The Doctor, the Transsexual, the Bed-Shooting and the Lawsuit

The stormy relationship between a transitioning transsexual and a well-known sex counselor raises questions about the growing field of sexology

Brown and her attorneys refused to comment on her professional standing or the lawsuit. But Brown has filed court papers pointing out that she is not a psychologist, and therefore not bound by regulations applying to licensed psychologists. And so far, the lawsuit references no direct evidence that Brown held herself out to be a mental health professional.

But Toni and her lawyers assert that Brown did act as a psychologist, and that her actions should be considered professional negligence.

"There's a difference between having a reputation and being reputable; anyone can get a big reputation through self-promotion, and in many ways, Mildred Brown's big reputation allowed her to perform therapy with no questions asked," says Choate's co-counsel, John D. Winer. "If the state of California chooses not to regulate sexology, then it's up to civil litigants to say there needs to be a standard of care."

Toni Choate.
Amy Douglas
Toni Choate.

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RELATED LINKS

The American Board of Sexology


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Choate saw Dr. Brown for one year before anything happened to propel their relationship past that of a client and therapist. The first line was crossed, Choate contends, when Brown -- knowing Choate worked in construction -- asked her to fix a broken pole in the sexologist's bedroom closet. Looking back now, Choate says, it felt strange to go into her therapist's closet, to move clothes and other personal items around. Choate was also startled to see an open box filled with sex toys.

Later, Brown asked Choate to remodel her kitchen. Money was exchanged both ways, Choate says; Brown compensated Choate for the construction work, and Choate continued to pay for her therapy sessions. At the time, Choate was still physically a man, and Brown was helping her prepare for sex reassignment surgery. The therapy sessions -- held in Brown's home -- were becoming increasingly intense, and Brown invited Choate to live there in the guest room. Brown's husband, Bernard, did not mind, Choate says.

"You are very much an outcast as a transsexual. You don't get a lot of acceptance from anybody, and you struggle financially and emotionally," Choate says. "But then here's my therapist, a person who was so supportive and wanted to be with me. I felt very special; like I was on cloud nine."

Choate moved in. Shortly after, she says, Brown began using the sessions to talk about her own personal life, where, she claimed, she was lonely, living in a loveless marriage. Soon a sexual relationship began, Choate says. Court papers filed on Brown's behalf deny there was a sexual affair.

"Late at night, after her husband went to sleep, we used to eat M&M's, paint our toenails, and make love," Choate says. "Our lives became more and more entangled, and we began doing everything together, from grocery shopping to going to plays."

Brown and Choate even visited a tattoo parlor together. Choate had two M&M candy characters tattooed on her right ankle, with "Millie" written under the blue one, and "Mandy" under the green. When Choate changed her first name from Larry, she chose Amanda as a middle name. It was a name, Choate says, that Brown preferred because it sounded more feminine.

In the sexual relationship, Choate says, Brown encouraged her to use her male genitalia. This caused Choate much consternation; as a therapist, Brown was helping her become a woman, but as a lover was focused on Choate's penis. Choate had already gotten breast implants, and Brown's attention to her soon-to-be removed penis confused her. Choate was also fearful that Brown would not love her once she fully was a woman. But after the surgery, Choate says, the affair continued.

Choate was becoming increasingly depressed. Having to keep the relationship secret while living with Brown and her husband was painful. "Millie told me many times that if I told anyone we were lovers, it would destroy her, and I took that to heart," Choate says. "But it hurt very much."

Choate says Brown would talk about leaving her husband and being with Toni, but never followed through. They would often fight about how to resolve the problem. "Every time I would tell her how I felt, she would get ill and say, 'Please don't leave me, I need you, and we'll work it out,' " Choate says. "Now I can see that I was codependent, and there was major manipulation going on. I was still very vulnerable as a transsexual in the early stages, and looking for my identity."

Among the gifts Choate says she received from Brown was a self-help book for couples, I Love You, Let's Work It Out. "What a joke," Choate says now. "It was all games and lies."

Around this time, Choate says, she began cutting herself on the forearms, and abusing alcohol and prescription drugs, even though she was also becoming increasingly ensconced in Brown's life. Brown and her husband purchased the New Savoy nightclub -- a lesbian and transsexual bar in Santa Clara -- and made Choate a business partner with 15 percent ownership. Choate managed the bar.

The strain of the affair was equally affecting both Brown and Choate. Professionally, Brown was gaining prominence for authoring a well-received book about the transsexual experience and was being lauded in the press as an expert. Choate was more in love and dependent on Brown than ever.

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