Tron, Transgender, and Programming

It’s hard to imagine more disparate subjects coming together, but trust me, I shall weave them into a tightly knit tale as if I were knitting a sweater fr the upcoming holiday season.

I’m currently sitting at my computer, taking a break.  I’ve been working on a program to turn a mishmash of point-of-sale (POS) data from Microsoft Retail Management System and transform it into a beautiful hierarchical structure for use in a cloud-based POS.  Day after day I have sat here from the start of the day well into the next day.  I find my once comfy high-back home office chair to now feel like a cinder block under my ass and the bottom of my wrists burn from constantly sliding over the keyboard rest.

When I’m really, really “in the zone” I can program for hours and come up with some really cool stuff (from my point of view).  Most things I write as of late are tools so nobody ever uses them but me.  In this zone you can usually find me listening to music – a certain type of music.  Something that keeps me inspired but isn’t so complex or lyrical that it causes me to consciously listen is what you’d hear coming from my home office cube.  You would also find me guzzling soft drinks (diet now, not like in the old days) and eating junk food (some things never change, it used to be Cheezits and fudge Poptarts).

I was recently checking out the new Tron Legacy movie that will hit theaters in December.

The sound track will be awesome.  It is by a couple of French boys that are a year or two younger than me.  You might have heard of them – Daft Punk.  Since the soundtrack won’t be out for a little while, I have contented myself to listening to their Discovery album over and over and over and over and over.  I have been coding like a Tasmanian Devil.

I’ve been actively programming since the age of 12.  In 1982, I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Florida.  They had two sons and a Timex Sinclair computer.  Most wrist watches today have more power than a Timex Sinclair.  Alone one evening, I looked through the manual that came with the computer and wrote a simple graphics program that allowed me to paint a low res cowboy on the screen and fire a gun at a non-existent target.

My parents were pleasantly surprised at how this little device captured my attention.  Even though to this day I do not know how they could afford it, but they purchased an Atari 400 personal computer for us for Christmas.  The next year I was blessed with a Commodore 64.  Over the next few years I really pushed myself to learn to program.  I even took the time learn machine language for the 6502 processor.  You could do so much more with a low level language than you could with BASIC.

If you had poked your head in my room while I was in a coding fury, you might have heard me listening to the soundtrack from Tron, 2010, Star Trek III, Star Wars, Dune, or E.T.  Something about them inspired me to keep pushing.  It sounds lame in retrospect but those movies each embodied some fantasy that I wish would come true for me.  While I was coding away, part of my mind would wonder off to those distant worlds.

Did I mention Tron?

This was also the age when I was really starting to struggle with my gender identity.  Sure, I had known something was different about me for years, but it didn’t make me feel shame until around junior high.  For solace I would sometimes lay on my bed and listen to this music and let it carry me away.

The 1980s soundtrack to Tron was written by Wendy Carlos.  Ms. Carlos made a name for herself in 1968 with the debut of her album, Switched on Bach.  It was the first album released with purely synthesized music using a Moog synthesizer.  Wendy had been working with Dr. Moog to help develop the technology for public use.

Over the years, Wendy hasn’t really given interviews.  She prefers her music speak for her.

Why I find this so intriguing is that Daft Punk, the composers of the soundtrack to the new Tron Legacy, are exactly the same about interviews.  They prefer to speak through their music.  Their music is 100% digital, synthesized and sampled.  They even attribute the soundtrack from original Tron as one of their strongest influences.

When I originally discovered that Wendy was not going to be composing the soundtrack to the new Tron Legacy, I was initially irritated.  However, the more I learned about Daft Punk the more I realized that all of their work is a kind of “tribute” to Wendy.  If only she could get some $$$ for it.

Here’s where I tie all this together…

In those lonely times in junior high and high school when I found myself particularly low, I would listen to the Tron soundtrack by Wendy Carlos.  I would imagine that I was in a far better place and I would lose myself in the melodies.  For me, I was the only transgender person on the face of the earth.  Aside from the infrequent queens on Phil Donohue, I would never meet another like me.  I was truly convinced I would be alone forever.

It wasn’t until I transitioned from male to female in 1999 that I realized that there was alway someone comforting me as a young person.  There was someone that knew what I was going through: Wendy Carlos.

Wendy had sex reassignment surgery in 1972.