Lynn Conway raises the bar for transgender people

Lynn Conway offered some wise advice to transgender people in Huffington Post article. (2006 photo by Charles Rogers/Wikimedia Commons)
Lynn Conway offered some wise advice to transgender people in Huffington Post article. (2006 photo by Charles Rogers/Wikimedia Commons)

By Dianne Skoll
LGBT Perspectives columnist

OTTAWA — I recently came across a rather old article in the Huffington Post by Lynn Conway, who is one of my heroes. Conway was a pioneer in the VLSI electronics revolution; she basically helped to create the technology that powers almost all electronics nowadays and that launched Silicon Valley.  Her VLSI design text book (known simply as “Mead and Conway” for the two authors) was the standard text for VLSI design courses and was the first VLSI text I studied.

What almost no one knew until 1999 was that Lynn Conway is a transgender woman. Prior to her transition, she was a successful computer scientist at IBM. When she transitioned at age 30 in 1968, IBM fired her. Her marriage ended and she lost all access to her children.

Conway essentially started from scratch with a new identity and took entry-level contract programming jobs. She moved up in her career, eventually helping to launch the Mead and Conway revolution in electronic design.

Conway spent the years from 1968 to 1999 in successful stealth mode. Her past was erased and she dreaded the thought of anyone finding out her history.

In 1999, a reporter was preparing a book about the VLSI electronics revolution and Conway feared her early IBM life might be exposed. She came out to friends and colleagues, and went public in 2000. Since then, she has been an activist for transgender people. She was instrumental in making the IEEE’s (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the world’s largest professional engineering society) code of ethics fully LGBT-inclusive.

Conway finishes her Huffington Post piece with this line, which I find absolutely inspiring: “If you want to change the future, start living as if you’re already there.”

I know there are transgender people who, for whatever reason, cannot come out publicly. I respect that. But if you know you are trans and you invent reasons not to come out, or you foresee only fear and uncertainty, take the leap. Be true to yourselves.

The more we start living as if the future is already here, the sooner that future will arrive.


“Let harmlessness be the keynote of your life.” — Alice Bailey


3 thoughts on “Lynn Conway raises the bar for transgender people”

  1. Great article. Inspiring. I think a lot of people (like me) would be surprised to know that being transgender is not as obvious as we think it is. We assume we can tell, but we can’t. That says something.


  2. “start living as if you’re already there”

    Yes, blessedly this has worked for me both now and throughout my transitional years.

    For me, it has helped to change my vocabulary: I don’t think of “stealth” or “out” so much as I think of “private” and “open.” Stealth involves hiding, but privacy is a human need even haters acknowledge. Privacy is situational, and it can be adjusted to suit our comfort, and it can be legitimately asserted. Privacy and openness are poles on a continuum of disclosure. I am relatively open about my transgender background, but there are times when I want or even need my privacy.

    Living “simply open” means that people who at one point may have seen me as “just” a tall, boyish woman, could easily come to know that I am a transgender woman. It has been said that once this happens, one is never seen the same way. This is the price I choose to pay for living as an integrated person: I did not die and become reborn, rather, for me who I was has blossomed into who I am today, and will grow to become who I am tomorrow. This makes me stronger because I remain healthier, and so it is from a position of “active vulnerability” that I risk negative perceptions in order for me to live healed and whole, while at the same time encouraging others who have their own “stuff” to face and work through.

    We are human beings first, and if we live the best humans we can be, then THAT is what observant people will think of, before our gender, before our trans-background: I am a decent human being, who happens to be a woman, who happens to have become herself through the crucible of her transsexuality.

    As transgender humans, our trans-ness is part of what makes as special, beautiful and unique people – ours is a story worth owning, and as people we are worth our place in the human race.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ChloeAlexa, another happy Trans Lady hidden for 71 years and now a very happy 75. I too am finally myself and have very few Negative experiences. Most accept me as Trans and treat me as a Lady. I also think of it as a Gift and treat it as such. Thanks and also to Lynn who has been an inspiration for years.

      Liked by 1 person

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