In Light Of Bruce Jenner's Interview, 7 Influential Trans People Who Have Raised Public Consciousness Of Transgender Identities
Although tonight Bruce Jenner officially said, "For all intents and purposes I am a woman," it's worth remembering that we unfortunately still live in a world of trans erasure — a world where people with genders different from those assigned to them at birth are forced to hide their identities or face bullying, harassment, and other forms of abuse, sometimes to the point that they are driven to suicide. And when cis people do recognize trans people as such, they often obsess over their gender identities, asking personal or outright offensive questions like "when is the surgery? and "are you sure you aren't just gay?"
Yet many trans people in the public eye have made strides for trans visibility while resisting the media's tendency to reduce them to their gender identities. These public figures should be celebrated in their own right as well as for their contributions to the acceptance of people who don't fit within our society's rigid definitions of gender and sexuality.
1. Andreja Pejic
This May, Andreja Pejic will became the first trans model to be featured in Vogue. She has walked in men's and women's fashion shows and modeled androgynous clothing, and Make Up For Ever has recently signed her on to the face of their next campaign — which also makes her the first trans person to be the face of a cosmetics campaign ever. She told Vogue that despite warnings that transitioning might be bad for her career as an androgynous male model, she is firm that her identity "is not just a gimmick."
2. Laverne Cox
In addition to depicting the heartbreaking story of trans inmate Sophia on Orange Is the New Black, Laverne Cox has publicly dispelled myths about transgender people and gracefully corrected the media's inappropriate questions about her identity. In the above video, she explains to Katie Couric that "preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people" — because it's not OK to ask people about their genitalia. Period.
3. Laura Jane Grace
Laura Jane Grace started the critically acclaimed punk-rock band Against Me! back while she was presenting as a man and discusses her transition in the album Transgender Dysphoria Blues with lyrics like:
You want them to see you Like they see every other girl. They just see a faggot. They'll hold their breath not to catch the sick.
Grace also created the AOL series True Trans to document her own story and those of other trans people. In the first episode, she reveals that although she was unaware of it at the time, she named her band Against Me! to encapsulate her society's attitude toward her and other trans people. Along with Cox, Grace has also weighed in on what's not OK to say to trans people.
4. Lea T
Like Andreja Pejic, Lea T began her modelling career while living as a man and continued it after transitioning and becoming the face of Redken. She spoke about her transition on The Oprah Winfrey Show (though Oprah breaks a few of Laura Jane Grace's guidelines on how to talk to trans people), where she describes the pain of defying her family's expectations and noticing people laugh at her on the street. Designer Riccardo Tisci, who cast T as a model for the Givenchy Fall-Winter 2010 collection, told Vogue he wants to remind people that "though she’s transgender, she’s also just human. She could be a banker, a pharmacist, whatever. She happens to be a model.”
5. Chelsea Manning
Controversial for leaking classified information from the U.S. Army to WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning is also known for speaking out about the hoops she has had to jump through to be recognized as a trans person, especially while in the army:
For many in the trans community, just applying for basic identification documents is a hostile experience. You’re told you don’t belong because you don’t fit into one of the tiny boxes offered by the system. And for those of us in the military, this civil rights violation of trans people’s basic identity is downright life-threatening.
Manning is currently serving a 35-year prison sentence for the leaked documents. She came out as transgender just a few days after her sentence and has obtained a court order that the army refer to her as a woman.
6. Aydian Dowling
Dowling started Point 5cc Clothing to pay for his top surgery and continues to sell clothing that caters to the transgender community and host a binder exchange program and a transgender surgery fund. He is also known for the Youtube channel BeefHeads Fitness, which is "dedicated to bodybuilding and healthy lifestyles of FTMs." Dowling gained visibility in the public eye when he posed nearly nude for FTM Magazine in a nearly photo replicating one of Adam Levine. Now, he is in the running for Men's Health's Ultimate Guy Search, which would land him on the cover of the magazine. "I’m so happy and proud of the community for using its loud voice and realizing that we really could do it,” he told the Daily Beast about all the support he has received.
7. Kate Bornstein
As an author, theorist, and playwright, Kate Bornstein has challenged the medical narrative of trans people as women trapped in men's bodies and vice versa. Bornstein has identified as a trans woman in the past but, after realizing ze never felt comfortable as a man but also that ze does not identify as a woman, now uses the pronoun "ze." Now, ze publicly defends non-binary gender identities:
I really don't get how there's only two choices. There's no two of anything else in the entire universe; why should there only be two genders?
Images: Getty Images (3); Wiki Commons