On International Women’s Day, we celebrate the achievements of women across the world in the fight for equal rights, and basic dignity and recognition. While we rightly celebrate the achievements of amazing cis-women such as Malala Yousafzai, Millicent Fawcett, Emily Davidson, Constance Markievicz and Rosa Luxemburg, we can often ignore the equally amazing achievements of trans-women across history. With transwomen being marginalized and alienated from the feminist movement by conservatives and trans-exclusionary feminists alike, it is worth looking at some of the famous trans-women activists across history we’re likely to never hear of.
Marsha P Johnson (1945-1992): This should be a name familiar to anyone involved in the LGBT movement. It was African-American transgender woman and revolutionary LGBTQ rights activist Marsha P Johnson who was the instigator of Stonewall (despite whatever the makers of the 2015 film Stonewall have to say about it) and who is rightly credited as throwing the first blow. Alongside her fellow transgender rights activist, Sylvia Rivera, she later established the Street Transvestite (now Transgender) Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a group committed to helping homeless transgender youth in New York City. Marsha was the eccentric iconoclast of New York city, fearless and bold, whenever she was asked what the “P” in her name stood for, she responded with “pay it no mind”. It is likely that the LGBT movement would be in a much darker place today without the audacity and courage of Marsha. Next time we march along the pride parade we should keep her in mind.
Chelsea Manning (1987-Present) Chelsea Manning is perhaps one of the most significant human rights heroines of our age. She was responsible for the biggest military leak in history in 2009, exposing the horrors inflicted by the U.S military on the people of Iraq and paving the way for the later NSA leaks of Edward Snowden. In 2010 she was charged with over 22 offences and even faced the possibility of a death sentence for her actions. After serving 7 years at a maximum security prison she was finally released on May 17th of 2017. After her release, she challenged Ben Cardin for the Democratic nomination for the U.S Senate elections of Maryland and finished second among eight. She has since written a number of columns for The Guardian and has been a staunch advocate of trans rights and freedom of information. There is some debate in American circles on whether Chelsea is a hero or a traitor. Even today Chelsea is still standing bravely by her principles, having been sent back to jail in the past few hours for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Chelsea says that she has revealed everything she knows already and “will accept whatever” they bring upon her. There is no doubt in my eyes, that she is one of the biggest heroes of the 21st century.
Janet Mock (1983- Present) Janet is a U.S journalist, director, producer, and trans-rights advocate. Beginning her transition in high school, she funded her transition by earning money through sex-work in her teens. Janet has since questioned the stigma around sex-work and fought for trans-rights by doing the only thing she can, telling her story and sharing her experiences of what it’s like to be a black trans-woman today. With both her appearances on the likes of the Daily Show and the publication of her two books “Redefining Realness” and “Surpassing Certainty”, she is a vital asset to the trans-community in getting their voice heard.
Natalie Wynn (1988- Present) Natalie Wynn or as her YouTube fans know her “Contrapoints” has been called the “Oscar Wilde of YouTube” by the Verge, and I am inclined to agree. Her bohemian videos, moodily lit by bi-lighting and tackling heavy topics such as Marxism, Autogynophelia, structural racism, and the alt-right now draw hundreds of thousands of views. YouTube is so often a sphere of the internet dominated by alt-right talking points, racist apologism and edgy atheist rants. Natalie as a voice for transwomen and the left more generally is a welcome change. Taking on the alt-right with all the style and flamboyance of the trans heroes of Stonewall that came before her, she is truly a voice we should cherish.
Featured Image: Rhododendrites /CC BY-SA 4.0