The strange case of George and Linda

Dear Artist, At the request of some friends and relatives I’ve changed all the names in this delicate story. George and I exhibited in the same gallery in a provincial town. Coming and going, we met on occasion, and once at a party we discussed the progression of style and how other people appropriated ours. A sensitive, idealistic, intense guy, George could do anything — portraits, still-lifes, ships, abstracts. He was very creative. I think George was the most popular artist in that gallery, perhaps also because his wife, Megan, worked there. One afternoon at home Megan received a phone call from the family doctor. He told her that George had just been in and asked if it was possible for him to become a female. The doctor wanted to know if Megan knew anything about the situation, and, after five years of marriage, if she was concerned. As this was all fresh news to Megan, she packed up George’s stuff and when he returned home that night he was encouraged to check out. George moved to the other side of the country — to Toronto. A year later, Linda returned to the provincial town. That’s when things got interesting. Linda was smooth, attractive, and except for her lovely coiffure, apparently quite hairless. She continued in the same successful footsteps as George, barely modifying his style. Sales even picked up, as Megan, now married to someone else, kept on selling George/Linda’s paintings. Everyone was confused. Only the signature was different. Linda even continued with George’s hobbies of boatbuilding and astronomy. Linda preferred women to men. She tackled murals and other ambitious projects. Last week we received the sad news that Linda had died. Apart from the possible economic angle, which in the George/Linda case is unlikely, it looks like styles and learned processes become hardwired in the human psyche and may be difficult to reprogram. Even a catastrophic event may not send style packing. In short, you may be able to change your mind about a lot of things but not how you make art. This is worrisome and may explain why some artists have trouble growing, developing or modifying. On the other hand, the condition describes the core nature of creativity — how strong, how ingrained, how wonderful. George and Linda were marvelously flexible in life, while their art was imaginative and inspired as well as persistent and stubborn. Best regards, Robert PS: “The finest people marry the two sexes in their own person.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Esoterica: Particularly at jury-duty time, friends and I have often speculated on whether a painting was done by a man or a woman. These days, the whole gender thing is a minefield. “Masculine strokes” are everywhere, and lots of them are made by women. More to the point, delicate embroidery is being done by guys. It’s a mug’s game. I don’t go there anymore. Especially after knowing both George and Linda.   Heroic choices by Dennis Alter, Philadelphia, PA, USA   We each have many people inside us, don’t we? I take comfort in knowing that Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive during daylight hours and a sublime poet after work. Some of us can live both of our lives simultaneously and others must choose. It’s more heroic to choose.   More, please by Julie Duschack, WI, USA  

“Moth Fairy”
by Julie Duschack

This was a really interesting letter, but perhaps Linda’s style, hobbies and subject matter didn’t change because she was completely happy with those? I will admit that with such a life altering event I would assume that you’d see some radical changes in her art, but perhaps that was the one area that she felt completely herself and no change was necessary. I understand that you’ve withheld the names because of the family’s wishes but I really would like to read more or see her art.   There are 2 comments for More, please by Julie Duschack
From: Win Dinn, Painted Turtle Gallery — May 04, 2010

Love your Moth Fair quilt,Julie, especially the contemplative pose. And yes, Mr. Genn as once again whet my appetite for more art, especially that of George/Linda!

From: Michelle Sirois-Silver — May 04, 2010

Hi Julie – you raised an interesting point about the art being one area that she felt completely herself. BTW – I love your Moth Fairy quilt. Beautiful work.

  Gender perception by David Millard, Bothell, WA, USA   Robert, I’d be curious to know how long Linda produced work before passing away, and whether there was a different response from his(her) marketplace and critics. Did gender perception affect the marketability of her(his) work? It would be interesting to know. (RG Note) Thanks, David. You can actually read her story here. She was a woman for about 28 years, but many of the last ten were not kind because of her advancing Alzheimer’s. Further, she was one of those vital, busy people who loved a life of variety, so my feeling is that she was distracted from her painting for much of that time. Her work continued to be collected when she cared to make it. She died at age 68.   Old gender game by Paul Carlson, Denver, CO, USA   I always enjoy your essays and find them full of interesting ideas. But the essay on George and Linda puzzles me. Why would you expect a change in artistic style just because George had a change of sex? For that he would need a brain transplant. The parts of G’s brain that were involved in his/her sexual identity were surely different than those involved in his/her artistic inclinations. When Walter became Wendy Carlos she continued on the same artistic path. In effect, George was always Linda. Walter was always Wendy. Outward appearance changed, and surely it was dramatic, but the interior life had not changed. Now it was congruent where before it was not. As to the point about women’s artistic style vs. men’s artistic style, this is an old game and I’m glad you dropped it. I happen to be a pianist, though that isn’t how I make a living. Many years ago, decades now, it was possible to argue whether or not a person could tell from a recording if the performer was male or female. It was pure sexism and humorous sexism at that. And of course you can’t tell; it’s a matter of interpretation/choice in relation to the music at hand. So with visual art. But for anyone who harbors such ideas, your essay is a good lesson. Thanks for what you do.   Both sides now by Marianne Wunderli, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada  

“Secret Garden”
watercolour painting
by Marianne Wunderli

When I was just a very little girl, I wanted so badly to have been born a boy (so I could beat up my big brother). So I became a “Tom-boy” instead. As a teenager I joined the Academy and enjoyed drawing the human form — especially females — mostly rather rubenesque with all the wonderful hills and valleys. Yet I married a male but for the wrong reasons. I gave birth to three wonderful — yes, you guessed it — girls, and after 25 years of being a wife, I left my “job” and enrolled in a prestigious academy in a foreign country, and resumed my love for drawing and painting. What I wanted to say — that within every human being lies the genes for either sex. Most people lean either to what they were brought up to be, doing what is expected of them; or the imbalance of hormones drives them to rebellion and frustration. No wonder some go to the extreme of actually have their physical sex changed! Some compromise and become “bi-sexual.” Most of these people have become great artists, musicians, actors and politicians, because they have the advantage to see a problem from both sides, have the generosity to be kind and gentle to both sexes. I am glad to know that Megan had enough love for George to accept him in either gender and remain friends. Was it Walter Whitman who said, “There is more love in friendship, than there is friendship in love!”   Finding your voice by Carl Nelson, Seattle, WA, USA   Your recent post reminded me of a quote I’d recently read in the Writer’s Chronicle by poet/teacher Jon Anderson: “Don’t you understand that when you find your voice you’re stuck with it?” Nothing brings this home to me like listening to Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan until I tire of them. I move on; they can’t.   Deliberate style change by Marge Drew, Ormond Beach, FL, USA  

“Lifting fog”
watercolour painting, 14 x 10 inches
by Marge Drew

Only thing George changed was his sexual identity to become Linda. There would be no reason ever to think that the brain had changed. George after all was always Linda. George had just changed in physical gender organ ways to Linda… well he was really Linda all along the way; born a George, raised a George but Linda and her brain was trapped inside of him. George always painted as Linda. It was recognition of who George really and truly always was. No changes were made in the thinking; so there would be no change in style. Not even sure how there could be a change unless Linda decided to go into a different style direction and deliberately worked on a style change. Her style that she developed as George was selling and the need for income was still the same as Linda. I do have a local female friend who decided deliberately to change her style and actually has done just that with success! A change from realism plein air painting to very strong stylized abstract works of art. The difference between her and George/Linda is that my friend wanted to change her STYLE of painting and deliberately set out to do that. For her to set aside all that she was doing had she decided to change her sexual identity at the same time nobody would have known that she was the same artist. There are 2 comments for Deliberate style change by Marge Drew
From: Sarah — May 04, 2010

Several responders have suggested that male and female brains are the same, but there is so much credible research that clearly demonstrates that there are interesting differences between male and female brains (not suggesting that one or the other is superior). Practically from conception most females develop many more cone cells in their eyes — which perceive color — than males, for example. Women in general have thicker corpus collosums(sp?) than men, facilitating use of both hemispheres of the brain for problem solving. It’s a fascinating subject, and I think that there may be potential for a study in all this.

From: Terry Rempel-Mroz — May 04, 2010

And therein lies the real truth – it wasn’t Linda’s brain that was always inside George, it was Linda’s MIND, her spirit, her essence. The physical brain had very little to do with it, I think. And I believe that’s what the others were trying to say.

  Grateful for insights by Judith Demaestri, Taylors, SC, USA   I just need to express my gratitude for the wisdom you choose to share with me every week. I hope you understand this. At this time and space in my life, you are not the priority (maybe you should be but that does not make it so). In my life, as I am struggling very hard just to endure, the same as many humans are doing, this inhumane way of life. Your insights have a way of penetrating through the dense lava and causing it to flair into flame. There is 1 comment for Grateful for insights by Judith Demaestri
From: Gwen Fox — May 04, 2010

Judith…your writing ability must give you great pleasure. I loved your comment. Would also love to see some of your art as I bet it shares deep emotion. I wish you well and a rainbow of love.

  From the sex change capital by Kathleen Kelly, Trinidad, CO, USA   No big deal to us artists (over 160 of us) who live in and around Trinidad, Colorado, the sex change capital of the world! It’s common to see tranies or changers in our local gallery and around town. Why would the art change just because some fleshy parts were rearranged? Dr. Marci Bowers (previously known as Mark) who was Dr. Biber’s patient is now the local sex change/ob/gyn in Trinidad. Dr. Biber, now deceased, was THE pioneer in sex change operations and trained Dr. Bowers in the procedure. Changers BUY art in a big way. Marci is a delightful diva and loves to dance with my husband. We just take it all in stride.   Cross dressers and transgenders by Anonymous   I am a genetic female heterosexual artist who is married to a male, heterosexual trangender artist. Social scientists still do not have good stats on the percentage of trans people among us. It is an enormously complex subject but one I am qualified to comment on from my educational, professional, and personal background. I am also an art instructor. I know dozens if not hundreds of transgendered individuals. They are the same person in terms of their personality in either girl mode or boy mode (or sometimes something in between.) The variable factor is gender but core interests, including painting style remain constant. They have the same chance at improving or not improving as the rest of us. The gender path throughout their lives can be so fraught with difficulty that they are distracted from other important developmental tasks, but essentially transgender individuals are more or less endowed with natural talent as the rest of us. They will improve or not improve just as the rest of us change over time for a myriad of reasons. Many people who are transgender are called cross dressers. They do not seek permanent gender reassignment with surgery. This person is usually a heterosexual male who is neither gay, nor a drag queen performer. He is genuinely transgender and identifies as female part time. This is not optional behavior for them but a specific condition. Cross dressers are by far the most closeted of all gender minorities. He often is forced to be secretive with almost everyone but his closest transgender friends. It is a lonely place to be. Transexuals are probably better understood in our society. They may be male to female or female to male. This person often but not always seeks gender reassignment and chooses to live full time as their chosen gender. They may or may not be heterosexual. Sexual orientation and gender identity are separate issues and are better understood when considered separately.   [fbcomments url=””]    woa  

Warm Ground

oil painting by Logan Hagege, CA, USA

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Marjorie Tressler of Waynesboro, PA, USA, who wrote, “I just checked my calendar and it is the end of April, not the 1st. Are you serious!?!?!?! ….Strange.” And also Rene Roustan, who wrote, “Robert Genn, you are indeed wonderful! How tastefully you handle so much of real life, and how much you can teach in a page of your script.” And also Linda Bean of Bothell, AL, USA, who wrote, “Imagine my amused surprise at seeing this letter title in my email box. I am Linda and George is my husband. The only similarity is that we are ‘marvelously flexible in life.’ ” And also Carmen Beecher, who wrote, “This is the strangest post you’ve ever done, and completely fascinating!”    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The strange case of George and Linda

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Apr 29, 2010

Well Robert- if you’ve done nothing else with this piece- you’ve made trans-gender less strange. Thank you. Humanity wants to see gender as fixed- when in fact it’s relatively fluid for many. But the judgment against any form of deviation from “normal” gender and/or sexual orientation roles is still some of the fiercest bigotry going around. One of the most interesting spiritual principles that exists for any given human being is the idea that one can open an inner channel to the divine when one allows the masculine and feminine to merge within. Speaking form my experience of doing just that- it’s worth it. Now if we can just get EVERYBODY to stop applying gender bias to anybody- we’ll all be ahead of the game and I’ll get to stop dealing with all the BS around working with textiles and sewing. And won’t that be a lovely day!

From: Faith — Apr 29, 2010

Considering we are all a mix of male and female, it’s really astounding how rife prejudice is when something untoward occurs. For instance, hermaphrodites are not really that seldem. Very often their parents are given the choice of boy or girl and the victim is then “modelled” to meet the choice – which, if the wrong decision has been made, leads to the child becoming a psychological cripple. A horrific scenario. I’ve had very little conscious experience of the phenomenon of sex-change, and none personally, since I was fortunate enough to be born with my gender already established. But a young woman I once knew was consumed with the desire to become male and did eventually. However, in that instance I was never sure how much of a role a fanatical desire to be like her father played in that decision and whether something radical had happened to prevent her accepting the gender she was born with (female – definitely!). The English language is kinder to gender than others. German defines male and female all the time, as do many other languages, e.g. in German you aren’t just a teacher but a Lehrer or Lehrerin. My cousin (Ian Puleston-Davies) is currently making a screen play and film about a guy in the North of England who is a dairy farmer and at the same time a cross-dresser who entertains publicly as a (good-looking) woman. It’s an intriguing and inspiring story about a human being who happens to have made those particular choices. Here’s a link: (copy and paste). One last thought: Artists are on average tolerant, but the world they live in often fails to come up to scratch! I don’t think that anyone really changes deep down. So it’s inevitable that an artist also has deep instincts that are gender-free. But it takes courage to stand up for oneself, and a whole lot more if one falls out of the “normal” framework of conventions.

From: Charisse — Apr 30, 2010

There once was an artist named Jim Who wished to be a her not a him When the job was complete With the parts in all neat She found she could paint just like Jim.

From: Susan, Toronto — Apr 30, 2010

Well it seems that George *wanted* to change his gender but was perfectly happy with his successful style(s) of painting. I’m confused as to why you would even note that that part would be “difficult to reprogram?”

From: Jackie Knott — Apr 30, 2010

We have many professions in English that are gender neutral: artist, doctor, attorney, Senator, engineer, banker, farmer, rancher, pilot, journalist, writer, soldier, chef, builder, etc. …. the words reflect the profession, not the individual in the career path. Some words have had to be replaced, thankfully, such as flight attendant instead of steward or stewardess, Congresswoman instead of the awkward “Congressperson.” It can get ridiculous. Some words, such as nurse, reserve gender traits by worn tradition. I still hear “male nurse,” as if it needs to be clarified. The word itself is often the problem. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter. I was never offended being called “Airman” in the Air Force. English writers have long struggled with the lack of a proper pronoun: we either have “their,” or “he or she,” if we wanted to be correct. No one has yet come up with another option that doesn’t sound silly and still be grammatically correct. The only one that really annoys me is, “You _____ like a man.” As if being woman enough to perform the task isn’t enough …. I have to change genders to change a tire? Equally, George/Linda is still basically an artist.

From: Faith — Apr 30, 2010

Revisiting this page I noticed that my link to the farmer/cross-dresser is not here. If you are interested, type “Justine” and my cousin’s name into a search engine and you should get to a relevant website.

From: Darla — Apr 30, 2010

Why should it be surprising that Linda’s style remained the same? George’s gender change was from a desire to be more true to his feelings, not less. A person’s artistic style arises from the skills and motivations they have at any given moment in their lives. The real surprise is that Linda was able to go back to her former town, continue at her ex’s gallery and still be successful.

From: John — Apr 30, 2010

The worst thing about this story is the brazzen violation of the patient-physician privilege by George’s doctor. Assuming you have the facts straight, the doctor had no business calling his patient’s wife and giving her that information. He should have been disciplined for it.

From: Veronica — May 03, 2010

Grayson Perry – would his work be considered important if he were not what he is?

From: Janet Toney — May 03, 2010

This was strange. Poor George, and Linda. I guess what’s pretty and worth painting to a person is the same no matter what! The gender of the artist isn’t as relavant as you thought, huh. And Charisse, pleasse! That was a clever summary.

From: Art Wells — May 03, 2010

Art is bigger than gender.

From: Rene Roustan — May 03, 2010

Robert Genn, you are indeed wonderful! How tastefully you handle so much of real life, and how much you can teach in a page of your script. Thank you.

From: Jacqui — May 03, 2010

Robert, that Dr sounds a bit sus to me..they are not allowed to ring other people no matter who they are and tell them why you have been to them. This is unethical to say the least!! Good story though. Australia

From: Laurie Boese — May 04, 2010

It also helps to actually stand before the painting, rather than view a postage stamp sized reproduction. The blue at the periphery of your visual field with the red at the forefront cause a neat shimmering effect that is not available to those who contain the entire work withing a small area of their visual field.

From: fransi kaye — May 04, 2010

I must admit that I have avoided commenting on this writing. I was enthralled with the story and so bedazzled by the fact that this artist was able to return home to welcoming friends. And then the end of your piece… the obvious point you were wanting to make smacked me in the face and plunged a dagger into my heart and soul. You have made an assumption that makes your naivete quite apparent. This human being.. this artist… the soul within had no need to change. Why would that occur?!? Would one change simply because they went to a new city? Perhaps from an isolated existence in Midwest countryside of America to the very heart of a European metropolis? Is this not the same? The change taken by this person was external… to bring the external being into rhythm with the internal reality. Taking on an outward truth to express what was always within. Perhaps I miss your true point. Perhaps you are intimating that an artist must grow and develop over time. However, that is not what you wrote. I truly believe that you missed the facts. We are who we are. No matter our outward appearance. No matter the way we act in different environments and different social groupings. Our inner soul… that which is expressed in our art… is WHO WE ARE. This artist of whom you wrote is/was no different than all of us.

From: Sabina Evarts — May 04, 2010

I have to wonder if a piece of art can be so GOOD or PROFOUND that noone can “get it.” I’m afraid that this one left me me rather cold. I remember the V. war–my husband did two tours there. There is a question of where is the artist coming from with his inner drive to create a “war art” piece. Was this man ever in the war? Every time I approach the subject it’s from the gut–I’ve done one on the Gulf War and a small recent one on the Iraqi War. Both aim at the violence I felt in them. In my art I can do abstraction as this artist has done, letting colors, shapes, etc. be what conveys my message. But sometimes I wonder if an artist isn’t hiding his lack of true understanding of a subject behind his abstraction…

From: Janice — May 04, 2010

The voice of fire is another example of the artist being a better writer than an artist. I think this is not art. No matter how you glorify it.

From: Kathleen — May 04, 2010

I am afraid that the picture of the Voice of Fire cannot possibly do it justice. It is the effect of size, and saturated colour that impacts on the viewer. Colour affects us emotionally, and the large colour field paintings have to be viewed in situ in order to have any appreciation of their impact. Your readers will just have to go to the gallery and experience this wonderful painting themselves. Road trip anyone?

From: Tatjana — May 04, 2010

The way I understood the story, the point wasn’t that a person of a different gender should or should not paint differently, but that some people stick with one formula (especially if successful), no matter what. I didn’t experience this letter as a commentary about sex change, but as a story about an artist (and a dealer) that found a good market and decided to stay there and keep mining. The gender change part of the story emphasized the strength of their conviction or art for the sales sake – not that there is anything wrong with it. Some have commented that the art stays the same because the artist’s personality or soul didn’t change, just the externals have changed and that doesn’t affect their art. I don’t buy that. Many artists change their art dramatically when faced with external changes – going through the war, death of a loved one, new love, after having children, travels…many external experiences alter the artist and he/she moves on with their art. This artist didn’t, with a valid reason, and that’s the story. Some artists trail their art as they trail their life, and some don’t. Interesting, but perhaps I just made up another story.

From: Robert Sesco — May 10, 2010