Caitlyn Jenner and 10 Other Transgender Pioneers

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Photo credit: Vanity Fair cover photo by Annie Leibovitz. Courtesy of Vanity Fair.

The world met Caitlyn Jenner for the first time today when Vanity Fair shared the cover of their July 2015 issue. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz while seated and wearing an ivory-coloured bustier, the image is a public unveiling for Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, who had famously came out as a trans woman during an interview in April.

“If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life,’” reads a quote from Jenner on Vanity Fair’s website.

In honour of Caitlyn Jenner’s unveiling, we take a look at other notable transgender personalities.

Christine Jorgensen

Born in 1926, this Second World War veteran from the Bronx in New York, is considered the first person to receive gender reassignment surgery. After undergoing various procedures in Denmark, Jorgensen became an instant celebrity in North America, using her fame to fight for transgender rights while also embarking on a stage and music career.

Renée Richards

A promising tennis player as a male, athlete and ophthalmologist Renée Richards, 80, brought the subject of transgender rights square into the public consciousness when she took the United States Tennis Association to court for not allowing her to compete in the women’s competition at any of it’s sanctioned tournaments, including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

In 1977 New York’s Supreme Court ruled in her favour, allowing Richards to compete in both singles and doubles tournaments while setting a precedent for transgender rights going forward.

Wendy Carlos

The Grammy-winning artist who pioneered electronic music in the United States is very private about her gender transition. However, the 75-year-old has revealed that she began the transition to becoming a woman in 1968 and underwent reassignment surgery in 1972. A multi-talented musician, Carlos also composed the film scores to Tron, The Shining and A Clockwork Orange.

Marie-Pierre Pruvot

A well-known transgender Parisian showgirl who performed under the name Bambi, the 79-year-old Pruvot went on to a distinguished career in academia while also appearing in a number of documentaries about her life.

Amanda Lepore

A well-known and recognizable transgender model, performer, and socialite, the 47-year-old Lepore once wrote, “The [gender reassignment] operation made me so happy! I was euphoric. I still have this euphoric feeling even now. I guess that’s why I’m not materialistic, because I finally have this body I’ve always wanted.”

Lepore, who always believed she was female, underwent her gender reassignment surgery at age 19, became a staple of New York’s nightlife and eventually got her big break when she collaborated with famed photographer David LaChapelle in the early 1990s.

Dr. Marci Bowers

A major figure in the history of gender reassignment, Dr. Marci Bowers, 57, not only underwent the surgery but, as a surgeon, it is also the focus of her practice which makes her the first transgender person to also perform the surgery. According to reports, the more than 4,000 surgeries she performed in Trinidad, Colorado, where her practice is based, earned the town the title of the “Sex Change Capital of the World.”

Chaz Bono

There’s hardly been a time in his life when Chaz Bono wasn’t in the public spotlight. From being the only child of a major celebrity couple – Sonny And Cher – to constant hounding by the press over his sexuality, Bono endured it all with strength and courage, culminating with his gender reassignment surgery between 2008-2010.

Bono, an activist for LGBT rights, is also a musician and writer, and appeared on Dancing with the Stars in 2011 – a milestone for transgender acceptance, as he was the first transgender male with a prominent role on a major television network.

Laverne Cox

This actress and activist from Mobile, Alabama not only stars as trans woman Sophia Burset on the hit Netflix show Orange is the New Black, but her performance earned her the first ever Primetime Emmy acting nomination for a transgender person in history. Even bigger, last year Cox reached another milestone when she made the cover of Time magazine – another first for the transgender community.

Lana Wachowski

Formerly Larry Wachowski of the Wachowski Brothers – the pair behind the Matrix trilogy, Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending – Lana’s transition came in 2008 following years of rumours regarding her sexuality and gender. The 49-year-old became Hollywood’s first openly transgender director.

Alexandra Billings

Alexandra Billings, 53, has won numerous beauty pageants and has enjoyed a successful career as a singer as well as an actress on stage and screen. With shows like ER, Karen Sisco and Transparent to her credit, Billings made television history with her role in 2005’s Romy and Michele: In The Beginning where she became the first transgender woman to play one on TV.

Transparent and The Danish Girl

Transparent, the Amazon Studios hit about a retiree (Jeffrey Tambor) who tells his family that he identifies as a woman, has only been streaming for a season but it’s already made entertainment history by becoming the first series of its kind to win a Golden Globe for Best TV Series. Meanwhile, its star Jeffrey Tambor took home the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical, though the show’s greatest success so far has been the awareness and dialogue its helped create for the transgender community.

The show’s creator/writer/director Jill Soloway offered a touching speech when accepting the first award, saying, “This award is dedicated to Leelah Alcorn and to too many trans people that died too young. It’s dedicated to you, my trans parent, if you’re watching at home right now. I want to thank you for coming out because in doing so you made a break for freedom and you told your truth. You taught me how to tell my truth and make this show and maybe we’ll be able to teach the world something about authenticity and truth and love. To love.”

Meanwhile, the big screen is finally following the examples set by Transparent and Orange is the New Black with the upcoming film The Danish Girl, starring Eddie Redmayne in the 1920s-era true story of Lili Elbe, believed to be the first male to transition to a female in history.