Celebrating Trans Heroes of 2019
Talk about a mixed bag. The year 2019 had a lot of ups and downs for the transgender community. On one hand, it seemed like trans people were more visible than ever. Non-binary identities came to the fore with some states allowing X as a gender marker on legal documents, and Merriam-Webster adding the word “they” to the dictionary. Trans people in entertainment, sports, politics, and culture, earned greater national attention.
All the while, the current administration remained committed to rolling back key protections of queer and trans people. On October 8th the Supreme Court debated over whether or not Title 7 of the Civil Rights act included protections for sexual orientation and gender identities. School officials in Pickens County, Georgia, rescinded their trans-inclusive bathroom policy amid backlash, including death threats. At least 24 trans people have been murdered this year. All told, 2019 felt like a two steps forward, three steps back kind of year. The following is a list (not an inclusive one by any means) of some notable trans folks who broke national headlines, moving the needle even further towards trans visibility in 2019.
Can we just crown Janet Mock Queen of Everything already? Mock is a prolific writer, director and producer, and this summer she made history by signing a multimillion dollar deal with Netflix, making her the first Black trans woman to sign a deal with a major studio. Expect to see her at the helm of many more shows and features that center underrepresented identities in the future.
Last year, Aaron Philip was the first black, transgender, disabled woman to sign to a leading modeling agency. This year she graced the cover of Paper Magazine.
Queer Eye has a polarizing effect on queer and trans community, and for good reason: it (mostly) centers cisgender gay males, and has a not-so-subtle consumer agenda. Basically, how queer is Queer Eye really? The offshoot Queer Eye: We’re In Japan! has been accused of cultural imperialism among other blind spots. Despite these well-deserved objections, Jonathan Van Ness’ star continues to rise. The delightfully swishy hairdresser, grooming expert for Queer Eye, and host of the Getting Curious podcast, came out as nonbinary. Van Ness also dropped his book Over The Top: A Raw Journey To Self-Love, and came out publicly about his HIV status, helping to address and dispel the stigma around the disease.
Chella Man is a transgender, deaf, genderqueer, and Jewish person of color. The popular YouTuber, LGBTQ advocate, and model played the hero Jericho in DC’s Titans.
German-born Kim Petras, a transgender pop singer and songwriter, released her first studio album Clarity, and launched a 24-stop tour. Petras came under fire for continuing to work with Dr. Luke, a producer accused of sexual assault by Kesha and other pop stars. Clarity was chock-full of summer bops like “Icy,” and “Broken.” Clarity is included in Billboard’s Top 50 Albums of 2019.
THE ENTIRE CAST OF POSE
FX’s drama series set in New York’s ballroom scene of the 1980s and 90s debuted its second season this year, was renewed for a third season, and propelled the show’s stars to the national spotlight. Here’s some highlights from a few of the cast members:
The inclusion of transgender athletes in sport was a hotbed of debate this year, as seemingly every single cis person suddenly had a dissertation to give on the topic. Rachel McKinnon is a Philosophy professor at the College of Charleston, South Carolina, and a competitive cyclist. After cycling victories in 2018, she endured criticism from within and without the industry, including over 100,000 hateful comments on Twitter. In October, she set a new record for the 200 meter sprint for females in the 34-39 age range. She continues to be an outspoken advocate for transgender rights.
Patricio Manuel is the first transgender man to compete in a professional boxing match. In the 2018 fight, he unanimously won a four-round fight against Hugo Aguilar. This September he became the new face of Everlast, a boxing and mixed martial arts clothing and accessory brand.
Janae Marie Kroc had previously set records in men’s powerlifting competitions before transitioning. Debuting in 2017, but released on Netflix this year, the documentary Transformer is about Kroc’s transition, and personal and professional life, including her decision to continue powerlifting.
The last year has seen an uptick in worke-led activism among tech companies. Google employees have been protesting the company’s involvement with ICE, workplace harassment, and unequal treatment of contractors, among other grievances. To date, five employees have been fired for internal activist work, including three transwomen: Kathryn Spiers, Rebecca Rivers, and Sophie Waldman. Those recently fired plan to file unfair labor practice charges against Google with the National Labor Relations Board.
Aimee Stephens was fired from her job at a funeral home in Michigan after revealing her transgender identity to her boss. Stephens’ case was one of the three heard at the October 8 Supreme Court hearings. When asked about bringing the first transgender rights case to the supreme court, Stephens said, “Somebody’s gotta do it and I’d be happy and satisfied to be that person.”