Amazon, Billy Tipton, birth certificate, Bronte sisters, Buck Rogers, Charlie X, Civil War, D.C. Fontana, e-books, FTM, gender discrimination, Gender Identity, Gene Roddenberry, George Eliot, George Sand, Grace Lee Whitney, Harper Lee, Isak Dinesen, J.D. Robb, J.K. Rowling, James Tiptree, Karin Kaufman, Louisa May Alcott, Majel Barrett, New York City, Nichelle Nichols, Nora Roberts, Rosemary Friedman, Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Streets of San Francisco, television writing, transsexuals, Women Soldiers, writer
Having evoked Star Trek in my last post, I’m in the mood to write another entry with a connection to it. Between the time of the original series in the late 1960’s and Star Trek: The Next Generation roughly twenty years later, a few changes were made to the open credits and theme beyond the obvious differences in cast member and narrator. One major change was a bow to the changing times of the twentieth century (not the changing times in the future). Instead of “where no man has gone before”, it became “where no one has gone before”.
Even so, three female cast members (Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett and Grace Lee Whitney) were featured in at least for some of the episodes of the original series. In addition there were many female guest stars during the three year run. But perhaps the biggest female presence was not only behind the camera but in stealth.
Casual Star Trek fans may remember the name D.C. Fontana appearing in the closing credits. Die-hard fans would come to know her as Dorothy Catherine Fontana. Dorothy, who wanted to be a writer from childhood, received her first television writing credits using her first name. Having obtained a foothold in the television industry as a secretary through her persistence, that same determination eventually found her pitching story ideas to the producer. Her first idea didn’t sell, but encouraged, she continued to pitch ideas and one was bought. Eventually, she wrote two stories and did the teleplay for two more stories in 1960-61 for “The Tall Man”, a show about Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett (the latter was the tall man). It was one of many westerns on at the time and it was a favorite genre for Dorothy.
At this point, Dorothy was not selling enough ideas to become a writer full-time, so she continued to make her living as a secretary. She was able to write one more teleplay in 1961 for another western, “Frontier Circus”, which was produced by the same man (Samuel A. Peebles) as “The Tall Man”. But trying to expand her writing career by pitching story ideas to producers who did not know her personally, she found success elusive. Not only are women underrepresented in the television and film writing industry, Dorothy’s interest was writing for action/adventure shows. Producers of such shows who didn’t know her firmly believed that women could not write action/adventure shows and there were very few women who had broken that glass ceiling. Dorothy was able to successfully pitch many of her ideas if she could get the interview. But as “Dorothy” those cold interviews were hard to come by.
That was when she got the idea of submitting unsolicited story ideas using just her initials. For the first time in four years, she was able to sell a story idea: an episode of Ben Casey. Dorothy says that once she got the interview, producers were only interested in whether or not it was good story. But it took using D.C. as her name to get through the door.
Eventually, she found herself working as Gene Roddenberry’s secretary. She was part of the Star Trek team from the very beginning. Having impressed Gene with her abilities, he asked Dorothy’s opinion on the initial write-up of the idea for the show. She loved it, especially the character of Spock. She assisted as they tried to sell the show (MGM and some other studios passed before Desilu bought it). Then it was a matter of getting a network interested. CBS showed initial interest but went with “Lost in Space” instead. Star Trek found a home on NBC. Then Dorothy assisted Gene with two pilots (the first one being rejected).
Because Dorothy had such extensive experience with the show from the beginning, Gene started to give her more opportunities to go beyond her secretarial position. She received her first writing credit on the original series for the teleplay of the “Charlie X” episode (eighth episode filmed but second one aired). Eventually, Dorothy was promoted completely out of her secretarial position and became story editor. Overall for the original series, she was given ten assorted writing credits and 31 additional credits as the Script Consultant. All told, for all Star Trek related projects, she has amassed 21 writing credits, 53 credits as a script consultant or story editor and 40 production credits.
In addition to her work with Star Trek, she has been provided behind the camera writing related talent for such shows as Big Valley, High Chaparral, Bonanza, Six Million Dollar Man, Kung Fu, Streets of San Francisco, Logan’s Run, The Waltons, Dallas, Buck Rogers, and Babylon 5.
Some sources say that it was Gene who urged Dorothy to continue to use the D.C. initials for her contributions to Star Trek, while an interview with Dorothy seemed to imply that it was her own decision. Either way, it became her standard credit for most of the remainder of her career. She reverted to using her first name only for three of her four Streets of San Francisco writing efforts and one Star Trek video game writing gig. On the other hand, with four of her writing credits, she used a totally different male name. For her last two writing assignments in the original Star Trek and for her only assignment with Buck Rogers, she used the non de plume of Michael Richards. And for one episode of Star Trek: TNG, she was credited as J. Michael Bingham.
The relevance of all this to my blog is that in certain fields, a woman has not needed to be transgender to have a reason to hide behind a male pseudonym. Despite the obvious writing talents of women, we have often needed to hide behind a male name to be taken seriously and be published. Female authors who spent most of their careers hidden behind a masculine name were George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), and George Sand (Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin). To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee dropped her first name, Nelle, and used only her middle and last name as that combination would be far more likely assumed to be a male name. It was J.K. Rowling’s publisher who urged her to use her initials so her target audience of young boys would be more likely to read her work. She had submitted her first novel to them under her given first name, Joanne. More recently, she switched to the detective genre, and like Nora Roberts, assumed a new masculine name (Robert Galbraith).
Ms. Roberts had a successful romance novel career, but changed her pen name to J.D. Robb when she shifted to writing detective fiction. Most readers of the classics know that the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne began their careers using masculine-sounding names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Charlotte’s Jane Eyre was originally published under her male pen name as was Emily’s Wurthering Heights. Louisa May Alcott did her early writing under the pen name of A.M. Bernard, and switched to her given name only after becoming known as a spokeswoman for women’s suffrage and civil rights. She is credited with striking a revolutionary blow against gender discrimination in the 19th century.
Another example in the world of science fiction is James Tiptree. Like D.C. Fontana, Alice Bradley Shelton published under this male pseudonym to increase her recognition in the male dominated genre and only revealed her true identity ten years before her death.
Author Rosemary Friedman originally had her first novel, No White Coat, published under a male name. (It is now published under her given name.) Last year, she penned an article for booksbywomen.org with the title Literary Sex Change, Using a Male Pseudonym. She and I are making the same observation.
Writing is not the only field where women have hidden behind a male identity. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War chronicles the story of approximately 250 women who fought on both sides of the conflict. Devotion to cause or to remain close to a male loved one were typical reasons. But one of the most common was economic. Army privates made double the average salary of jobs typically held by women. Furthermore, women at that time were not permitted to have bank accounts. The majority of those who took this route were members of other marginalized groups: recent immigrants, farm girls, working class and impoverished. It was worth the risk to open up this new world of opportunity normally enjoyed only by the men of that era.
It is noted that some continued to dress and live as males after the end of the war. The book does not explore whether they did this to maintain their new found status, protect their veteran’s pension or whether they were actually female to male transsexuals. That some were transsexuals cannot be discounted. More recently but before the idea of transsexualism started to become more well known, we have the example of jazz musician Billy Tipton (nee Dorothy Lucille Tipton) who at first only performed as a man, but by his mid-thirties began living full-time as a man as well.
Finally two more personal notes: one closely related to the topic and one more loosely related to the subject of gender discrimination. I have a good cisgender friend who is a published author of e-books. Karin Kaufman has published three cozy mysteries (one recent release) and contributed to two short story collections under that name. But when she published a novel in the thriller genre, she substituted her initials (K.T.) for her first name. Furthermore, she asked if I could give my reviews under my former male name because the review would carry more weight with male readers that way. She decries the fact that while women will read books written by men or women and will watch movies aimed at men or women, most men will only knowingly read male authors and watch male-oriented shows. It is still considered a great sacrifice for a man to please his wife or girlfriend and attend a so-called “chick flick” with her.
This is my blog and I can promote someone if I want to. So I will. But I do so only because I believe she is a very talented writer who deserves every new reader she can get. So I am unabashedly including the link to her Amazon.com page:
Please visit and try one of her books. I believe you will enjoy it very much at this time of year when it is so nice to curl up under a blanket or by a fireplace with a good book. And if you like it and let her know I sent you, she will think I am her most wonderful friend! J
Switching gears slightly, I was born in New York City. Yesterday, the New York City Council passed by an overwhelming vote, a bill that allows a transperson to change both name AND gender marker on his or her birth certificate without gender conforming surgery if they were born in New York City (the rest of New York State adopted a similar measure in June). And ultimately this is what this article is really about: exposing gender discrimination in all forms, the lengths it requires some people to go to, and working to overturn every one of them.
And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. – 1st Corinthians 12:23-25