A Brief History
On February 18, 2010, the international hacker and leaker organization, WikiLeaks, released the first batch of an enormous trove of classified American documents, in fact, hundreds of thousands of top secret files turned over to WikiLeaks by a US Army soldier, Bradley Manning. Manning was soon arrested and later convicted of violations of laws governing national secrets, and along the way announced his intention to live as a female, changing his name to Chelsea Manning. Manning is but one of many well known transsexual or transgender persons, and today we take a look at some of the most well known.
As noted above, this convicted criminal became a famous transgender person when she was arrested and prosecuted over providing all that top secret information to WikiLeaks. Manning had started to suspect an internal identity as a female prior to the sensational secrets case, but only took definitive action after being arrested and incarcerated. She was in prison from 2010 to 2017, during which time she publicly announced her desire to be known as Chelsea and identified as female in 2013. In 2017, President Barack Obama commuted her sentence. In 2018, Manning challenged Senator Ben Cardin in the Democratic primary for the office of Senator from Maryland but lost. She has been jailed since March of 2019 for refusing to testify in a criminal case against WikiLeaks.
The adorable baby and toddler, Chastity Bono, appeared on television with her famous parents, Sonny and Cher, the singing duo. Her parents split up in 1975 when Chastity was 6 years old. Sonny died in 1998, while Cher has gone on to fantastic success as a recording artist, performer, and actress. Chaz began his transition, both physical and cultural/social in 2008, a public transition acknowledged by his publicist in 2009. He made the transition legal in 2010, and even produced a documentary film about his experiences, Becoming Chaz, in 2011. He made television history by competing in Dancing with the Stars as an openly transgender man in 2011.
Formerly known as Bruce Jenner, Olympic Decathlon Gold Medalist and acclaimed “World’s Greatest Athlete” in 1976. Born William Bruce Jenner in 1949, Jenner became a celebrity and was often before the public on television, ads, film, auto racing and even as the cover model for Playgirl Magazine. He married the widow of high profile lawyer Robert Kardashian, Kris in 1991, his third wife. He fathered 6 children, including 2 with Kris. When Caitlyn publicly announced her transition to female, his marriage to Kris ended. She completed gender reassignment surgery in 2017, and her case is probably the most public and most famous in history. As Caitlyn, Jenner has continued to enjoy popularity and celebrity status, making frequent appearance on television and in print, including a 2015-2016 television reality series, I Am Cait. The entertainment world and journalism world could not seem to get enough of Caitlyn Jenner! She won the Social Media Queen award at the Teen Choice Awards and was named Most Interesting Person by Barbara Walters in 2015. Other accolades ensued, such as “Woman of the Year” by Glamour Magazine, and she was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated Magazine. Her charisma, fan base and sense of humor as well as her previous athletic feats have made her transition somewhat different than for most transgender people.
Born Richard Raskind in 1934, Richards was a professional tennis player and ophthalmologist before creating a sensation by publicly transitioning to female, and then playing Women’s tennis! After undergoing sex reassignment surgery, she battled in court to be allowed to compete in the Women’s 1976 US Open tennis tournament. The United States Tennis Association knew she was coming to play, and made a new rule requiring genetic screening for gender prior to the 1976 tournament. A court battle ensued that went to the New York Supreme Court, where she won, though she did not win the tournament. After retiring as a professional tennis player, she became a coach for Martina Navratilova who won 2 Wimbledon Championships under her coaching. Richards was the first truly high profile athlete to put gender transition into the spotlight, a fact that generated heated debate, to say the least.
An actress born in 1972, she has a twin brother, terribly convenient for playing the role of her pre-transition self in the hit 2013-2019 television series Orange is the New Black. As the first big television star that is openly transgender, Laverne achieved a high level of fame and became the first Primetime Emmy Award winner as a transgender person. Her fame is such that Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum displays her likeness.
Born Robert Arquette in 1969, Alexis was a member of the famous Arquette acting siblings, along with Rosanna, Richmond, David and Patricia. Aside from acting, Alexis also performed cabaret style entertainment, did underground cartooning, and worked as an LGBTQ activist. After contracting the HIV infection, her health deteriorated, and she began identifying as a man once more in 2013. She died in 2016 of complications from AIDS, specifically cardiac arrest. She left behind an extensive filmography.
Born in 1926, an era far before any sort of public acknowledgement of transgender sexual reassignment surgery, Christine became a pioneer by traveling to Europe to begin her surgical transformation in 1952. Upon arrival back in the United States, Jorgensen became an instant celebrity when the New York Post published an article about her and her surgery. She used this newfound fame to advocate on behalf of transgender persons and found work as an entertainer, actress and singer. She died of cancer at the age of 62 in 1989, confident that she had done her part to further the sexual revolution.
Born Tracy LaGondino in 1974, Beatie began to identify as a male as early as 10 years old. A particularly attractive teen girl, Tracy worked as a model and even became a Miss Hawaii Teen USA pageant finalist! While in college the future Thomas practiced martial arts, and even competed in full contact fights. By March of 2002 Thomas had undergone partial surgical gender reassignment and made the legal change to reflect his gender identity as a man. In 2003 he married a heterosexual woman and began a heterosexual marriage. So far, if you are not familiar with Thomas, you may wonder how he rates mention here. His notoriety came about as the desire of the married couple to have a child ran into problems with his wife getting pregnant. To realize their desire to have a child, Thomas, still capable of bearing a child despite his surgeries and legal status as a man, became pregnant with their child, with the unusual result of a husband carrying and bearing a baby! Of course, he had to stop hormone therapy during his time carrying the child, and after the birth he pursued the “lower” portion of gender reassignment surgery. Sadly, in 2012 the couple filed for divorce. The unusual case of the father bearing the child was once again in the news as the courts decided how to assign custody and alimony (Thomas had to pay alimony). The divorce was finalized in 2014, and Thomas remarried and with his new wife had a second child, this one borne by the wife.
Born in 1975, the 44 year old female MMA fighter is now retired, but when she competed her status as a transgender woman that had started life as a male created quite the controversy. Fallon had thought she may be a gay male as a teen but went ahead and married (acting as a heterosexual man) her girlfriend when she was 19, fathering a child along the way. A stint in the US Navy followed, but Fox knew she had to make a change, and began to pursue gender reassignment. In 2006 she went to Thailand for her sex change surgery. After training in mixed martial arts (MMA) and logging 2 professional fights as a woman, Fox revealed her status as transgender, eliciting debate and protests about her being allowed to compete in the women’s division of the fighting sport. Legal battles with state athletic commissions followed as well as debates within MMA promotions. Many female fighters refused fight Fox, but Fallon ended up getting the go ahead to fight and found 4 more opponents willing to fight her. After 6 professional fights, with 5 wins and 1 loss, Fox retired from MMA. An opponent pummeled by Fox, Tamikka Brents, said the following after a fight that left Brents seriously injured, “I’ve fought a lot of women and have never felt the strength that I felt in a fight as I did that night. I can’t answer whether it’s because she was born a man or not because I’m not a doctor. I can only say, I’ve never felt so overpowered ever in my life and I am an abnormally strong female in my own right,” she stated. “Her grip was different, I could usually move around in the clinch against other females but couldn’t move at all in Fox’s clinch…” MMA standards to address the issue of transgender females that had been males included the requirement that the transgender female have had “complete” surgery, including removal of genitalia and have completed at least 2 years of hormone therapy to reduce the effects of male hormones.
Referring to himself as himself “somewhat boy-ish and somewhat girl-ish” Izzard identifies as transgender, and further as “a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.” More of a gender fluid person, Izzard does not trap himself (or herself, as he uses either male or female pronouns) in any particular lifestyle or labels, he just does what he wants at the time. Previously calling himself a transvestite, he later determined that his sexual/gender identity was beyond that description. He is an award winning comedian and actor, and has frequently taken part in political activism in Britain’s Labour Party. He has appeared in many blockbuster films.
Question for students (and subscribers): Who do you believe is the most famous transgender person? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Bono, Chaz. Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man. Penguin Audio, 2011.
Jenner, Caitlyn. The Secrets of My Life. Grand Central Publishing, 2017.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by savemanning of activists marching for Bradley Manning at the 2011 San Francisco Pride Parade, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. This image was originally posted to Flickr by savemanning at https://www.flickr.com/photos/61408819@N02/5877396909. It was reviewed on by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.