8 Groundbreaking Transgender People in Pop Culture


Bruce Jenner might be making all the headlines these days, but as trans visibility and public acceptance has grown in recent decades, so too has the prevalence of transgender stars on TV, in fashion, and across pop culture. Here’s a look at some of the trans men and women who have become household names for more than just their gender identity.

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Laverne Cox


Cox first broke into show business as a reality star, appearing on VH1 competition show I Want to Work for Diddy and producing and hosting her own makeover show, TRANSform Me, for the network. However, she became a household name for her portrayal of transgender inmate Sophia Burset on award-winning Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. With her 2014 nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, she became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in the acting category.

Chaz Bono


After growing up in the spotlight as the only child of Sonny Bono and Cher, Chaz Bono publicly self-identified as transgender in 1995 and transitioned from 2008 to 2010, documenting the experience in an ET special and a documentary called Becoming Chaz. In 2011, Bono competed on season 13 of Dancing With the Stars, partnering with pro Lacey Schwimmer. The reality show appearance marked "the first time an openly trans man starred on a major network television show for something unrelated to being trans."

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Janet Mock

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ET special correspondent Janet Mock is an author, activist, and former staff editor of People Magazine. She made headlines in early 2014 for a contentious pair of interviews she did on Piers Morgan's CNN show in promotion of her book Redefining Realness, after which the host received a barrage of criticism for "sensationalizing" Mock's story and using transphobic language in the interview and on the show's graphics. Recently, Mock sat down with four other transgender women to discuss their personal experiences for an ET special feature.

Chelsea Manning

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The day after being sentenced to 35 years in prison for her role in the Wikileaks military information leak, Manning announced that she had identified as female "since childhood," and planned to begin transitioning.

Candis Cayne


Cayne's breakthrough role came in 2007 when she played Billy Baldwin's transgender mistress on Dirty Sexy Money, making her the first transgender actress to play a recurring transgender character on a primetime show. She has most recently appeared as Sherlock Holmes' landlady Mrs. Hudson on Elementary.

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Rhys Ernst

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Filmmaker and artist Rhys Ernst and his partner Zackary Drucker served as consultants when Amazon was developing the pilot of Emmy Award-winning show Transparent, and became producers on the show's first season, with Ernst creating the series' title sequence. Ernst and Drucker were also featured in the 2014 OUT100.

Isis King


King was the first trans woman to compete on America's Next Top Model, appearing on the show's eleventh cycle after being pursued by host and producer Tyra Banks. She finished 10th overall, but was so popular that she returned for the show's first All Star cycle. During an appearance on The Tyra Banks Show, King was offered all-expenses-paid gender reassignment surgery, which she completed in 2009. She is also the first openly trans model to be featured in advertisements for American Apparel.

Carmen Carrera


Model and actress Carmen Carrera broke on the scene in season three of RuPaul's Drag Race and began transitioning when the season concluded. She was such a breakout star that a Change.org petition for her to be Victoria's Secret's first trans model received over 48,000 signatures. Carrera has also made the transition to scripted TV, appearing on the first season premiere of CW's Jane the Virgin.

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