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 and helped 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.
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 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 that they faced from their peers and society as a whole, these figures have emerged in the mainstream, and paved the way for more queer and trans people to follow. And through their work, they have educated people outside their community on what the experience of being trans is like.
Stacker has compiled a list of 25 of these prolific transgender celebrities. These individuals have been featured in recent news stories for their activist efforts, have received publicity for their media appearances, or have simply made their place in history. The following list is in alphabetical order by first name. This list covers their backgrounds and summarizes their bodies of work, along with detailing any famous firsts they accomplished and their activist work, if applicable. There are no politicians on this list. Read on to see which of these celebrities you recognize and whose work you have followed.
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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, becoming the first transgender model profiled by Vogue. Additionally, she has appeared as a guest judge on “Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model” and acted in the 2018 film “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” becoming one of the most prolific transgender models in the world.
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 Critics’ Choice Awards and costarred 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 some awards ceremonies, such 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 around 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.
The most prolific coming-out from a celebrity in the modern era is from 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 her own experience. Jenner still receives media attention for her previous marriage with Kris Jenner and her appearances on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”
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 reoccuring role as a transgender character on primetime 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 Bono has since been a prominent LGBTQ+ activist and advocate, and 2011 brought his own documentary, along with an appearance on “Dancing with the Stars,” both helping to spur conversation about transgender people.
Transgender atheletes 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 challenges of 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, also working as an actress and a performer. As a spokesperson for transgender people, Jorgensen 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 decision, 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 label Fox as the “bravest athlete in history.”
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