As James Pritzker becomes Jennifer, here's what's next

First published in Crain's Chicago Business, August 27, 2013. Read the original here.

In a recent memo to her staff, Chicago CEO Jennifer Natalya Pritzker (formerly known as James) came out as transgender. In doing so, the retired Army lieutenant colonel joined a small group of high-profile transgender ex-military service members, which includes Army Private Chelsea Manning, Navy Seal Kristin Beck and Airborne Ranger Diane Schroer.

Earlier this year, Col. Pritzker's Tawani Foundation gave $1.35 million to launch the Palm Center's Transgender Military Service Initiative — the only previous public indication of the reclusive billionaire's private identity. It's not hard to understand her desire for privacy; transitioning genders is difficult enough without the world watching. Coming out is a deeply personal act that can be motivated by many factors, and every coming-out process is unique. However, here are some of the hurdles and joys Jennifer Pritzker is likely to face, drawn from the experiences of other courageous transgender public individuals.

• The chance to be herself. All too often, coming out as trans is portrayed as a dreary, dangerous and sad process. There's no denying that it comes with many potential difficulties; however, coming out also can be a deeply liberating and joyful occasion – as former People magazine Editor Janet Mock shared in this essay on love and identity, originally published on

• Her identity will always be news. Even in reporting on completely unrelated matters, years after her coming out, it is likely that Col. Pritzker's transgender identity will be mentioned (positively, negatively, or just as fact) in all news stories about her from now on. In 1995, University of Illinois professor and economist Deidre McCloskey came out as trans — a fact to which this 2012 article on her thoughts about capitalism and income inequality devotes its first two paragraphs.

• The media will get it wrong. Whether it be editorial directive, simple confusion or willful disregard of her identity, it's likely that some members of the media will have a hard time using female pronouns (or the correct name) for Col. Pritzker. Even in reporting a recent story about Chelsea Manning's transgender identity, the New York Times blog Taking Note continued to use male pronouns and the wrong name, as per their official style guide.

• Her body will be treated as a legitimate subject for rumor-mongering and speculation. From our legal system to our gossip columns, we spend a lot of time thinking about, commenting on and regulating the bodies of transgender people. Indeed, it's hard to think of another identity whose mere mention causes instantaneous jokes about and conjecture on the state of a person's genitals, as movie director Lana Wachowski found out after she came out.

• Her family always will be brought up. If your last name usually is printed in bold, chances are any story about your transgender identity will perforce include your family's reaction. Even if you go out of your way to avoid mentioning them, they'll likely be brought up regardless – as the U.K.'s Daily Mail did in this article about Stephen Beatty.

• Some will demonize her. There are few groups in America today whose mere presence on television, in public office or in front of children is seen as morally dangerous or spiritually destructive. Unfortunately, this is a reaction transgender people often deal with – as Fox News demonstrated in this pseudo-scientific, transphobic rant about Chaz Bono appearing on TV's "Dancing With the Stars."

• And some will laud her. Voluntarily coming out while in the public eye is still an act of great courage, even if you're a billionaire. When veteran politician Stu Rasmussen decided to run for mayor of Silverton, Ore., as an out transgender individual, the outpouring of support — both in the town and in the local media — was more than enough to drown out the few who came to heckle.

It's hard to know what the next few years hold for Jennifer Natalya Pritzker, but hopefully, as the cisgendered world learns more about transgendered people, the negative truisms above will become less true with every year.