Pioneering trans and non-binary scientists

Transgender Pride flag.

Image credit: Monica Helms/Public domain.

First published on 16th July 2015. Last updated 1 January 2020 by Dr Helen Klus

1. Gender

Many scientists used to think that there are only two genders, male and female, and that a person's gender could be solely determined from their genitals or chromosomes. We now know that this is not the case[1][2][3]. Scientists now think that a person's gender might be determined by both genetics and hormones, which can affect brain chemistry, and that both sex and gender are spectrums[4][5]. While the science of gender is relatively new, this will come as no surprise to the millions of trans and non-binary people around the world[6]. In fact, there is evidence that people from almost all cultures have been identifying as such for almost all of human history[7][8].

Despite this, the idea that sex and gender are the same and that both are binary is ingrained in our society, as is the idea that a person's gender should be an important part of their identity. This has led us to develop languages with almost no gender neutral pronouns, and has resulted in a culture where people feel pressured to colour-code their children's clothing so that strangers know what type of genitals they have.

People do not tend to respond well to the idea that their world-view may be completely wrong, and so some people feel challenged by the very existence of trans and non-binary people, and this has led to widespread discrimination[9].

One way to fight this discrimination is to simply educate people about gender. With this in mind, below is a list of scientists and doctors who are also openly trans and/or non-binary. This list is far from exclusive and so if you would like to be added (or deleted) please contact me.

Comic from Comic states: 'Pretty much everything we were taught about history in grade school was so oversimplified it was basically incorrect...Right? They sure did gloss over that whole period where Canada had Japanese concentration camps...Pretty much everything we were taught about astronomy in grade school was so oversimplified it was basically incorrect...Seriously. We were taught that 'there's no gravity in space'!...Pretty much everything we were taught about physics in grade school was so oversimplified it was basically incorrect...'Matter only exists in Gas, Liquid, or Solid states' - yeah right!...Pretty much everything we were taught about biological sex and gender in grade school was so oversimplified it was basically incorrect...Well, now you're being ridiculous.

Image credit: Robot Hugs/CC-NC-A.

2. Timeline of trans and/or non-binary scientists

Axiothea of Phlius (c. 350 BCE), Greek student of Plato, AFAB, gender unknown

AFAB, Axiothea presented as male while attending Plato's academy, which was only open to men.

Jeanne Baré/Jean Baret (1740–1803), French botanist, AFAB, gender unknown

AFAB, Baré presented as male and joined Louis Antoine de Bougainville's expeditions as an assistant botanist. Baré became the first known AFAB person to circumnavigate the Earth.

James Barry (1789/1799–1865), Irish military surgeon, trans man

Barry graduated from the University of Edinburgh Medical School in 1812, and then spent six months at St Thomas's Hospital in London, before becoming an Army Surgeon in 1813. Barry rose to the position of Inspector General in charge of Military Hospitals, and performed one of the first successful Caesarean sections in 1826. Barry is thought to have presented as male for all of his adult life.

Alan L. Hart (1890–1962), American physician and radiologist, trans man

Hart obtained his medical degree from Oregon Health & Science University in 1917, and became the first trans man to undergo gender reassignment surgery in the United States the following year. Hart was then legally granted the right to change his name and marry a woman. He married his first wife Inez Stark in February 1918 and his second wife Edna Ruddick in 1925.

Hart obtained a master's degree in radiology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1928 and was appointed Director of Radiology at Tacoma General Hospital, in Washington, in 1929. In 1948, Hart obtained a master's degree in public health from Yale University and was appointed Director of Hospitalization and Rehabilitation for the Connecticut State Tuberculosis Commission.

Around this time, Hart became one of the first trans men to take synthetic male hormones, which had just become available in the United States. Hart dedicated the last years of his life to fundraising and supporting tuberculosis patients who could not otherwise afford treatment.

Ewan Forbes (1912-1991), British physician, trans man

Forbes obtained a medical degree from the University of Aberdeen in 1944. He then worked as a Junior and then Senior Casualty Officer at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary before becoming a General Practitioner in 1945. Forbes sold his practice and returned to his family's farm when it ran into financial trouble in 1952. That same year, he legally changed his name and gender and married a woman, Isabella Mitchell. He was finally granted the inheritance rights of a man in 1968, after a three-year court battle.

Michael Dillon/Lobzang Jivaka (1915–1962), British physician, trans man

Dillon obtained a degree in theology from the University of Oxford in 1938. He began to transition in 1942 and was the first trans man known to undergo phalloplasty – the construction of a penis. Dillon legally changed his name and gender in 1944, and obtained a medical degree from Trinity College, Dublin in 1951. He then became a Ship's Doctor, travelling to Asia, Australia, and America.

In 1958, the Sunday Express newspaper became aware of his transition and published the story without his consent. Dillion moved to India to avoid the press and became a Buddhist monk, taking the name Lobzang Jivaka.

Lynn Conway (1938), American computer scientist and electrical engineer, trans woman

Conway worked as an electronics technician before obtaining a degree in engineering from Columbia University in 1962. She obtained a master's degree the following year, and then began working for IBM in New York, where she helped design supercomputers. Conway was fired in 1968 after she revealed to her employees that she wanted to transition.

After her transition, Conway joined Xerox PARC, a research and development company in California. While working at Xerox PARC, Conway co-authored Introduction to VLSI Systems. This was considered a groundbreaking work and became a standard university textbook.

In 1978, Conway became a visiting associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and in 1985, she became a professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, and Associate Dean of Engineering at the University of Michigan. Conway retired in 1998.

Conway has received numerous awards and honours, including election as a Member of the National Academy of Engineering, which is the highest professional recognition an engineer can receive.

Joan Roughgarden (1946), American ecologist and biologist, trans woman

Roughgarden obtained degrees in biology and philosophy from the University of Rochester in 1968, and obtained a PhD in Biology from Harvard University in 1971. She then worked as an assistant professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts until 1972, when she became a professor of biology at Stanford University.

Roughgarden remained at Stanford throughout her transition in 1998, and retired in 2011. After her retirement, she moved to Hawaii, and is currently an Adjunct Professor at the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB). During her career, she founded and directed the Earth Systems Program at Stanford, authored many books and papers, and received numerous awards and honours.

Rebecca Allison (1946), American cardiologist, trans woman

Allison obtained a medical degree from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in 1971. She then practised primary care/internal medicine until 1985 when she returned to the University of Mississippi to train for her cardiology fellowship.

Allison lost her practice within a year of her transition in 1993. She then moved to Arizona, where she practised cardiology for 18 years with the CIGNA Medical Group. She joined the Heart & Vascular Center of Arizona in 2012.

Allison was named one of the 'Top Doctors in Phoenix' by Phoenix Magazine for three years in a row starting in 2006. She was elected Chair of the American Medical Association Advisory Committee on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in 2008, and became President of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) in 2009.

Christa Muth (1949), German systems scientist, trans woman

Muth co-developed a field of engineering known as human systems engineering (HSE) in 2002. She transitioned in 2008, and is the subject of the documentary Between Two-Spirit: Becoming a Woman at Sixty.

Esben Esther Pirelli Benestad (1949), Norwegian physician and sexologist, trans person/genderqueer person

Pirelli Benestad is a medical doctor and a professor of sexology at the University of Agder.

Rachael Padman (1954), Australian physicist, trans woman

Padman transitioned while studying for a PhD in astronomy at the University of Cambridge. She obtained her PhD in 1982 and worked at the University of California, Berkeley for the next two years, before being appointed Deputy Project Scientist for the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. Padman became a University Lecturer at the University of Cambridge in 1998, and is currently Director of Education in the School of Physical Sciences.

Ben Barres (1955), American neurobiologist, trans man

Barres obtained a degree in biology from MIT, a medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School, and a PhD in neurobiology from Harvard University. He joined the faculty of neurobiology at the Stanford School of Medicine in 1993. Barres remained at Stanford during his transition in 1997. He was a professor of neurobiology and became the first openly trans scientist in the US National Academy of Sciences in 2013.

Mary Ann Horton (1955), American computer scientist, trans woman

Horton obtained a PhD in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley in 1981, having previously obtained degrees at the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin. While at Wisconsin, Horton worked on UNIX operating systems, and she later contributed to the development of Berkeley UNIX.

Horton began to work on, and improve, Usenet in 1980. She joined Bell Labs in Ohio in 1981, bringing email to the labs in 1987, and became the Senior Manager of Avaya Corporate Email and Directory in 2000. Horton joined the UNIX Implementation Engineering group at Bank One in 2002, and joined Sempra Energy's Transmission Grid Operations team in San Diego in 2007.

Horton is also an advocate for trans rights and was awarded the ‘Trailblazer' award by Out & Equal Workplace Advocates in 2001.

Sophie Wilson (1957), British computer scientist, trans woman

Wilson began studying computer science at the University of Cambridge in 1975, and by 1978 she had designed the Acorn Microcomputer. This was the first computer sold by Acorn Computers Ltd.

Wilson began working for Acorn, where she continued to design and improve their computers, co-designing the BBC Microcomputer in the early 1980s. Over a million BBC Microcomputers were sold, and they were used in thousands of schools throughout the UK.

Wilson also designed the Acorn RISC Machine (ARM) in 1983, and this became one of the most successful IP cores. It's currently found in most smartphones and tablets.

Wilson is now the Director of IC Design for Broadcom in the UK. She was listed as one of the top 15 most important women in tech history by Maximum PC magazine in 2011, and features in the 2009 BBC series Micro Men.

Marci Bowers (1958), American surgeon, trans woman

Bowers obtained a degree in medical microbiology from the University of Wisconsin in 1980, and a medical degree from the University of Minnesota in 1986. She completed her obstetrics/gynaecology residency at the University of Washington in 1990, and worked in Trinidad between 2003 and 2010.

Bowers currently works at the Bay Area Reproductive Healthcare and Surgery in California. She is an international authority on clitoral reconstruction for people who have suffered female genital mutilation (FGM), a surgery that she performs for free and was the first trans woman to perform gender reassignment surgery.

Angela Clayton (1959- 2014), British physicist, trans woman

Clayton was a physicist who specialized in nuclear safely. She was also an active campaigner for the rights of trans people and was closely involved in the development of the Gender Recognition Act of 2004, which allowed all trans people to legally change their gender. She was knighted in 2006 for 'serves to gender issues', making her an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire).

Amanda Simpson (1961), American physicist and Executive Director of the U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives (OEI), trans woman

Simpson obtained a degree in physics from Harvey Mudd College in California in 1983, a master's degree in engineering from California State University in 1988, and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Arizona in 2001.

Simpson is also a skilled pilot. She earned her first pilot's license in 1981, and became a certified flight instructor in 1988.

Simpson worked for the Raytheon Missile Systems Company for 27 years, starting as a test pilot and working her way up to Deputy Director of the Advanced Technology Development. During this time, she campaigned for trans rights, and in 2005 she was successful in convincing Raytheon to include gender identity and expression in its non-discrimination policy.

Simpson served as a commissioner on the City of Tucson Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Commission from 2001 until 2008, when she was elected as an Arizona Delegate for Hillary Clinton to the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Simpson became the Senior Technical Adviser to the Bureau of Industry and Security in 2009. In 2014, she became the Executive Director of the U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives (OEI), where she currently leads the U.S. Army's efforts to implement large-scale renewable energy projects.

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, American and Barbadian cosmologist, agender woman

Prescod-Weinstein is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist at the University of New Hampshire, as well as a Core Faculty Member in Women’s Studies, and a columnist for New Scientist.

Julia Serano, American biologist and writer, trans woman

Serano has a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biophysics from Columbia University. She has spent 17 years working as an evolutionary and developmental biology researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and is also an advocate for trans rights, a musician, a performer, and an author.

Carys Massarella, Canadian physician, trans woman

Massarella is the first openly trans person to become president of a hospital medical staff, working at St. Joseph's Healthcare hospital in Ontario. She is also an advocate for trans rights.

Savannah Garmon, American physicist, trans woman

Garmon obtained her PhD from the University of Texas in 2007 and then worked as a postdoc in France, Denmark, Canada, and Japan. She is currently an assistant professor at Osaka Prefecture University in Japan, specialising in open quantum systems in condensed matter and quantum optics. Garmon is also a writer and an advocate for trans rights.

Audrey Tang, Taiwanese software programmer, trans woman

Tang led the Pugs project, to implement Perl 6 and has contributed to several Free Software programs. She is also the first transgender official in the top executive Taiwanese cabinet.

Julia Salevan, American physicist, genderqueer person

Salevan obtained a degree in physics from the University of Maryland in 2012 and is currently a PhD student in mechanical engineering at Yale University.

Kale Edmiston, American neuroscientist, trans man

Edmiston is a PhD student in neuroscience at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, where he is also active in improving healthcare access for trans people.

Eli Capello, American neuroscientist, trans man

Capello is a PhD student in neuroscience at Centenary College of Louisiana, where he also advocates for equal gender rights.

Izzy Jayasinghe, Lecturer in Cardiovascular Science, trans woman

Jayasinghe completed a BSc in Cardiovascular Sciences and a PhD in Physiology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand before working at the University of Queensland, Australia and the University of Exeter in the UK. She is currently a Lecturer at the University of Leeds where she specialises in nanoscale imaging tools and calcium signalling in the heart.

Shayle Matsuda, biologist, trans man

Matsuda is a graduate student of biology at the California Academy of Sciences. He received the California State University Trustees Award in 2014 and runs Science, Neat.

3. References

  1. Monro, S., 2005, 'Beyond male and female: Poststructuralism and the spectrum of gender', International Journal of Transgenderism, 8, pp.3-22.

  2. Ainsworth, C., 2015, 'Sex redefined: The idea of two sexes is simplistic. Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than that', Nature News, last accessed 01-06-17.

  3. Italiano, M., 'XY Female Pregnancy', Gendercare, last accessed 01-06-17.

  4. Diamond, M., 2013, 'Transsexuality Among Twins: Identity Concordance, Transition, Rearing, and Orientation', International Journal of Transgenderism, 14, pp.24-38.

  5. NHS, 'Gender dysphoria', last accessed 01-06-17.

  6. Conway, L., 'How Frequently Does Transsexualism Occur?', last accessed 01-06-17.

  7. Nonbinary, 'Gender-variant identities worldwide', last accessed 01-06-17.

  8. Allen, M., 'Transgender History: A 6 Part Series', Bilerico Report, last accessed 01-06-17.

  9. End Trans Discrimination: the Survey, 'The National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report', last accessed 01-06-17.

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