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

Those who know both Brown and Choate -- they could be seen together at the New Savoy, the Santa Clara lesbian and transsexual bar that the Browns purchased -- say their relationship was gossiped about and was hardly a deep secret.

"What Millie did looks bad, but whether it was intrinsically evil is another question; the flesh is weak, and while she may have had high-minded principles, when you find another person physically and emotionally attractive, it's hard to put that aside," says one of Brown's former clients who was counseled in group sessions that included Choate. The former client declined to be identified. "This is a shock to most people who know Millie. She is very well loved and respected in the community. She's like a saint, which is probably what got her into trouble. She feels so deeply for people, and Toni's situation was so desperate. That is probably what prompted Millie to give Toni her heart."

The fact remains: Choate, a client, was invited into many aspects of her therapist's life. Several of the situations that Brown admits to in her own court filings -- asking Choate to remodel her kitchen, letting Choate live in her home, making Choate a business partner in the New Savoy -- would be considered egregious violations of therapist/ patient ethical standards, if, of course, Brown were licensed. And for licensed psychotherapists, engaging in sexual relations with a client -- even relations that occur up to two years following termination of therapy -- is a crime.

Toni Choate.
Amy Douglas
Toni Choate.

Details

RELATED LINKS

The American Board of Sexology


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Brown has had many successes in her care for transitioning transsexuals, and, aside from Choate, no clients have come forward with serious complaints. One of Brown's success stories is Marcia Chapdelaine, who two years ago transitioned from man to woman while serving as president of the San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Chapdelaine still holds that very public position, saying she is happy to be "living my life as an ordinary, natural woman."

"All my experiences with Millie were positive," Chapdelaine says. "If you're on the transgender road of life, Millie is a very good guide. But we all control our own destiny."


For well over a year, attorneys for Choate and Brown have tossed complaints and cross-complaints at one another, filing amendments and motions to strike and demur. No trial date has been set. But in the pretrial legal showdown, one fact has become clear: By her own admission, Brown is not and never was a licensed psychologist. Paradoxically, this lack of official imprimatur could provide her a legal defense. Whether there is even a civil penalty for sexologist-client sex remains to be seen. As a sexologist -- a practitioner in a field the state does not officially recognize -- was Dr. Brown merely a glorified, exaggerated, non-professional advice-giver? Unless Choate's lawyers can prove that Brown masqueraded as a licensed mental health professional, there ultimately may not be any legal recourse against her. Up to this point, no state authorities have pursued action against Dr. Brown for claiming to be something she was not.

"Had Millie and Toni never been in a client-therapist relationship -- if Millie were just a housewife -- nobody would be talking about this affair. This would just be another tragic case of when an angry relationship falls apart, and people get vindictive," says someone close to both Dr. Brown and Choate, who declined to be identified. "The whole situation is as ugly as you can imagine, and there won't be any winners."

Because Brown is a sexologist, and counseled clients in what appeared to be a professional setting, this lawsuit could have a meaning that stretches well beyond the sordid details of a messy sexual affair. It could begin a debate over the role of sexology within the regulated mental health community, and what standards an unregulated counselor should -- or must -- adhere to. "There will be winners in this case," Choate says. "Not me or her, but the people in situations of power abuse who will learn that it is wrong, that they can get out, and get help."

Choate is getting her life back in order. She has been seeing a licensed psychologist for a year. She has an apartment in San Francisco and a steady job at a local construction site. Her 17-year-old daughter has chosen to live with her. "I'm in a totally different space now," Choate says. "I've become responsible for my actions, and I want Mildred Brown to be held accountable for hers."


A gender therapist acts as an "anchor point" for the confusion and turmoil that transsexuals experience in what could be described as a turbulent sea on their journey to self-discovery. The therapist's role is to guide and help pace the transsexuals' progress along their chosen path. This is done without bias on the part of the therapist toward the outcome.

--Mildred L. Brown, True Selves

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