Isn’t it queer…?

The following article appeared in the Sunday, May 25, 2003 edition of the Springfield, Missouri News-Leader

Changing gender, keeping a job

Image-conscious firm learns how to cope with Mark’s becoming Maggie (Page 1E, continued on 3E)

By Adam Geller, The Associated Press

Newark, N. J. -- By June, people in the quantitative management department were trading whispers across the rows of cubicles.

What’s wrong with Mark Stumpp? Why had he dropped so much weight so quickly? Was he sick? Nobody knew.

One day after lunch, Stumpp handed a small, framed snapshot to Jim Scott, his friend and co-manager in the department at Prudential Financial Inc. for 14 years.

“Do you know who that is?” Stumpp asked.

Scott glanced at the picture of a tall woman with blonde bangs and shook his head. He’d never seen her.

“That’s the person you’re going to be working with a year from now,” Stumpp said.

Puzzled, Scott looked at the photo again, then back at Stumpp. The lady in the photograph, Stumpp said, is going to be me.

Prudential’s QM department manages billions of dollars of other people’s money. It’s a business that relies on a nurtured image of solidity, on the value implicit in longtime relationships.

And so, as word of Stumpp’s intensely private decision spread through Prudential’s Newark headquarters, people realized this wasn’t going to be about just him. It was going to be about them, too.

‘Malaise of the Soul’

Stumpp was uncomfortable in Mark’s body as far back as memories reach. Deep inside, at the nexus of body and mind, something felt terribly wrong.

“A malaise of the soul,” Stumpp says.

It is called gender dysphoria, a condition characterized by intense feelings of being the wrong gender. No one knows for sure what causes it.

Since the 1960s, thousands of people have quietly undergone hormone treatments and surgery to change gender. Most dropped out of their previous lives, resurfacing somewhere else with new identities.

Today, “more and more people are recognizing that this is not something that they have to be ashamed of,” says Eli Coleman, director of the Program in human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota.

So perhaps it was just a matter of time before it happened at Prudential, a company with 61,000 people on its payroll. But in 22 years at Prudential, the last half working on personnel issues, Ron Andrews, a vice president of human resources, “had never encountered a more difficult issue.”

“What was difficult about this,” he said, “is I didn’t know anything.”

Stumpp, 51, had a reputation as one of the office’s “class clowns.” He dropped jokes into the middle of meetings, walked around the office without shoes, wore jeans when everyone else wore a suit.

But he was an acknowledged expert in the serious business of making money grow, and his department, a group of about 35 people, manages $42 billion on behalf of client pension funds and other institutional investors. Prudential’s own $8 billion in pension funds is managed here.

“My business is about trust,” Stumpp says, and he knew trust would not be enhanced if people saw him “turn into a girl.”

So for years, Stumpp postponed gender reassignment surgery. But in 1999, after seeing a therapist, he started taking estrogen and undergoing electrolysis.

It was two years before his coworkers began to notice he was changing -- and to worry. The hormones were reshaping his body. Enlarged breasts could be hidden in loose-fitting shirts, but there was no way to disguise the disappearance of muscle.

Changing Attitudes

In the summer of 2001, the few executives at Prudential who knew what was going on realized that the problem wasn’t that Stumpp was changing his gender. It was that he was coming back to work afterward.

It was one thing to figure out how the QM department would go on without Mark. It was quite another to figure out how to continue with someone named Maggie in his place.

Someone was going to have to explain this delicate situation in Prudential’s executive offices, to the company’s clients, to the marketing and sales representatives who vouched for Stumpp’s research.

Bringing it all together was Andrews’ job.

Throughout the summer and into the fall, Andrews worked his way down a list of people who needed to know, figuring out not just who they would tell in turn, but how they would do it.

In one months-long thread of calls, meetings and memos, he, company lawyers and sales managers drew up a list of 30 clients that relied on Stumpp’s research and investment strategies.

They decided that a Prudential customer relationship manager would contact each one to explain who would soon be handling their money.

“We wanted our clients and our customers not to hear this from some sort of grapevine,” Andrews says. “We wanted to make sure they heard it from us.”

In the QM department, though, Stumpp’s story was still known only to Scott and another employee, Stacie Mintz. So, after Stumpp left on an unexplained medical leave in January, 2002, Scott called the homes of everyone in the department.

“I need to talk to you about Mark,” began each conversation.

A few days later, on Jan. 8, a two-page memo arrived in the e-mail box of everyone in the department.

“From: M. Stumpp”

“Subject: Me.”

The note poked fun at the situation, but also appealed for understanding. And it emphasized that returning to work was something Stumpp had a legal right to do.

“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.”

Maggie Arrives

Maggie Stumpp made it to the fourth floor before nearly everyone else that first morning back. Her co-workers walked in and there she was, joking about the joy of being thin, of having to wear pantyhose, of how hard it had been to find shoes in her size.

“It was awkward, but … it was kind of a relief to have it all out in the open, and t have all the questions about what she was going to look like answered,” Mintz says.

It was a beginning.

One of the first trials came a few weeks after Stumpp’s return, when they took a call from a longtime client, a labor union whose members’ reputations did not jibe with her heels and pantyhose.

The union officials asked to meet Stumpp to re-evaluate her suitability to continue managing their business. The department braced to lose the account.

They met over dinner at a steakhouse. The first few hours were spent discussing the stock market and the economy, smoothed over by a couple of drinks. Gradually, the men’s doubts appeared to ease. “You know, you really don’t look so bad,” one leaned over to tell Stumpp. She chalked it up as a compliment. Prudential kept the account.

There are still moments when Stumpp feels the stares, imagines that every woman at Prudential is rating her performance. There are inevitable stumbles and awkward moments.

Earlier this year, Mintz was digging around for an article that Jim Scott, Mark Stumpp and a colleague wrote in 1999 for an industry magazine. When she found it, she did a double-take. At Scott’s discrete request, the article had been newly credited to Margaret Stumpp.

Stumpp isn’t pretending such changes will erase the past.

There are times now when the phone in her office rings and the voice asks to speak to Mark. And depending on the nature of the call and her mood, she relishes a certain answer.

“Oh, him,” Maggie Stumpp says. “We got rid of him a long time ago.”

* * * * *

The following articles appeared in the Sunday, June 8, 2003 edition of the Springfield, Missouri News-Leader

Gay priest chosen as bishop of N.H. church (page 2A)

By Anne Saunders, The Associated Press

Concord, N. H. -- In a national first, New Hampshire Episcopalians on Saturday elected an openly gay man as their next bishop.

The selection of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, 56, who was chosen over three other candidates in voting by New Hampshire clergy and lay Episcopalians, is still subject to confirmation next month by the church’s national General Convention.

Bishops in the worldwide Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church in the United States, approved a resolution in 1998 calling gay sex “incompatible with Scripture.”

According to the Episcopal News Service, the only other bishop to publicly state that he is actively gay is Otis Charles, former bishop of Utah, who made the announcement in 1993 after retiring.

Robinson, who was married and has two grown children, now lives with his partner, Mark Andrews, in Weare and is an assistant to retiring Bishop Douglas Theuner.

Friends say he remains on good terms with his ex-wife and two daughters, both of whom were at Saturday’s election.

He preaches at area churches and has been active in local causes, such as establishing “Concord Outright,” a support group for teenagers.

The Rev. Hays Junkin, head of the committee that selected the candidates, expects Robinson’s election to be contentious at the General Convention.

If confirmed at the national convention, Robinson would be installed next March.

Robinson faced opposition in New Hampshire, though all the candidates and Theuner have expressed support for gays and lesbians in the church.

After the election, Robinson told his supporters to be gentle with those who disagreed with their decision.

“We will show the world how to be a Christian community,” he said. “I plan to be a good bishop, not a gay bishop.”

The Rev. David Jones, rector of St. Paul’s, said he was thrilled with Robinson’s selection, even though he recognizes that the Bible speaks against homosexuality.

“The spirit works through that man, so who am I to say God’s not supposed to do that?” Jones said.

On the final ballot, Robinson received 58 of 77 ballots cast by clergy and 96 of 165 lay votes.

* * * * *

Entertainment comes out of the closet

Gay life is increasingly featured on TV and silver screens and in Broadway shows (page 4C)

By Susan Wloszczna, USA Today

If you recently caught a movie at the multiplex, clicked on the TV remote or saw a Broadway show, you might have noticed the world looks a lot more gay lately.

And we aren’t just talking about happy and carefree.

Suddenly, with little fanfare or fuss, mainstream entertainment has fallen head over heels for gays and lesbians, and the occasionally transgender or bisexual counterpart, with an embrace that goes beyond the passing flirtations of the past.

A subject long explored and exploited by niche venues such as independent films, pay cable and off-Broadway, the gay infatuation started to grow more serious about a decade ago. Before the box-office novelty wore off, major Hollywood studios milked homosexuality for obvious laughs and mawkish tears in “The Birdcage,” “Philadelphia” and “In & Out.” The AIDS-themed stage drama “Angels in America” won a Pulitzer and Ellen DeGeneres came out of her sitcom closet.

That was then.

This, however, is now: Barbara Walters experimentally locks lips with Julianne Moore, emulating her Oscar-nominated role as a sexually confused ‘50s homemaker in “The Hours.” “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest and judge Simon Cowell josh each other with blatantly gay banter.

That’s just prime-time TV in the past couple of months.

The most slyly subversive gay statement now playing, though, is found in the action movie blockbuster “X2: X-Men United.”

Bobby, the teen known as Iceman, is forced to reveal to his parents that he is, yes, a mutant. His concerned mother’s reply: “Have you tried … not being a mutant?”

Says “X2’s” gay director Bryan Singer, “It’s a sort of coming-out scene that goes terribly wrong. It was an opportunity to have real fun with the situation. It’s all not just the joke, though. It’s a sensitive moment.”

Gay entertainment is no longer a ponderous check-off list of historical landmarks that elicit protests and piety. It also can be pure, simple fun -- like Bravo’s new dating show, “Boy Meets Boy,” starting in July. The trick: Some of the contestants are straight ringers.

“There’s been an enormous change if you compare what’s out there with what was out there 15 years ago,” observes gay playwright and screenwriter Paul Rudnick (“In & Out,” “Jeffrey”). “Back then, we had no visible gay characters or the ones we did have were used only in angst docudrama situations to illustrate their sad, lonely lives. No we are in the era of ‘Will & Grace,’ and that’s been a great leap. To be successful, a movie or show has to appeal to general consumers and everyone wants to watch ‘Will & Grace.’ I mean, Madonna didn’t turn up on ‘Everybody Loves Raymond.’ “

The attitude shift is a natural progression, says Scott Seomin, entertainment watchdog and spokesman for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

“As mre and more people come out in this country, the more straight people know a coworker, a friend or a family member who is gay,” Seomin says. “They are going to learn that the gay community is just as human as the straight world. They want to learn more about their lives.”

Plus, today’s youth -- a prime target for advertisers, who also are catering more to well-off and well-educated gay consumers -- tend to be more open-minded if not blasé about such matters.

“This is a generation that has grown up with more images of gays, lesbians, transgender and bisexual. The issue isn’t one of shock. It’s one of why aren’t we seeing the entire truth,” says Lisa Dombrowski, assistant professor of film studies at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn.

So how “in” is gay today? Let us “out” the ways:

At the movies

In “Bend It Like Beckham,” the female soccer aces are presumed to be lesbians and a male friend is secretly gay. Ewan McGregor and David Hyde Pierce are mistaken for gay blades in “Down With Love,” and a male arms smuggler develops a fetish for Albert Brooks’ foot doc in “The In-Laws.”

Coming soon: Jennifer Lopez, a lesbian assassin who tantalizes real-life fiancee Ben Affleck in “Gigli” (Aug. 1), is the latest straight sex symbol to swing both ways onscreen.

Nia Vardalos follows up “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” by posing as a dinner-theater drag queen opposite Toni Collette in “Connie and Carla.”

Even Bruiser, the Chihuahua fashionista, comes out of the doggy closet in “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde” (July 2).


The popularity of “Will & Grace,” about a straight woman and a gay man who are best friends, is long established. Next season, though, ABC goes a step beyond with its new culture-clash sitcom, tentatively titled “It’s All Relative.” The set-up: A woman raised by two liberal gay men is engaged to the son of Irish Catholic conservatives who run a bar.

There are still milestones to be met, but they’re noted with toned-down hoopla. A possibility for midseason on ABC is “Mr. And Mr. Nash,” about gay interior decorators who solve murders. Think “Hart to Hart” with a killer design sense. Says Cumming, who is one Mr. Nash, “It would be the first time on TV where gay people would be in a show and it wouldn’t be about them being gay.”

After the success of its male-oriented “Queer as Folk,” Showtime will unveil lesbian-focused “The L-Word” next year.

On Broadway

Consider the two front-runners in the race for best musical and play when the Tonys are announced today.

“Take Me Out” concerns the repercussions when a major-league player announces he is gay.

Then there’s “Hairspray,” which first came to life in 1988 as a no-star comedy by John Waters, who always has been out -- way, way out. Now the stage musical about a chubby ‘60s ten who yearns to integrate a TV dance show and her equally big mama (Harvey Fierstein, in maternal drag) tops the Tony nomination list with 13.