Being a trans person can be very difficult, especially if you feel as though you are going through your experiences alone. Historically, it was very difficult for trans people to discuss their identity or find out about other people who were experiencing similar gender identity issues. Being transgender is now more widely talked about, and people in the UK are finding it much easier to access the support that they need.
In the last century, the number of transgender role models has increased significantly. Here are some of the most influential trans people from the last 100 years.
Lili Elbe gained international recognition after modelling for artist Gerda Gottlieb. Although the public were keen to find out who the mystery model was, they were shocked to discover that she was actually Gottlieb’s husband, who was presenting as a woman. LIli eventually began to present as a woman in public. She went on to become one of the first identified people to undergo sex reassignment surgery in Germany in 1930. She had 4 operations over the course of two years to create female sex organs. Lili sadly passed away in 1931 as a result of complications following the surgery.
Michael Dillion was a British doctor who is known as the first person to undergo a phalloplasty operation to create a penis.
Michael began presenting as a man after university. He initially began experimenting with testosterone as a treatment for excessive menstruation, but soon realised that the pills were having a masculinising effect. Michael was soon able to pass as male and many people began to refer to him using male pronouns instead of female ones. Michael came to the attention of plastic surgeon Harold Gillies, who performed 13 genital reconstruction surgeries on him to create male sex organs. Michael also wrote a book called “Self” which examined transgenderism from a medical background.
When Renee Richards first began dressing as a woman, transsexualism was still considered to be a perversion and a mental illness. After a period of anxiety and depression due to gender dysphoria, Renee eventually travelled to Europe and underwent a successful transition. Upon returning to the US, Renee sought to enter into the 1976 US Open. She refused to submit to Barr chromosome testing, and she was therefore banned from competing in the US Open, Wimbledon or the Italian Open. She chose to challenge this decision in the New York State Court, as she believed that this was discriminatory. She won her case and was allowed to compete.
Lou Sullivan was assigned female at birth, however he struggled with his gender identity throughout his childhood.
During his life, Lou wrote extensively about the psychological effects that gender dysphoria had on him whilst he was a child. Lou eventually began to experiment with gender roles and began to present as man. Although his family were supportive of his new gender identity, Lou realised that he would need to move to a larger city to gain acceptance. After transition, Lou lived as a gay man and became an advocate for female-to-male transsexuals.
Laverne Cox is the first open transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy. She rose to prominence due to her role as trans female prisoner, Sophia Burset in the Netflix series, Orange is the New Black. This role has helped to bring to light the struggles which trans people may face when they are incarcerated.
Outside of her role, Laverne has become a role model and a spokeswomen for the transgender community. She has graced the covers of a large number of leading magazines and featured in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list of 2015.
Caitlyn Jenner first became famous as Olympian and reality TV star Bruce Jenner. As a male competitor, Bruce won Gold in the 1976 Olympics. In 2015, Bruce announced that he actually identified as a woman and intended to begin transitioning to become Caitlyn. Many people shocked by this news, because Bruce Jenner had previously been considered as a peak of masculinity.
Caitlyn’s public gender transition helped to bring gender dysphoria into the limelight and led to wider awareness of transgender people.