Michelle McNamara obtained an Honours degree in Chemistry & Biochemistry from the University of Melbourne, followed by a master’s degree in Biochemistry from Latrobe University in Australia. She has extensive experience in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry in various roles including the Research & Development director at Hospira (today Pfizer). Additionally, she has been a consultant to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies providing support for medical devices, not-for-profit, life science and chemical technology based organisations. Currently, she is an Enterprise Fellow at The University of Melbourne where she is teaching Biotechnology.
Why did you want to become a scientist?
The reason I became a scientist is very interesting and it is connected with being transgender. I knew I was transgender from a very young age, but back then in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it was totally impossible and ridiculous for me to even attempt to live a life as a woman. I believed that, as I did not know anyone that was transgender, so I had to suppress those feelings of wanting to be a woman.
At the age of 13, I saw Carlotta, a drag queen in Sydney’s King’s Cross, in the Australasian Post (a weekly magazine). She was a beautiful looking woman and the subtitle was 'Once was a boy called Ricky from Balmain'. I realised that the career paths for transgender women were limited to being a drag queen or prostitute. I wanted neither because I wanted a career of the intellect and of the mind. I suppressed my feelings entirely, so I retreated into rationality and science was the obvious course to rationality - being based on facts and proving theories. That is what I wanted to do because I wanted a serious career.
The last place I came out was at work, here at the university, very recently in December 2017. By and large, I have been superbly well accepted by my colleagues and I do not get any sense that students do not accept me. I do think the university, as an organisation, fails to actively promote the safety and well-being of transgender and gender diverse staff and students, but the people I deal with day to day are very supportive. I had a part time job at the university when I came out as transgender. In the first year after I came out, I was offered a full-time role and extended contract, which was a really good sign of my acceptance. I do not believe that the offer was associated with being transgender, I think it was associated with me doing a good job, but this showed that there was no barrier to me being transgender to performing my job.
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Why do you think it is important to share your story?
The motivation for sharing my story is that transgender people are often very invisible. They are often hiding like me and they are scared to come out. I think coming out is a very good thing overall, even if you do have some difficulties. Sharing the stories and dispelling some myths is good.
What are your biggest achievements?
Having two adult children, who have professional qualifications, partners and good lives, is wonderful. I think coming out as Michelle was fantastic - actually being myself after all this time. They are both wonderful things: learning to be myself and raising two great kids.
One of your favourite quotes?
“It is necessary to constantly remind ourselves that we are not an abomination.” Marlon Riggs (1957 – 1994; American filmmaker, poet, and gay rights activist)