Published: 10/2/2022 9:01:09 PM
Dr. Lynn Conway. The name probably doesn’t ring a lot of bells for most people. Lynn, who I’d absolutely love to meet, is a pioneering electrical engineer and computer scientist, as well as professor emeritus at Michigan State University. To me, though, Lynn is far more than a brilliant scientist and engineer — she is a transgender pioneer and an inspirational transgender activist.
As mechanical engineer for over 20 years myself, I am impressed with Lynn’s legacy although, as more of a gearhead than an electronics girl, I am hard-pressed to understand all the fine details of her work. When you get down to it, a lot of people would probably be hard-pressed to understand the work I did in the engineering field, the patents with the “male me” listed as the inventor, nor would they probably even care. However, I do understand what she did for me and countless other transgender women in my generation looking for information on how to become their true selves.
Back in the early 2000s, back in my old male life, I learned about a web page, set up by Lynn, containing links and supportive information for transsexual women, the term used at the time and largely replaced today by “transgender women.” I was not “out” at the time, and while I felt I was probably transgender, I wasn’t 100% convinced, close, maybe 99%. I had suspected that I might be transgender from long before the term was even coined, from way back in the very early 1970s, in my elementary school days. I never told anyone else about it, not family, doctors, therapists, friends, nobody, until a very fateful day in December 2006. Still, for years and years, I dreamed of what it would be like to be female and wished I’d magically wake up one morning, by some divine intervention, as a girl.
On Lynn’s web page, there were four “Gallery” pages called “Transsexual Women’s Successes,” featuring the photos of noteworthy people who had gone through the arduous process of medically transitioning from male to female. There were scientists, religious leaders, actresses, models, authors, engineers, lawyers, doctors — all range of careers that these amazing women engaged in, making their own unique marks on this world. I longed to be the kind of transgender woman who would qualify to be included in these pages, inspiring other “still in the closet” trans women out there. However, I was shattered by all that occurred after my “coming out,” primarily my deteriorating family relationships and the loss of my engineering career. I felt depressed and seriously felt I would never achieve anything of real value or significance going forward.
In 2016, I started down the path of transitioning from male to female. I like to say that’s when I started transitioning because that’s the year I started taking estrogen and started living full-time as female — even though the entire world might not have recognized it. Six years later, I realized that I have actually been transitioning for years, maybe not physically, but in my mind, preparing for this experience, thinking of what I might look like, thinking of what my life might be like, thinking of who I’d be.
Today, I am not a doctor, or an engineer, or an actress — I am just me, my truest version of how I’ve long felt inside. I am an activist in my own way, writing pieces like this that hopefully educate and touch others in a positive way. And, as a behavioral health technician at a behavioral health facility, I support and lift up patients, more than a few of them transgender, going through some of the same types of difficult experiences that I faced not all that long ago, such as depression and rejection by family members.
Today, I’m confident enough to know that I don’t need to be in Lynn’s Gallery of Transsexual Women Successes, as much as it would be an honor to be there. Still, it is good to know that, in my heart, that I am a living, breathing, transgender success story, experiencing my best life and leaving my own special, and very unique, mark on this world.Mariel Addis is a native of Florence. She left the area for 16 years but returned in 2013.