What she prefers to be called is “Martine.”
September 8, 2014 7:50 AM   Subscribe

The Trans-Everything CEO (SL New York Magazine, trigger warning: some weird pronoun stuff and misogyny.)
posted by roomthreeseventeen (48 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
What a fascinating, cool sounding person!
posted by oceanjesse at 8:20 AM on September 8, 2014


That...is a story so strange that I actually googled Martine Rothblatt to be sure she exists.

"A powerful trans" is not the happiest phrase to use.

On another note: I suppose all these rich people want to live forever because they are sure that their lives can only improve and become more fun and special. Me, I have pretty much been on a "well, I'll probably die relatively soon so at least I don't have to worry about [terrible thing]" kick for about the past five years, particularly since my mother was diagnosed with something early-onset and unpleasant. I don't so much envy the rich their probable ascension to immortality - since I'll be dead and I won't care - but I do envy their confidence that their lives are secure and pleasant and only likely to improve.
posted by Frowner at 8:21 AM on September 8, 2014 [12 favorites]


I do want to smack the author and editor around with a style guide, but this was neat.
posted by Foosnark at 8:21 AM on September 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Jon Ronson also interviewed Martine and the robot version of Bina, in this article starting on page 2... with hopefully fewer style guide issues.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:43 AM on September 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Kudos to NY Mag for actually getting Martine and Bina to sit down for interviews. They are fascinating people who if not carefully understood can be made out to be kooky caricatures of new-agey space folk. I worked on a story for Time magazine about Terasem that only ever published online. I met and photographed Martine's son Gabriel who lives in Florida and helps run the Terasem retreat in Melbourne and he's a great person who's very honest about what it was like to be raised by a trans mother. It was one of the more fun and enlightening shoots I've done but for whatever reason Martine and Bina seemed to want to keep Time at arms length. I lobbied hard to for Time to fly me up to Vermont to photograph Bina48 but no dice.
posted by photoslob at 8:44 AM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Skimmed over the article, but didn't get the answer to the question that really intrigued me: what kind of car is that?
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:02 AM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


In person, Martine is magnificent, like a tall lanky teenage boy with breasts.

...aaaand that's where I stopped reading.

Good Lord, New York Magazine. Get a grip. On pretty much everything.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:04 AM on September 8, 2014 [20 favorites]


It's a Tesla Roadster.
posted by ftm at 9:13 AM on September 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


I heard a teaser for this story on the radio this morning, but I missed the part about her name or the company she worked for, so I'm glad this was posted. I can't believe I hadn't already heard of her.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:15 AM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Telling that the backstory sections call Martine by her old name, and Bina by her current name, only briefly noting that it was not the name she used at the time. There are few clearer demonstrations of why the 'use old names/pronouns when talking about the past' thing is transphobic.
posted by Dysk at 9:22 AM on September 8, 2014 [9 favorites]


I'm also glad this was posted because it made me aware of Martine and her work, but I really wish I could read the piece without gritting my teeth every time I see the words "born male". Oy vey.
posted by fight or flight at 9:23 AM on September 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


more like "born indeterminate, confused for male"
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:34 AM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


This article is all sorts of poorly written, but Martine is fascinating person.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:44 AM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


The article could probably have been great, were it not ruined by so many tired old tropes of journalism about trans people--clear from the moment you see the sensationalist title--not, say, "Meet Martine Rothblatt, America's Wealthiest Trans Woman," but "The Highest-Paid Female CEO in America Used to Be a Man."

Martine Rothblatt is a genderqueer transhumanist trans woman with a multiracial family and a passion for artificial intelligence and virtual worlds. Sounds like my own spouse! The difference is that Rothblatt is a wealthy CEO with a lot of fancy toys that make her fascinating to a mass audience, while my more representative wife gets to be a freelance author for engineering blogs for minimal pay, because she can't get a face-to-face job due to rampant transphobia.

The New Yorker piece presents lots of interesting biographical detail. But it opens by talking about the very small percentage of CEOs who are women, and how the Rothblatt is the highest paid of this tiny minority. There's no discussion of how trans women on average are unemployed at very high rates and are poorly paid, in fact economically disadvantaged in comparison to cis women. The implication--jumped on by transmisogynist commenters in many threads I've read--is that Rothblatt and other trans women are not like "real" women, and are advantaged like men. Empirically, this is not the case, but every social pattern has exceptions. The first American female millionaire was Madam C. J. Walker, an African American child of parents who had been enslaved. Her success selling hair straighteners and skin lightening creams does not prove that African American women were more socially empowered than white women in the 19th century. Her success was an exception to the rule. And such is the case of Rothblatt as well.

The New York Magazine piece also presents a gratuitous physical description of the sexed characteristics of Rothblatt's body early in the piece ("magnificent, like a tall lanky boy with breasts"), and informs the readers that she has had "radical" transition surgery. This approach is so, so tired. Journalists may claim that what the reader of any piece about a trans person first wants to know is how sex-conforming their body is and whether they've "had the surgery," but this is cissexist gender-policing BS that journalists are in large part responsible for creating and perpetuating. I find it terribly offensive.

Anyway, if you can get through that, as far as biographies of the wealthy go, Rothblatt's life story is certainly interesting. Americans love to read about the lives of the rich and famous, and the stories of every Fortune 500 CEO who is not a cis white man is likely to be venerated by their communities, as they are few and far between, and generally viewed as "success stories."

But instead of framing Rothblatt against a backdrop of the huge social disadvantages faced by trans women generally--as a story of her overcoming the odds--she's framed instead as more successful than cis women because she is "unisex," as if genderquerity confers social advantages rather than social marginalization. And that journalistic presentation is not only wrong as a matter of fact, but does active harm to trans women by seeming to validate the claims of transmisogynists, who frame trans women as privileged male impostors in women's spaces. After reading several posts about this article full of TERFs crowing about how Rothblatt proves that trans women are really oppressive men, I'm feeling very tired, and like New York Magazine owes the trans community an apology.
posted by DrMew at 10:02 AM on September 8, 2014 [36 favorites]


and informs the readers that she has had "radical" transition surgery.

In surgical parlance the term "radical" refers to the complete removal of a structure -- often an organ or gland. So, a radical mastectomy refers to the complete removal of the breasts and nipple. A radical orchiectomy refers to the complete removal of the testes. A radical prostatectomy refers to the complete removal of the prostate. Etc. It is a common classification. The other (extensive!) problems with the article's wording notwithstanding, my impression was that the author was explaining to the reader that Ms. Rothblatt's MTF transition is surgically complete.
posted by zarq at 10:25 AM on September 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


The article could probably have been great, were it not ruined by so many tired old tropes of journalism about trans people--clear from the moment you see the sensationalist title--not, say, "Meet Martine Rothblatt, America's Wealthiest Trans Woman," but "The Highest-Paid Female CEO in America Used to Be a Man."

Unfortunately we're going to have to suffer through years of those tropes until trans is just another tired way of categorizing a person to the point where society stops caring. Admittedly, I skimmed right over the "lanky boy with breasts" description on the first reading not thinking much of it but after it was pointed out it's obviously offensive. But, with that said, the piece goes into great detail about how amazing Martine is. Maybe if folks who are transphobic read a piece like this they might rethink their positions. As someone who has casually used words like "tranny" it's through reading similar stories that have made me realize how insensitive I've been while being a self-identified "progressive" person. This story is FAR from perfect but it highlights the accomplishments and experiences of a person who I have great deal of respect for and if it creates conversations on trans issues I think we're all the better for it.
posted by photoslob at 10:28 AM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


(Just as a clarification - what makes the story strange to me is the robot head of Martine's wife and its sad weird interview straight out of New Wave SF, the transhumanism, Martine's apparent miraculous agelessness, the "transhumanism is for lovers" angle, the daughter's illness and treatment...at first I thought this was just going to be some kind of "wow, how strange yet uplifting it is that a trans woman can be CEO of some fancy corporation" and my gut response was "wooo-hoo, trans folks can very occasionally become one percenters, just what I've always dreamed, also it's kind of offensive that you are surprised that a trans woman can run a business". And then I found myself wishing they'd left the gender angle as a small part of the story, because frankly the rest of her story belongs in some strange fusion of sixties Samuel Delany poptimism short story with Joanna Russ scary We Who Are About To... descriptions of wealth and power and is far, far more interesting than the various little anecdotes about transitioning.)
posted by Frowner at 10:36 AM on September 8, 2014 [14 favorites]


I don't understand that gripes about style such as "There are few clearer demonstrations of why the 'use old names/pronouns when talking about the past' thing is transphobic." when the subject of the article explicitly says, "I used to be a man." Men are referred to as "he". Is the subject of the article transphobic? The subject identifies as male at this time, so it would be appropriate to say "he" in reference to that time. Similarly, if someone were genderfluid and preferred "he" at one point in a narrative and "she" in another is it somehow wrong for a publication to use those terms?
posted by koavf at 10:39 AM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


As far as transphobia goes, yes, trans people internalize transphobia. I do, I face it and try to deal with it every day.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:43 AM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Photoslob: I don't know about you, but I am not going to suffer tired old trans tropes, I am going to raise hell, fight about it and not shut up :-)
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:46 AM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


A few random responsive thoughts: I'm familiar with the medical usage of the term "radical," but (1) the term is not used in the context of what is implied (there's no "conservative vaginoplasty"), and (2) it seems clear to me the term is used for its connotations: to sensationalize gender transition.

Yoga, I strongly disagree that noting what color someone is detracts from seeing people as fully human, and find your assertion that it is tiresome of people like me to care about how our gender identities are framed pretty hurtful.

As for pronoun usage, what I would say is that an author should distinguish between their interview subject's language and common usage/what is noted in style guides/what community advocates suggest. Rothblatt is clearly a very eccentric person, which is fine. One way she is eccentric is in her descriptions of her gender. That's her right. But just because a person's usage of language for themselves is unusual doesn't mean it should be so used by the author generally in an article. I mean, if an interviewee who is a Jews-for-Jesus adherent describes themselves as a pre-Christian until their conversion, it doesn't mean it's a good idea for the author to refer to Jews generally as "pre-Christians." It'll upset other people, and for good reason.
posted by DrMew at 10:51 AM on September 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


I would like to know more about that robot plz. For example, in Cold Lurkey's link, the robot tells a long and detailed story about Bina's brother. Was that story directly entered into the robot, or was any part of it invented on the fly?
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 10:51 AM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Photoslob: I don't know about you, but I am not going to suffer tired old trans tropes, I am going to raise hell, fight about it and not shut up :-)

And that's exactly what will keep pushing these issues towards the fore. There's so many things in this world I get terribly frustrated about but the end of LBGTQ discrimination is one issue I honestly believe I'll see an end to in my lifetime. I applaud you for fighting the good fight.
posted by photoslob at 11:12 AM on September 8, 2014


Reminding you all that I listen to conservative talk radio daily, I can confirm that the talk pundits LOOOOOOOVE to bloviate about "radical cosmetic genital mutilation" the same way they refer to the President as a "radical leftist," it fits right in with their fist-pounding talking points.

I want to call in like "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means" but calling in would let me vent the rage and spite I so cherish because it fuels my musical output.

Earlier today I mentioned this and someone suggested that it would be cool if "radical surgery" were a new kind of extreme sport with sweet kickflips and lightsabers.
posted by jake at 11:15 AM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Galaxor, here's another very cool story by Jon Ronson on Bina48 for Radiolab that I found while doing research for the Time piece. You actually get to hear Bina's voice. I know a machine doesn't have feelings but the Radiolab piece and this NY mag piece really make me feel sad for Bina48.
posted by photoslob at 11:16 AM on September 8, 2014


And so began the years of transition. There were hormones, of course, and endless hours of psychotherapy aimed at establishing that Martine’s urge was neither fleeting nor shallow. She began dressing as a woman in ever-widening circles—first out with Bina alone, then with friends, and finally on weekends with the kids and their friends. The children (I spoke to three out of four) agree it was an anguishing time. They were teased at school (“Who wears the pants in your family now?” ); neighbors moved away.

man i haaaaaaaaate moving and i cannot imagine ever willfully moving anywhere because of a neighbor who posed no threat to me. wow. people are terrible, and willing to spend a lot of money and go through with a lot of effort to support their terribleness.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:14 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Put it this way, I will occasionally use the short hand 'used to be a man' too, but that doesn't mean you can call me he. 'She used to be a man' or 'she was doing this that and the other' are still correct, not he.

...and additionally, Bina was not called Bina at the time, yet the article calls her Bina when talking about that time. Martine was not called Martine at the time, but somehow that same logic doesn't apply... Now why might that be?
posted by Dysk at 12:45 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Apologies to DrMew and any others whom I may have unintentionally insulted. I didn't mean to diminish or trivialize very real issues. We want the same thing: for it not to be an issue, to be loved & respected from the inside out. One thing I really liked about the article was this line:

“I love you for your soul, not your skin,” is what Bina said.

Again, I'm sorry DrMew.
posted by yoga at 12:56 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


A few random responsive thoughts: I'm familiar with the medical usage of the term "radical," but (1) the term is not used in the context of what is implied (there's no "conservative vaginoplasty")

There are such things as radical vaginectomy and/or labiaectomy. I assume her MTF surgery incorporated radical removal (meaning entire removal) of the penis and testes as well as reconstructive surgery to create a vagina and vulva. So, not just -plasty, because that's structure formation/grafting.

...and (2) it seems clear to me the term is used for its connotations: to sensationalize gender transition.

OK. That is not clear to me. I agree that it is possible.
posted by zarq at 1:02 PM on September 8, 2014


zarq, while their may be such a thing as a radical penectomy, there is not really such a thing as radical SRS. It is not a thing that is ever really put in those terms by medical professionals.

...and as concerns vaginoplasty, that surely involves non radical surgery, no? I mean, they don't just magic the vagina/vulva out of thin air.
posted by Dysk at 1:09 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I mean, they don't just magic the vagina/vulva out of thin air.

That would be pretty rad though
posted by en forme de poire at 1:14 PM on September 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


zarq, while their may be such a thing as a radical penectomy, there is not really such a thing as radical SRS. It is not a thing that is ever really put in those terms by medical professionals.

Ah. Didn't know that. Ok, then!

...and as concerns vaginoplasty, that surely involves non radical surgery, no?

OK, so there are a lot of different kinds of vaginoplasty procedures, and most of them are actually intended not to construct a vagina where none has previously existed, but rather to correct either structural abnormalities or aesthetics in an existing vagina and/or vulva. That latter category, 'aesthetics' has rightfully given the procedure a bad name. So yes, vaginoplasty is typically not a radical surgery. But my understanding is that sometimes doctors will refer to an entire set of procedures where a structure is removed and then rebuilt, as a "radical reconstruction."

But if that isn't how sex reassignment surgery is normally referred to, then that's fine. Thanks for clarifying. Not trying to be pendantic or unreasonable. Just want to be accurate.

I mean, they don't just magic the vagina/vulva out of thin air.

Heh.
posted by zarq at 1:38 PM on September 8, 2014


Thanks, yoga. Certainly I have my transhumanist leanings as well, and the idea that a person could make their body look and function however they wanted to best express their unique inner being is high on my utopian list. But here we are with our recalcitrant bodies of meat, the color and gender and age and abilities of each strongly shaping our life chances and our life experiences, which we can't overlook. And even if I could snap my fingers and initiate infinitely mutable transhuman bodies, I wouldn't want and end of gender, but a proliferation of gender possibilities.

But ultimately all people of goodwill want do want the fundamental same end: that each person be treated with dignity and cherished. So thanks.

(Really, thank you to MeFites generally. This thread has been so much more civil and interesting than others I've been watching on other sites about the Rothblatt article, which could be summarized as "Haha, transsexual confesses: trans women are really men, and also really crazy.")
posted by DrMew at 1:38 PM on September 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yeah, the "used to be a man" is something that...I wish would just go away forever. Mainly because the phrase implicitly gives people permission fundamentally question my existence as I know it and makes me feel like maybe I really do have a mental issue and that all this silliness would just go away if I stopped pretending to be a woman, but then reality seeps in and I realize, nope, I'm trans and this existence is all too painfully real and completely misunderstood.

So...yeah. I start talking about this stuff and start feeling quickly discouraged, so I'm going to stop now...
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:06 PM on September 8, 2014


Well put DrMew.

Every once in awhile I say something that comes out completely the wrong way, and my earlier comment definitely didn't come out at all like I wanted it to! I guess what I was really saying was I wish people could let go of their prejudices more easily. I wasn't meaning the people here in this thread, but rather people who are phobic & don't take time to look past the surface & just be open.

It's much more confusing than it used to be! But I can see the benefits of detangling the knots that are knottier than others, & how they could be knottier in the first place. And we never would've known they could be knottier unless we teased things like this out.
posted by yoga at 2:10 PM on September 8, 2014


Every time I've ever seen someone describe bottom surgery as "radical" they've been trying to paint it as bizarre and extreme and weird, and have seemed unaware of the particular medical usage put forward here. That's also the very obvious vibe I get from this piece, especially given all the other nonsense.

Martine is definitely very interesting, though. Colbert did a segment on Bina48 a few months ago, which - surprisingly - is not terrible about Martine's being trans!
posted by Corinth at 2:32 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


A trans friend of mine had this to say about the article, I thought it was very well put:
Dear New York Magazine: The attached article is a completely irresponsible way to write about a trans woman. It is also a boring way to write about a trans woman. For starters, there is your decision to structure your story around this idea:

"The most highly paid female executive in the US is a TRANS WOMAN OMG"

versus this idea:

"The trans woman inventor of Sirius Radio is TURNING HER WIFE INTO A TERRIFYING AI ROBOT SO THAT SHE CAN LIVE FOREVER AND DESIRES THAT WE ALL DO THE SAME."

I feel that this is a basic mistake in focus, even though I get that it's crazy that trans woman exist ever, far crazier than the idea that extremely wealthy ladies are starting a space religion whose tenets include everyone becoming robots and living on the Internet. It is also really cool how you spend much of the article misgendering your subject, identifying ways in which you perceive her as socially male ("the marriage between Bina and Martine is more conventional than one might think. It was Martine, the husband, who ordered this dinner from a favorite restaurant in town", etc etc etc), and calling her relationship "sort of" lesbian! I guess because she is "sort of" female, right?

Please do better.
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 3:31 PM on September 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


Maybe I'm just an asshole, but I feel like everyone implicitly or explicitly defending their use of the phrase "radical" here is really backing the wrong horse for the wrong reasons, and defending something that's actually pretty shitty.

It, on first pass, immediately read to me as that conservative asshole point-and-gawk kind of "isn't that so zany and wrong and weird?" sort of framing even without any preloading of opinions or expectations.

You can't divorce that terminology from the framing of the rest of the piece. Even if it can technically be correct as medical terminology, the general tone of the rest of it and the TERF reaction discussed above makes it completely assy and tone deaf.

Give it a rest. A lot of this article was a symphony of wet farts, and that was a particularly loud one and a total dog whistle.

I usually don't even bother with the linguistic prescriptivism since it's a constantly dull roar online, but this just seems like a bizarre case to support.
posted by emptythought at 5:19 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think zarq has given it a rest, quite gracefully! I can understand the mistake if you aren't used to picking this stuff out!
posted by Corinth at 5:30 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Give it a rest. A lot of this article was a symphony of wet farts, and that was a particularly loud one and a total dog whistle.

Thanks, Corinth.

Still, emptythought is right. I was being a linguistic prescriptivist and an ass, especially to DrMew, whom I was responding to. I humbly apologize. I have a bad habit of getting mentally bogged down in stupid minutiae and then don't see the forest for the trees. When there's nothing at stake, that's okay. At most I look like a stubborn idiot. But emptythought is right that it's truly shitty to lecture people who have to deal with being marginalized and mistreated daily regarding the words they choose to identify and describe themselves. My insistence that the word was right -- especially given that so much of the damned article was wrong -- implied that the personal knowledge and direct experiences of those who are trans' (and participating in this thread) don't matter. It was crappy of me, and I'm very sorry.
posted by zarq at 5:49 PM on September 8, 2014 [10 favorites]


I'm sorry, but the damn ROBOT of her wife sounds incredibly sad and that's the takeaway I'm getting from this. The idea sounds cool in theory, but in practice I feel so sorry for it! Poor Bina48.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:57 PM on September 8, 2014


Hey zarq. That last comment of yours shows some badass understanding and I appreciate it, please do not feel bad for a minute longer? You got it. You see it, and that's awesome. Hugs.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:53 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


The robot is sad and spooky and weird. I would not be flattered by the notion that my partner wanted to recreate me that way, and I've always been a little puzzled by people who found experiential cloning (uploading, whatever) a relief from the fear of mortality - your consciousness, the you that you know, is still going to die, it's just that someone else is going to experience what it is to be you. That's great for your loved ones, I guess, but it's no real help to you. If you could share that consciousness before you checked out, I guess it would be an improvement, but that's not what we're talking about here.

Martine's car is really cool, though.
posted by gingerest at 10:28 PM on September 8, 2014


Also pretty cool: starting a pharmaceutical company to prolong/save your child's life!
posted by Corinth at 12:27 AM on September 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


So true story - right after I saw this, I found out my agency is pitching this company! Ain't that something?
posted by Mister_A at 4:45 AM on September 9, 2014


Thank you, Annika. *hugs back*
posted by zarq at 7:17 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]






« Older Fish is adopted.   |   The Stars Are Not For Man Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments