About This Website
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life" – Steve Jobs
"Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" – Mary Oliver
"The only thing I ever wanted to
be an expert at was learning new things”
"The only thing I ever wanted to be an expert at was learning new things” – Melissa Pierce
"In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find
themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists" – Eric Hoffer
"If you want to change the future, start living as if you're already there" – Lynn Conway
Articles about Lynn (updated)
Multi-year news archive reveals how media spins
and public attitudes are evolving over time.
For information on childhood gender variance
and teenage transitions, see this link.
Reflections As My Trans-Advocacy Pages Pass into History
[See also "Mementos From Trans-Advocacy, below]
In the early 2000's, this website began providing gender transitioners with information, encouragement and hope for a better future. Among its most popular sections were the "Transsexual Women's Successes" and "Successful Transmen". Back then, trans women especially were considered sexually-deviant and mentally-ill by prejudiced psychiatrists and psychologists. By compiling stories of those who went on to fulfilling lives after transition, the pages undermined the pathologization of gender variance by prominent psychiatric thought leaders – and provided role models and hope for the many people then in transition.
The site then documented opportunities for young transpeople to transition anonymously and successfully while in college, and encouraged universities to provide more supportive environments for these transitioners; as the decade progressed, such college-age transitions became increasingly common. The site also educated transwomen about the remarkable facial feminization surgeries (FFS) pioneered by Douglas Ousterhout, M.D. Although FFS involves expensive, invasive and painful maxillofacial reconstruction, it could significantly reverse facial-skeletal damages caused by gender-inappropriate pubertal hormones ‒ enabling many transitioned women to live more fulfilling lives. As more college-age transwomen obtained good educations and went on to better careers, increasing numbers were able to afford it.
The site also exposed, as a myth, the time-worn pronouncement that transsexualism is 'extremely rare'. For decades the psychiatric community had promulgated trans-prevalence numbers that were too small by a factor of ~100, thus hiding from the public the large numbers of transpeople who were suffering from discrimination, social marginalization and inadequate health-care. Worse yet, much of the discrimination against transpeople was itself caused by the very same psychiatrists' pronouncements that gender variance was a 'mental illness'.
In April of 2003, a wonderful woman named Sofia Iglesias translated the "Successes page" into Spanish, and we became good friends. Sofia went on to translate even more pages, to help young transitioners in her country Mexico and all across the Americas. As others saw the impact of Sofia's work, volunteers began translations into many other languages; the resultuing international translation project escalated rapidly in scope and coverage, bringing support to ever more trans-people around the world.
During 2003-2006, the site became a focal point (along with Andrea James' TS Roadmap) for the investigation and exposure of the publication of J. Michael Bailey's transphobic pseudo-science book by the National Academies. The investigation led to Bailey's resignation as Chair of the Northwestern University's Psychology Department, and to his eventual decline into professional indiscretions, disgrace and obscurity. The Bailey fiasco became a defining moment in trans history by exposing psychiatric theories about gender variance to be absurdly unsound, including those of academic psychiatrist Paul McHugh, M.D., a prominent National Academy member. Sadly the Academies never expressed regret for their misguided support and heavy-handed promotion of Bailey's malignant science ‒ giving us 'the silent treatment' instead. They did, however, quietly remove Bailey's embarrassingly unscientific book from the NAP website.
During 2006-2009, my site became a focal point for investigation and exposure of Ken Zucker's trans-reparatist treatment of gender-variant children at CAMH in Toronto. Zucker had for years been the autocratic thought-leader behind the psychological pathologization of gender variance.* As the site began exposing Zucker's activities, he became enraged and threatened a lawsuit in efforts to shut it down. I responded by exposing Zucker's threat (see video), triggering a tide of trans-rebellion against what he was doing.
[*Note: Zucker's facade as a 'scientific authority' was finally shattered in 2011-12 by the brilliant Ph.D. research of Y. Gavriel ('Gavi') Ansara and his faculty advisor Peter Hegarty in their quantitative empirical study "Cisgenderism in psychology: pathologising and misgendering children from 1999 to 2008", published in the journal Psychology & Sexuality. Ansara and Hegarty's investigation documented that authors from mental health professions were significantly more trans-pathologising than authors from other professions, and identified Zucker as the leader of an 'invisible college' of group-think researchers who collectively-exploited such pathologising language to impose their discriminatory gender ideology on scientific thought about children's genders. In 2012, Ansara won the American Psychological Association's Transgender Research Award for this research.]
The site also promoted the movement towards supportive treatment of transgender children and teens, as dynamic groups such as Trans Youth Family Allies (TYFA) organized to help the families of such children. By the late 00's, many young transitioners were succeeding way beyond expectations, especially those using puberty-delaying therapies pioneered by Norman Spack, M.D. so as to avoid gender-inappropriate pubertal changes prior to transition. This movement has gained increasing traction amongst parents, counselors, physicians, and even school systems (including schools in Toronto, Zucker's home-base); it's clearly the wave of the future.
As work on the trans-information pages wound-down, I created the Trans News Updates to monitor ongoing changes in social and media attitudes about gender variance. Changing media representations often yield clues to where things are headed, and why, thus enabling advocates to spot opportunities for impactful, well-coordinated interventions. Of special significance were trans-community interventions in exposing the pathologizing teachings of the psychiatric establishment and pressing for removal of gender variance as a 'mental illness' from the DSM (the psychiatrists' bible). To learn more about these events, see the brilliant exposé of psychiatric superstition and malfeasance compiled by Kelley Winters, Ph.D. in her GID Reform website, and in her book Gender Madness in American Psychiatry: Essays in the Struggle for Dignity.
As we moved into the 2010's and I began writing my career memoirs, the trans-advocacy pages passed into history (see pre-2012 mainpage). Even so, the pages still get many hits and are an ongoing source of hope for many people. Reflecting on all that, we give thanks to the courageous transitioners who volunteered for early listing in the "successes" pages ‒ back when such exposure often led to terrible backlash from reactionary transphobic people. Fortunately those dark days are receding. Nowadays tens of thousands of transitioners have moved on to happy and fulfilling lives, and are open and proud about their accomplishments.
Lynn's Career Memoirs
"Rumor was that somebody named Conway had gone off the reservation,
slipped up the river into Cambodia, and was spreading unsound methods.
MPC79 didn’t work my name would be
" — Lynn Conway
Lynn and her husband Charlie, 2010
[click photo for higher-res version (more, more, more, more)]
During the early 2010's, I began sketching reflections on my experiences in engineering. I'd learned many lessons during my work at IBM-ACS in the 1960's and the 'Mead-Conway' VLSI revolution in the 1970's. I hoped to illuminate those experiences in memoirs before time ran out, believing lessons-learned back then might prove useful to young engineers in the future.
Times had also changed enough to seriously begin this work. The widespread internet-based trans-advocacy of the 00's had had great impact: The pronouncements of leading American psychiatrists on gender variance were exposed as 'unsound'. Laws changed, employment opportunities opened up, and the political landscape brightened. Transpeople emerged from the shadows, taking their rightful places in society. My long-ago transition was no longer the 'elephant in the room', blocking people from seeing the career-story looming beyond. It was time to return to my intellectual roots in science, mathematics and engineering, time to share what I can about such things.
The VLSI Archive:
As we reflect on the past with friends and family, we often use photo albums to share our memories – memories that bind us together and reveal how we got to where we are. But what about our careers? Although the results of our work may linger, mementos of adventures along the way are often lost in the rush of events. Only too late do we realize what we 'should have saved'.
It was different for the VLSI revolution in microelectronics; perhaps it was the exciting visual artifacts, or the shared-sense of breaking new ground. Whatever the reason, many participants saved old treasures from those years (1976-1980) – research notes, prototype silicon chips and chip photos, even huge color check plots – and stored them away for decades. During 2008-2010, members of the original VLSI research team, along with colleagues in academia and industry, began gathering up, scanning and photographing such artifacts – and then posting them online. The resulting VLSI Archive (more, more) helped bring those exciting days back to life. That mass of primary historical evidence also provided a great starting-point for a memoir, with the online VLSI Archive Spreadsheet enabling easy group-access to its wide array of contents.
Lynn’s VLSI Reminiscences:
In 2010, Dave Hodges, the Daniel M. Tellep Distinguished Professor of Engineering Emeritus at U. C. Berkeley, graciously invited me to write a memoir about the VLSI revolution for a special-issue of IEEE Solid-State Circuits Magazine (SSCM). Although many myths had arisen about the 'Mead-Conway' work, this was the first time in thirty years that any of my peers had asked me to explain what had happened back then. It was a nice coincidence in timing, for I’d already begun drafting some sketches about the work.
However there was a problem: The VLSI work had drawn heavily on key scientific and engineering insights I’d gained while at IBM-ACS. I felt a need to document those foundational experiences before immersing myself in writing about VLSI. Many questions also lingered about what had really happened at ACS, questions that needed answering before writing about later work. Thus it was that I began writing an ACS memoir in early 2011. This involved some rather interesting detective work, and along the way I stumbled onto many answers. The resulting ACS memoir was published in the fall of 2011 (see below).
I then shifted to writing about the VLSI revolution, building on the mass of original evidence contained in the VLSI Archive, and interacting with and getting feedback from many VLSI vets. The resulting memoir was published in the IEEE-SSCM in December 2012, along with insightful commentaries contributed by Chuck House, former Director of Engineering at HP, Carlo Séquin, Professor of EECS at U.C. Berkeley, and Ken Shepard, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University. The memoir and commentaries are posted at the following links [those in the VLSI archive include embedded links]:
IEEE Solid State Circuits Magazine, VOL. 4, NO. 4, FALL 2012: Front Cover; Table of Contents; Society Listing; Contributors; Editor's Note, by Mary Lanzerotti; (PDF 4mb); UM EECS Department Posting.
Lynn Conway, “Reminiscences of the VLSI Revolution: How a series of failures triggered a paradigm shift in digital design” (SSCM, more, references, timeline)
Chuck House, “A Paradigm Shift Was Happening All Around Us” (SSCM)
Carlo Sequin, “Witnessing the Birth of VLSI Design" (SSCM)
Ken Shepard, ““Covering”: How We Missed the Inside-Story of the VLSI Revolution” (SSCM)
As you explore the unfolding VLSI saga, 'go-meta' and think of it as a 'case study'. By doing so, you'll gain perspective on the processes involved in engineering exploration, innovation and paradigm shifting ‒ and on the critical roles that tool-building, exploratory design, rapid-prototyping and the actual 'making of things' play in such events.
Lynn's ACS Reminiscences:
I was hired by IBM Research right out of graduate school and soon joined what would become the IBM Advanced Computing Systems (a pioneering supercomputer project), just as it was forming in 1965. It was a golden era in computer research, a time when fundamental breakthroughs were being made across a wide front.
The well-distilled and highly codified results of that and subsequent work, as contained in today’s modern textbooks, give no clue as to how those breakthroughs ‘came to be’. Lost in those texts is all the excitement, the challenge, the confusion, the camaraderie, the chaos and the fun – the feeling of what it was really like to be there, at the frontier, at that time. In this, my first foray into memoir writing, I hoped to bring some of that thrill back to life. This effort was also essential preparation for writing the follow-on VLSI memoir. The reason was that I'd gained many valuable scientific and engineering insights while at ACS, and had drawn heavily upon those insights during my later VLSI research.
Many questions also lingered about what had happened at ACS. I wondered what ‘inside-explanation’ had been used within IBM to rationalize the project's cancellation in 1968. Did the managers who killed the project not realize that my DIS invention had been included in, and had greatly empowered, the machine design? Then too, why did IBM fail to patent DIS and fail to exploit it in their later computers? Was it possible that several rather influential ACS researchers did not understand what DIS was? Much less how it worked, or who had invented it? If so, how could that be? And why was I fired so suddenly, once IBM’s Corporate Executive Committee (i.e., IBM's President and CEO T. J. Watson, Jr.) learned about my upcoming gender transition? That firing seemed impulsively executed, as if in hot-anger. What on earth was that all about?
I launched an investigation in early 2011 to finally begin answering those questions and more. I was fortunate to have access to extensive ACS historical files compiled by Mark Smotherman of Clemson University, along with my own archive of original ACS documents, plus valuable evidence that had emerged onto the internet over the years. My ACS colleague Brian Randell also had many questions about the project, which had been cancelled just as he had predicted early-on in the project. Collaborating closely via Skype, we happened upon and shared lots of additional evidence, and began making sense out of it all. The findings so far are fascinating indeed, as you’ll discover in the resulting memoir.
While that work was underway, I was invited by John Lloyd to contribute a chapter to a Festschrift honoring Brian on his 75th birthday. It was published in November 2011. In addition to my ACS memoir, the Festschrift contained fascinating chapters by many prominent computer scientists, including Gordon Bell, Peter Denning, Tony Hoare, Dave Parnas and many more:
Lynn Conway, “IBM-ACS: Reminiscences and Lessons Learned from a 1960’s Supercomputer Project”. A chapter in: C. B. Jones, J. L. Lloyd, (Eds.), Dependable and Historic Computing: Essays Dedicated to Brian Randell on the Occasion of his 75th Birthday, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2011, pp.185–224.
Lynn’s MIT Reminiscences: (New!)
A trip back in time: M.I.T. and the Charles River Basin as seen from Lynn's apartment in M.I.T’s Eastgate, 1978.
[Click on individual photos to access higher-resolution images.]
"There’s always excitement in the air at MIT.
I first breathed that air in September 1955, as a 17 year old freshman moving into East Campus. As door after door of knowledge opened before me, I filled with feelings of empowerment. Those feelings soon extended into everything I did, whether sailing Tech Dinghy's on a blustery day, or rock climbing in the Quincy Quarries, or later-on when exploring New England on a motorcycle.
Starting out in Course-8 (Physics) I did well, making High Honors Dean’s List a number of times. But after taking the Course-6 (Electrical Engineering) circuits sequence, I became unsure of my goals. Partly it was the magic of the time. A huge paradigm shift was underway in pulse and digital electronic circuitry, triggered by the WWII tsunami of innovation at MIT’s Rad Lab.
I’d also been inspired by brilliant young EE instructors like Dudley Buck, who enabled us to visualize at a glance the behaviors of devices and circuitry we were playing around with inside our minds. Now, instead of seeing electronics as infrastructure for doing physics, I glimpsed a vast world for exploration, abstraction and meta-architectural innovation – an insight heightened by MIT’s Norbert Weiner’s visionary writings on “cybernetics.”
I vividly recall Weiner trundling toward me one sunny day as I headed toward the Building 8 entrance. Although he was seemingly lost in thought, I tried to catch his eye, wondering what he saw inside his mind. Whatever it was, he was clearly still ‘doing it’ at an advancing age. A signal also rose above the noise: I was meant to do engineering after all.
But suddenly my whole world came crashing down. Unable to find any help, my intense efforts to resolve my lifelong gender-issues totally failed. Losing all hope of ever becoming a girl and living a meaningful life, I dropped out late in my senior year. However, MIT had made its mark. I would instantly feel at home upon returning, two decades later . . . "
See full reminiscence at this link: Lynn Conway, "MIT Reminiscences: Student years to VLSI revolution", lynnconway.com, March 11, 2014.
See also related historical article: Paul Penfield, "The VLSI Revolution at MIT", 2014 MIT EECS Connector, Spring 2014, pp. 11-13. (PDF of overall issue)
VLSI Design Lab
MIT'78 Chip Set
A classic MIT Hack
"A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for." – Grace Hopper
"It's never too late to have a happy childhood." – Tom Robbins
Lynn Conway is a transgender pioneer whose longtime passion has been sports, particularly adventure sports. She's overcome two similar life obstacles (transitioning and a fear of heights) en route to her current state: a 75-year-old Michigan resident—reflective and respected, passionate and accomplished, innovative and intelligent.
"In a strange way, while rock-climbing years ago I was learning exactly what I needed to transition, learning how to overcome fear," Conway said. "Although scared of heights, I worked up to some modest climbing in Yosemite Valley—and passionately enjoyed it."
Conway, who lives west of Ann Arbor, has been married to Charlie since 2002; they have been together since 1988. The two were in Washington D.C., this past June for the President's White House Reception in celebration of LGBT Pride Month. Joy, hope and optimism carried throughout the event, filled with other activists, advocates and allies.
Conway has been out and a trans-rights advocate for 15 years, although her involvement with the LGBT community began decades earlier.
"When I went away to college in 1955, I was finally free to begin exploring—but it was very difficult," Conway said. "I thought I was gay [early on because] society was telling me I was. So I sort of randomly tried to find my way into the gay world, but that didn't work."
After earning her degrees at Columbia University in the early 1960s, Conway went west into a computer research career and into climbing in Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada. By then she knew what she had to do. She completed her transition in 1968 while living in San Francisco.
"Most of my transition mentors were trans-girls who were either sex workers or entertainers at places like Finnochio's," she said, reflecting on an era long past. "No way could I have been out back then and found a regular job. I didn't have the talent to be an entertainer, so I'd have ended up in sex work."
All along, sports were Conway's crutch, her supporting shoulder. The adventure sports were dangerous and difficult, but transitioning was as well. However, the sports were also exciting. "It's the learning that's fun, the exploring that's fun," she said.
Conway became a widely known computer pioneer while living in stealth after her transition. She also took up whitewater slalom racing and went on to motocross racing, sports that, no doubt, brought her back to summer camp, at age 10, in Maine.
"[Camp] was a transformative experience in my life because all at once I learned about things like making fires, hiking, camping, fishing, swimming, horseback riding, rifle shooting and more," Conway said. "It's what set off my tomboyish adventure-seeking."
Mementos From Trans-Advocacy
“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night,
“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night,
and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”
and when you move,
fall like a thunderbolt.”– Sun Tsu
count, even if psychiatrists can't!"
"Numbers count, even if psychiatrists can't!" ‒ Lynn Conway
“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you,
then they fight you, and then you win.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
outsiders watched 'The Houskeeper',
I lived 'Djanga
"While outsiders watched 'The Houskeeper', I lived 'Djanga Unchained'
and at times channeled Zoë
Bell in 'Death Proof'
and at times
channeled Zoë Bell in 'Death Proof'
‒ Lynn Conway
Andrea James, Lynn Conway, Calpernia Addams, Chicago, July 19, 2003
|“Only during World War II did we begin to learn that anyone, anywhere in the world, might be listening. And from that time on the anthropologist had to assume a new responsibility to speak – and of course write – about every people in the world, however remote, in ways that they, their friends and their descendants would find bearable and intelligible.” ‒ Margaret Mead|
VDAY LA 2004:
The Vagina Monoloque/Beautiful Daughters
Deep Stealth Productions presented the V-Day 2004 Worldwide Campaign event for Los Angeles on Saturday, February 21st. In cooperation with the author, internationally-known playwright Eve Ensler, and under the auspices of Jane Fonda, this benefit performance featured the first ever transgender cast of "The Vagina Monologues," and included a new monologue written by Eve especially for this event.
This large-scale, mainstream event was a historic opportunity for the trans community to present ourselves in a positive, contributing light. The performance showcased notable trans women reading Eve's beautiful monologues about the experiences of womanhood and the reclaiming of self through loving and respecting our bodies. The event also featured artistic, literary and musical contributions from trans women from around the country. Among the many women participating were: Calpernia Addams, Becky Allison, Marci Bowers, Lynn Conway, Andrea James, Donna Rose, Gwen Smith, Leslie Townsend, and many, many more...The V-Day Los Angeles event was held in Hollywood on Saturday evening, February 21, 2004 in the Silver Screen Theater at the beautiful Pacific Design Center.
Investigation of Publication of Transphobic
Junk-Science Book by the National Academies, 2003-2006
Exposure of Trans-Reparatism, 2006-2009
“Drop the Barbie: Ken Zucker's reparatist treatment of gender-variant children”
by Lynn Conway
NWSA Conference-Panel, 2008
“Resisting Transphobia in Academia”
Online report by Lynn Conway
IFGE Conference-Panel, 2009
““Disordered” No More: Challenging Transphobia in Psychology, Academia and Society”
Online report by Lynn Conway
"Out to Innovate" 2012
The National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP) presented “Out to Innovate 2012”, a summit to bring together LGBT and Ally high school, college and post-doctoral students, with LGBT career professionals, academics, and employers in the Science / Technology / Engineering / Mathematics community to share diversity, mentoring, and career learning opportunities. This wonderful networking and mentoring event was hosted by Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (oSTEM) at The Ohio State University, and I participated in a plenary panel there. [Link to gallery of photos]
Brynn Tannehill and Lynn Conway at Out to Innovate-2012 (Video)
[click photo for higher-res version]
White House LGBT Reception, June 13, 2013
In 2013 I was invited by the President to attend a White House Reception in celebration of LGBT Pride Month, in an acknowledgement of my trans-advocacy work. This was a wonderful event; the atmosphere was full of joy from all the recent social advances, and full of hope for the future. I took my husband Charlie as my guest and, as you can imagine, this was a very special experience for us. The following month I published some reflections on the event and it's impact, entitled "The Many Shades of 'Out'."
“What is Wild? and why it matters ...” – Rick Darke
“We’re natural born explorers.” – Dodd Mitchell
“Playing is Adventuring is Exploring is Innovating is Designing is Engineering is Architecting is Art.” – Lynn Conway
“How can you motivate yourself to continue to follow a leader
when he appears to be going around in circles?” – Andy Grove
“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails” – Bertha Calloway
“If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work,
but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“Underestimated, they'll let you in ... clueless to what you’re up to.” – Lynn Conway
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world ... ” ‒ Margaret Mead
“Play the game for more than you can afford to lose ... only then will you learn the game.” – Winston Churchill
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro" – Hunter S. Thompson
"What works, works!" – Lynn Conway
"Thanatopsis" – Willian Cullen Bryant
Click on image for full size poster . . . Poster art by Pamela Toomey, Draper Lab
[Update of 6-02-15]