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did I mention how much I like Lynn Conway?

Most of my readers know that I am a huge fan of Lynn Conway. Not only is she brilliant but she deeply understands this subject and was one of the early transsexual pioneers of the 1960’s having been a patient of Harry Benjamin’s.

Here is a wonderful section taken directly from her extensive website on the transgender condition:

"Contrasting Transgender (TG) transitions and Transsexual (TS) transitions:

There are many different paths that MtF transgender people may travel on their way to becoming women.

Over the past few decades many transsexual women have undergone transsexual transition, including both a social change of gender and a surgical "sex change" of the genitalia, and have then gone on to live successful lives in their new gender. Many media stories about these cases have helped society gradually become more aware of, tolerant of and accepting of the notion of transsexual transition. Most states now have well-established procedures for changing public records of name and gender for those who complete a transsexual transition. Many employers now even have procedures in place to accommodate people going through transsexual transitions.

More recently, many transgender people who do not have intensely transsexual feelings, have begun to openly undergo transgender transition. Some are crossdressers finally overcome by TG feelings and the need to take on a female social identity. Others are drag queens who've long enjoyed participating in drag shows, but then who finally recognize the strength of their mixed-gender feelings. Most of these transitioners begin transition by taking modest doses of female hormones (enough to produce some degree of feminization) and by undergoing electrolysis to remove facial hair. When feminized to some degree, they shift their full-time social gender by dressing to some degree as women, modifying their voice and mannerisms to varying degrees, taking on a female name, and obtaining some forms of formal identification in the female gender. Thus they achieve varying degrees of social gender transition WITHOUT transsexual SRS surgery.

As transgender people have become more aware of the opportunities for social transition, the number of these TG transitions has risen dramatically. Many gender counselors now see far more transgender transitioners than transsexual transitioners, especially among their older clients. Acknowledgement of the validity of transgender transition in an important new trend, since there clearly are many more transgender people than transsexual people in the wider gender continuum.

Some TG transitioners migrate into a "transgender" social role instead of trying to pass as women. These transitioners may actually feel uncomfortable about becoming "fully female" in presentation and mannerisms, and they are especially uncomfortable about modifying their genitalia. They instead feel a need to take on a transgender or androgynous social role that better matches their mixed-gender identity. Such transitioners often remain visibly transgender and are comfortable in that identity, and their social lives outside work usually involve people in the transgender community. Many TG activists, support group moderators, speakers on TG issues, etc., are people having such openly transgender identities.

Other TG transitioners go much further towards becoming socially passable women (but without having SRS), and some are successful at reaching this goal. Some of them are even eventually successful in assimilating socially (though not sexually) as women.

As we think about this spectrum of possibilities, we can visualize that the "completion" of a TG transition is relative to the goals of the transitioner. "Completion" depends upon where one needs to get, in order to have "arrived". There are many possible end points.

It is now possible for some TG people to transition while employed in solid professional positions, by simply informing employers that they are "transitioning", without going into the details about whether it is a TG or TS transition. Most employers and co-workers simply assume that the person is undergoing TS transition, especially if the person works hard at becoming fully passable as a woman. They can then follow the well-worn path for TS transition, except that, although feminized by estrogen, they do not ever undergo SRS to transform themselves physically into women.

Such transitions can enable transgender people to find relief and a more comfortable place in society. And by not undergoing transsexual surgery, they can retain and enjoy their male genitalia, and have a sexual relationship with a partner of whatever sex or gender.

Of course the casual use of the term "transition" sometimes leads to confusion, even among TG and TS people themselves. For example, if someone says "I transitioned in 1991", we are left with the potentially embarrassing question of whether they are a transgender woman or a post-op transsexual woman - which can be quite a relevant question in social situations such as dating or matchmaking. However, if someone says "I'm transgender and transitioned in 1991", we are clear about their transgender status. Similarly, if someone says that "I'm transsexual and had SRS in 1991", we are clear about their post-op transsexual status. (A woman who is still in RLE (the ‘’real life experience’’) might clarify her status further by saying "I transitioned last year, and will have SRS in about a year").

To summarize: An MtF transgender person undergoes a social gender transition, in order to live as a transgender woman in their everyday outward social life. The MtF transsexual person undergoes not only a social gender transition but also a change of physical sex (by undergoing SRS), so that they can fully live and function as a woman in their intimate love-life too.

Sadly, many transitioned TG people are unnecessarily ashamed of their mixed-gender physical condition, and are often far more fearful of discovery than are post-op women. Many cover up their transgender status by saying that they are "transsexual". If their physical sex status is somehow discovered or disclosed, they often say they are "pre-op transsexuals" or "non-op transsexuals" as an explanation of their mixed-gender status.
Fortunately, many transitioned TG people now realize that a mixed-gender identity is an authentic identity, and that a person should not feel ashamed of being bi-gendered, intergendered or androgynous. More of these transitioners are coming out as "transgender" and are saying that they are comfortable that way. By being openly transgender, they are beginning to provide role models for others who hope to live as women but who do not want to "go all the way" and become women in genital terms.

Meantime, no TG person should ever be pressured into thinking that a gender transition automatically means eventually undergoing SRS. Such pressure comes from outdated bi-polar models of gender that allow for "no one in-between" male and female. Transgender people should not feel forced to say they are "pre-op", or "non-op", or that they have to misrepresent themselves as being "post-op". It really should be OK to say "I'm transgender", if that is one's authentic inner identity.

Similarly, those transsexual girls who need to undergo TS transition - who really do need to be girls physically as well as socially - should never be told that "they are buying into a stereotypical view of femininity" or that "they should be perfectly happy as she-males" and not undergo the "mutilating surgery" of SRS. Many people, including some in the gay, lesbian, feminist and even the TG communities will say awful things like that to young TS girls, out of a complete lack of understanding of the depth of those girls' transsexual feelings and of their need for full gender transition.

The bottom line is that all people should be free to undertake whatever gender modifications they must make, based on their own inner feelings - whether they need to become gender-variant, androgynous, undergo some degree of TG transition, or undergo a complete TS transition. They should be free to establish a gendered identity that is best for them, without undue pressure from others, and without society marginalizing them for living in that identity. They should also feel free to openly acknowledge their authentic gendered identity no matter where they fit into the gender spectrum, rather than being ashamed of it, hiding it or feeling pressured to misrepresent it.

Hopefully society will begin to recognize the validity and authenticity of the mixed-gender status of transgender people, and grant them their place in society without genital surgery, just as it's moved in that direction for transsexual women who've undergone complete TS transition including genital surgery.


  1. I couldn't agree more. Lynn Conway is remarkable, a trailblazer, brilliant engineer, and a role model for all of us. Our paths crossed a little and I so pleased that she accepted my LinkedIn request. Last, her website is a terrific resource too.

    Another whom I greatly admire is Brynn Tannehill. She's so articulate, outspoken, and present as a spokeswoman and writer.

    1. Emma I don't know Brynn but will check her out...thank you

    2. Joanna, I suggest you watch Brynn's speech at GLAAD a couple of years ago:

      She also writes for Huffington Post every so often!

    3. thanks for the heads up Emma I will!

  2. Joanna:

    I, too, am an admirer of Lynn Conway. When I first stumbled. Upon her website and read her story, I was in awe. Here stands a true trailblazer, one who gives lie to it being a mere choice, or fetish, or hobby. What this brilliant person gave up, and then slowly reclaimed after her transition and shunning by IBM and the then male dominated world of computer design, is nothing less than astonishing and stands as a testament to the power of TG/TS is people's lives.

    Thant President Obama gave her an award and called attention to her intellectual accomplishments as a trans woman makes me proud to be a part of our community.


    1. Rhonda she is one of the finest examples of a trans person who has intelligence, grace and fortitude.


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