There’s been much more discussion and debate in relation to issues with the transgender community. However, while some act like trans individuals have only begun to appear more recently, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. They’ve been around for far longer than many may care to realize. And some of them helped shape the world we live in now. Here’s how transgender individuals helped make history.
April Ashley put a face on the trans community in 1960. She was a British actress and model, working so she could afford her gender reassignment surgery. Her story was published without her consent in Sunday People, but helped others become more accepting of transgender individuals. She died December 27th 2021.
Holly Woodlawn was born in Puerto Rico as Haraldo Santiago Franceschi Rodriguez. However, it didn’t take her long to realize that it felt wrong. She chose her new name by combining the character names of two Audrey Hepburn characters (from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and an episode of I Love Lucy). She eventually moved to to New York City and appeared in several films, as well as founding the Holly Woodlawn Memorial Fund, which was designed to inspire and help transgender youth. She died in 2015 at the age of 69.
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson was a drag performer that performed in Factory from Andy Warhol. She was a big advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, wanting to raise awareness for trans acceptance and HIV. She was even a part of the Stonewall Uprising, which inspired the Pride Parade. She died in 1992 after being found in the Hudson River. While her death was initially ruled a suicide, public outcry led to the case being reopened and reinvestigated as a homicide.
Sophia Lamar has been active in the cinema scene, especially as far as LGBT entertainment goes. She became a Club Kid in New York City, after being a part of the Cuban underground scene. She’s also been the face for many fashion brands and represented NYU for AIDS research.
Candy Darling was born James Lawrence Slattery. She would go on to perform in multiple films, including Flesh, Blood Night, Silent Night, and Women Revolt. At age 29, she announced she was transgender, which was unprecedented at the time, before dying of lymphoma.
Ian Harvie began transitioning from female to male at age 19, finishing the process at age 32. He’s been an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. He’s a stand-up comedian, having opened for Margaret Cho in the 2000s with jokes that primarily focus on identity and gender. Something that his audiences find funny and emotional.
Eva Robin’s is an Italian activist, model, and actress. She’s even appeared in the Dario Agentino movie Tenebrae. She’s claimed to have known who she was really was since she was 13. She’s very outspoken for LGBTQ+ rights.
Bibiana Fernández, also known as Bibi Andersen, is a Spanish model and actress. She’s best known for appearing in several films, including Law of Desire, Matador, and Rowing with the Wind. She transitioned in 1991 and legally changed her name three years later. She was married to Asdrubal Ametller, another model, but the pair have since divorced.
While most of the other people on this list so far transitioned before achieving acclaim and fame, Lauren Harries didn’t have that luxury. She had been appearing on television at age 13 and had plenty of time to garner attention. So when she began to transition, there was a lot of harassment. Even so, the actress has gone on to have a successful career, appearing in media such as This Morning and Big Brother’s Bit on the Side.
Laverne Cox became wildly famous for her portrayal of Sophia Burset in Orange is the New Black. It even earned her a nomination for a Primetime Emmy Award. She was also the first transgender person in a trans role on Doubt. She’s simply had an impressive and lucrative acting career.
Caitlyn Jenner may be one of the most well-known transgender people in the world. While certainly not the most popular, she’s led an interesting life. Born Bruce Jenner, she became an Olympic gold medalist before ending up on Keeping Up with the Kardashians. However, she came out in 2014 as trans, even getting her own show called I Am Cait.
Lana Wachowski’s well-known for her work in the genre of science fiction as a director, writer, and producer. Often working with his sister, Lilly, she’s most well-known for making The Matrix and Sense8, some of her most critically acclaimed works. Interestingly, both Lana and Lilly were born male, but transitioned later in life. Both are also vocal advocates for transgender rights.
Chaz Bono is Sonny Bono and Cher’s son. His days prior to transitioning, and the story itself, are part of a documentary called Becoming Chaz. Other than this, he’s also a notable musician, author, and an activist for trans rights.
Director, TV host, writer, activist, and producer, Janet Mock has worn many hats in the entertainment industry. Her memoir, Redefining Realness, was even a New York Times bestseller. She’s worked for various other magazines as well and became the first transgender person of color to become a writer for a television show.
Erika Ervin is also known as Amazon Eve. She’s a fitness trainer, model, and actress. She’s actually been a reoccurring actor on American Horror Story, appearing in the seasons Freak Show and Apocalypse. She’s also an activist for body positivity.
Amanda Lepore’s a Club Kid in the New York City nightlife scene. She’s been photographed by several different people, including Terry Richardson, David LaChapelle, and Ruben van Schalm. She’s also collaborated with the CAMP and Swatch brands.
Candis Cayne became well-known on the drag scene and in underground New York City night clubs in the 90s. But she didn’t become famous until she appeared on the show Dirty Sexy Money on ABC in 2007. She portrayed the transgender mistress Carmelita.
Alexis Arquette worked as a therapist, acting teacher, poet, and activist. She performed under Eva Destruction and had a pretty long acting career before and after coming out as transgender. She transitioned in 2014, but unfortunately passed away in 2016 because of complications with HIV.
Trace Lysette first became a household name because of her appearance on the show Transparent. She’s also a skilled dancer, appearing in the underground ball scene in New York City, as well as appearing in the 2019 film Hustlers. The movie really let her show off her moves.
Kate Bornstein is an entertainer, author, and gender theorist. She primarily writes with focus on eating and personality disorders and gender. She’s been diagnosed, herself with PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder, but has continued working through it to get where she is now.
Jamie Clayton’s likely most well-known for her portrayal of Nomi Marks on the Netflix series Sense8, created by the earlier mentioned Wachowskis. Of course, she’s still acting, having appeared as Sasha Booker in the third season of Designated Survivor.
Our Lady J
A singer, classical pianist, producer, and writer, Our Lady J is a woman of many talents. She’s written and produced many different television shows, including Pose and the earlier mentioned Transparent. She’s also played piano at the American Ballet Theater, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and even Carnegie Hall.
Jake Zyrus was able to rise to prominence after appearing on the Ellen Degeneres Show. Born as Charice, he’s a singer and TV personality that’s had the opportunity to work with the likes of Andrea Bocelli and David Foster. He’s stated that he was thankful of his life as Charice, but had to let her go to be free.
Some people think that Christine Jorgensen may have been the first person to have gender reassignment surgery. She had moved to Denmark, the only country performing the procedure at the time, before returning to New York. And doing so really put a spotlight on her as a person. She used her new spotlight to advocate for trans rights, up until her death in 1989.
Angelica Ross has done so much. She’s a trans rights activist, but also an actress and tech company founder. She created TransTech Social Enterprise by teaching herself to code. And she’s since been using those skills to help empower other trans people.