not in Primary anymore

10 transgender people you should know about

Today is the Transgender Day of Visibility, and what better way to raise visibility than to list some influential transgender people who have, in various ways, made the world a better or more understanding place for transgender people?  I’ll highlight 10 transgender people you should know about, in now real order:

Sylvia Rivera


Sylvia Rivera, born in 1951, was a revolutionary trans woman and drag performer.  Before transgender was even an officially recognized word, she recognized the importance of representation, discussing it in her iconic “Y’all better quiet down” speech, where she tore into some of the issues in LGBT politics that are still relevant today: the representation of transgender people, the incarceration of transgender people (and subsequent addition into the wrong jail) and the isolation that happens when the rest of the community deems them too strange.  She was also present at the Stonewall riots and cofounded S.T.A.R. – Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, a project to help homeless drag queens and trans women of color.

Marsha P. Johnson


Marsha P. Johnson was born in 1944 and is the other cofounder of S.T.A.R.  Marsha was a powerful transgender acitivist and was among the first to fight back during the Stonewall riots.  She was also the mother of the house of STAR, which provided clothing to disadvantaged trans people and drag queens.  When a judge asked her what the P in her name stood for, her response was “Pay It No Mind,” a powerful statement both about her personality and a comment on the intrusive “curiosity” culture regarding trans bodies and identities.

Ben Barres


Ben Barres was born in 1955 and is a neuroscientist at Stanford University.  He is also the firsst openly transgender individual to join the US National Academy of Sciences, earning that distinction in 2013.  He’s also been outspoken about sexism in the sciences and the difference in respect he’s received as a male scientist than when he was known as a female one, directly challenging the sexist notion that there are less women in science because of intrinsic differences in how they think or act.

Charley Parkhurst


Charles “Charley” Parkhurst, born 1812, was a stage coach driver in California during the gold rush.  Born and orphaned in Vermont, Charley was raised as a girl until the age of 12, when he fled the orphanage he was raised in, donned boys’ clothes and became a stablehand for a stage coach driver, who then taught him the tricks of the trade.  Without revealing his identity to anyone, he became an extremely proficient driver and was known as “One-eyed Charley” in the Sacramento area for the eye he lost from a horse kick.  It was only after his death in 1879 from tongue cancer that it was discovered that he was a transgender man.

Tom Phelan


Tom Phelan is a nonbinary actor, famous for his portrayal of Cole on the show “Meet The Fosters.”  Through this role, Tom was able to shed light on the issues faced by trans men and other individuals who were DFAB (Designated Female At Birth).  Along with his work on Meet The Fosters, Tom regularly posts on Tumblr, giving support and advice to his friends and fans.

Alok Vaid-menon


Alok Vaid-menon is one of the cofounders of the Darkmatter poetry group, a politically charged slam poem group discussing everything from racism inherent in the mainstream LGBT movement to trouble dating to self-identification and concepts of home.    Alok is also a nonbinary south-asian artivist and has been featured everywhere from small zines to TED talks.

Janani Balasubramanian


Janani Balasubramanian is the other half of Darkmatter and they’re also a south-asian artivist and nonbinary activist.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen anything by Darkmatter, please open a new tab and look them up right now.  You’re welcome.

Greta Martela


Greta Martela is the founder of the Trans Lifeline, a suicide prevention hotline run by and for transgender people.  Too often, transgender people go without help because of the fear that the person on the other end of the line, having no experience being trans, will simply not know how to empathize or, worse, won’t care about your problems.  The Trans Lifeline seeks to remedy this with help by and for the trans community, so you always have a shoulder to cry on who knows exactly what you’re going through.

S. Bear Bergman


S. Bear Bergman describes himself as “a storyteller, a theater artist, an instigator, a gender-jammer, and a good example of what happens when you overeducate a contrarian.”  He is the author of a number of books, including Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation and Butch Is a Noun.  He makes public appearances to talk about his experience as a transgender man, gender outlaw and his experiences being Jewish, and how that interacts with his experiences in the queer community.

Janet Mock


Janet Mock is a transgender rights activist, author and previously wrote for People Magazine.  Her autobiography, Redefining Realness, relates her personal story in language  you can understand without having to take a gender studies class, but also tackles issues such as the oppression of trans women of color, the plight of transgender sex workers and the rift between identity growing up biracial in Hawaii.  I consider it required reading for all of my friends.

Do you have someone you’d like to see on this list?  Who has personally inspired you?  Let me know in the comments below!

6 Responses to “10 transgender people you should know about”

  1. Alex

    I feel having Charley Parkhurst on this list is very misleading. While she is a woman who chose to dress as a man, it is not known whether she did so because she self-identified as a male or because she believed she would have better prospects as a man than an orphan girl in Pioneer America. Because we can never know how she trully felt, I feel it is disrespectful to her history to label her as we see fit.


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