As I see it: a second life
February 28, 2022
These days, it’s not uncommon for high school students to be computer literate to a degree that their parents could only dream of. But that wasn’t the case in 1972 when Jay Brandt was attending high school.
Benson Polytechnic High, based in Oregon, was designed as a trade school, but over time adopted a pre-engineering curriculum. There, students could build a rudimentary foundation in technology that would soon transform the world. Jay quickly mastered the four horsemen of ancient computing: Basic, Fortran, COBOL, and Assembler; and when school started for the summer, he had a new idea.
Although the high school had a dial-up connection to its computer system, it could only be used for educational, non-commercial purposes. So, Jay approached a time-sharing company with a proposition: he and 11 of his cash-poor fellows would do whatever overflow work the company gave them, as a way to pay off an account. The company decided to test their skills and gave them a problem to solve: determining the dimensions, filtration system requirements, pump size, heating specifications and usage limits for a proposed swimming pool. Two days later, they came back with a program that not only delivered the answers, but actually worked without crashing the very first time.
So – while still in high school – Jay acquired a timeshare business account and started his own business, the Computa-link Company, which lacked a small 10’x10′ office in Portland.
Towards the end of the summer, a new company was moving into the empty offices across the street. Jay noticed they were installing hardware and asked what they were doing? The company was called Willamette Week and they were launching an alternative weekly. Sensing an opportunity, Jay asked, “Who’s going to take care of your classifieds, your subscriptions, your billing?” Turns out he was. He got the account and managed it for the next two years.
In 1975, Jay joined the Navy. As was customary, recruits had to pass an entrance exam to determine their interests and abilities. He was given a test of 500 questions and two hours to complete it. He finished in half an hour and gave it back to a skeptical instructor. Annoyed, the instructor placed the scoring key on Jay’s answer sheet to find he had only missed five questions. It was the highest score ever recorded so far.
“Well, you can have any job you want,” the monitor said. And with that statement, Jay entered the Navy as a Data Systems Technician. In 1975 and 1976, he worked on the precursor to modern GPS, the Naval Tactical Data System. It combined satellite data with computer technology and was sophisticated enough to determine which side of a quay a ship was moored on.
Jay was a smart, driven, and successful smartass, but he had an undisclosed concern that had obsessed him since he was 12: confusion about his sexuality. He was uncomfortable living closely with other men. He had dated girls at school, but his dating pattern was unique. He felt attraction to both sexes.
After four years in the army, he had served well and had even received a letter of congratulations for his work. But his unease with living conditions became acute. He explained his situation and asked for an honorable discharge, which he received, provided he was willing to accept a reason for his discharge. which basically said, “Whatever’s wrong with you, it’s not something we broke.”
In 1979, he enrolled in a computer systems engineering technology program at the Oregon Institute of Technology. He studied everything from hardware maintenance to programming; technical writing to management. He also met the woman he was going to marry.
After a three-year courtship, they got married. He was honest about being, at the very least, bisexual. “When we look Dancing with the wolveshe told her, “We’re probably both checking out Kevin Costner’s ass.” But he promised his fidelity, they had a daughter and were married for 30 years.
He worked at several colleges and universities in Oregon, until he got an offer he couldn’t refuse from Motorola: double his salary, the company would pay for his move and provide him with a down payment. for a house. The catch was that the job was in Austin, Texas.
He worked there for 10 years when, without preamble, Motorola decided to outsource its computer operations to a company called Computer Sciences Corporation. The incentives were generous and he ended up working there for another twelve years. For various reasons, the couple had decided to stay in Texas until their daughter graduated from high school. His job grew in size and complexity: he managed more than 100 servers in five data centers on three continents, all from his home.
At one point, he recalls meeting a transgender man at work who had started wearing women’s clothes in the office. One day he just came with a tag with Samantha’s name on it. At the time, Jay had never dreamed of walking a similar path.
Before his daughter could graduate, however, he lost his wife to a heart attack in 2014, having lost both parents a few years earlier. No longer accountable to his wife or his parents, he wanted to explore his sexuality. He recalled in the 1970s playing Dungeons & Dragons as a female character. For the first time, he didn’t have to pretend to be a girl, he was just engaging that part of his mind. He experimented with cross-dressing, exploring the feminine part of himself. Was he a transvestite? Was he gay? Transsexual? Why was he attracted to wearing women’s clothes? He wasn’t sure, but he increasingly identified with a woman. His daughter had trans and gay friends at school, so she was understanding and supportive of her father’s journey. The first time she saw him in a woman’s outfit, she said, “Oh my God, Mrs. Doubtfire!” Over time, he says, the appearance has improved.
Shortly after Motorola sold its IT operations, Jay became involved in a virtual world called Second Life. There he created an avatar he named Ceera Murakami. Since Second Life was essentially a blank slate with its own internal economy, it became adept at creating all virtual amenities – housing, landscaping, furniture, etc. – that people wanted in their private domains. And they paid for his services. Typically, he started a company called Fox and Ground and created a DBA under the name Ceera Murakami.
In 2015, when they moved to Eugene, Oregon, he was ready to go out. Three years later, he legally changed his first name to Ceera. After a long and often difficult journey, Ceera came to her truth: she was transgender. Ceera underwent her first surgery in 2020. After 3.5 years of hormone therapy, plus a year of painful electrolysis just to get rid of unwanted hair, the final stage is her scheduled “lower surgery” in 2022 or 2023, followed by 3 to 4 months recovery. She’s almost there. Nonetheless, she says, “I don’t have gender dysphoria; I have a kind euphoria.
So why did I choose to document his story? I did this because there are many more people struggling with difficult, confusing, and painful choices, who often face judgment, condemnation, and hostility. I did this because such a person may be in your workplace wondering where to turn for help. I did this because I found her story to be a courageous act of personal integrity. Because there is nothing “wrong” with it. She’s smarter and more accomplished than many of us. She has had an exceptional 40-year career in IT and now chooses to live a second life.
The one that suits him.