Wendy Carlos & revisionist history

To start: I have a ton of respect for Wendy Carlos’ work. By all accounts and by any definition of the word, she’s a genius. She takes an understanding of science and a desire to explore the applications of science and uses them to create some beautiful and more importantly, truly unique, music. So that’s not in question.

But what I’m talking about here is this page on Carlos’ website. In short, it says that her personal life is none of our business, which is completely true. It also says that you’re a total perv if you’re curious about it, which is what I have a problem with.

For years, I’d assumed that the “Walter Carlos” credited on A Clockwork Orange and Switched-on Bach was Wendy’s husband, and she’d carried on his work after his death. It wasn’t until I saw a brief mention on a different website that Wendy was a post-operative transsexual. It wasn’t the least bit scandalous, just something like “nee Walter”.

I went to her official website, and it confirmed nothing. The only mention on the site (this was a few years ago) was buried deep in a FAQ and said something along the lines of “There was never any such person as ‘Walter’, it was a mix-up on the part of the publishers and has caused no end of confusion.” I wasn’t sure what to make of that, so I just read it as an attempt at a humorous, tactful way to dodge the question and gently say, “None of your damn business.”

And now, of course, there’s the page I linked to above, which is a tirade against all the hateful people who want to pry into her personal life. Which is finally my question and reason for posting here – is it really that tactless and rude for a fan like me to be curious about something like this?

I’m not at all curious about what prompted the change. I definitely don’t want to remind anyone of a tramautic time in her past. I don’t pretend to understand all the issues around gender identity, and I definitely wouldn’t “judge” someone for going through such a procedure. I just wanted to hear why the name in the credits changed. And of the writers mentioned on her “ouch!” page as “hateful” or “sexually repressed,” I could only find a few online – music catalogs, mainly, which make a brief mention of it to explain why the earlier work is credited to Wendy. This isn’t even like the “gasp! Anne Perry is one of the murderous girls in Heavenly Creatures!” style rubbernecking – Carlos did absolutely nothing “wrong” unless you have an aversion to vocoders. So what gives?

I skimmed through the linked pages, since she’s kinda a windbag and I just don’t have the energy to read it all.

But my first reaction (bear in mind, I haven’t read everything, but tried to get a gist) is that she’s a bit unglued.

I mean, it IS no one’s business that she is a post-operative transsexual, and I don’t give a damn about it, personally. But to pretend like it never happened, and that those who remember when “Wendy” was “Walter” are evil and hateful—well, that’s just weird.

FWIW, it’s the worst kept secret ever. It’s extremely common knowledge that Walter and Wendy are one and the same.

Walter/Wendy Carlos was even the subject of a Playboy interview, many years back. That’s a good way to keep a low profile.

It was probably just an extension of the common claim by transsexuals that they always were the sex they changed to. Carlos always felt herself female, so says “there was no Walter” because she feels she was Wendy in a male body.

I think it’s kind of silly of her. But Whoopi Goldberg claims to be 46 years old, Jodie Foster claims to be straight, and Arnold Schwarznegger claims he never did porn. So it’s hardly unusual amongst celebs to be less than upfront . . .

Remember that when Walter/Wendy Carlos did this, sex-change operations were not nearly as common or commonly referred to as they are today. So for a while, s/he was one of the premier people like this around. I’m sure that added fuel to the problem.


According to IMDB she’s 47. How old is she really?

Does she claim that? I thought her standard line was just that her “private life is private,” and she won’t make a declaration one way or the other.

I’ve heard that Deidre Hall denies she played ElectraWoman on ElectraWoman and DynaGirl.

Schwarzenegger did porn? I haven’t hear this one.

I ran into Carlos’ page several years ago when I was getting into early electronic music (he/she was never a favorite of mine – give me Xenakis any day) and I was unaware of the sex-change at the time. It was confusing, to say the least, and I read the whole freakin’ thing (it is long-winded) without figuring out what the hell she was talking about.

I don’t think it’s hateful or perverse to be curious about someone’s sex change. However, for decades she’s probably been wanting to live her life as a woman, and being accepted as one, without being pestered with questions all the time. Instead of being known as a premier electronic composer, she is known at the electronic composer who had a sex change. Perhaps she expected the issue to be forgotten, but the world loves its sexual abnormalities more than its experimental musicians, so the stigma sticks. So it seems to me her page is release of some long-dammed frustration.

(If demand for her work has declined, this situation would probably be exacerbated)

Schwarzenegger? Porn? Really?

Yes, and the whole interview was about her private life, including frank discussion of her pre- and post-operative sexuality and details of what’s involved in the surgery and attendant therapy. She obviously spoke to a Playboy reporter for hours and hours about this. And now she gives Playboy a top rating on her bad guys list. Why–because they printed all the stuff she told them?

Well, duh, y’all. She gave the interview obviously expecting that no one would ever read it. It is Playboy after all!

Also on the Bad Guys List was AMG. As that site is on my bookmarks, I surfed it. Absoloutely nothing mentions her sexuality. There * is * a listing for “Walter Carlos”, but it is very brief and mentions nothing either. The listing for “Wendy Carlos” mentions * all * of the albums she has done, while “Walter” 's has only a few, and no photograph.

Of course, the website may have changed. I only have the All Music Guide to Rock, in which she is not listed, so I cannot base it on anything printed.

When he was still just a bodybuilder, before he started doing movies, he sold some naked pictures of himself to gay porn magazines and some of the seedier muscle mags. Nothing terribly explicit, mostly him doing his usual body building poses without his Speedo.

You mean Playboy has articles?:eek: How can they fit any words on the page with all those massive fake tits in the way?

Looking at Wendy’s website, I think this paragraph explains why she doesn’t explicity mention her sex-change:

Sounds like she saying the sex-change is common knowledge, and she’s not mentioning it because she doesn’t want to get a lot of false hits on her site.

Yup, Spy magazine included one of the photos when they did an expose of Arnold’s seamy past.

I miss Spy.

I can easily find websites on which her date of birth is given as Nov. 13, 1949.

But they also say "She earned a Ph.D from New York University in literature. "

Really? When in her life did she manage this?

Well, like I said, I don’t make any claims at all that I understand what that must be like. But I do think that that’s valid; someone wouldn’t go through that drastic a procedure unless he felt it were necessary. So I don’t understand the whole “he/she” business; she’s “she” and that’s the end of it.

I guess it just comes down to that I’m a little disappointed; I’ll admit I’ve got a lot of hang-ups but I would’ve thought that by this time (as far as I can make out, the “prurient” page was written in 2000) people would’ve understood that it’s not a flighty decision and cut her some slack. I guess that having to go through that kind of thing in the 70’s would make anybody at least a little bit apprehensive and “sensitive” (to say the least) about it.

In any case, a lot of the stuff on there is genuinely interesting, all the same. I don’t quite get the fascination with eclipses, but to each her own. The discussions of music and note scales and such is really interesting, especially for those like me who know next to nothing about music.

Hmmm…does that mean she considers “transexual” a prurient word? Or that it would be so terrible if someone searching for “transexual” (a 15 year old, wondering if he/she is transexual, for example) happened upon the site of a famous composer, and not just porn sites etc?

I imaginge she’s had to put up with a lot of shit and I can’t say I blame her for being fed up with people focusing on that aspect of her life. But i don’t think dancing around it or calling any mention of it prurient is helping much of anything. She recorded as Walter. People will take note of that. Better to just fix them with a steely gaze, and say “Yes, I had a sex change. Now let’s talk about me descion to change keys in the second half of the third movement.”

I doubt she made this claim. Citation, please.