Transgender success stories
BY Joanne Herman
October 02 2006 12:00 AM ET
I might have
transitioned sooner to live as a female had there been
greater public awareness of transgender people. There has
been no shortage of stereotypes and Hollywood images,
and none of them ever seemed to fit me. It wasn't
until I read Crossing, the autobiography of
noted economist and university professor Deirdre
McCloskey, that I started to realize that there are
transgender people in every walk of life—even
Since then I have
learned of lots of transgender success stories, many of
which were not widely known because those involved had kept
quiet about their transgender status. I’d like
to share some of those stories with you. Since my
space is limited, I’m going to limit my sharing to
stories you probably have not heard. That means
I’ll only mention people outside of the
entertainment industry and whose “day jobs” do
not directly involve transgender activism.
One of the more
famous success stories in this category is that of
computer scientist Lynn Conway. Lynn invented technology
while she was at IBM in the 1960s that is used in most
computers today—probably including the machine
you're using right now. But when Lynn announced her plans to
transition from male to female, she was fired. How ironic
that seems now, because the IBM of today was the first
corporation to add gender identity and expression to
its global nondiscrimination policy.
transition in 1968, Lynn chose to live
“stealth” to preserve her career
prospects. She went on to a distinguished research
career, pioneering new methods of computer chip design while
working at Xerox’s legendary Palo Alto,
Calif.., Research Laboratory, and is now
professor emerita of engineering at the University of
Michigan. She chose to come out as transgender only in
1999, when an author writing on the history of
computer science set out to find the person who had
developed that technology at IBM.
Since then, Lynn
has devoted much time to making information about
transgenderism available in as many languages as possible. I
probably would not have had the courage to transition
if it weren't for her profiles of successful
transitioners on www.lynnconway.com.
There are other
transgender successes in academia. Ben Barres is a
popular Professor of Neurobiology at Stanford who recently
made the headlines when his article challenging sexist
comments made by former Harvard President Lawrence
Summers was published in the prestigious scientific
journal Nature. My hat is off to Ben. He has
seen firsthand, through his transition from female, just how
much bias there is facing women who pursue careers in the
sciences. I applaud him for speaking out against the
bias as a man.
transgender successes in everyday politics too. Computer
specialist and Air Force veteran Jessica Orsini was recently
elected to the Centralia, Mo., board of aldermen.
Raytheon Missile Systems chief engineer Amanda Simpson
made history as the first openly transgender candidate
nominated for state office by a political party. She
narrowly missed winning a seat in the Arizona house of
representatives in 2004. And retired surgeon Dana
Beyer snagged the endorsement of political powerhouses
The Victory Fund and Emily’s List in her
recent bid to be the first transgender member of the
Maryland house of delegates.
You can even find
successful transgender people among ordained clergy. In
1996 the Reverend Erin Swenson became the first known
mainstream Protestant minister to make an open gender
transition while remaining in ordained office. She is
currently serving at the Morningside Presbyterian
Church in Atlanta. And the Reverend Malcolm Himschoot
was ordained by the United Church of Christ as an
openly transgender man at age 27. He now serves as
associate minister at the Plymouth Congregational Church in
Minneapolis, a congregation with 1,800 members.
In the corporate
world, Melissa Feinmel is one of five transgender pilots
flying for American Airlines, Margaret Stumpp manages
billions of dollars of investments for Prudential
Financial, and Donna Rose is a successful IT
consultant whose clients have included Kodak and Dell. All
have received leading-edge support from their
employers or clients.
There are many
more transgender success stories, but you rarely hear of
them because of the media’s fondness for
sensationalized stories and depictions of the
downtrodden. You may even have a transgender success
story working next to you but don't know it because the
person is afraid that being out may cost him or her
their job. Hopefully, as transgender awareness
increases, the stigma of being transgender will decrease,
the laws will improve, and transgender people will
feel freer to be out of the closet.
As for me?
I’m just the financial controller for a very
supportive arts foundation, but the true measure of my
success may not come until we see how my memoir sells.
Once I finish writing it and find a publisher, of
This column marks
my last in The Advocate’s Transgender
101 series. I can't thank you enough for staying with me
through the series in the same way that my late wife Barbara
stayed with me through the 30 years of our marriage.
Did you find the series worthwhile? Would you like to
see The Advocate continue to increase its
coverage of transgender people and issues? The
magazine’s print edition still refers to itself as
“the national gay and lesbian
newsmagazine,” so there may not be room. But if
your Letters to the Editor are favorable, perhaps they'll
ask me to keep writing!
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