Smart, Successful Transgender Martine Rothblatt

A Visionary Guided by Love

Smart, Successful Transgender Martine Rothblatt

Love night, love night, love is all around
love night, love night, here love can be found

[SWP Note: This is one of the most inspiring stories of 2014. In a world of so much discrimination and violence against the LGBT community, a highly successful and smart transgender woman who seems to have done many things out of love.

Below are excerpts of a Washington Post Magazine article. See full article]

Martine Rothblatt founded SiriusXM, a religion and a biotech. For starters.

Martine Rothblatt founded SiriusXM, a religion and a biotech. For starters.

 

By Neely Tucker  December 12, 2014 Washington Post Magazine

Let’s be clear: Martine Rothblatt is just plain more of a lawyer than anybody else in this town.

The 60-year-old grandmother and CEO of United Therapeutics, the Silver Spring-based biotech she founded to help save her younger daughter’s life, banked $38 million last year. It made her the nation’s highest-paid female executive. It also made her the nation’s highest-paid transgendered person, as she had sex reassignment surgery in 1994.

In a lab on Spring Street, Rothblatt’s newest project appears lifted from science fiction: disembodied but breathing human lungs, hissing away in dome-shaped incubators, part of a clinical trial attempting to mend donated but not-quite-accepted-for-transplant lungs so that they can actually be placed in living human beings.

On a Virginia farm, she’s also raising genetically altered pigs, in the hope that someday their lungs (and other organs) will be modified for use in human transplant, creating a nearly inexhaustible supply of organ donors.

She just published “Virtually Human,” a big-think manifesto on the rights of yet-to-be-created cyber-humans, who might one day be uploaded with all of your thoughts, dreams, memories and online activity and live for eternity as a sort-of you.

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Rothblatt is buddies with Larry Page and Ray Kurzweil, who sort of run a little company called Google. Kurzweil, the futurist and director of engineering at Google, is on United Therapeutics’ board of directors and thinks Bina48 is a glimpse of the future.

In the late 1980s, Rothblatt conceived of and created a crazy company devoted to the idea of worldwide satellite radio. Today that’s Sirius XM. It’s in your car’s dashboard, next to the satellite navigation device … and she was president of Geostar, the first company to market that, too. Her college thesis became the first private satellite phone company.

“She has to my knowledge a perfect track record in making [her] visions real,” Kurzweil writes in an e-mail.

Bina and Martine Rothblatt with daughter Jenesis, whose illness inspired the founding of United Therapeutics. (Photo courtesy of Jenesis Rothblatt/for The Washington Post)

Bina and Martine Rothblatt with daughter Jenesis, whose illness inspired the founding of United Therapeutics. (Photo courtesy of Jenesis Rothblatt/for The Washington Post)

Rothblatt dropped out of the satellite orbit because her and Bina’s daughter was diagnosed at 5 with what is now called pulmonary arterial hypertension, an incurable lung disease. It progressively narrows the lung’s arteries to the point of death. By 12, Jenesis would faint all the time, her life seeping away in intensive care units.

So Rothblatt sold out of Sirius, set to studying biology — the last such course she had taken was in 10th grade — and formed U.T.

Today, Jenesis is 30, in good health and does film-production work for the now-$6 billion firm. Martine led the company to developing a new FDA-approved pill for pulmonary arterial hypertension, Orenitram (“Martine Ro,” backward). The stock price soared, and so did her incentive package.

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Amid all this, Martine and Bina have been married for 32 years, before and after Rothblatt’s gender surgery. They’re so joined at the hip that the kids refer to them as “Marbina.” Their younger son, Gabriel, just ran for Congress in Florida’s Eighth District (Democrat, lost, but a respectable debut). When Rothblatt set up a $225,000 super PAC to fund Gabriel’s campaign — without his knowledge, he says — she drew a rebuke from the New York Times editorial page for parental abuse of electoral process.

Let’s see … what else? She flies airplanes. And helicopters. Kills on the piano. Runs half-triathlons. Has several houses and apartments and says she hasn’t stayed in one place more than a month in 20 years. During September and October, she and Bina touched down in Greece, Crete, Washington, Los Angeles, Bora Bora, back to Silver Spring, took the grandkids trick-or-treating in Melbourne Beach, Fla., while Gabriel was out campaigning, then flew to London and popped back to D.C.

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Marty enrolled in UCLA but quit after a year to travel on the cheap with buddies. Van rides across Europe, selling the van in Turkey, teaching English in Iran, touring eastern Africa … wound up living in a ratty house in the Seychelles Islands, which was supposed to be cool. It wasn’t.

While there, a buddy took Rothblatt to a U.S. satellite installation. There — right there — is where she says her mind took an exponential leap forward, imagining how close future worlds really were.

Marty went back to UCLA with a wild new energy and a family in tow. The marriage to a Kenyan woman soon collapsed, but Marty raised their son Eli on his own. Father and son lived in dire, if self-imposed, poverty while dad spent seven years going through undergrad, law and the MBA programs.

“Martine wanted to do things on her own,” her mom remembers.

“Literally the starving student,” remembers Paul Rosenthal, then chairman of the communications school. “I remember her wearing one checked shirt and pair of jeans every day. It may have been all she had.”

Charlie Firestone remembers Marty clearly — “the most brilliant student I had in 13 years of teaching at UCLA law school. … Just a fascinating mind.”
It was 1979 when Marty met Bina, a real estate agent, at a mixer in Hollywood. The two shared an instant attraction and mutual life circumstances: Bina was a single parent, too, of a young daughter named Sunee.

They soon married, moved to D.C., cross-adopted Eli and Sunee and eventually had Gabriel and Jenesis.
By the mid-1980s, Rothblatt was getting a reputation among the space law cognoscenti for brilliance and knowledge of FCC regulations and of the intricacies of broadcasting wavelengths.

“A conceptual genius,” says Tobey Marzouk, partner at Marzouk & Parry, who was legal partners with Rothblatt in the 1980s. “Her ideas were quantum leaps of the technology at the time.”

Rothblatt was hired as a lobbyist for a fledgling concern called Geostar, initially a satellite tracking service for trucking companies.

Rothblatt worked insane hours — going to the office about 2 a.m. for a day’s research and planning before the doors opened seven hours later — but the family was tightknit. Bina had converted to Judaism and often worked as his de facto office manager. Bina’s mom, who had moved in with them, watched the kids.

On Friday evenings, they would have “love night” at home. It began with a family song:

Love night, love night, love is all around
love night, love night, here love can be found
family is our source of our strength
forever we are one and the same
love night, love night, love is all around

“That was at the dinner table,” says Gabriel Rothblatt, 32, now a father of four and living in Melbourne Beach. “We’d all have dinner or go out to dinner, sitting around the table, bless the bread and light the candles. We’d go from oldest to youngest and everyone say what love meant to them this week. It was an opportunity for everybody to speak while everyone else is quiet, but it was also a session to reflect on the meaning of love during the previous week and how it affected you.”

By the early 1990s, Rothblatt had founded CD Satellite Radio, a forerunner of satellite worldwide radio, then changed the name to Sirius, for the brightest star in the sky. Rothblatt came out first to Bina, announcing an affinity for wearing dresses, and Bina said it was no big deal. The kids were not exactly thrilled — some friends stopped coming over, some people stared at Martin in a dress — but they told the kids not to worry. Martine was always going to be their dad, Bina was always going to be their mom, and stupid people were always going to be stupid.

The gender switch led to Martine’s first manifesto-type book, “The Apartheid of Sex.” It argued that people come in vast ranges of sexualities and that two genders simply could not describe the reality.

The book got a $100,000 publishing contract. Sirius went to its IPO. Rothblatt earned millions.

She was 40 years old.

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“Last night one fewer person died on the transplant list,” she wrote, exultant. “I feel confident that we’ll at minimum double # of transplants by end of 20teens.”
Roll your eyes? Sure, go ahead.

Then go back up, near the beginning of this story, and, when betting against the future, reread the handicapping of Ray Kurzweil, generally regarded as one of the planet’s great minds, about the track record of Martine Rothblatt.

Neely Tucker is a Washington Post Magazine staff writer.