Because of the work of many transgender activists and the visibility of important transgender figures in the media, increased by Caitlyn Jenner’s very publicized transition, transgender visibility in America is at an all-time high. However, trans people continue to be erased from history all over the world. To combat the historic erasure of trans people and trans identity, here are nine important transgender figures throughout history that you should know.
***Words that are italicized in the biographies are included in a glossary at the end of the post***
Elagabalus became emperor of Rome in 218 AD when they were just 14 years old. While there is no definite information about their gender identity or sexuality, there are many clues that suggest that Elagabalus was not cisgender and heterosexual. They were married five different times, to both men and women, although their marriages never lasted for long. They were known for having affairs with young boys and masquerading as a sex worker then purposely setting themselves up to be caught and beaten by a male guard. They often appeared in court wearing makeup and women’s clothing. Elagabalus also reportedly offered a large sum of money to any doctor who could surgically equip them with female genitalia. Read more
- What does it mean to be transgender? Transgender people identify with a gender that does not correspond with the sex assigned to them at birth. On the other hand, cisgender people do identify with the sex assigned to them at birth.
- What is the difference between sex and gender? Sex is divided into three categories, male, female, and intersex, based on the individual’s reproductive organ(s) at birth. Gender refers to the characteristics, attributes, behaviors and appearances that are socially or culturally situated on a spectrum between “male/masculine” and “female/feminine.”
- What is the gender binary? The gender binary is the classification of gender into two distinct, opposing categories of male and female. Gender fluidity steps away from this rigidity and allows the individual to identify with a gender which either varies over time, even day to day, or does not fit into one of the two categories.
Born in 1961, Jack Halberstam, formerly known as Judith Halberstam, is Visiting Professor of Gender Studies and English at Columbia University and Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Gender Studies, and Comparative Literature at University of Southern California (USC). As the author of The Queer Art of Failure and Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender and the End of Normal, Halberstam is well known for his Queer philosophy and works in the areas of queer theory, gender studies, feminist theory, popular and visual culture, and Gothic literature and the horror film, with an emphasis on subculture. Halberstam’s is currently conducting several projects including a book titled WILD THING on queer anarchy, performance and protest culture, the visual representation of anarchy and the intersections between animality, the human, and the environment.
On March 15, Halberstam will give a talk with La Pietra Dialogues on the topics of trans and gender variance, where students will have an opportunity to learn more about the current status and future developments of transgender rights, transgender visibility, and transgender recognition. All students are highly encouraged to join our dialogue!
On Sunday, February 12th, the Grammys provided many Americans with a short break from the crushing reality of a Trump presidency. However, one star decided to use her platform to bring attention to an issue that was being overlooked by many anti-Trump movements. While announcing the performance of Lady GaGa and Metallica, Laverne Cox forgot to say the name of the band, but the name she said instead was just as important. During her very brief speech on the Grammy stage, Cox, a trans actress and activist, asked the audience to “please Google Gavin Grimm,” and they listened. The day after the Grammys aired, Google searches for “Gavin Grimm” literally went from 0 to 100. February 13th was the peak of interest in the subject on Google Trends. So, who is Gavin Grimm?
Gavin is a 17-year-old high school senior from Gloucester, Virginia. In 2014, Gavin decided to use the boys’ bathroom at school, because he felt the sign on the door matched his gender identity. Gavin’s mother had contacted school administrators at the beginning of his sophomore year to notify them of his gender identity, and Gavin received permission from school administrators to use the bathroom of his choice. For weeks, Gavin was able to peacefully use the boys’ bathroom without question. Meanwhile, Gavin’s decision to go to the bathroom sparked a massive local debate in Gloucester County, where 66.8 percent of voters voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 63.1 percent of voters voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.