Basically, my soul is like male, JakeZyrus told Oprah Winfrey in 2014, then identifying as a lesbian. But Im not going to go through that stage where I change everything.
Three years later in June 2017, Zyrus changed his name to Jake Zyrus online and officially came out as transgender. The change brought about massive support across the internet for the formerGlee star, as Zyrus joined the ranks of such transgender celebrities asJanet Mock, Ian Harvie, and Laverne Cox.
Of course, Zyrus isnt alone by any means. Trans celebrities are on the rise, and theyre more prominent thanever.
Thats because transgender representation is increasing in media, and there are plenty of trans actors, musicians, comedians, and entertainers out there making their work known. Other times, transgender people find themselves thrust into the spotlight thanks to their extraordinary stories. Take Chelsea Manning, Americas most controversial whistleblower in the nations history. Being a transgender woman most certainly changes the mainstream discussion on her actions and treatment in prison.
Of course, there are too many trans celebrities out there to list. But here are a few out, open, and proud activists you should know about.
Screengrab via Janet Mock/Instagram
Janet Mock is one of the most famous transgender women of color in media today.First enteringthe world of journalism as a staff editor for People magazine, in 2011 she came out as transgender for womens magazineMarie Claire.Mock has sincehosted the MSNBC interview series So POPular!, featuring such popular figures as Lena Dunham and Amber Rose. And shes also served as a producer and interviewerfor the HBO documentary The TransList, exploring the lives and times of popular trans celebrities.
As long as people are targeted because of their identities, our politics and our movement and our actions need to be just as targeted, Mock told Ellein an interview forThe Trans List.We need to be exacting about who is most vulnerable, who is not being served. Its the poor, the incarcerated, the condemned, the feminine, the trans, the queer. Its the uneducated. Thats what we need to center in our politics. And when we center our most vulnerable, we actually are a stronger society.
Alongside her work in entertainment media, Mock came into critical acclaim with her memoir,Redefining Realness:My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More.Released in 2014, Mocks book opens up about her transition as a transgender woman, her life struggles from a young age, and her growth into the person she is today. Redefining Realnessis considered a staple in trans non-fiction literature, showing how transgender writers can talk about their pasts in honest and thoughtful ways.
Screengrab via Jen Richards/Instagram
Jen Richards broke out into the spotlight with her 2016 webseriesHer Story, a romantic dramaexploring transgender womens romantic lives in a hostile and transphobicworld.But Richards has been working for years as a trans activist in entertainment, writing several editorials on trans representation in media, and hosting the Trans 100 project celebrating 100 influential trans figures in the community.
Most notably, Richards reached popular and critical acclaim asphysical therapist Juliette on CMTs series Nashville. In an interview with NewNowNext, Richards praised the shows writers, pointing out how her characters transgender history ishandled through subtle and layered dialogue that isnt too explicit. She believes that, through open and visible representation on TV, trans actors and actresses can change the publics perception of transgender women.
The first trans death of 2017 was a young, black trans woman in Mississippi. One of the ways we can combat things like H.B. 2 in North Carolina is by getting trans people on television, Richards told NewNowNext. That law is only possible by peoples projections of their own fears. They buy into this image of some burly predator who throws on a wig and says theyre a trans woman and can get access to a womens bathroom. Which is fiction for people like me, who have been invisible.
Screengrab via Laura Jane Grace/Instagram
Frontwoman for the band Against Me!, Laura Jane Grace has been making headlines for years as an out and open transgender punk rock musician.After initially comingout to her band and the public in 2012, Graces story sparked public awareness for trans rights in punk rock, with many musicians openly supporting Grace through her transitioning. Since then, Against Me! has released the studio album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, discussing the gender dysphoria and disassociation Grace felt with her body before coming out.
Years later, Grace has continued to work as an LGBTQ activist both inside and outside of the music industry.She also released a memoir in 2016, Tranny,exploring her coming out as largely inspired through her journal entries. In an interview withRolling Stone, Grace sheds light on her transitioning, calling it a process that changes and grows with the person undergoing gender transitioning.
This idea of what youre going to transition into or who youre going to be, thats not how youre going to end up, Grace told Rolling Stone. You dont know who that person youre going to transition into is. You just have to see.
Screengrab via Thomas Beatie/Instagram
American transgender activist Thomas Beatie shows that theres more than one way tobecome a father.Beatie hit national fame after a report for the Advocaterevealed that he had faced discrimination across the country for being a pregnant man. Doctors objected to having him as a patient, citing religious reasons, and Beaties prenatal care quickly became difficult. But as mainstream news outlets began covering Beaties story, his pregnancy gave rise to national and international interest in transgender parenthood, paving the way for a larger discussion on fatherhood and pregnancy for transgender men.
Beaties story has also introduced another important issuefor the trans community: transgender parental rights.
After Beatie and his former wife Nancy began divorce proceedings, Beaties relationship with his wife and his children created a national precedent for transgender child custody cases. Amessy and complicated proceeding with the Arizona court system followed, which repeatedly wavered on Beaties gender identity as well as his relationship with his children. By 2013, the courts refused toallow Beatie to separate from his wife, citingBeaties transgender status to claim that the marriage was actually a same-sex relationship. At the time, Arizona did not allow same-sex marriage, so ironically the judge ruled that Thomas Beatie was in a same-sex marriage and thus could not get a divorce for a marriage that the state did not recognize.
The ruling was riddled with transphobia. But in 2014, the Arizona Appeals Court ruled that the Beaties marriage was legitimate, andThomas Beatie and his ex-wife Nancy were allowed to finalize their divorce.Both Beatie and his ex- have equal custody rights. While trans activists still have a lot of work to do before transgender parenthood is widely respected across the U.S., Beatie opened up a legal precedent that legitimizes trans parenthood bytreating transgender fathers as legitimate parents.
Screengrab via Ian Harvie/Instagram
Transgendercomedian and actor Ian Harvie has starred in Amazons series Transparentas Dale for a while now,but Harvie has been performing stand-up since 2002. Touring with Margaret Cho and appearing in the LGBT talk show The Ian Harvie Show,Harvie has since featuredin shows from Roadtrip Nation to Young & Hungry.
Harvie is different from other standup comedians. Hes open about everything in his stand-up, from using restrooms to getting top surgery, from his sex life to being trans. As an out and open trans man, Harvie has worked as an activist for trans representation in entertainment for years, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. He thinks that producers should employ more trans people to tell trans stories and that by including trans people in productions, transgender writers, actors, and editors can create better stories to share with the world.
I think that people are understanding that they must include trans people in the storytelling behind the camera, in front of the camera, in the writers room, producer, and all aspects because its passing through so many hands before the consumers actually see it and having us involved in the storytelling is gonna get the story right, Harvie said during an interview withthe Mary Sue. When you get the story right, it can be lifesaving so representation matters.
Screengrab via Caitlyn Jenner/Instagram
Highly controversial both inside and outside the trans community, Caitlyn Jenner is one of the most prominent transgender celebrities in the United States. Andfor many, her story features the first compassionate coverage ofgender transitioning in the American mainstream media.
Jenner first came out in2015, during an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABCs20/20.She revealed that, from a young age, she had dealt with gender dysphoria and identified as a woman. Back in the 90s, Jenner had experimented with her gender identity and even began hormone replacement therapy, but she stopped after her relationship with Kris Kardashian grew into marriage.
Since coming out, Caitlyn Jenner has constantly been in the public spotlight as a visible trans woman. And for many Americans, Jenner is also their first exposure to gender transitioning and transgender women.Vanity Fair ran a feature story on Jenner at the time, she received an ESPY award for her bravery, and activists (initially)turned to Caitlyn Jenner as a role model for the trans community. Jenner didnt bring trans issues into the mainstream, but her transitioning certainly cemented their presence.
Since then, Jenner has stirred some major disagreement among both LGBTQ Americans and outsiders. Transgender Americans have largely criticized Jenner for her Republican leanings, including hersupport for Ted Cruz and herbizarrely apathetic gay marriage statementon Ellen.More recently, Jenner received bipartisan scorn after joking about the Alexandria GOP shooting that left Rep. Steve Scalise in critical condition. But the LGBTQ community has cometo her support in multiple occasions, including defending Jenner after she was harassed in the United Kingdomover her gender identity.
America may remain mixed on Caitlyn Jenner, but when it comes to trans celebrities, shes out, proud, and isnt going away anytime soon.
Screengrab via Laverne Cox/Instagram
Laverne Cox may just be the most famous transgender actress in TV and film today, thanks in part to her role onOrange Is the New Black. Shes also the first openly transgender person to receive a Primetime Emmy nomination in history.
Cox stars as Sophia Burset inOrange Is the New Black,a transgender woman sent to prison for credit card fraud while attempting to fund her gender transitioning. For many viewers, Burset was the first sympathetic trans character ever seen on TV. Since then, Coxs career has grown, and shes starred in a variety of projects and series, from CBSsDoubt to Foxs remake ofThe Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Although most Americans recognize Cox through her appearance onOrange Is the New Black,Laverne Cox has been cast intoa variety of shows and movies since first appearing on the show, from Paul Weitzs comedy-drama film Grandma tothe upcoming drama film Freak Show.She also ran, produced, and starred in her own show, TRANSform Me, in which three transgender women give a cisgender woman a makeover.
With each new show, Cox has become a more visible openly transgender woman in media. And offset, Cox works on behalf of transgender women of color across the U.S., raising up trans voices and making room for visibility in a world where most trans people of color are looked at with disdain and scorn. By far, she is one of the most important trans women actresses in the world to date, along with one of the most important transgender activists of color.
Cox also agrees that transgender women should primarily play trans rolesbecause trans characters can help cisgender viewers build empathy for transgender women. My experience as a trans woman playing a trans character is that I have found that audiences not only have empathy for the character that I play but they find themselves having empathy for the actor who plays that character, Laverne Cox said. And I think theres a lot of evidence that this moment happening with me and Orange has created an enormous amount of social change. Right? I mean, like just look at the resume! The proof is there.
Screengrab via Chelsea Manning/Instagram
Easily one of the most internationally famoustransgender activists in the United States, Chelsea Manning rose to fame as a whistleblower that shed light onto civilian casualties amassed during the Iraq War. Imprisoned for years, her sentence was later commuted by President Obama, and she was released in May 2017. But during her years in military prison, Manning came out as a transgender woman and began working as an activist for trans rights for both incarcerated trans people as well as trans citizens across theU.S.
An interview with theNew York Times reveals the turbulent years Manning spent in prison, discovering her identity while fighting to stay alive in grueling and isolating conditions. She opened up about some of the struggles she experienced on hormone replacement therapy, including the emerging and conflicting emotions she felt as estrogen began giving her a wider range of feelings.
Id built all these defenses and walls around my emotions over the years, since being a teenager. When my testosterone levels plummeted, I suddenly became more vulnerable emotionally. I could no longer just hide my emotions: I had to deal with them, usually right there and then, Manning told the Times. Good ones, like confidence, and a sense of connection with my friends, mixed in with a lot of bad ones, like doubt, loneliness, uncertainty and loss.
Mannings activism not just gives hope to young trans people, but her story also sheds light onto some of the haunting experiences that transgender women face while incarcerated. And they look at Manning with hope for the future, showing how transgender womencan survive even the most oppressive conditions.
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Transgender celebrities – The Daily Dot