Engineer talks about her gender transition
By Karen McLean
EVERET T – Stephanie Kolb spent the first half of her life trapped in
what felt like the wrong body.
She remembers when she was
in kindergarten, she started to
feel like something was “not
correct,” she said adding, “I
didn’t really know what was
When she told her parents,
at the age of 5, that they
gave her the wrong name
(she was Stephanie, she said,
not Steven), they were “very
Decades later, when she went through therapy,
hormone treatments and surgery to transition
from a man to a woman, she finally felt peace.
“I felt whole for the first time in my life.”
Kolb, 61, a SPEEA Diversity Committee
member who recently retired, shared her personal
experience to help raise awareness, which she
hopes will lead at some point to acceptance.
“Generally, I try to stay in the woodwork and not
get noticed,” she said. “But when people figure
it out and want to ask questions, I don’t mind.”
At the time she left Boeing through voluntary
layoff, she had nearly 38 years at the company
where she worked as an engineer. She was a
SPEEA member from the start.
“I wanted fairness and I didn’t think I could get
ahead in a company as big as Boeing without it,”
she said about her decision to join the union.
Growing up in what felt like the wrong body,
she struggled. “I was really, really mad at the
world,” said Kolb. She recalls her mother sending
her to a psychiatrist who refused to treat Kolb
as the child she was. Kolb refused to talk. Kolb’s
mother, a single parent at the time, stopped the
appointments because she couldn’t afford to
waste the money.
Kolb was 17 when she was kicked out of her
family’s home. She joined the Coast Guard and
went immediately to Vietnam and volunteered
for the most dangerous assignments.
After Vietnam, Kolb came back to the Puget
Sound, where she grew up in a Seattle suburb,
and went to work at Boeing.
She recalls writing up wire layouts for the 747
when she started in 1978. She married a woman
she worked with in 1981 after dating for several
months. “I had told her at
the time that I wanted to be
a woman and didn’t think
that would change.” They
had a boy, but he was only a
toddler when they divorced
over Kolb’s decision to change
At the time, Kolb was
diagnosed with Hodgkin's
lymphoma. “I was stage 3b
– stage 4 is end stage. I wasn’t
going to die as a man.”
She faced acceptance and
rejection when she told her
family about her decision to
pursue gender transition treatment.
“I first told my brother – he accepted me right
away,” she said. “My mom said ‘hallelujah’ –
everything makes sense now because of the way
I acted when I was a child. My dad told me to
go away and don’t come back.”
Her dad changed his mind six months later. “He
said I’d rather you in my life as a daughter than
not at all.”
Kolb started hormone therapy after just three
visits with a therapist from Seattle’s Ingersoll
Gender Center in December 1991. Typically,
at least 12 visits occur before starting hormones,
Kolb said. There was no question for either the
therapist or Kolb that this was the right path.
In December 1992, Kolb returned to work in
Boeing Process, Planning and Controls, where
she had been working for the previous 10 years
as a man. “It didn’t seem like a shock to anyone,”
she said, within the group of about 20 coworkers.
“The people in the group respected me.”
Her advice to those who want to become more
aware is simple – try to get to know the other
person. “You may not agree 100%, but they have
an emotional and physical need to complete their
identity,” she said.
“I don’t know if I’m like everybody,” she said.
“I appreciate when people ask me questions –
there’s no such thing as a stupid question. I will
try to explain things as much as I can.”
In addition to the SPEEA Diversity Committee,
Kolb has been active in SPEEA at various times
in her Boeing career. She belonged to the
Women’s Advocacy Committee (WAC), and
served as an Area Rep and Council Rep.
Reflecting on her career at Boeing, which
included a few years as a manager, she added,
“I’ve had a lot of adversity but also a lot of
One of those champions was a black man in
a room full of executives deciding whether to
promote her to a manager position. She found
out later the majority were going to vote no. “He
stood up and said ‘what if Stephanie was black’?
I wouldn’t have become a manager, if he didn’t
stand up.” He later became her director.
SPEEA pilots started contract negotiations during an opening session with The Boeing Company on Tuesday, Dec. 13. The two
sides return the third week of January to hold
full, Main Table talks.
Pilots have been preparing since fall for these
talks. Efforts included two member surveys and
a full day of negotiations training in November.
The most recent survey was a follow-up to an
initial member survey in the fall.
The SPEEA Negotiations Team hopes to
conclude talks in advance of the current
collective bargaining agreement's expiration on
Feb. 9, 2017.
SPEEA, IAM meet Inslee
Washington Governor Jay Inslee meets with officials from
SPEEA and the IAM last month to discuss aerospace issues.
Attending the meeting, from left, are SPEEA Legislative
Director Chelsea Orvella, Executive Director Ray Goforth,
Inslee, SPEEA President Ryan Rule and Machinist Lodge
751 Legislative Director Larry Brown.