Laverne Cox has helped pave the way for other trans actors to find success. The "Orange Is the New Black" actress is often considered an LGBTQ icon because of her ability to raise awareness for and understanding of transgender issues. In celebration of her 47th birthday on May 29, 2019, Wonderwall.com is taking a look back at the most influential transgender people and portrayals in pop culture. Keep reading for more…
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Olympic gold medalist and reality Tv star Bruce Jenner reintroduced herself to the world as Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair's June 2015 issue. Since then, the former "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" star has become an advocate for trans rights. She also starred on the reality TV series "I Am Cait," which focused on her gender transition, in 2016 and underwent sex reassignment surgery in 2017.
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Jared Leto played Rayon, a transgender woman dying from AIDS, in 2013's "Dallas Buyers Club." During the shoot in New Orleans, Jared — who won an Oscar for his work in the film — stepped out in public in costume to better understand the struggles Rayon would have faced. "I went to Whole Foods and I remember getting three distinct looks. One was, 'Who is that?' The second was, 'What is that?' And the third was, 'I don't know what that is, but I don't like it,'" he told The Guardian. "And it was interesting to get that condemnation. Easy for me, because I'm playing a part, but it was important to kind of understand and acknowledge that."
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When Chaz Bono — whose parents are Cher and the late entertainer and congressman Sonny Bono — publicly self-identified as transgender back in 1995, he was the most high-profile celebrity to do so at the time. He started transitioning in 2008 and changed his name from Chastity Bono to Chaz in 2010. He also chronicled his experience in the documentary "Becoming Chaz," which aired on Oprah Winfrey's OWN network.
Known for having an androgynous look, model Andreja Pejic first found success as a male model who worked the runway in both menswear and womenswear shows. But in 2014, Andreja announced she'd had gender reassignment surgery and moving forward would only be hitting the catwalk to model women's clothing.
"The Matrix" trilogy and "Cloud Atlas" director Lana Wachowski, formerly known as Larry Wachowski, publicly came out as transgender in 2012. Despite her desire for privacy, she decided to speak out about the difficulties and joys of her transition when the Human Rights Campaign honored her that year. "I am here because when I was young, I wanted very badly to be a writer, I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I couldn't find anyone like me in the world and it felt like my dreams were foreclosed simply because my gender was less typical than others," she said. "If I can be that person for someone else, then the sacrifice of my private civic life may have value."
Lana Wachowski's sister, Lilly Wachowski, also came out as a trans woman. The "Matrix" franchise director, who was formerly known as Andy Wachowski, transitioned in 2016. She opened up about the experience to the Windy City Times in March that year. "I am one of the lucky ones. Having the support of my family and the means to afford doctors and therapists has given me the chance to actually survive this process," she wrote. "Transgender people without support, means and privilege do not have this luxury. And many do not survive."
In the 2015 biopic "The Danish Girl," Eddie Redmayne starred as one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, transgender pioneer Einar Wegener, who became Lili Elbe. The performance earned the British actor an Oscar nomination.
Hilary Swank won a best actress Academy Award for her performance as Brandon Teena, a transgender man, in the 1999 film "Boys Don't Cry." Reflecting on the experience during a talk at Loyola Marymount University, Hilary shared: "It opened up the topic for a big discussion. And in talking to these kids, 100 percent of them were either abused physically or heckled emotionally every day of their lives [for] their sexuality. There's still a long road to walk. These stories are happening all the time, still to this day."
Jeffrey Tambor won a Golden Globe in 2015 for best actor in a comedic TV series for his portrayal of transgender woman Maura Pfefferman on "Transparent," making him the first TV actor to win for playing a trans character. While accepting the prize, he dedicated his award to the trans community: "Thank you for letting us be a part of the change," he said. The actor also won Emmys for his performance as Maura in 2015 and 2016.
Our Lady J is one of the most influential trans people in Hollywood. The Pennsylvania native helped to bring not one but two trans-focused series to the small screen. She was a writer and producer for Amazon's "Transparent" until the show's cancellation in 2017 and currently writes and produces for FX's "Pose." She's also an accomplished pianist who's played at Carnegie Hall and the American Ballet Theatre and for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Glenn Close was nominated for a best actress Academy Award for her performance as the title character in 2011's "Albert Nobbs," a film about a woman living as a man in 19th century Ireland. "Of course in the entertainment world we love heroes and we love villains, we love a lot of action and we love a lot of sex," Glenn told The Guardian, "but I do think there is room for stories of people like Albert. It's about paying attention to somebody who is difficult at times to figure out. But attention should be paid."
Isis King was the first trans woman to compete on "America's Next Top Model." The beauty completed gender reassignment surgery in 2009 and went on to become the first trans model to appear in ads for American Apparel.
"I am simultaneously ecstatic and terrified to be stepping into Hedwig's heels," Neil Patrick Harris said after landing the role of East German transgender rock singer Hedwig in Broadway's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." "It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime role and I can't wait to begin the journey." It paid off: in 2014, NPH won a Tony Award for his work in the musical.
Transgender man Thomas Beatie had gender reassignment surgery in 2002 and legally switched to a male identity, but he kept his female reproductive organs. After conceiving via artificial insemination, he made headlines in 2008 — he was dubbed "the pregnant man" — when he went public with the first of three successful pregnancies.
Indya Moore found national fame when they landed the role of Angel Evangelista, a trans woman sex worker, on the FX series "Pose." Indya, who identifies as transgender as well as non-binary and uses the pronoun "they," transitioned as teen and grew up in foster care after being forced out of their home. In 2019, they were included in Time magazine's annual Time 100 list of the world's most influential people.
Mj Rodriguez is one of the breakout stars on FX's "Pose." The actress stars as Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista, the founder and mother of the House of Evangelista who is a trans and HIV-positive woman. Mj, who transitioned in 2016, first found fame starring in several off-Broadway musicals such as "Rent."
Like her "Pose" co-stars, Dominique Jackson is also an accomplished actress. The Trinidadian star turned to the arts after being kicked out of her home, which led her to live on the streets, where she was forced to become a sex worker. Dominique, who transitioned as teen, also starred on the 2016 reality show "Strut."
Writer, TV host and trans activist Janet Mock has taken the industry by storm. Janet, who transitioned as a teen in Hawaii, is the former host of the MSNBC web show "So Popular" and a former editor at People magazine. She's released two best-selling memoirs, "Redefining Realness: My Path To Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More" and "Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me." Janet, who chose her name in honor of Janet Jackson, is currently a writer, producer and director for FX's "Pose."
Angelica Ross is not only a trans actress but a tech entrepreneur and trans-rights advocate who stars on FX's "Pose" and previously appeared on "Claws." She's the founder and CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises, a firm that helps employ transgender people in the tech industry.