Q&A: A Prudential VP on Her Transition

Margaret Stumpp, 54, is a vice president at Prudential Financial Inc. A 20-year veteran, she is the first openly transgender person at the firm, which has nearly 40,000 employees. Stumpp transitioned from Mark Stumpp to Maggie in February 2002, all while maintaining her position as chief investment officer for Quantitative Management Associates (a subsidiary of Prudential). When Stumpp returned to the office as Maggie, she sent this memo to her fellow employees: "From: M. Stumpp. Subject: Me." "This will be new ground for all of us," Stumpp wrote. "However, if September 11 taught us anything, it was that life is far too precious and short. Each of us must strive to be at peace with ourselves." She signed the note "Margaret."  She spoke with NEWSWEEK's Lorraine Ali.

NEWSWEEK: Do you feel attitudes in the corporate world have changed in the five years since you transitioned?
Margaret Stumpp:
I think the days of transgender people being something you only see on Jerry Springer--the yelling crowd, the feathered boa, the outrageous outfits--have changed. As more of us go through that process and people are exposed, it becomes much less threatening. It gives people a chance to rethink gender--what does it mean to be male or female? What are the stereotypes that we're dealing with in society? How many of those stereotypes are genuine and how fluid is human nature?

Why are attitudes moving forward--is it movies, documentaries, more people like you speaking out?
The interesting thing about watching this whole phenomenon is that employers have taken the lead. A number of far-sighted corporations who've extended protection to transgender people are in the forefront of the movement. People usually think of corporations as being a bastion of conservatism, it's not the case. When it comes to the bottom line, they're all for embracing ideas and effecting change that they think may help them. Here's a case where corporations are in the lead, and broader social reforms will follow.

What do you say to people who feel being transgender is a choice?
This is clearly not a choice. Why would one chose to endanger their entire lives, in all likelihood lose significant portions of your career potential as well as friends and family? No one does this out of choice. They do it primarily because they have to. It about grappling with the soul of one's being.

You had to go public about your transition at work, but why talk to the media or other people about it?
Traditionally people don't want to be recognized as transgender. When I walk down the street, I don't want someone to point and say, "There's a transsexual"--it would ruin my day. Yet, for people to treat us properly, there has to be some of us who identify as transsexuals in a very public way. It's what's needed for a broader understanding and acceptance.

Are you treated differently in the workplace as a woman?
Between changing gender and becoming a blonde, I've lost 20 IQ points in the public eye. It's kind of a hoot, and something you can use to you're advantage, though I'm not pretty enough to do it very well. It is a challenge. I kind of broke through the glass ceiling from the wrong direction.

Switching from slacks to panty hose cannot be easy, even if you hate slacks.
To tell the truth, it took a lot of time for me to get comfortable with the whole thing. Comfortable in your new self, your new presentation, learning how to deal in society. Women spend their whole life knowing what makeup works well for them, what clothing works on them. For people like me, it takes a while to do. I'm tall, when I walk in the room, it's like someone from the WBNA showed up. Trying to find clothing that fits me is just not that easy.

How do the people you work with, the ones who knew you as Mark Stumpp, consider you now?
The response for me was really positive. We all joked about wearing panty hose, whether "my condition"  was contagious, those sorts of things. But when all was said and done and the dust settled, everyone got back to work. Now if you were to talk with anyone who works with me, they'd say, "What's the issue? She's just Maggie." The whole transgender thing is well behind us.