When Bruce Jenner revealed to the world that he is transitioning from being a man to becoming a woman, he became the highest profile celebrity yet to bring attention to the transgender experience.
Mainstream awareness of the motivations and struggles of transgender people is becoming more widespread as numerous examples have been publicized over the past decade, raising the consciousness of the general public. According to an NBC survey June 3-5, 2015, the majority of Americans think Jenner’s transition will make society more accepting of transgender people. Two-thirds of those questioned believe there will be positive change. Twenty percent said it would help “a lot” and 46 percent said it would help “a little.”
While celebrities like Jenner may find greater acceptance in the Hollywood community, the vast majority of transgender people are poor, suffer work discrimination and earn less than $10,000 per year, according to an article in TIME magazine. Unlike celebrities and characters in films like “To Wong Foo, Love Julie Newmar” or “the Birdcage,” they’re not all drag queens dressing up and parading on stage as female impersonators. Nor are they serial killers like in “The Silence of the Lambs,” who want to wear women’s skin as part of their transformation. (That had to set transgender politics back for awhile.) In fact, some were born women who are transitioning into male bodies.
Even someone as well known as Jenner is receiving negative Tweets and comments in the media from other celebrities, politicians and ministers, but at a level that is far less strident than it once was. However, being wealthy and popular in the public eye is insulating Jenner from much of what most transgender people experience.
For many, it’s a life of quiet desperation simply to express themselves externally as the gender they feel they were born as internally. For minorities, it’s even worse. In the United States, black and Latino transgender women are far more likely than other trans men and women to be attacked and even killed. They are much more likely to wind up poor and homeless, too. Statistics on transgender people—as well as the actual definition of who they are—remain unclear. The best projection, made by Gary Gates, an LGBT demographer at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law’s Williams Institute, is that .3% of Americans are transgender. That number could be much higher if you count men who identify privately as women, but haven’t done anything about it.
If Caitlyn Jenner helps the cause of other transgender women, then she will be the latest in a long line of people who have been slowly raising awareness, beginning with the first U.S. transgender woman to make the transition and talk to the press about it—Christine Jorgensen. She was a former Army private who had sex reassignment surgery in Denmark in 1952.
Here are the Top 15 transgender women who have broken all barriers
The pro tennis player won a landmark case securing the right of transgender people to compete in sports aligning with their new gender after their operations. The New York Supreme Court ruled in her favor allowing her to play in tournaments.
The actress is best known for her role in the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” as a transgender character who committed credit card fraud to pay for her transition—and who wound up in prison. The role shows the real life issues transgender men deal with, such as losing their identities as dads and the angry reaction of some children.
The model appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race and now is in demand on the runway.
She became the first actress with a recurring transgender character when she appeared on the ABC series “Dirty Sexy Money.”
She became the first openly trans woman named to a presidential administration when President Obama appointed her Senior Technical Advisor to the Bureau of Industry and Security in 2010.
The trans woman sued the Ladies Professional Golf Association for requiring golfers to be “female at birth,” and won the right to compete in 2010.
She was the first transgender model contestant on America’s Next Top Model in 2008.
She became the first trans candidate to compete in the Miss Universe Canada contest in 2012.
The influential computer scientist and engineer worked at Xerox PARC, IBM and DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
She is a British actress known for her role as a Bond girl in the film “For Your Eyes Only.”
She became the first openly transgender fighter in mixed martial arts in history in 2013.
The transgender advocate and writer had her memoir about transitioning, called “Redefining Realness,” published in 2014.
Formerly known as Brandon Manning, she is the U.S. Army private who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks.
The American trans man, raped and murdered in Nebraska in 1993, was the subject of the film “Boys Don’t Cry.” His death became a turning point for passage of hate crimes legislation nationwide.
Born a woman, in 2010, he became the first openly trans athlete in the top level of college athletics, NCAA Division 1, when he played on the women’s team at George Washington University for three seasons. Later, he told his story on ESPN and wrote a book called, “I Am Enough.”