On this list, you’ll find a diverse combination of historical figures, pioneers, internet personalities, local folks, theorists and researchers. All of the people following deserve recognition for their contributions to the arts, sciences, humanities and to society in general. Too often are trans people cornered into the role of activist, simply because our identities are existential and predicated on being able to fight for self-identification and respect. It is important that we recognise and share the stories of transgender women, to show that they are greater than labels, hold more potential, humanity and light than some would have you believe and will continue making their place in the human race.
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson has been called the “Rosa Parks of the LGBT movement”. She was a sex worker and established STAR, “Street Transvestites (now Transgender) Action Revolutionaries”, an organisation committed to helping homeless transgender youth in New York. She was murdered at the age of 46 in 1992, though her death at the time was labelled a suicide.
During her life, she modelled for Andy Warhol, battled mental illness and was homeless most of the time. In 2018, she finally received an obituary with the New York Times.
She’s known as the woman who threw the first brick at the 1969 Stonewall Riots (or at the very least an instigator of the pivotal five-day protest in LGBTQIA+ rights history). Alongside her STAR co-founder Sylvia Rivera, she is an icon of the queer rights movement.
Sylvia is a sexual assault survivor, latina transgender and POC rights activist, worked in the food pantry for homeless New Yorkers at the Metropolitan Community Church, and co-founded STAR with her friend Marsha P. Johnson. She also founded the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. She didn’t call herself a “transgender woman” (and so her position on this list is honorary) referring instead to herself as “drag queen” or “half sister”; most of all, she was simply Sylvia. She’s well-known for her short but memorable speech, after battling her way onstage and fighting back a crowd of hecklers following the fourth annual Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally in 1973.
I have been beaten, I have had my nose broken, I have been thrown in jail, I have lost my job, I have lost my apartment for gay liberation, and you all treat me this way? What the fuck is wrong with you all? Think about that! I do not believe in a revolution […] I believe the gay power, I believe in us getting our rights, or else I will not be out there fighting for our rights.
After the speech, she attempted suicide and was found in time by Marsha, and following these events she disbanded STAR. The food pantry where she volunteered was named in her memory “The Sylvia Rivera Memorial Food Pantry” after she passed away in 2002 from liver cancer, aged 50.
Content warnings for the following video: mention of rape, transphobic violence
Kat Blaque is a YouTuber and intersectional transgender rights activist, who has made videos covering confidence, body positivity, womanism, black rights and many other subjects. She began YouTube in 2010, and since then has animated a short film, made guest appearances on BuzzFeed and continued to grow her channel to over 100,000 subscribers.
You can support Kat on patreon.
Jordan, previously a member of the band Axis of Awesome, is an LGBTQIA+ rights activist from Australia. She skates in Roller Derbys under the name “Judge Booty”, has done a TED talk on living with high-functioning anxiety and makes fantastic videos with interesting perspectives on current social justice issues affecting the queer community. She’s advocated for marriage equality, for changing the date of Australia Day, healthy sexual relationships, and the rights of transgender kids. Just last weekend, she won the Australian LGBTI Award for Local Icon of the Year (very well-deserved).
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Stef Sanjati is a Canadian YouTuber who made her start in instructional makeup and beauty videos. She’s shared her transition online, including many positive, educational and informative videos about reconstructive surgeries, her Waardenburg syndrome, advocacy and self-love. Nowadays, she creates daily vlogs with her friend Paqs as they travel the world under the philosophy of “atavism”, something she defines as “recurrence or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook or approach”. In April last year, she made a short documentary about her childhood in an old Canadian town, Wallaceburg, and who she has become because of it. Her dream is to be a singer.
You can support Stef on patreon.
Julia is a transgender activist, writer, performer, speaker and author of the famous book Whipping Girl, which covers gender theory and includes essays on femininity and transgender women. She is a biologist, and has been writing for Medium since 2015. She has spent a long time debunking myths around transgender people, including the myth of “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria”, and political correctness. She’s also coined the term TUMF (Trans-Unaware Mainstream Feminist) in an attempt to understand and critique the group of feminists who seek to dehumanise transgender people and exclude them from feminist goals and debates.
Many of them may be swayable. Perhaps if we start thinking about the distinction between trans-antagonistic and trans-unaware transphobia, and between TERFs [Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists] and TUMFs, we can win some of the latter people over.
Laverne Cox is an incredible role model for transgender actresses, winning an Emmy for her performance as Sofia Burset in Orange is the New Black. She’s played Frank N. Furter in a 2016 Rocky Horror Picture Show remake and Cynthia Fray in Dear White People among many other roles for television and film. She’s made many appearances discussing the rights of transgender people, and last year released her own track called Beat for the Gods, “something for the kids to vogue to”. “These moments when artists can speak truth to power mean much more now than they have,” she’s quoted saying, “It’s about us continuing to elevate truth, trying to raise people’s consciousness and not trying to divide people. That’s where I think the arts will help most.”
Hannah Mouncey is an Australian football player whose involvement with the women’s league became controversial in 2017 when the AFL ruled she was ineligible for the 2018 draft. She wrote an article for The Guardian explaining in-depth the AFL’s hypocrisy in their ruling and creation of policies since the controversy first began.
It seems as though while some of the world has moved past judging women based on their size or appearance, the AFL has not. And it’s dangerous.
The women actually playing in the league have had no complaints, on either side of the field. She was featured on 60 Minutes, which accurately pointed out the hypocrisy of allowing her to play in local leagues, alongside allowing her to tell some of her story.
The Olympic transgender policy would allow Hannah Mouncey to play.
The Wachowski Sisters
Known for directing The Matrix and Sense8, Lilly and Lana Wachowski have made their mark in cinematic history. The pair have been famously private, preferring to avoid press and premieres, but both had come out publicly by 2016. They have been a support system for one another during their transitions.
“My reality is that I’ve been transitioning and will continue to transition all of my life”, says Lilly, “through the infinite that exists between male and female as it does in the infinite between the binary of zero and one […] We need to elevate the dialogue beyond the simplicity of binary. Binary is a false idol.”
Janet Mock is a Hawaiian trans rights activist and public intellectual who worked as a sex worker, has a Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Merchandising and was a staff editor with People magazine for more than five years. She has written two books, Surpassing Certainty and Redefining Realness and has appeared many times on talk shows on the issues of trans rights and feminist issues, critiquing the treatment of transgender people’s stories on television.
I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community. I hope that my being real with you will help empower you to step into who you are and encourage you to share yourself with those around you.
Maddie Blaustein is a voice actress (the first for many of her agencies) and comics writer. Her most well-known role is as Meowth in the Pokémon television series. She’s also done voices for several characters on Yu Gi Oh!, Sonic the Hedgehog and One Piece. She wrote and illustrated comics for Marvel and DC Comics, and at the time of her death in 2008 she was the senior digital artist at the latter studio.
Natalie Wynn, AKA “ContraPoints”, is a glamorous YouTuber and previous philosophy PhD student who makes incredibly well-designed videos about internet politics, culture, philosophy and gender. Having been dubbed the “Oscar Wilde of YouTube”, her videos are fascinating for their decadent set design and pure care in costume and scripting alone, if not for her use of the Socratic method to explore the truth of every issue she covers. Her artistry truly sets her apart from other political YouTubers. If you want to convert anybody to the left, show them Natalie’s videos.
You can support Natalie on patreon.