25 transgender celebrities who broke barriers
25 transgender celebrities who broke barriers
At the forefront of the movement for gay rights are transgender people, serving as the most fervent activists for the rights of queer people around the world. For the past few decades, transgender people have demonstrated their skills and passions in various fields and industries. By excelling at what they do, they have broken barriers, helping to progress social norms and attitudes toward queerness. And by using their profile and social status, these trans celebrities have acted as guiding lights to young queer people all over the world.
To that end, Stacker compiled a list of 25 prolific transgender celebrities, covering not only their individual backgrounds and bodies of work but also detailing any famous firsts they accomplished through their work and activism, if applicable. There are no politicians on this list.
These figures are actors, musicians, models, athletes, artists, and influencers. They are prominent not only for being transgender individuals in their fields but for also contributing to and advancing their fields overall. Whether they have been out their entire life or only came out in the middle of their career, they have served as inspirations to many.
Through the hardships and obstacles they faced from their peers and society, these figures have emerged in the mainstream, paving the way for more queer and trans people to follow. Read on to see which of these celebrities you recognize and whose work you have followed.
Hailing from present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina, Andreja Pejić has modeled for both women's and men's clothing. Pejić has been featured on the covers of Elle, Marie Claire, and GQ, and became the first transgender model profiled by Vogue in 2015. In addition to becoming one of the most prolific transgender models in the world, Pejić has appeared as a guest judge on "Britain's Next Top Model" and acted in 2018's "The Girl in the Spider's Web."
Asia Kate Dillon
Actor Asia Kate Dillon is the first nonbinary performer to portray a major role in an American television show, playing the character of Taylor Mason in "Billions." They have been nominated for several Critics' Choice Television Awards and co-starred in "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum." Their presence in film and television has helped observers learn about the nonbinary experience and the use of singular they/them pronouns, resulting in such awards ceremonies as the MTV Awards making some of their categories gender-neutral and inclusive.
For several decades in the 20th century, Billy Tipton was one of the most accomplished jazz musicians of his time. As a bandleader and a pianist, Tipton toured the country and released several successful albums. Tipton, assigned female at birth, changed his gender presentation in the early 1930s to fit the "jazz band image" at the time; his status as a trans man was unknown until after his death and was a surprise to even his closest friends and family.
One of the most prolific coming-out moments from a celebrity in the modern era was that of Caitlyn Jenner, who is a long-retired gold medalist decathlete. Jenner's transition sparked publicity and wide discussions about the transgender experience, and she would win accolades such as the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards for sharing that of her own.
Before her successful acting career, Candis Cayne performed as a drag queen in the early 1990s. She then began to appear in film and television, including some projects by RuPaul. By 2007, Cayne had a spot on the television show "Dirty Sexy Money," becoming the first transgender actress to portray a recurring role as a transgender character on prime time television.
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After the release of the 1981 James Bond film "For Your Eyes Only," in which model Caroline Cossey appeared as an extra, British tabloids outed Cossey as a transgender woman. While the incident severely upset her, Cossey continued her modeling career and fought for trans rights in the U.K., with her efforts reaching all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.
As the child of Sonny Bono and Cher, Chaz Bono has received media attention since early in life. Before his transition, tabloids outed him as a lesbian, and his transition to a male began in earnest during the late 2000s. Chaz has since been a prominent LGBTQ+ activist and advocate. He proceeded to share his story in a 2011 documentary film and later competed on "Dancing with the Stars," both of which helped to spur conversation about transgender people.
Transgender athletes have always faced difficult battles within their fields due to the gender-separated nature of many events, but triathlete Chris Mosier has instigated change in sports. Through Mosier's challenging the International Olympic Committee policy, he was able to participate in the Duathlon Age Group World Championship Race and many events afterward. Mosier was the first transgender man to compete in Olympic trials with other men, and he was the first transgender athlete to participate in the "Body Issue" of ESPN Magazine.
In the 1950s, Christine Jorgensen was the first known person to undergo sex reassignment surgery, identifying as a woman some years after her service in World War II. With her wit and cadence, Jorgensen became profiled in the news and became an advocate for transgender people while also working as an actress and a performer. As a spokesperson for transgender people, Jorgensen has remained an influential figure even decades after her death.
Now-retired MMA fighter Fallon Fox struggled with her gender identity for most of her early life, eventually receiving reassignment surgery. After becoming an MMA fighter in the women's division, Fox came out as transgender, which led to controversy and debate over whether or not she would be allowed to compete against other women. While her career has ended, outlets like Outsports deemed Fox the "bravest athlete in history."
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Gigi Loren Lazzarato Getty, known professionally as Gigi Gorgeous, was one of the earlier makeup artists building a following on YouTube in the late 2000s. Initially identifying as a gay man, Gigi Gorgeous came out as a transgender woman in 2013. In August 2016, she was unfortunately detained at the Dubai International Airport due to her transgender status and social norms in the United Arab Emirates, which sparked calls for equal protection and reform in anti-transgender laws.
As the first transgender person to appear on the cover of a major British magazine, Hari Nef has used her modeling and acting career to speak out about trans issues. Along with her work in fashion and modeling, Nef is also a writer; her work has appeared in publications like Vice as well as a sex advice column. Her most familiar work in film and television includes appearances on the TV show "Transparent" and the film "Assassination Nation."
Model Hunter Schafer has modeled for several prominent labels, including Tommy Hilfiger and Coach. In 2019, Schafer captivated audiences with her role in HBO's "Euphoria," in which she co-stars as the love interest of Zendaya's protagonist. Her role was praised by viewers and critics alike, and Schafer crafted her character's backstory with showrunner Sam Levinson for a sense of authenticity. With "Euphoria" bringing her to fame, Schafer has been a prominent queer activist.
Actress and model Jamie Clayton found herself drawn to the Netflix show "Sense8," as it featured a transgender woman character written by transgender writers. Clayton portrayed the character of Nomi Marks in the series, and would go on to appear in shows, films, and video games, including "The Snowman," "The Neon Demon," "Designated Survivor," and "Mass Effect: Andromeda." In the docuseries "Equal," Clayton even portrayed transgender icon Christine Jorgensen.
Seeing a significantly young and prominent trans person in the media is important for other trans children who may be going through a difficult time, and Jazz Jennings was able to offer that representation. Jennings was diagnosed with gender dysphoria at the early age of 5, and since transitioning, she has made multiple media appearances to speak about her challenges on shows like "20/20" as well as on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Since then, Jennings has launched a number of initiatives and charities supporting transgender children.
Born in 2001, Josie Totah is one of the youngest out transgender performers in the entertainment industry. After appearing in the Disney Channel show "Jessie," Totah would go on to receive praise for her performance in the 2016 film "Other People." It wasn't until 2018 that she came out as a transgender woman. She's since gone on to appear in projects like Peacock's "Saved by the Bell" reboot as a cheerleader.
During his time at George Washington University, Kye Allums was part of the university's women's basketball team. While playing on the team, he came out as a trans man and later left the team. After graduating, Allums traveled the country and acted as a public speaker, sharing his own experiences and advice on how to handle bullying toward trans youth.
Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski
Best known for writing and directing "The Matrix" films, Lana and Lilly Wachowski both came out as trans women in 2010 and 2016, respectively. "The Matrix" films have been pointed out for containing trans allegories, and the duo has continued to be inclusive in their works, especially with their Netflix series "Sense8." Lana and Lilly also directed "Speed Racer," "Cloud Atlas," and "Jupiter Ascending."
Laura Jane Grace
Punk rock star Laura Jane Grace is the founder, lead singer, and guitarist of the band Against Me! She is one of the few openly transgender punk rock artists in the industry, coming out as a trans woman in the latter half of her band's career in 2012. To reflect on her identity, Against Me! independently released a well-received concept album entitled "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" in 2014.
Quite possibly the most famous trans celebrity is actress and activist Laverne Cox, who is primarily known for her role in the Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black." Cox has the distinction of being the first transgender performer nominated for an Emmy in an acting category. She went on to be the first transgender actress with a series regular role on a broadcast network for her work on CBS' "Doubt." As an activist, Cox is credited with having a large role in the national discussion about transgender people in the United States.
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As a computer scientist and engineer, Lynn Conway was fired from her job in 1968 when she revealed her intention to transition to a woman. Still, her work has been credited for a number of technological and computer innovations, specifically with microchip design. Near retirement, Conway became a trans rights activist, specifically concerning employees in the tech industry.
Michaela Jaé Rodriguez
Best known for her role in FX's "Pose," Michaela Jaé Rodriguez is the lead actress in what is the largest transgender and queer cast in a television show to date. In 2021, Rodriguez became the first transgender woman to take home the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. The following year, Rodriguez made another meaningful leap for trans representation in the entertainment industry by claiming the Best Actress trophy at the Golden Globe Awards, making her the first trans actress to win the honor in the history of the awards.
Better known by the stage name Left at London, Nat Puff is a singer-songwriter and internet personality. She is best known for her viral Vines and her parodies of musicians and comedians, while also being an accomplished musician in her own right, with her "Transgender Street Legend" albums. Since her social media presence has grown, she frequently shares fundraising campaigns for a number of struggling transgender individuals.
Natalie 'ContraPoints' Wynn
In response to the increasing number of right-wing video essays on YouTube, Natalie Wynn, best known by her online name ContraPoints, began producing elaborate counterargument video essays on the platform. Her videos are known for their detail in terms of both her nuanced arguments and her intricate production and costume design. She remains one of the most-followed leftist YouTubers, alongside Hbomberguy and Philosophy Tube, both of whom have campaigned for trans equality.
Nikkie de Jager
Popularly known as NikkieTutorials online, Nikkie de Jager is an online influencer and makeup artist with over one billion views on YouTube. She has received accolades from Forbes and the Teen Choice Awards for her work, and she came out as transgender early in 2020. Later that same year, she had the distinction of serving as the online host of "Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light," which replaced the traditional Eurovision Song Contest due to the COVID-19 pandemic.