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. 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. Many of them work behind the scenes, but there’s also so many trans celebrities in the spotlight. These are their courageous stories…
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.
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.
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. 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’s 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 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 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 unstoppable.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 a 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.
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 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 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.
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.