Celebrate Transgender Day Of Visibility With These Trans Icons

Get inspired by these amazing trans originators.

Throughout history, from the head-changing ceremonies of Enheduanna in Ancient Sumerian Culture to Marsha P. Johnson and the Stonewall Rebellion, trans people have been influencing and making marked changes in culture, politics, and technologies. Despite this, it can be hard to find traces of our earliest transgender ancestors. It’s difficult to search the past for people who didn’t have the language and concepts we have now in 2019, and places where there were records—like the library at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft—were frequently destroyed. However, that won’t stop us from highlighting the historical queer transgender women who made life possible for the rest of us, and the ones that are slaying today. Here are six you amazing queer trans women you should know:

Wendy Carlos


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Wendy Carlos is a transgender lesbian musician who completely changed the sounds of our movies and music. A piano player since the age of six, Carlos graduated from Columbia with a master’s degree in Musical Composition in 1965 and began working with Bob Moog. Using her musical expertise, Carlos literally changed the synthesizer from a series of wires and dials to a fully functional instrument. To demonstrate this, she released “Switched-On Bach,” a selection of classical compositions played entirely on the Moog synthesizer. Musically, this successfully brought the instrument into the mainstream. Personally, the financial success of “Switched-On Bach” allowed Carlos to fund her gender confirmation surgery just a few years later.

By 1971, Carlos was working on the score for the movie “Tron” and later went on to score two critically-acclaimed Stanley Kubrick films: “The Shining” and “A Clockwork Orange.” In total, Carlos released 13 studio albums and won three Grammy Awards, though she kept her gender a secret until ultimately coming out in a 1979 Playboy article. Reflecting on her transition years later, Carlos said, “The public turned out to be amazingly tolerant or, if you wish, indifferent….There had never been any need of this charade to have taken place. It had proven a monstrous waste of years of my life.”

Lili Elbe

Since so few touchstones of transgender history exist before 1970 or so, there’s a group of trans women who frequently get poor, if well-intentioned, media treatment—Lili Elbe is one of those. One of the first women to have gender confirmation surgery, Elbe was operated on by Dr. Magnus Hirshfield between 1930 and 1934. You may remember the biopic about her, “The Danish Girl,” where she was played by Eddie Redmayne and reduced to a sort of tragic figure who was doomed by the limitations of her time.

Regardless of media portrayal, Elbe became most well known for her tabloid appearances and for being the frequent subject of her wife, Gerda Gottlieb’s, paintings. However, if you read Elbe’s autobiography, “Man into Woman,” you would also know that see that she herself was a vibrant and prescient artist in her own right. We would likely know more about her, but her files were among the Hirshfield files destroyed when the Nazis burned down the library at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft.

Julia Serano


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a chill Friday afternoon with the #parrots #parrotsofinstagram

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Julia Serano is a bisexual author, activist, biologist, and critical voice for trans liberation. Along with receiving a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from Columbia, she is also the author of “Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininityand is perhaps most known for coining the phrase subconscious sexto describe an unconscious and inexplicable self-understanding regarding what sex one belongs to or should be.” Serano has gone to great lengths to combat Blanchard’s transphobic gynephilia theory, and her article Transgender People and “Biological Sex” Myths is a must read for cis people attempting to unpack the belief that nature is as symbolic as we would like to be. Other books by Serano include “Either/Or,” “Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive,” and “Outspoken: A Decade of Transgender Activism and Trans Feminism.” She’s revolutionary in her field, and I’m waiting for the day when she becomes a household name surrounding the future of LGBT rights.

Laura Jane Grace


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Gettin ready to rrrrrrawk backstage in Phoenix…

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Laura Jane Grace is the frontwoman of Against Me! and Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers. If you don’t agree that she single-handedly changed the sound of American punk-rock music, then you have to admit that, at the very least, she has influenced an entire generation of transgender punks, rebels, and weirdos. Grace came out in May of 2012 after five studio albums and went on to record “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” and “Shape Shift with Me” in the following years. Against Me! and Laura Jane Grace’s lyrics were so instrumental (that’s a pun!) to me when I was first coming out that, the night before I would tell my mother I was transgender over tepid broccoli and cheddar soup at Panera Bread, I listened to Stop! at least twenty times. In fact, it’s still permanently saved in the favorites bar of my internet browser. I also read her memoir, “Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout,” the moment it appeared on shelves, and I’m not sure I’m not the only one.

Kate Bornstein

Kate Bornstein is a gender non-conforming transgender lesbian who has changed our culture in so many intriguing and subtle ways that it’s difficult to document. As well as being a performance artist, she is also the author of eight books including “Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us” and “A Queer and Pleasant Danger.” Bornstein grew up in a Jewish household and, when faced with dysphoria, decided to opt for the traditional medical transition, though Bornstein’s gender and gender-theory cannot be easily contained or described. She has also led a complex and interesting life. A member of the Church of Scientology for some time, Bornstein decided to excommunicate, though it meant leaving her daughter behind due to the church’s policy of disowning. She also survived anorexia, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, and cancer. When I was first coming out, Bornstein’s books were instrumental to me. Her work is bright, sharp, and deeply affecting, showing that transgender lives are full of just as much joy as difficulty   

Martine Rothblatt


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Martine Rothblatt is one of those people who is so astronomically intelligent that it’s difficult to even wrap your head around. She’s a licensed attorney, has worked for NASA, co-founded Sirius XM Radio with her wife, Bina Aspen, studied how interplanetary satellites communicate with each other, and discovered how those signals can be used to stream Tegan and Sara to your car no matter where on the planet you are. She has founded and served as the CEO of numerous Satellite Communications companies as well. If you have listened to satellite radio even once, you have Martine and Bina to thank for it.   

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