It’s the 21st Century, and as a society we have – for the most part – made great progress against sexual discrimination. For many countries, the days when same-sex marriage was illegal are now firmly planted in the murky past. Discrimination against sexual minorities is actively rejected by most western societies, and the truth that gender roles are not etched in stone is finally being accepted on a large scale. It’s still not a paradise for members of the LGBT community, however, and transgender men and women often face ignorance and even discrimination, even in the progressive societies. Many influential transgender public figures have paved the way in breaking antiquated taboos, and now some of the world’s favourite celebrities who are transgender have furthered the cause for widespread understanding and acceptance of gender and sexual minorities.
The following 10 transgender celebrities and public figures are in the limelight by dint of their various talents, and through excelling in their fields – be it sports, modelling, music or film – despite the obstacle of discrimination they may have faced, they’ve provided inspiration for the LGBT community and LGBT rights activists the world over.
10. Laura Jane Grace
Laura Jane Grace, born Tom Gabel, is the singer and guitarist for popular Florida-based punk band Against Me!. The songs of Against Me! are known for their intensity, folk roots, and passionate lyrics describing angst and anarchy. Indeed, Grace’s journey to acceptance of her gender identity lends a raw truth to many of the band’s songs. She explained in an interview for Rolling Stone that she experienced “a feeling of detachment from (her) body and from (her)self.” Despite undergoing the long process of gender reassignment and living life as a woman, Grace is still happily with her wife, Heather. Many public figures in the punk music community have voiced their support for Grace, opening a dialogue on transgender people in an area in which this was previously largely taboo.
Rocco “Katastrophe” Kayiatos is a hip-hop artist and political activist. He started transitioning as transgendered almost 11 years ago. He began rapping as a child and is now on his fourth album, Second Hand Emotion. On top of releasing albums, he dedicates himself to educating the country about the transgender community. To create awareness and understanding about transgendered people, he created Original Plumbing Magazine – a magazine for transgender men – with his long-time friend, Amos. Although Katatrophe is proud of his decision to transition, he is rarely vocal about it. In an interview with The L Stop, he said “my personal policy is: no one’s business unless we’re getting busy…Or unless it’s relevant, like, if I’m playing a show and people would be interested in knowing that.” He continues to rap and manage his magazine.
8. Chaz Bono
Chaz Bono is one of the most famous transgendered figures in the world today. He was born the daughter of singer-songwriter duo Sonny and Cher in 1969, and underwent gender reassignment in 2008. He was born Chastity Sun Bono. Before undergoing the reassignment, he suffered from an addiction to painkillers and gained a significant amount of weight as a result. Despite his struggles, both with illegal substances and his personal identity, Bono has appeared in the Emmy-nominated documentary Becoming Chaz, released a music album, and was a guest on Dancing with the Stars. Bono is also an author and activist. He wrote for The Advocate, a LGBT magazine, and published his own memoir, The End of Innocence.
7. Carmen Carrera
Carrera is a model, TV star, and a potential Victoria’s Secret model, admired for her beautiful features the world over. In the trans community, she is a shining example of the possibilities and potential for trans people. She’s open and vocal about the fact that she is transgender, but admits to some insecurity when people ask personal questions about her gender. Talking with Sarah Ratchford for Vice, Carrera said “it’s kind of weird” when people ask her about sexual reassignment surgery or about her “private parts.” Although it can be difficult to deal with personal questions, and even discrimination, because of her gender, Carrera is still proud to be who she is. And she has widespread support as a model; according to the same interview, more than 42 000 people have signed the petition to include Carrera as a Victoria’s Secret model.
6. Isis King
Carmen Carrera is by no means the only trans model in the industry. Isis King, American Apparel model and contestant on the series America’s Next Top Model, is just as successful. She didn’t win on ANTM, but she has stirred up quite the media coverage for her work with American Apparel – the label used King as their first transgendered model. The clothing company had King appear in numerous photos wearing t-shirts with gay rights slogan such as “Gay O.K.” and “Legalize Gay.” With all of that exposure, there’s no telling what she’ll do next.
5. Alexis Arquette
You might recognize the name Arquette. That’s because it belongs to the Hollywood family of actors such as David and Patricia Arquette. Alexis was actually born in 1969 as Robert, but she identified as a woman from an early age. According to Starcasm, her sister Patricia saw Alexis exhibiting signs that she identified as a girl when she was young. In Kindergarten, instead of lining up with the boys, Alexis would choose to line up with the girls, instead. She was the star of the critically-acclaimed 2007 documentary Alexis Arquette: She’s My Brother, and has been supported by her family ever since she became public about her gender.
4. Lana Wachowski
Lana Wachowski is a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood and abroad. She is one half of the sibling directing duo behind the The Matrix movie franchise and the recent movie adaptation of Cloud Atlas that boasted an all-star ensemble cast. Despite her acclaim as a director, she has garnered widespread attention as coming out as transgender. She spoke in San Francisco at the LGBT Human Rights Campaign about her troubled adolescence in the hope of helping teens who were struggling with their sexual and / or gender identity. According to her, she felt “intense isolation” as a youth, going as far as writing a suicide note to her parents in a local Burger King. She was going to jump in front of a train. After delivering her speech, she was so moved that she cried for 10 minutes, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
3. Thomas Beatie
Thomas Beatie, a public speaker and LGBT rights advocate, was once known as Tracy Lagondino. Despite undergoing gender reassignment, he decided to keep his sexual organs from birth so that he may one day give birth. Because his wife, Nancy, was unable to have children due to a hysterectomy, they decided that he would have them instead. Two pregnancies and three children later, Beatie is now fighting to be granted divorce. But it’s not so simple. According to the judge ruling over the case, Beatie provided no proof that he was a man at the time of the marriage, making the marriage essentially invalid. As reported by The Daily Mail, Beatie intends to appeal the court ruling and stand behind his identity as a man, as the father of his children, and behind a marriage that he insists was legitimate according to his identity.
2. Kye Allums
Kye Allums in many ways made sports history: he is the first publicly transgender person to play NCAA Division I college basketball. The LBT activist group GLADD cites Allums in a pioneer in the LGBT community. In an interview with GLADD, Allums remembered how difficult it was to come out as transgender while still a player. The difficulty, he said, was mainly due to the constant media attention, and the stress this had on his teammates and coach. “It stressed me out,” he said. “ I felt I couldn’t even walk outside because I felt someone would recognize me… All I wanted to do was focus on basketball.” After basketball, Allums travelled to high schools across America to share his story of being a transgender athlete. He advised the media to be sensitive to personal decisions about surgical procedures. He hopes to encourage anyone who identifies as LGBT to “be proud of who you are.”
1. Jenna Talackova
In 2012, Jenna Talackova was the first transgender woman to compete in The Miss Universe Canada pageant. But, according to The Star, she was never trying to be a role model in the transgender community. Instead, she entered the pageant for personal reasons that had to do with making her feel more confident, rather than to make a political statement about transgender people. With the intense media coverage, she was sued by the pageant owner, Donald Trump. As early as 14-years old, Jenna began actively adapting to a female lifestyle. She finally had sexual reassignment surgery when she was only 19. Despite never wanting to be known for being “the transgender girl”, she is happy that she’s in a position to be a beacon of hope for other transgender people.