This is the future. We are living in a time when finally, all our blinkered views on sexual and gender norms are being thrown out the window. Not only is there a dialogue about gender now, the dialogue is making a big impact on changing how society views people who live in a non-binary way.
It's not an easy time, that's for sure, and there are plenty of people intent on holding on to the status quo, whether it's with unkind words or brute force, but in the transgender community there's so many wonderful people who are fighting the good fight for those around them who may not have the strength or courage to fight.
Many of these people work behind the scenes, but there's also so many trans celebrities in the spotlight who are helping to push the culture. These are their courageous stories of deciding to stand up for who they are. You will not believe your eyes when you see the last celebrity on this list...
Jazz Jennings - Before
It's a sign of these groundbreaking new times that not only is there a whole show dedicated to a transgender woman, but that a transgender woman is only 17 years old. Taboos and prejudice are breaking down everywhere, and kids who have any kind of gender confusion no longer have to suffer for years before coming out. Now they have their very own hero.
Both Jazz and Jennings are pseudonyms. Nobody knows her birth name, only that she was born on the 6th of October, 2000 and told her family that she identified as a female from the very first moment she could speak. By 2007 she was already a YouTube sensation and one of the youngest publicly documented people to be identified as transgender, which is an absolutely stunning achievement.
Jazz Jennings - After
It was an interview with Barbara Walters on 20/20, though, which marked the turning point in her life. That was in 2007, and now, 10 years later, there's barely anyone in America who doesn't know her name, or her courageous story. Beginning in 2015, her story played out on TLC with her reality TV show I Am Jazz, which looks at the ups and downs of her school life and personal life.
Not that there's anything personal about her personal life anymore. Aside from the TV show, Jazz Jennings is a committed activist and keen to share everything about her transition to better help other children in similar circumstances. She co-founded the TransKids Purple Rainbow foundation, as well as battling the United States Soccer Federation for a long time to change their trans policies. With a new autobiography already on the shelves, she's this generation's ultimate role model.
Amanda Lepore - Before
Born in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, Amanda Lepore (then Armand) knew she was different from the beginning. "Ever since I can first remember, I knew I was a girl," she recalls. "I couldn't understand why my parents were dressing me up in boys clothing. I thought they were insane." Luckily for her, her parents were more than understanding, and after being ostracized by her classmates they withdrew her from school and gave her access to female hormone therapy.
This was the beginning of a fabulous rise to the top as young Amanda. She had reassignment surgery at 19 years old, moved to New York, and become a prominent figure in the 90s nightlife scene there. As part of the loose group they called the Club Kids, a whirlwind of dance, drugs, unbelievable wardrobes, and fashion shoots followed.
Amanda Lepore - After
Nowadays, you'd hardly recognize any trace of the demure Armand left in Amanda. Her long-time collaboration with photographer David LaChapelle continues, and in the meantime she just gets more and more outrageous and more and more fabulous. This is one diva who is never, ever going to quit, no matter how much collagen, silicon, tassels, and hair dye it takes.
Just this year she launched her autobiography, the aptly-named "Doll Parts", full of explosive secrets and candid confessions (including, supposedly, that she slept with Kanye West). On top of that, her music career has slowly been taking off since her first album in 2005. She's looking to release another very soon, and the party will basically continue forever. She appears to be a wonderful human being and we will always love her for her hard work.
Caitlyn Jenner - Before
Anyone who hasn't heard of Caitlyn - or Bruce - Jenner has been clearly living inside a whale. The announcement and transformation that took place in 2015, through a Vanity Fair cover story no less, was the single biggest transgender event in recent history. This is the story that brought the transgender community to the front and center of everyone's minds, and changed the landscape forever.
Of course, Bruce Jenner was no stranger to headlines before that. Winning the men's decathlon at the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, he was instantly hailed as "an all-American hero", and launched a career that spanned modelling, car racing, TV shows, film, writing, and - of course - Keeping Up With The Kardashians. With KUWTK, he was in the limelight once again, and ready to steal the show.
Caitlyn Jenner - After
Life since she became Caitlyn has been a rollercoaster ride for the most famous openly transgender woman in the world. The media frenzy reached epic proportions, and all of a sudden all eyes were on Caitlyn, and how she would represent her newly adopted community. This was an evolution, and all of a sudden the wider world was finally starting to realize what being transgender really meant.
Sure, there has been some missteps. Any person at the forefront of a revolution is going to say some things they regret, and her comment that the hardest part about being a woman is "figuring out what to wear" certainly raised some eyebrows. But all in all, the wider world is now a richer and more well-informed place for having Caitlyn Jenner in it.
Chaz Bono - Before
The daughter and only child of Sonny Bono and Cher, Chastity Bono - as Chaz Bono was then known - was always going to have an interesting life. Named after Cher's first solo role in a film, in the eponymous Chastity, Chaz was a precocious child, making his way through the quagmire of gender politics and realizing that he was a lesbian by the time he was 13 years old.
Yet mass media was somehow even crueler back then as it is now, and a sustained "outing" in the early 90s led to Chaz's public confirmation of his sexuality. This was a turning point in his life, and he increasingly found himself in a political and spokesperson role, highlighting the plight of the LGBT community. In 2008, Chaz underwent reassignment surgery to become the man he always believed himself to be, and the flowering was complete.
Chaz Bono - After
The first step was to be who he wanted to be, and the next step, under the scrutiny of the public eye, was to defend his rights and the rights of all those in the community. Chaz took up the activist mantle with aplomb, going on to become a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign and National Coming Out Day, a staunch opponent of the Marriage Defense Act, and the Entertainment Media Director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
That's not to say that Chaz hasn't pursued his own personal projects in this time. Aside from appearing in a few films and having his own band, Chaz also appeared in the 13th season of Dancing With The Stars - the first time any transgender person has appeared on television for something unrelated to being transgender. A huge step forward for the movement.
Chelsea Manning - Before
On April 5, 2010, the world woke up to a scandal the likes of which had never been seen before. Wikileaks had released a video, entitled "Collateral Damage", showing US helicopters firing on members of the press and innocent civilians in Iraq. At the center of this storm of controversy was one man you'd never suspect: the mild-mannered 22-year-old Private Bradley Manning, who was the source of the leak.
After a turbulent childhood and a realization that he wasn't attracted to girls like society demands, Bradley Manning caused another stir in 2013, the day after his sentencing, when she emerged as Chelsea Manning, demanding that she be referred to with the proper pronoun and announcing the next stage of a fascinating transition. She'd felt that she was a woman since childhood, and now was the time to act.
Chelsea Manning - After
In a way, Chelsea's jail time was like a caterpillar spinning its cocoon around itself. When she emerged this year, after her 12-year sentence was commuted by Barack Obama, the hormone therapy had begun to take hold and her dream was tantalizingly close to being realized. It was a difficult time for her - prison conditions were much harsher than usual - and at one point she was on suicide watch.
But Chelsea survived, and seems to be all the stronger for it. As well as taking on a new career as a contributing writer for pieces in newspapers such as The Guardian, she's also appeared on Good Morning America to explain her ordeal. She still has many restrictions in place, like being unable to travel to Canada or comment on certain details of the leaks, but we get the feeling that Chelsea is only just beginning to soar.
Balian Buschbaum - Before
Like Caitlyn Jenner, Balian Buschbaum was a famous international athlete before making a transition. This time, though, the transition went the other way. Born Yvonne Buschbaum, in southern Germany, Balian had a long and brilliant beginning as a pole-vaulter, even making it to the Olympic Games and winning the European Junior Championships at the young age of 19.
A persistent injury ended his career in 2007, though. At the same time, Balian realized what was troubling him was more than just an injury. He had gone through life as a female, but it was time to become the person he really was inside. Naming himself Balian, after the main character in Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven, he underwent surgery in 2008. His stunning transformation will leave you absolutely speechless.
Balian Buschbaum - After
As a female, Balian Buschbaum was spunky, ripped, and pretty damned cute. As a male, Balian has become a pin-up of the transgender world, and even the male world in general. Basically, if you passed him in the street you'd have no idea of what he once was. This guy is one rugged hunk - and he hasn't lost those muscles, either.
Since the surgery, Balian's been content just to use his looks to join the world of A-list celebrities. Adored in his home town and country, rarely a day goes by that he's not snapped with some honey on his arm, attending some gala or another. Like Chaz Bono, Buschbaum's also appeared on the German version of Dancing With The Stars, called Let's Dance. This guy is absolutely unstoppable if you ask us.
Conchita Wurst - Before
There is no before and after surgery for Conchita Wurst - just before and after Eurovision. Strictly speaking, the woman born as Thomas Neuwirth in Gmunden, Austria isn't totally transgendered. Neuwirth himself doesn't identify as a trans person, and just states that he is a gay male drag queen. One day he'll choose to be Thomas, and on another he'll choose to be Conchita.
Of course, after Eurovision 2014, Conchita Wurst became much better known than Neuwirth would ever be. And as an icon for the LGBT community, a hero and maybe it's most successful member ever, Conchita Wurst is the one who does all the talking. Thomas becomes Conchita so completely that it's like he's transitioned. Conchita has taken over his life. Her amazing transformation which you will see next will absolutely stun you.
Conchita Wurst - After
Conchita's appearance in the 2014 Eurovision song contest - one of the strangest and most exciting song and dance competitions in the world, in case you didn't know - attracted lashings of controversy before she even took the stage. It was seen as a tipping point for Europe, with much of Eastern Europe and orthodox Christian states outraged at her selection, calling it "spiritual decay" and "perversion".
On the other hand, Western and Central Europe cheered her on, and Conchita emerged from the finals a glittering triumph. Her song "Rise Like A Phoenix" marked her as one of the biggest LGBT icons of all time (and ironically the most downloaded song in Russia that year), and was the beginning of a tour and media frenzy that's still going to this day. Her continued success inspires us all in many ways we can't explain.
Alexis Arquette - Before
We're going to have to warn you upfront: the tale of Alexis Arquette is not a happy one. But before we get to the tragedy, let's take you through her early life and the start of a brilliant career. Most people would have heard the Arquette name before, and with good reason. They're an entire family of solid Hollywood actors, with each sibling - Rosanna, Richmond, Patricia, Alexis, and David - sharing time on both big and small screen.
Born in 1969, Alexis (born Robert) was just as talented as the rest. Playing roles in close to a hundred films and TV shows - from Friends to Pulp Fiction to Xena - Alexis lit up the screen wherever she went. She also knew she was different from the norm early on, with her female alter ego Eva Destruction often making appearances in public. By 2004, she had decided: she would take the plung and get gender reassignment, officially making her a woman.
Alexis Arquette - After
The surgery hardly changed anything for Alexis, and fans and family were completely unsurprised. The film roles continued, and Alexis later said of her change that "'Gender is bullshit. Putting on a dress doesn't biologically change anything. Nor does a sex-change. Sex-reassignment is physically impossible. All you can do is adopt these superficial characteristics but the biology will never change."
This was later on, when her long-running battle with HIV was drawing to a terrible close. She had contracted it at the age of 18, although it wasn't a secret, her struggles were well hidden. At the age of 47, she had gone back to living as a man for three years and had given up the fight. On September 11, 2016, Alexis Arquette was placed in a medically induced coma and soon died of a heart attack. The world had lost a leading lady.
Trace Lysette - Before
Want to find anything out about the Trace Lysette before her transition? Well, you can't. Apart from the single remaining image of her during her teenage years, the only things we know are her hometown (Dayton, Ohio) and what she did at school (a star track athlete). To be honest, we don't even know her birth name or her age.
To be honest again, none of that really matters. It seems like that was a period that Trace would rather forget, anyway. Her confusion and repressed feelings, thanks to a society that basically forced her to cover up who she really was, forced her into the sex industry and exotic dancing while she struggled to become an actress. Although she had medically transitioned by 2002, she never told anyone she was trans during auditions, and lived in constant fear of an "outing".
Trace Lysette - After
How does that scared and vulnerable Trace Lysette of 15 years ago turn into the confident and assured woman we know today? Well, it's all thanks to Laverne Cox, whose trailblazing turn on Orange Is The New Black proved that out and proud trans actors could get jobs in the industry without having to hide their past. Before that, her only role was a bit part in Law & Order: SVU. Now, she was free to show her real self.
And what a self that would prove to be. 2014 was a monumental year for Trace, when she was cast in the Golden Globe winning Amazon series, Transparent. Basically stealing every scene as Shea, an LGBT counsellor, Trace's eyes were opened up to a whole new world of acting possibilities. From there, she's also landed a major role on Starz's Blunt Talk. Now, this woman is unstoppable.
Andreja Pejic - Before
In a world that's sometimes short of real acceptance, it's incredible to see a woman like Andreja Peji? rise to the top of her field. It's not every day you see a trans model break into the world of high fashion, but with looks like hers Andreja Peji? was born to be a supermodel, no matter what gender she started off with.
It might have been her early turbulent life that gave her the bravery to push through later prejudice and backlash. Born in Tuzla, in Bosnia, her family fled when she was barely a couple of years old during the terrible Bosnian War, then fled again from a Serbian village when NATO bombs started falling in 1999. The family moved to Melbourne, Australia, and it was there she was discovered.
Andreja Pejic - After
At only 17 years old, when she was discovered, Andreja already self-identified as gender neutral. In any other industry this might raise some nasty eyebrows, but the fashion world lapped up her intoxicatingly androgynous image. She had the ability to model both men's and women's clothes - and even did so for Jean-Paul Gaultier during the Paris show of 2011. She is definitely a wonderful talent.
2013 saw her undertake sex reassignment surgery to confirm her desire to be a woman in the eyes of the world, and this didn't change her standing one bit. Alongside appearances as a cover model for Elle, GQ, Marie Claire, and Harper's Bazaar, Peji? was the first transgender model to be profiled by Vogue and the first ever trans woman to sign a cosmetics contract. Take that, cruel world.
Candis Cayne - Before
Few people would realize what the Hawaiian-born Brendan McDaniel would become. Back in the 80s, there was no encouragement for the confused teenager - only relentless bullying and a toxic atmosphere that made growing up a living hell. In deep emotional turmoil and anguish, the future star looked for a way off Maui Island, and a way out of her predicament.
That chance came straight after high school. Brendan's twin brother had just got a football scholarship and set off to be a stereotypical jock. Brendan, on the other hand, had discovered the joy of his life: acting and dancing on stage. It was only there that her confidence grew, and when she was accepted into a dance academy in Los Angeles, it was the beginning of something beautiful, and we all were able to witness it.
Candis Cayne - After
The 90s found Candis perfecting her drag image and new persona in New York City, and by late in that decade she had already come out and begun the transition process. This began a blur of TV appearances, drag shows, and small film roles which hasn't let up since. Nip/Tuck, Dirty Sexy Money, CSI - she's done it all for the camera, and shone every time.
These days finds her in another interesting position - by the side of Caitlyn Jenner. Candis and Caitlyn are looking more and more like BFFs every day, and Candis says she's helping Caitlyn through the difficult process of transitioning and acceptance. Rumor has it that the two are actually also dating, which would pretty much make them the trans power couple of the new century.
Carmen Carrera - Before
Okay, so maybe Carmen Carrera isn't the biggest celebrity on this list, but by god, this smoking hottie should be. In a previous life she was Christopher Ramon, a mild-mannered kid of Peruvian and Puerto Rican descent. While sadly a childhood of confusion and bullying is kinda a common theme amongst trans people, Christopher Ramon was the exception to the rule.
She was a quietly confident gay man who would let nothing hold her back. Moving into the world of drag was a no-brainer for Carmen, and in the third season of RuPaul's Drag Race she electrified the judges with her assured performances. At the end of the season, in 2013, she decided to make it all official and transition into a woman for good. The transformation was a total success.
Carmen Carrera - After
Since then, Carmen's still looking for her big break. There's been some small time stuff, of which a modelling contract with L'Oréal has been the biggest, but that certain something she's searching for continues to elude her. Why, exactly, we're not really sure. On the other hand, she has been a prominent activist and staunch defender of LGBT rights, and a credit to her wonderful community.
Keeping up her confidence amidst these troubled times has been helped by her long-time partner and biggest fan, Adrian Torres, who she's been with since 2009. The pair are just about the cutest couple you'll ever see, and despite a short split from 2013 to 2015, it looks like they'll be at it for a long while yet. Here's hoping she never loses her mojo.
Ian Harvie - Before
You might not think that the word transgender is a comedy goldmine - more like a minefield - but funnyman Ian Harvie is making it work, and making it work well. A tough childhood stemmed from the fact that he knew that he was transgender at an early age, but back then (we're talking the 70s here) there really just was no language to describe it. At least not in the tiny town of Bridgton, Maine, where he grew up.
Luckily for us, plenty of introspection, booze, and love formed the man we know today. He came out at 19 years old and never looked back, honing his life experiences into razor-sharp comedy. Forget about him being trans for a second here, because this man is just funny full stop. Starting his shows in 2002, just two years after he transitioned, he's just gotten better and better.
Ian Harvie - After
A lot of comedians will kick around the small towns and minor circuits for years, until they quit penniless or catch a lucky break. Not Ian Harvie, who was slaying it in Boston mere months after his very first gig in Portland, Maine. From there he hit up Los Angeles, and over ten years later he's still performing to sell-out crowds around the world.
Just because he's a megastar, though, doesn't mean he's lost touch with the people. Running a comedy talk show in LA which features all-LGBT guests, he's stayed true to the community and fought long and hard on their side. Not only that, but on his website he responds to each and every one of the questions his fans post. Funny and sweet... where do we sign up?
Isis King - Before
She may be regretting her chosen name these days, but Isis King sure isn't regretting her chosen gender. Born Darrell Walls in PG County, Maryland, Isis was just about as regular a guy and student as you could get - as this photo shows. But from a very early age, there were signs that she was incomplete as a male, and that she wanted to be something different.
At first she struggled with social norms. "I wanted to do everything that girls did - play with hair, walk in heels, and play double dutch, but I would get disciplined for it," she said of her early life. "I learned to keep everything to myself and internalize it." But later, she grew in confidence and through watching - surprisingly - Jerry Springer, she found her voice, moved to New York, and began transitioning in 2007.
Isis King - After
Runway modelling came naturally to the beautiful and slight King, and after seven years she caught a huge break on America's Next Top Model. At the time she was penniless, living in the Ali Forney Center in Brooklyn, until a tenth-season photo shoot for ANTM which featured homeless women selected King to feature front and center. From there, Tyra Banks herself tracked her down to become a contestant for season 11, and a star was born.
Isis has been a very busy lady since, appearing on the Tyra Banks Show twice, Larry King Live, her own documentary called Strut, and even becoming a model for American Apparel. Then there's guest spots on The Bold And The Beautiful, Shameless, and on and on. This trailblazing woman is basically unstoppable. We certainly haven't seen the last of her.
Jenna Talackova - Before
When you stop to think about the real heroes of the LGBT community, the first people that come to mind are the activists - those who protest long and hard to repeal and make new laws. But sometimes, it doesn't take a new foundation or vigorous debate. Sometimes, to change the face of public perception forever, all it takes is one simple stance and the courage to follow it through.
Jenna Talackova was that woman. Her life was always going to be an interesting one, born in Vancouver to a Babine First Nation mother and Czech father, and things only got more interesting when throughout her early childhood she experienced a keen sense of gender dysphoria. She began her transition at age 14, and completed reassignment surgery at age 19. Then, when she was 22, she changed the world.
Jenna Talackova - After
In 2010, Jenna competed in the Miss International Queen pageant for transsexual and transgender women in Thailand. The result was encouraging, although she didn't win, so she made the next logical step: she applied to compete in the Miss Universe competition in 2012. Only after registering and becoming one of the top 65 applicants, she was disqualified for being born male.
She fought, and won, and was allowed to compete, in a landmark decision that paved the way for greater recognition of LGBT rights across the world. The most fascinating part of the story is that she was essentially fighting Donald Trump, the owner of the Miss Universe competition, a man with a very shaky history with regards to LGBT rights. This was one woman who finally got him to back down, and we're all better off because of it.
Amiyah Scott - Before
You want proof that trans celebrities are every bit as luscious and popular as their non-trans counterparts? All you need is two words: Amiyah Scott. This vixen is a real A-lister and huge personality, with a very decent 1.2 million followers on Instagram. Which is, like, about 1.2 million times the amount of followers we have (thanks mom!).
Her story is like so many we've heard before. Raised in New Orleans as Arthur, it didn't take long for Amiyah to realize that she really wasn't like other boys. Family acceptance was tough to come by, but she fought hard anyway, and by the age of 17 the deed was done. The New Orleans underground scene welcomed this flowering beauty with open arms, and her new-found confidence started taking her places she never thought she'd go.
Amiyah Scott - After
It didn't take long for Scott's parents to come around to the idea, and they soon went to visit her and reaffirm their unconditional love. This was just the morale booster that the young star needed, and it looked like her fortunes really were on the up and up. The second big and beautiful thing came in 2015, when Bravo's hit reality TV show, Real Housewives of Atlanta, asked her to appear on the show.
She filmed for four weeks, but in a disappointing setback none of that footage was used in the final cut. Of course, that didn't matter for the sassy and ambitious Amiyah, who found what she loved doing on the small screen and forged ahead with her career. By early this year, she was in a lead role in Fox's musical TV series, Star, where she played a woman named Cotton. The name couldn't be any more appropriate.
Janet Mock - Before
The large majority of transgender celebrities are defined by the media as trans first, and celebrity second. Everything they do and achieve is sadly overshadowed by the mere nature of their gender and sexuality. Not so for Janet Mock. She transitioned long before anyone knew about her, and made a big name for herself before she came out in 2011 to surprised Marie Claire readers and the rest of the world.
She travelled to Thailand when she was 18, in the middle of her first year at college, to complete the process. Janet describes her early life as difficult. Recounting her early feelings at the age of five, she said that "It felt amazing to be in a dress. But suddenly my grandmother appeared, a look of horror on her face. I knew immediately that I had crossed some kind of line." She would cross that line again and again until it became irrelevant and she could become who she was inside.
Janet Mock - After
What she was inside, it turned out, was a fierce and passionate journalist, advocate for LGBT rights, TV show host, and author. Basically, she excels at every single thing she puts her hand to, with LGBT critics saying of her autobiography "Courageous! This book is a life map for transformation" and "Janet does what only great writers of autobiography accomplish-she tells a story of the self, which turns out to be a reflection of all humanity."
On the activist side, Mock is both tireless and undefeatable. It would take a couple of days to list out all the causes she's put her name and skills to, but her most high profile ones have been the Arcus Foundation, as well as protesting the highly controversial Phoenix law that allows officers to arrest suspected of "manifesting prostitution" - essentially targeting trans women of color.
Gigi Gorgeous - Before
If you name yourself Gigi Gorgeous, you'd have to be pretty damn confident. You have to be certain of at least one thing: that you can live up to the name. Gigi Gorgeous, aka Giselle Lazzarato, born Gregory Lazzarato, is both of those things: scorchingly beautiful and supremely powerful. At only 25 years old, with a million YouTube subscribers and 2.5 million Instagram followers, Gigi has the world at her feet.
Only a few scraps of information are known about her early childhood in Canada, apart from the fact that she was a nationally ranked diving champion while she was a teenager. She identified as a gay male when she moved to George Brown College to study fashion, but by that time her YouTube videos of makeup tutorials were already exploding in popularity. She left college to focus on those, and by 2013 was legally, physically, and spiritually a female.
Gigi Gorgeous - After
The path from doing a simple makeup vlog to becoming one of Time Magazine's 25 most influential people on the internet has been one wild ride. It's almost totally been ups with Gigi. She moves from project to project and strength to strength, very rarely not shining. She starred as herself in web series The Avenue, had a two-page photo spread with Miley Cyrus in Marie Claire, and has even become best buds with Kylie Jenner.
The path hasn't been without its hiccups, though. On August 9th of 2016, Gigi was held in the United Arab Emirates for over five hours, just for being a transgender woman. It's unclear how or why the authorities would question this, since she is stated as female on her passport. Whatever it was, she was lucky to escape at all, since jail time for such an "offence" can exceed a year.
Laverne Cox - Before
Despite the fact that she's one of the most famous transgendered personalities on the planet, and an incredible LGBT trailblazer, Laverne Cox is notoriously shy about her life before her transformation. All we know are a few scraps of information: that she was born in or around 1972 in Mobile, Alabama, and that her last name was also Cox (although nobody knows her first name).
She was bullied relentlessly in middle school, and even attempted suicide at age 11 after realizing she had feelings for her male classmates. Later, she studied dance at the Alabama School of Fine Arts before becoming a drag queen. Even this photo isn't actually of Laverne, but it's close enough. It's her identical twin brother, a man known only as M Lamar. This is another transformation that shocked the planet.
Laverne Cox - After
In the end, though, it doesn't really matter who Laverne Cox was, but who she is now. Her start came on the VH1 show I Want To Work For Diddy, and from there spun off into her very own, outrageously successful show called TRANSform Me. 2013 was the year that Laverne really exploded into public consciousness, when she debuted on Orange Is The New Black as Sophia Burset.
The list of acting and producing credits goes on and on (and the first trans actor to receive an Emmy nomination!), but what stands out most from Laverne's recent career is her courage and ferocity while tackling LGBT issues head on. She's the one that sparks the conversations and spreads awareness through her activist approaches, and she's the one we've all got to thank for becoming wiser and more accepting.
Jake Zyrus - Before
If you're scratching your head and wondering who, exactly, Jake Zyrus is, you're probably not alone. It wouldn't be surprising, since the name's only been in use for the last six months. Before that, he was known as Charice Pempengco, a superstar singer who Oprah once called "the most talented girl in the world". Ring any bells? Well, things have changed. Now, he's the most talented boy in the world.
His story is one of those inspirational tales you can hardly believe. It started in 1999, in the Philippines, when the 7-year-old wunderkind started singing in competitions to help support his single mother. From there he went to Little Star Big Star (the Filipino version of American Idol), came third, and quickly faded from the public eye. But one extremely devoted fan brought him back...
Jake Zyrus - After
This supporter started posting videos of Jake (then singing as Charice) online, and within weeks the internet basically exploded. He and his angelic voice was in demand everywhere, from Ellen to Oprah, to the Academy Awards after parties, to the biggest coup of all - a starring role in the second season of Glee. All in the space of about three years. It makes your head spin, doesn't it?
We can't comment too much on Jake's life after gender reassignment, mostly because it wasn't that long ago. Jake debuted his new body and name in June of this year, after a long four years where he had suffered unwarranted backlash over his boyish new look and coming out as a lesbian. We can't wait to see what Jake Zyrus does next.
Kim Petras - Before
Beginning her transition at the age of 12, the story of Kim Petras was always going to be a controversial one. Not in the eyes of Kim, of course, who insisted from the age of two (when she was Tim) that she was a girl - and not in the eyes of her parents, who supported her decision every step of the way, convinced that this was not "just a phase".
The perfect storm of controversy came from the German press and the public themselves, who whipped themselves up into a frenzy when Kim was first interviewed for German current affairs program Stern TV. At the time she was 13 years old, and she was already planning to have the reassignment surgery by the time she was 16. There was only one problem: German law forbids it until you are 18.
Kim Petras - After
Kim fought the law, and for once the law didn't win. She got her way, and on her 16th birthday, she announced that everything was complete. It didn't change anything for how she saw herself, but just confirmed a truth she knew all along. "I was asked if I feel like a woman now - but the truth is I have always felt like a woman - I just ended up in the wrong body."
Well, Kim has taken this new body to dizzying heights since launching her career. Starting in 2008, the pop singer has been belting out hit after hit, with her last one - "I Don't Want It All", released in August of this year - hitting number one of the Spotify Global Viral 50 chart. She hasn't dropped an album yet, but as Deborah Conway once sung, it's only the beginning.
Aydian Dowling - Before
Historically and currently, men are always going to be the least accepting of the genders. We're not saying that that all men can't accept a transgender man in their midst, but on average they're happier to stick with the comfortable, the status quo. So to make it in the world of men, as a transgender man, is something incredible. To make it in Men's Health as a transgender man is nothing short of legendary.
Well, meet Aydian Dowling, the ripped-as-hell 29-year-old who did just that. Every year, Men's Health do a reader's poll to find an exemplary man they can put on their front cover. In 2015, just five years after he began hormone replacement therapy, Aydian decided to put his hat in the ring, and his popularity just exploded. As the competition neared its end, Aydian had close to 100,000 votes - more than double the amount of his nearest competitor.
Aydian Dowling - After
Did he win the coveted "Ultimate Guy" award? Sadly, Men's Health really pulled a punch there. But at least he was both featured and interviewed in the magazine, a huge deal for a glossy that's so potently masculine. Dowling said later in an interview that it "was really exciting being the first transgender man interviewed for men's health, that was freakin' awesome!"
These days, Aydian isn't looking to start any movie or modelling career like many of his contemporaries in the community. He just has a few simple goals: to be a loving and caring husband to his wife of eight years, Jennilee; to continue his trans clothing line, ".5CC", which raises money for transition surgeries; to be a role model and leader in the community; and to never, ever lose those delicious abs.
Laura Jane Grace - Before
One listen to the lyrics of any of seminal punk band Against Me!'s songs and you'll realize just how much of a turbulent life frontwoman Laura Jane Grace has had. From an early teen drug addiction, to lawful and incredibly unlawful arrests, to a bitter divorce between her parents, Laura has struggled against the system almost from the moment she was born Thomas Jane Gabel.
Against the backdrop of all this has been her greatest struggle of all: intense and painful gender dysphoria. She would skip school and cross dress at home, leading to a "binge and purge cycle" and feelings of immense guilt. Even when she formed Against Me! and married Heather Hannoura, the struggle was always there, and always real. She could never escape this feeling of "misalignment", of being born in the wrong body.
Laura Jane Grace - After
The watershed moment came in 2012, when Laura was 32. She confronted her feelings head on and came out in public as a transgender female, a moment that was equal parts cathartic and tumultuous. She has had some surgery since then, but remains apprehensive about any so-called "bottom" surgery, saying ultimately that it's "perfectly valid to never undergo bottom surgery."
Laura was expecting a backlash from both fans and the punk community, but this never happened. Instead, everyone who's been touched by her raw, unapologetic emotions and political views came out in force to support her. The albums keep flowing, and the hits never stop, and as Laura Jane Grace tirelessly fights to be who she is, she continues to be a star. We hope she keeps her success rockin' for years to come.
Jackie Curtis - Before
Long before many of these celebrities made their mark on the scene, there was one woman who stood head and shoulders above them in the fight. Jackie Curtis, born John Curtis Holder Jr. in 1947, was never an overt activist. Instead, she was an artist, a poet, an actress, a writer, and a singer, and her whole life was basically one big middle finger to social norms.
Remember glam rock? Glitter rock? Well, Jackie Curtis was the one who pioneered that look. While performing as a drag queen (she performed as both a man and a woman throughout her life), Jackie was fond of a meeting between trash and glamor, a look that came with bright red hair, lipstick, glitter, and ripped stockings. Oh, and a serious attitude which we all love to death.
Jackie Curtis - After
As a member of the Warhol Superstars - the famous clique of artists, freaks, and geeks that surrounded Andy Warhol at all times - Jackie's fame was all but assured. Warhol said of her that "Jackie Curtis is not a drag queen. Jackie is an artist. A pioneer without a frontier". It showed through all her performances as well as plays that she directed, which often starred other transgender personalities.
At Warhol's studio, called The Factory, and abroad, Jackie starred in several notable films of the time and was a gifted singer-songwriter to boot. In the early 80s, though, her output went into decline due to drug addiction. She filmed only two more movies in her last five years, and in 1985 succumbed to a heroin overdose. She was 38 at the time. A short life, but it the eyes of the LGBT community, an incredibly powerful one.
Yasmine Petty - Before
Yasmine Petty is just one of those models that seemed to explode out of nowhere. Once there was a world without her, and now this Californian babe with Italian and Moroccan descent hardly leaves the front page. With looks like that, it's no surprise that the magazines and runways can't seem to keep their hands off her.
When we say that she appeared out of nowhere, we mean it. She worked hard and put herself through courses at the International Center of Photography, studied fashion design at De Anza College in San Fran, and even studied culinary arts, and then with that eye-popping array of skills, dropped straight in to the cutthroat world of high fashion. We all should be proud of her wonderful achievements, she is the perfect role model for us all.
Yasmine Petty - After
We could list the achievements of this incredible woman for hours. She's been a model scout, creative director, and stylist for Surface Magazine amongst others. She's strutted her stuff alongside idols like Naomi Campbell and Karolina Kurkova for Vogue Italia. She's modelled Louis Vuitton, appeared in 2014's Dragula, and just starred in the most recent season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
If that's not enough for you, we don't know what is. At the age of 29, this girl has seen and done it all, and has been a peerless role model on top of all that. She's a credit to the LGBT community - not because she's a fierce activist or staunch protester, but because she's quietly getting on with her life, being one of the most awesome women around, and show everyone that being trans doesn't mean being lesser.
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