Martine Rothblatt, who graced the cover of New York Magazine last week as the highest paid female CEO and highest paid transgender CEO in America, responded to critics of the magazine’s cover, which stated she “used to be a man” and which photographed her wearing a suit. Some transgender activists took issue with the magazine’s portrayal. But Rothblatt, the founder and former chair of Sirius Satellite Radio, and author of a riveting, fascinating new book on her research on the not-too-distant future of robot clones and possibly even life after death, defended the portrayal, explaining that she believes transgender identity is often fluid and not so fixed, a way in which she defines her own gender identity.
In an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress, Rothblatt discussed her book, "Virtually Human: The Promise -- and the Peril -- of Digital Immortality," and how “Mindclones” can be created and how she has created a robot version of her own wife, Bina, named Bina48. Rothblatt explained that she embarked on this journey via research on genetic engineering. She was desperate to develop a drug to save her daughter from an often fatal, rare lung disease, selling her stock in Sirius, and founding United Therapeutics, a genetic engineering research company. She did eventually develop the drug, saving her daughter and countless others, and when the pill form of the drug went public last year, the stock instantly doubled, with a market capitalization of $4.6 billion last June.
Rothblatt, in her bio and in all the publicity for the book, defines herself as having formerly been Martin Rothblatt, a man, contrary to the way many transgender people define themselves, specifically not revealing their former names and defining themselves as by the gender they believe they’ve always been, not as formerly the other gender.
"When I transitioned I was really just like asking myself the question that most all transgender people ask, which is like, ‘How can we continue to exist in a society where people have to be only male or female and if you cross the border you’re completely stigmatized or ostracized?'” she explained, noting that, “there’s a strong, strong reason to hide your past,” pointing to the violence and discrimination many transgender people experience.
“However, I owe a lot of this to my partner, Bina,” she said, explaining that her wife urged her not to live in a “closet” for the rest of her life. “I took a journey from male to female, so if I hide that, I’m, like, just replicating the closet of my past with another closet of the future,” Rothblatt said. “That made no sense, and that’s why I’m open.”
Still, being open about being transgender is different from saying one was formerly another gender. For Rothblatt, however, the categories don’t mean much, as she truly sees herself -- and many others -- as living on the boundary between male and female.
“I wrote a book in the 1990s called, "Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender,’” she explained. “And in this book I pointed out that forcing everybody to be either male or female is a kind of sexual apartheid. This is not scientifically accurate. There are great biologists before me, like Professor Anne Fausto-Sterling from Brown University. And she has pointed out that a significant percent of all births are, if you want to call it, intersexual or transgendered, in some way or another."
"What Anne Fausto-Sterling pointed out," Rothblatt continued, "was that what you are externally is just the tip of the iceberg. Internally, there’s a much greater degree of intersexuality or transgenderedness. And what I pointed out in my book is that whatever there is manifested in the body -- in terms of ovaries, testes, the whole reproductive tract -- there’s like 10 times more of that diversity in terms of the hormonal variation among people, and then there’s 10 times more of that in terms of our mental connectivity, with patterns of thinking that are associated with maleness or femaleness.”
Rothblatt also explained how she created the technology that ultimately led to her founding Sirius Satellite Radio (now SiriusXM, after merging with XM Satellite Radio several years ago), realizing that the satellites already in space weren’t powerful enough to bring digital radio to cars and that she simply had to raise the money and get new satellites launched. Not an easy task, but she persevered, as she has in everything else in life.
“So, it took a lot of persuading to get those satellite communications companies to bid on making these satellites for me,” she said. “Then there was the issue of financing it because they weren’t going to do it for cheap. They wanted a 100 million bucks and another 100 million bucks to launch it. So then I had to go to Wall Street and persuade Wall Street that this was something they should invest in.”