High-profile transgender celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner have helped to inform and educate people about transgender existence, issues, and human rights. But there are many other famous trans people who are making their mark.
In recent history, transgender women have been making headway and stepping into the spotlight more than ever before. Here are just some of the trans women who have stepped into the public eye and are working on paving the way for other trans people to gain more acceptance in the world.
Famous Transgender People Making Their Mark
Mouthy, politically incorrect, smart Blaire White is against everything trans women are supposed to think, and she’s hotter than everyone else on the planet.
As a young computer science whiz, Blaire White grew tired of the politicization of transgenderism and all the pundits who claimed to speak for her, and she started commenting on YouTube.
White quickly made enemies by refusing to toe the party line on science, gender, feminism, and the upcoming election. She also made thousands of fans almost overnight—people hungry for a different perspective. Blaire’s opinions are provocative, witty, and infuriating, depending.
As the only transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy in an acting category, Laverne Cox is widely considered one of the most outspoken advocates for LGBTQ people today.
Laverne can be seen in many interviews on mainstream media channels dispelling myths about trans women.
You may know her best as Sophia on Orange Is the New Black, but this award-winning advocate is about much more than just an actress. She even sees her role on the show as a form of trans activism.
Janet Mock is another famous trans woman and a huge advocate in the trans community. Janet works in NYC public schools to create programs geared specifically towards trans people.
Janet can also be seen in the media setting the record straight about trans people. Her memoir, Redefining Realness, was hailed as not just a story about a transgender woman, but a story about humanity in general.
Martine Rothblatt is the highest-paid female CEO in the United States. As the Chief Executive Officer of United Therapeutics, she earned a salary of 38 million. Martine was also a founder of one of the most well-known satellite radio companies – Sirius Radio.
Not only does she head a 5 billion dollar company, but she also has a large family including four grandchildren who call her “Grand Martine.”
Jazz Jennings came into the limelight at an early age, and by 14 had her own show on TLC called All That Jazz, which showed her day-to-day triumphs and challenges with friendships, dating, and family relations.
Jazz has a history of activism and in 2012 she was on The Advocate’s list of 40 activists under 40 years old, and has been honored at the GLADD awards. Jazz Jennings has been named a Human Rights Campaign ambassador, among many other accolades.
Theresa Sparks is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. She is also a former president of the San Francisco Police Commission and a former CEO of Good Vibrations, a west coast sex toy chain.
Theresa Sparks is also a board member of many LGBT organizations, in addition to being a veteran and trained engineer. She does it all!
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan is the first trans person ever to work at the White House, where her post as director of outreach and recruitment for presidential personnel was recently followed up with an added role of lead liaison for transgender issues.
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan has been active in the promotion of civil rights for transgender people, including a role as a policy advisor on racial and economic justice at the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Famous Trans Celebrities
Also known as Parinya Charoenphol (plus a few other monikers), Nong Tum was able to fight transgender discrimination with her determination and her fists. Well, more so with her legs, as she is a retired Thai boxing champion who would often kiss her fallen opponents as a sign of gratitude once she had defeated them.
Nong Tum continues her career as a kickboxing coach, model, and actress. You may remember her from the movie Million Dollar Baby.
For more on Tum, find her story in the book Ladyboys: The Secret World of Thailand’s Third Gender, or in National Geographic’s documentary Hidden Genders.
Caroline ‘Tula’ Cossey
One of the world’s most well-known trans women, Caroline hails from England and has worked as a model and actor.
In 1981, Tula was outed by one of Britain’s tabloid magazines, and there she began fighting for her right to be able to marry and be recognized by the law as a woman.
Cossey shares tales of her upbringing and transition in two different autobiographies: My Story and I am a Woman.
Born in the States in 1985, Isis King was the first trans woman to compete on the reality TV show America’s Next Top Model – twice.
During King’s appearance on the Tyra Banks Show, where she shared her life story, Banks surprised Isis with an introduction to the top gender reassignment surgeon and offered her an all-expense-paid surgery.
Considered to be one of Isreal’s most successful musical acts of all time, Dana discovered she was trans at the young age of 13. Born as Yaron Cohen in 1969, Dana underwent SRS in 1993, which was the year she released her first album.
Dana has received international success with many albums and gold hits; she was noted as 47th of the 200 greatest Israelis of all time.
Lady Chablis, the charming African-American southern belle,was a longstanding cabaret performer and the self-described Empress of Savannah. She wass been the star performer at Savannah’s Club One for over twenty years.
The Lady rose to fame when an acquaintance was implicated in an unusual murder story, and she petitioned to play herself in the movie that resulted, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It was a relatively minor role but the one everyone remembers twenty years later.
Chablis was a hypnotic, larger-than-life personality who lived with all the class and sensuality her name suggests, along with a megadose of funny. Her autobiography is called Hiding My Candy and comes complete with a beauty guide and recipes. Chablis passed away in 2016.
Famous Trans Models and Beauty Queens
Andreja Pejic started out as a mysteriously beautiful and androgynous fashion model. Her willowy figure and unique look had many fashionistas very intrigued.
She began modeling both men’s and women’s clothing but eventually had gender reassignment surgery. “My biggest dream was to be comfortable in my own body,” she said.
Andreja chose to come out to the public in order to be a good role model to other LGBTQ people who may be experiencing discrimination and bullying.
Canadian beauty queen, vegan PETA spokesmodel, reality TV star, and Vancouver Pride Parade grand marshal, Jenna Talackova rose to fame when competing for Miss Universe Canada.
Once her lawyer got involved, the decision was reversed, allowing her to strut her stuff all the way to Miss Congeniality and the top 12!
Angela Ponce is a transgender model from Seville, Spain who won over twenty-two other Spanish girls to compete on the world stage. Angela, also known as Miss Spain, was the face of the Miss Universe contest in 2018 even though she wasn’t crowned winner at the pageant in Thailand.
“Trans women have been persecuted and erased for so long. I’m showing that trans women can be whatever they want,” Ponce told Reuters. “I am proud to have the opportunity to use this platform for a message of inclusion, tolerance, and respect for the LGBT-positive community.”
Ponce’s charisma, courage, and visibility had a part in changing rules across pageants, as Miss World changed its regulations once she began competing as trans at Miss Universe.
For more, see our full list of Transgender Models.
Famous Transgender Artists
Lana Wachowski is part of the film directing duo The Wachowskis, who have directed such popular films as The Matrix, V for Vendetta, and Cloud Atlas.
She is the first Hollywood director to come out as transgender, first appearing in her feminine form to the public in a July 2012 video discussing her latest film.
Lana is also a recipient of the Human Rights Commission’s Visibility Award.
Nina Arsenault is a transgender artist who has made herself famous (or infamous!) with her brazen, over-the-top personality. Her creativity is expressed through writing, dance, theatre, photography, visual art, modeling, acting, and teaching as a university professor of drama.
Read: Transgender Photography
Nina explores the boundaries of gender, biology, and construct through various media including countless surgical procedures to remodel her body like a sculpture. Part of the act of medical morphing was funded through sex work.
Arsenault can be too intense, showy, and political for the average person including some transgender folks who would rather lay low. But she is a supernova, a brilliant scholar, and a fearless activist who will go down in history as an important cultural icon, bringing transgender issues into the public eye.
Justin Vivian Bond
Justin Vivian Bond is another multi-talented, famous trans artist in New York.
This Broadway performer, watercolor painter, and writer has won numerous awards, and penned one of the best trans memoirs of all: TANGO: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels.
Juliana Huxtable is a DKNY model, video performer, DJ, poet, and photographer.
Juliana’s art shines a light on “being disenfranchised of what most people take for granted – desirability, respectability, employability, safety.”
Ryka Aoki is a writer, professor, performer, artist, poet, and judo black belt. A former national judo champion, Ryka is the founder of the International Transgender Martial Arts Alliance.
She has performed at multiple trans festivals and other performance events around the world, and her writing has appeared in trans anthologies. Her publications include a novel, two collections of poetry, and essays.
Billy Tipton was a jazz musician who was active from the 1930s through to the time of his death in 1989. When Billy died, his children discovered to their amazement that he had female anatomy—a fact he had kept secret from them for their entire lives.
In the 1930s, Billy Tipton went onstage as a man, but lived as a woman in his private life. He also had a relationship that most people considered to be lesbian.
Over the next few decades, Tipton began to live full-time as a man. He had many lovers and even married. Tipton was known as a model husband and loving father.
For more on famous transgender people in music, read:
Can’t get enough? Check out these other fascinating and famous trans women from around the globe:
Melanie Anne Phillips
Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark
All of these famous transgender women, just by existing in the public eye, are making space in the world for more brilliant and beautiful trans people to step forward and be recognized as equals.
What famous transgender icons would you add to our list?