Influential Trans People of the Last 100 Years

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

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

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.

Renee Richards

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

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

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

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.


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    • Bill Wilson on 03/01/2018 at 3:03 PM
    • Reply

    Don’t forget about Roberta Cowell {1918 –2011 -racing driver, WW11 fighter pilot) who transitioned in the 1950’s,I greatly admired her whilst I was growing up and I feel should have a place in your ‘hall of fame’ as being one of the first to make this journey.

    • Graeme on 29/04/2018 at 11:38 PM
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    It’s a hard thing to achieve now so must have been exceptionally hard back then.
    Amazing woman

    • Dee on 03/08/2019 at 10:05 AM
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    Every trans person is influential.
    I am 🙂

    • Karen on 17/09/2019 at 7:46 AM
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    “Transgender” might not be the best description. Why not use the word “Intersex” to communicate the fact that changing gender is a journey between sexes which is fluid, not final. A man has the right to decide after “transition” that maybe he really could be a man again, even a feminine man.

    • on 09/05/2021 at 8:15 PM
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    I would add Kristiene Clarke to this list Award winning film director and first trans female to make a film about the subject

    • Rhys Donnelly on 09/05/2021 at 8:16 PM
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    I know she snd her partner are looking to adopt given Kristiene had just landed a major amazon drama series

    • Diana on 10/04/2024 at 12:07 PM
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    I was, as far as I know the only Trade Union Branch secretary in the UK who was elected into a position by men and women.
    The trans hate which I now see never existed to such an extent as it now does when I transitioned. Most of what I see and read is pure nonsense or absurd fantasy – even from experts!
    I did my best to put it where it belonged, but the fact is that certain trans hate activists are believed in the same way Russian people believe the Russian state.
    Many trans haters are abused women who for reasons know only to them believe we are a threat because we are easy targets. The fact is some men are the abusers.
    Most of us just want to get on with our lives and be left alone because we are trans, but it’s not happening and the hate is getting worse. – very sad 🙁

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