The Ultimate Rebranding: How a Veteran Creative Shifted Genders Mid-Career

Arnold's Chris Edwards discusses his awesomely titled memoir, Balls

Despite all their turnover and relentless pursuit of revenue, ad agencies often end up feeling like big families. And announcing any sort of life change to your family, especially a family of 500 colleagues, can be daunting.

So, imagine telling this family that you'll soon begin transitioning from female to male, and you'll have the first inkling of the road Chris Edwards began traveling nearly 20 years ago.

Edwards, a longtime creative director for Boston-based Arnold Worldwide, announced his gender transition in 1995. Over the next 12 years, he underwent 28 medical procedures to complete the transformation. And throughout, he maintained his role as a writer and creative leader, working on major national and global accounts.

In his upcoming memoir, titled Balls, Edwards shares an array of stories about his gender switch, along with the more traditional reminscences about a life in the already unpredictable world of advertising.

This week is Glaad's National Transgender Awareness Week, and we asked Edwards to tell us a bit more about his story. Check out our conversation below.

AdFreak: So, what's the status of your book?

Chris Edwards: My manuscript is currently in the hands of a bunch of editors at various New York publishing houses. I'm hoping one of them will make me an offer soon. This is still a subject that makes some people nervous, so if I haven't found the right editor by January, I will likely publish it myself. Either way, interested readers can sign up to get an alert when the book is available at chrisedwardsballs.com.

Is it really going to be called Balls? Because that's amazing.

Ha. Yes it is. When I announced at work that I was going to be transitioning, so many people came up to me and told me I had balls. I always laughed it off with, "Well, that's a few surgeries down the road." But I knew what they meant, and it's true.

It takes a lot of courage to change your gender to begin with. But to stay at the same job and do it openly in front of 500 co-workers and clients, yeah, you've gotta have quite the set of cojones. I was telling this "balls" story to my former boss, Pete Favat, over a few too many vodka sodas, and he was like, "Dude, that should be the title!" And we both cracked up.

The next day I thought, do I really have the balls to call my book Balls? Looks like the answer turned out to be yes. I've been told I'll probably need a subtitle, though. I'm thinking "It takes some to get some," but that might be pushing it.

I'm guessing your target audience is a lot bigger than just those considering a gender switch. Who else do you think would enjoy this book, and what do you hope they'll get out of it?

Well, all you ad peeps will enjoy the book because agency life is the backdrop, and I name names, so you may read about someone you know. You'll laugh a lot, too. My sense of humor helped get me through 28 surgeries and innumerable awkward moments, so it was critical that the tone of the book reflect that.

Yes, this book will surely appeal to a transgender audience, but really it's for anyone who's ever felt uncomfortable in their own skin—for whatever reason. It's about having the courage to be true to yourself and realizing that, instead of fearing what other people will think, you can actually control it. I was able to use what I learned working in advertising to rebrand myself and market the "new me" to friends, family and co-workers with great success. I hope people read my story and come away empowered, inspired and more accepting of others who are transitioning.

At risk of one big spoiler here, how would you describe the way your colleagues and clients at Arnold handled your transition?