25 transgender celebrities who broke barriers

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November 21, 2020
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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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Andreja Pejić

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.

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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.

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Billy Tipton

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.

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Caitlyn Jenner

One of the most prolific comings-out from a celebrity in the modern era is 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. 

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Candis Cayne

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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Caroline Cossey

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. 

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Chaz Bono

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.

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Chris Mosier

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.

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Christine Jorgensen

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.

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Fallon Fox

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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Gigi Gorgeous

Giselle Loren Lazzarato Getty, more recognizable under the name 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 transgender in 2013 and underwent multiple surgeries since then. Gigi Gorgeous was unfortunately detained in the Dubai International Airport due to her transgender status and social norms in the UAE, leading to calls for equal protection and reform in anti-transgender laws.

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Hari Nef

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, Hari Nef is also a writer, with her work appearing in publications like Vice and a sex advice column. Her most familiar work in film and television includes appearances in the TV show “Transparent” and the film “Assassination Nation.”

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Hunter Schafer

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,” which she co-stars in as the love interest of Zendaya’s protagonist; her role was praised by viewers and critics, 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.

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Jamie Clayton

Actress and model Jamie Clayton found herself drawn to the Netflix show “Sense8,” as it contained a transgender woman character written by transgender writers. Clayton portrayed the character of Nomi Mark on 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.

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Jazz Jennings

Seeing a significantly young trans person prominent in the media is important for other trans children who may be going through a difficult time, and Jazz Jennings was able to provide that support. Jennings was diagnosed with gender dysphoria at the early age of 5, and since transitioning, she has made multiple media appearances on shows like “20/20” and on the Oprah Winfrey Network to speak about her challenges. Jennings began a number of initiatives and charities supporting transgender children.

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Josie Totah

Born in 2001, Josie Totah is currently one of the youngest out transgender performers in entertainment. First appearing in Disney Channel shows such as “Jesse,” Totah received praise for her role in the film 2016 “Other People.” It wasn’t until 2018 when she came out as a transgender woman. She now appears on Peacock’s “Saved by the Bell” reboot as a cheerleader.

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Kye Allums

During his time in George Washington University, Kye Allums was part of the university’s women’s basketball team. During his time with 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 giving advice on how to handle bullying towards trans youth.

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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.” The Wachowskis also directed “Speed Racer,” “Cloud Atlas,” and “Jupiter Ascending.” 

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Laura Jane Grace

Punk rock star Laura Jane Grace is the founder, lead singer, and guitarist of her band called 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. To reflect on her identity, Against Me! independently released a well-received album entitled “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” in 2014.

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Laverne Cox

Quite possibly the most famous trans celebrity, actress, and activist is 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, through “Doubt” on CBS. 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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Lynn Conway

As a computer scientist and engineer, Lynn Conway was fired from her job in 1968 when she revealed that she would transition to becoming 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.

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Mj Rodriguez

Best known for her role in FX’s “Pose,” Mj Rodriguez is the lead actress in what is the largest transgender and queer cast in a television show to date. The show depicts the ballroom scene in 1980s New York City, and Rodriguez portrays the head of the House of Evangelista, who was diagnosed with HIV in the first episode. She has also appeared in multiple stage roles, breaking barriers with each of her castings.

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Left at London

Nat Puff

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 albums including “Transgender Street Legend.” Her social media presence continues, and she frequently shares fundraising campaigns for a number of struggling transgender individuals.

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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 as well as her intricate production and costume design. She remains as one of the most-followed leftist YouTubers, alongside Hbomberguy and Philosophy Tube, both who have campaigned for trans equality.

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Nikkie de Jager

Also simply known as “NikkieTutorials” online, Nikkie de Jager is an online influencer and makeup artist with over 1 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. In the middle of 2020, Nikkie de Jager 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.

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