Dana’s Story

Copyright © 2005, Dana Zircher



Dana Zircher, Software Design Engineer

Microsoft Corporation

[photo of Dana and her daughter]



The following is a glimpse into some of the most personal and private thoughts of my journey to self realization and finally my transition to womanhood.  I’d like to thank Lynn for giving me the opportunity to share my story with you and I applaud her for the wonderful work she has done to promote our diverse group.  She is also enlightening others as to how well adjusted we are as individuals, thereby defending us against the stereotypical stigmas attached to our condition.   I offer this information in hopes that others may first find similarity with their own situations and finally; encouragement, optimism and strength.

Dana Zircher




Dana’s Story


Like most of us, I was aware at a very early age that I had this gender issue lurking about and as I approached puberty and watched the girls I considered my peers begin to blossom into young women, I became seriously depressed.  Not only did I feel confused and inferior but I began to feel very isolated.  There was no one I could to turn to for support; I think we all know instinctively that this is just not something we discuss with others but rather keep secret and constantly keep a conscious and watchful eye for the possibility of others revealing clues that they may have recognized our differences.  As I grew and became involved in activities that I enjoyed such as school band, drum corps and chorus, I was often accepted conditionally only because of my talents and rejected on a personal level because I just didn’t fit in.  There were a few traumatic events that occurred in my young childhood; perhaps the most damaging was being forcibly molested by one of my high school teachers who had mistaken my “feminine nature” as homosexuality.  Around this period I began having some regular counseling with a psychiatrist and at about age 18 or 19 my doctor told me that after careful consideration he strongly believed I was a “probable transsexual”.  Naturally this was the last time I went to see him; I had other dragons to slay at the time. 

Besides I just didn’t want to be that different.

I continued playing in bands while I studied electronics and computer programming.  Performing allowed me to express myself artistically as well as offered me allowances for presenting in a more gender androgynous fashion.  One of the bands I was playing with, “The Outcasts” was performing Beatles cover music and between this band and another, I was bringing in enough money to be a full time musician.  This allowed me to write and record original music after graduation.  After about a year of recording, I accepted a position in the studio learning to engineer during the day and using my electronics skills to perform equipment maintenance and performance improvements when the room was empty.  During my time at the studio I began to design and implement a VCA based console automation system that ran on an Apple computer.  Although we didn’t make it to market it did spark a real desire to start using my programming skills in a more significant way.

I took a job at computer consulting firm where my time was split 50/50 between hardware and software.  As opportunities became available, I spent more and more time programming and began burying myself in my work which provided me with an escape from the knowledge that I was hiding from a serious issue that was consuming my every idle thought: I’m really a woman.

It was at this time that I was proposed to by my best friend and band mate Laura.  Laura and I were inseparable and very much in love.  I truly believed that if I could “walk like a man” perhaps I could get over my insane notion that I was really a woman.  Our life together was blessed with everything anyone could ever ask for: a nice home, good careers, and most important – unquestionable love for each other.  The one thing we were lacking was intimacy -- not only physical intimacy but also emotional intimacy.  It was not possible to share each other’s deepest thoughts and beliefs while I was hiding such a “sinister” secret, and I was certain that revealing these issues about my inner identity would destroy all that we did share.  This manifested in our relationship in two distinct ways: Laura began to feel inadequate and blame herself for our distance, while I became consumed with anxiety and depression over my inability to overcome my internal conflict.

 As my programming career matured I was introduced to a newer product on the market called Lotus Notes.  I took one look at it and I just got it.  It was brilliant.  I spent most of my time integrating the Notes data into enterprise systems and writing applications using their C API. {Application Programming Interface}

A brief history of Lotus Notes

I decided that I really wanted to become more involved in the core development offerings of Notes and in 1996 I sent a code sample, my resume and a letter of introduction to Iris Associates who were the design engineers for the project.  I was invited to fly up to Boston for an interview and by the time I arrived home in New Jersey that evening, I was offered a position on the engineering team.

Laura and I relocated to Massachusetts and we decided that it was the right time to grow our family.  As far as my gender disorder was concerned, it was a constant sorrow that I carried alone.  I truly never believed I would transition.  I expected that I would resign myself to a life of distraction and just make the best with what I had.  Then all that started change.  During the birth of our daughter, something apparently had gone wrong and I watched our doctor reach for a small pager that was attached to her side and the room became filled nurses and doctors from the neonatal emergency staff.  My daughter was limp, her color a sort of grey blue, her breathing was labored and she was suffering from a very low pulse rate.  Our doctor cut her umbilical cord and she was whisked to a steel table on the other side of the room while several nurses were attending to and distracting Laura from what was going on. 

My baby was only a 1 on the Apgar scale at one minute after birth.  The doctors were doing things like vacuuming her nasal passages and picking up her lifeless arms and dropping them to gauge whether or not she was aware of what was going on in her new reality.

The care providers frantically performed all sorts of procedures and slowly the atmosphere began to take on a distinct calm.  At about 5 minutes she had become completely cognitive and responsive.  This time she scored a 9.  I can’t be certain how many times I took a breath over those five minutes but I was breathing now and it was a miracle.  I’m not sure what happened to me internally during this event but I’m certain that it changed me.  More vividly than ever I was confronted with the notion that I was not really living.  I was certainly not being true to who I really was, but I had a family now and above all I had to ensure that I didn’t destroy it.

I continued to work at Iris Associates as a highly visible engineer writing their mail and calendaring programs until about late 1999 when I was offered a position with Ray Ozzie’s stealth startup organization, “Groove Networks”.  We were a small group of highly motivated engineers working insane hours to help deliver Ray’s newest vision of the next generation of collaboration tools.  It was perhaps one of the most exciting times in my life.  Passions were soaring and everyone truly believed in what we could build as a united team.  I was so proud to be a significant contributor to their secure peer to peer communications product and later to have the opportunity to design and code a companion server product.  Ray and I have worked very closely together over the last few years and I was certain of one thing, he was a man of the highest character and ethics.

Time to transition:

I spent much of the last 8 years in therapy trying to cope with my gender dysphoria while maintaining a life with my wife and young daughter.  My state was eroded however; I was becoming less able to cope during the down time.  Approximately 3 years ago Laura and I began discussing how we were going to deal with my inevitable transition.  We spent tremendous periods of time sitting out in our sunroom crying and trying to negotiate our way through this period of uncertainty.  I was frightened and insecure and there was little I could do to offer comfort to the woman I love.   Laura is an incredibly strong woman and she realized that although she could support me through my transition, she could not be married to a woman.  She insisted that we should separate when I would go “full-time.”  At the time I was crushed but in retrospect she was absolutely correct to arrange for all our changes to happen within a single adjustment period.  It was easiest on our daughter this way as we constantly reinforced to her that we were still a family, only a special family.

While I was planning the aspects and processes required for my professional transition - you know - telling the people that you work for and heading down to the HR department – some external factors occurred that allowed me to cut my planned schedule a bit short.

Coming out:

I gathered all the support info I could find that I thought would help others understand -- a dozen copies of “True Selves” and “She’s Not There” and began speaking to my immediate family about my condition.  I discussed with them my transition plans as well as the changes that were going to occur in my family.  Remarkably, they were all extremely supportive…well accept for my sister, who I’m still hoping will come around and realize that this is not something which can just be ignored.

Now it was time to have a very personal conversation with Ray.  I booked a 15 minute meeting with him and asked his assistant to set aside an hour, “just in case”.  A few minutes before our meeting, I emailed him with a letter describing everything about the transsexual dilemma and began a slow stroll to his office. 

Although I was certain that Ray would be objective, open minded and supportive, this was perhaps the most difficult outing for me because I had so much respect for this man and didn’t want to diminish myself in his presence. 

When I knocked on his door I was greeted by an extremely compassionate and caring person who just wanted to make this aspect of my transition succeed.  Ray told me flat out that this was not an issue as far as he was concerned and offered his sympathy for some of my suffering.  He asked if we could bring our director of HR in to begin positive communications and I agreed.  The net result of this meeting was that we would form a small transition team and plan the process meticulously.  We developed a shared responsibility ensuring that all aspects were agreed upon prior to disseminating any information and waited for transition day to arrive.

I took a week off of work prior to my “full-time” date to allow for the members of the transition team to communicate with all of the managers in the various groups.  It was agreed that the managers would communicate with each of their employees prior to my return the following Monday.  We constructed a template message which emphasized that this is a medical condition and that the company was supportive of my transition.  My transition occurred with little incident and I maintained my rank in the engineering department with no consternation from my peers.

I took a short leave of absence in January 2005 to have GRS and was greeted warmly on my return.  It was at this time that I began using the same facilities as the other women at Groove.  It was agreed upon that I could use the women’s restrooms gradually after going full time; however I was more concerned with maintaining as few uncomfortable moments as possible until my transition was complete.  Fortunately our offices included several private restrooms about the complex.  I guess the most significant aspect worthy of noting is this transition was executed like any other project that required precision and realistic expectation setting.

Life since transition:

It’s really funny how life before transition seems to have faded from its urgency. I guess life is just normal now and for the most part my sense of self has just come around full circle, well except for that massive secret!  My daughter is 6 years old now and so much of my non-work time is devoted to her and our relationship. She's my greatest gift and pretty much the sole reason for coming to terms with transitioning later rather than sooner.

Laura and I are still the best of friends and for this I am so grateful. My little girl was only a little older than three when I went “full-time” and she has only faded memories of me actually being a male role model.  Occasionally she still passes comments like "you were a boy then, remember?” 

Our family has changed however it is an extremely close, loving and strong one.  As for My daughter, there’s never a doubt in her mind that she has two loving parents and she’s quite well adjusted at this point considering the possibilities.

 When I'm not hard at work, I'm spending time with her or out with my friends either dancing, camping or out hunting at flea markets for precious treasures.  During my transition I decided to rebuild my studio and what started as a little eight track room "just for me" turned into a full blown 48 track production facility. I've met a few friends in our community whom I've co-produced and just had a blast engineering for them. Living so close to Berkeley school of music, I have plans of helping a few more folks get their music recorded, too.

On March 10, 2005 Microsoft Corporation merged with Groove Networks and we’re now frantically working on integrating our technology into a future Microsoft product release not yet disclosed.  Microsoft’s anti-discrimination policies include gender identity discrimination and they have an amazing focus on diversity awareness and support.  I feel quite at home with everyone I’ve been working with.  During the acquisition Ray was named one of three Chief Technical Officers of Microsoft reporting directly to Bill Gates. 

Our little Ray, who’d a thunk.

It's wonderful to finally be free of the burden of being “transsexual” and while I have tremendous gratitude for my good fortune of having transitioned without losing everything, I must admit that every relationship I have maintained from the "land before time" has changed.  Some of these friendships have become a bit awkward while others however are stronger and more sincere.  I think the most incredible and rewarding moments I have these days are meeting new people and building strong friendships where my past is not the most interesting thing about me. And in point, it's great to finally be the "normal" one by comparison.

OK, that's just my opinion.

All in all, I am a very lucky woman - I received the miracle I prayed for!!

Dana Zircher

Software Design Engineer

Information Worker Group

Microsoft Corporation


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