Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox might be two of the world’s most famous transgender women. But the truth this, there are MANY amazing transgender “sheros” to look up to.
These trailblazers are shattering stereotypes and breaking boundaries. It’s a beautiful thing!
That’s why in this post, I’ve rounded up 20 transgender role models and celebrities worth knowing about. Read on to be inspired!
1. Laverne Cox
Laverne Cox rose to fame on the hit TV series, Orange is the New Black, and has gone on to become one of the most visible trans superstars and activists. She’s the first transgender actress to be nominated for an Emmy Award and the first transgender person to appear on the cover of TIME magazine.
2. Mj Rodriguez
Mj Rodriguez is a transgender actress and singer who made history as the first trans woman to receive an Emmy nomination in a major acting category. She was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in 2021 for her role in the TV series, Pose. In January 2022, she went on to become the first transgender actor in history to win a Golden Globe.
3. Lili Elbe
Lili Elbe is the subject of the book and movie,The Danish Girl. She’s notable for being the first transgender woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery in 1930 in Germany. Her initial surgeries were a success. Sadly however, her last surgery (to transplant a uterus so she might be able to have children), led to her death.
4. Rachel Levine
Rachel Levine is the first openly transgender person to be confirmed by the United States Senate before taking office. She was nominated by Joe Biden in February 2021 and currently serves as the assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
5. Valentina Sampaio
Valentina Sampaio is a Brazilian-born transgender supermodel. In 2019, she made history as the first transgender model to work with Victoria’s Secret. Then, in 2020, became the first transgender model to appear in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
6. Andreja Pejic
Andreja Pejic is a supermodel who walked the runway for both men’s and women’s fashion shows before transitioning as a woman in 2014. She’s been featured on countless magazine covers and was the first transgender model to be featured in a major beauty campaign as a face of Make Up For Ever.
7. Caroline Cossey
Caroline Cossey (also known by her stage name, Tula) is a British model who appeared in the 1981 James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only. She was later outed as transgender by the British tabloid News of the World. In 1991, she became the first trans woman to pose for Playboy and has gone on to become one of the world’s most well known transgender women.
8. Jazz Jennings
Jazz Jennings is an inspiring role model for transgender youth. She first appeared in a 20/20 interview with Barbara Walters in 2007 called I’m a Girl – Understanding Transgender Children. Since then, she’s been featured as the face of Clean & Clear’s See the Real Me campaign and stars in a TLC reality series called I Am Jazz.
9. Janet Mock
Janet Mock is a transgender writer, director, producer, and activist. She’s the author of the NY Times best-selling book, Redefining Realness. She is also the writer, director and executive producer of Pose, an Emmy Award-nominated TV series about NYC’s drag ball culture scene.
10. Christine Jorgensen
Christine Jorgensen is a former soldier who became a media sensation in the U.S. after undergoing gender reassignment surgery in Denmark in 1952. While her transition was ridiculed at the time, she brought national attention to gender issues. She went on to become a successful entertainer.
11. Candis Cayne
Candis Cayne was the first transgender actress to play a recurring transgender role on primetime TV. She starred in ABC’s Dirty Sexy Money from 2007-2009. Prior to her acting career, she performed as a drag queen in the early 1990s. She also made several appearances in Caitlyn Jenner’s reality show, I Am Cait.
12. Jennifer Pritzker
Jennifer Pritzker is notable for being the first transgender billionaire. An heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune and a former high ranking lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, she came out as transgender in 2003. She has since donated $2 million for transgender studies to the University of Victoria in British Columbia.
13. Marci Bowers
Marci Bowers is an OB/GYN and surgeon who was the first transgender woman to perform gender reassignment surgery. Her work has been highlighted on Oprah, Discovery Health, and the TLC reality series, I Am Jazz. As of 2020, she has performed over 2,000 vaginoplasties for transgender women.
14. Geena Rocero
Geena Rocero was a successful fashion model for 12 years, appearing in major campaigns for Target, Rimmel, Revlon, Macy’s, and more. She came out as transgender during a TED Talk in 2014. Geena went on to co-found GenderProud, an organization that helps transgender communities around the world advocate for legal rights.
15. Jenna Talackova
Jenna Talackova is a Canadian model who made headlines when she won the right to compete in the Miss Universe Canada pageant in 2012. She went on to make it into the Top 12 and was selected Miss Congeniality. Jenna currently works as a model for the prestigious Wilhelmina agency while continuing to champion transgender rights.
16. Leyna Bloom
Leyna Bloom is a transgender model, actress, and activist. She has walked the runway at Paris Fashion Week and appeared in magazines such as Vogue India and Glamour. In July 2021, she made history as the first transgender woman to appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
17. Kataluna Enriquez
Kataluna Enriquez is a notable trailblazer who made history as the first openly transgender Miss USA contestant. She was crowned Miss Nevada USA in June 2021 and went on to complete in Miss USA in November 2021.
18. Renée Richards
Renée Richards is a trans woman and former tennis player who competed professionally in the 1970s. In 1976, she challenged a United States Tennis Association decision banning her from competing in the women’s category at the U.S Open. The New York Supreme Court ruled in her favor, marking a victory for transgender athletes.
19. Tracey Norman
Tracey Norman was the first African-American transgender model to break into the fashion world. She was discovered by fashion photographer Irving Penn in 1975. She was then featured on a Clairol hair color box before being “outed” in 1980. She moved to Europe to continue her modeling career and appeared on covers including Vogue Italia and Harper’s Bazaar India.
20. Nikkie de Jager
Nikkie de Jager is a Dutch makeup artist and popular YouTube personality with over one billion views. She completed her transition as a teen, but didn’t come out publicly as transgender until 2020. She has collaborated with beauty brands including OFRA, Maybelline and Lady Gaga’s makeup brand, Haus Laboratories.
Who are YOUR favorite transgender role models?
Wow, was it hard to limit this list to just 20 transgender role models! There are so many more incredible transgender people (both male and female) that deserve to be celebrated.
That’s why I’d love to hear from you on this topic. Who else do you think should be included?
Please share your favorite transgender role models and celebrities in the comments below!
fyi-the 1st book about Lili Elbe was Man In To Woman written in the 1950’s
The first book about Lily Elbe was, Lily Elbe Diaries, there came on danish in 1933, and was few years later translated to english.
my favourite transgender models are Coccinelle (Jacqueline-Charlotte Dufresnoy), Bambi (Marie-Pierre Pruvot) and April Ashley. I agree with you on Christine Jorgensen, but I would also add Roberta Cowell. Last but not least, I would also remind Aleshia Brevard.
I don’t know if I can call her a role-model, but I will always appreciate Wendy Carlos as very much my personal heroine. You see, until I read her interview in Playboy back in ’78 (’79?) I really did not know there was anyone else who felt the same way I did. (Oh sure, we occasionally heard about Christine Jorgensen, but that was always in a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” atmosphere) Even then, it took me several more years before I could accept the woman inside me and allow myself to actually BE that woman. Back then, I was so fer into the closet that I was practically in Narnia. Now the only thing in my closet are my dresses.
I’ve found Lynn Conway’s site to be a great source of inspiration as well as your’s.
What about calpernia Adams? Her story is so sad but she made it a success.
Thank you for the article. The more we show multi-cultural and heterogeneousness the greater the opportunity for understanding. We need to strive to eliminate the labels and agree everyone is a card carrying member of the human race. There should be no exceptions to equality.
As for transgenders I admire:
Kristen Beck https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kristin_Beck
Christine McGinn http://www.drchristinemcginn.com/
And although it sounds self-serving, I’m adding myself (Nikki DiCaro) to the list as I never imagined I could achieve completeness, fulfillment and peace. http://www.nikkidicaro.com
Hi lucille & Thank you
Anyone who has the courage and I respect him.
How can I participate in beauty pageants … How can I overcome shyness … I can be masculine and feminine
Yes you are right.
I have two women who mean more to me than anyone else that in my opinion absolutely MUST be recognized by the transgender community. The first is a little girl, three years younger than me. I met her through a friend in a very dark place in my life. At the time, I was suffering from crippling depression, and all I wanted to do was lock myself in my room, binge on ‘feel good movies’ and wear the cheap pink sweatpants and cami I got from a thrift store. Living as a male was always uncomfortable for me, so dressing in girls clothing brought me inner peace. Friends would visit me on a daily basis, but nobody was able to lift my spirits, until someone got curious as to why I had been wearing girls clothing. Being so wounded, I didn’t even try to hide what I felt, and they gave me a phone number. That phone number belonged to one Eli Erlick. Being only 15 at the time and such a prominent activist (already) in the trans community, she came to me (a complete stranger) and taught me who I was and gave me the courage to accept myself and take my first steps. Now she’s the director of trans student educational resources and is a major figure in the community.
A few years down the line and I’m going to college in San Francisco and I notice another MtF student, who I awkwardly tried to make friends with, though still not confident to come out yet. When I was finally able to tell her I was trans as well, she immediately brought me to meet her role model. And this woman, her story, and her sacrifice, has driven me and given me inspiration and courage and the best possible idol for a young girl like me. Mia Macy. Mia should be known to EVERY member and ally of the Transgender community. Mia is a veteran, worked as a detective for the Phoenix Police Department, and in 2012, took her case to court and won the ruling that discrimination against people identifying as transgender is considered sexual discrimination and is covered by the federal sex discrimination law. Now she has been denied for over 500 positions because of the stain the case has put on her record, but because of her sacrifice, we are ALL protected in the workplace.
I realize the length of my comment, and it might seem like I poured my heart out, but my heart truly does go out to these women. They hold the highest level of respect in my eyes and I wish only for more people to know about them.
Really nice remarks Alice. Thank you for sharing.