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