Almost a decade has passed since Martine Rothblatt became the highest paid female CEO in the United States, and she’s yet to rest on her significant laurels. The former attorney may have founded biotech firm United Therapeutics Corporation, co-founded satellite radio giant SiriusXM and even pioneered thought leadership surrounding space colonisation, but perhaps Martine’s greatest achievement has been her transcendent work in the field of gender identity.
Throughout her life, Martine Rothblatt has heard the call of the stars. Her pioneering work in the outer limits of human communication began after a visit to an air force base in the Seychelles that tracked NASA satellites. Amid the futuristic technology, Martine recognised the potential for transcendence; the promise of unity. “It seemed to me the satellite engineer was making the whole world come together,” she told New York magazine in 2014. “Like that was the centre of the world.”
The harmonious message echoed throughout her time as a space law attorney, when she was tasked with handling broadcast satellite regulation on behalf of the television industry. It was there that she forged a relationship with the Federal Communications Commission, which would later allow her to push for the establishment of satellite radio.
Martine’s visionary take on the potential of satellite technology ultimately led to the establishment of the first private satellite phone company, the expansion of satellite navigation systems and the foundation in 1990 of Sirius Satellite Radio, which would eventually become SiriusXM, North America’s largest audio entertainment company and the home of Howard Stern.
Rise of a visionary
The call for unity and transcendence also resonated within Martine on a deeper level. Born male, she began to transition in the early 1990s, a time when being gender queer was not fully understood. “It was not hard for me to make the transition,” she told Fast Company in 2020. “Everyone was very kind and understanding.” Her wife Beverlee (Bina) Prator was especially supportive, telling Martine, “I love you for your soul, not your skin.”
When their daughter, Jenesis, was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension, a lung condition expected to be terminal, not long after Martine completed her transition, the elder Rothblatt immediately directed her entire focus on finding a cure. She left Sirius behind and established United Therapeutics, which specialises in lung disease treatment and the manufacture of organs for transplants.
Such was the success of United Therapeutics that those living with pulmonary hypertension, including Jenesis, are able to live longer than ever. Traditionally, treatment of the condition was done intravenously and was not overly effective. Despite the rarity of pulmonary hypertension, Martine persisted in finding a better way to treat it. Ultimately United Therapeutics developed a pill that has changed not just the life of Jenesis (now an executive at the University of Texas) but the lives of thousands affected by pulmonary hypertension around the world.
The biotech’s work in the field of organs is similarly pioneering, particularly when it comes to xenotransplantation – the adaptation of animal organs for use in humans. Xenotransplantation was the subject of Martine’s 2001 dissertation for her medical ethics PhD, and in 2014 she predicted the first successful pig-to-human organ transplant procedure wasn’t far off. In early 2022, when US doctors completed the first ever successful transplant of a pig heart into a human, she was once again proven right.
“I can’t claim that what I have achieved is equivalent to what a woman has achieved. For the first half of my life, I was male.”
It was as CEO of United Therapeutics that Martine earned the $38 million payday that made her the highest paid female CEO in 2013. But as a transgender person, there was something of a caveat attached to the honour. “I can’t claim that what I have achieved is equivalent to what a woman has achieved,” she told New York magazine. “For the first half of my life, I was male.”
The couple’s son, Gabriel, believes Martine’s transition was an extension of her lifelong desire to transcend all borders. “She did what she felt was right, the right choice for her,” Gabriel told New York magazine in 2014. “Sometimes it’s necessary to be a living example.”
Unity in leadership
Sure enough, Martine has used her experience as a basis for her tireless advocacy for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) community, particularly transgender rights. In 1996, Martine wrote The Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender, expressing her views on how human sexuality has traditionally been regarded, and how those perceptions could, and should, change in the future. One of its boldest arguments is that the division of genders at birth is destructive, and only by changing our perspective and listening to lived experiences can we achieve a new unity.
A pioneer, a futurist and an embodiment of the best of human transcendence, Martine Rothblatt is a beacon to those looking to change the world. With her mantra of ‘mind is deeper than matter’ as the rhythm, she has orchestrated success beyond expectation. As she told Fast Company, “I feel blessed that I can now be a role model to young people that any body can take you anywhere.”