandy's archive will be handed over to Harvard Radcliffe so that scholars, writers, and artists can use those archives for their new projects too. The goal is to continue celebrating Sandy Stone's legacy and to inspire new creations from her fascinating history.

Graphic Novel And Audiobook

Sandy and Florence Martin recording the audiobook.

Additionally, a new version of Sandy's manifesto, 'The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto,' will soon be available as a graphic novel and audiobook, with contributions from collaborators such as Bishakh Som, Avital Ronell, Susan Stryker, and Florence Martin, further reinforcing the intellectual depth of the project while remaining in harmony with the film. There may also be a book tour and other subsequent programming.

Supporting The Project: How To Get Involved

While waiting for the documentary's release, if you also want to support this endeavor and become an active part of this story, there are many ways to get involved:

  1. Follow the team on social media at @girlislandfilm to stay updated on the latest news.
  2. If you feel financially moved, you can donate to their fiscal sponsor, Women Make Movies, to help them make the film.
  3. As getting the word out is also very important, contact them at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you'd like to discuss with Sandy and/or any of the team members for podcasts, articles, or TV interviews.

In conclusion, we invite all enthusiasts of extraordinary stories to dive into Sandy Stone's world. Her bold journey and revolutionary contribution to music, technology, and culture are at the heart of this documentary, which promises to captivate and inspire.

We also want to express our sincere thanks to Marjorie Vecchio and Sandy for sharing their time and wisdom during this interview. Their generosity in sharing their story and vision has enriched our understanding of this project and strengthened our admiration for their hard work and dedication.

We look forward to the release of the documentary "Girl Island" and want to inform you that we will keep you updated on the latest news regarding its distribution. We encourage you to follow the team on social media, make a donation to support the film, and contribute to spreading this extraordinary story. Together, we can ensure this inspiring story is visible and celebrated worldwide. Thank you to all those who will get involved in this project for their support and enthusiasm.

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Sunday, 16 June 2024