March is Women’s History Month, and in honor of the occasion, the Triangle Community Center hosted a LBTQ Women’s Social on March 13th. “It was amazing,” says Irene Tsikitas, Director of Programs and Services for TCC. “The atmosphere was nice; everybody was socializing with one another. And the feedback was that they want something more consistent, so as a result, we’re going to start having a monthly social starting in April.”
TCC has also hosted several Women’s History Month movie screenings throughout the month, including Hidden Figures, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, Born in Flames, and The Queen.
To celebrate queer women, here are 15 trans and gender-nonconforming women you should be learning about in history classes.
Women to Learn About
Chevalier d’Eon (read more) (1728-1810) was a mysterious woman who lived in 18th century France. She was a diplomat who helped to end a war between Britain and France in 1763. She moved to London, but was recalled to France by the king. King Louis XVI ordered that she could stay in Britain, but only if she lived fully as a woman. Seeing as she was already known for presenting as a woman, she supported the idea and took on the name Mademoiselle de Beaumont. She is depicted in many illustrations from the time, but is most famously pictured in a portrait in London’s National Gallery.
Mary Jones (read more) (1784-1864) was a black sex worker in New York, and was one of the earliest recorded trans women in the United States. She was brought to court on theft charges in 1836 after a man who paid her for sex discovered that he was missing $99. Despite the mockery she faced for it, she showed up to court each day in elegant women’s clothing, insisting that she always dressed that way in New Orleans and among people of color. The court sentenced her to five years in prison. Her time in court was commemorated in an illustration that called her “the man-monster.” Jones remained true to her identity in court despite the court trying to force her to conform to their standards of gender.
Lili Elbe (read more) (1882-1931) was a trans Danish painter. Her journey began when her wife, Gerda, who was also a painter, was missing a model one day. Elbe modelled for her and found that wearing women’s clothing felt right. Gerda encouraged her to start presenting as a woman in private. Her dysphoria, however, was excruciating. Doctors had no explanation or way to help her, and she feared that her case was completely unheard-of. She was planning to kill herself when Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld gave her hope. He said he could implant a womb in her. She underwent the experimental surgeries and began living full-time as a woman. She faced rejection from those who had known her before the surgeries. She died the following year.
Lucy Hicks Anderson (read more) (1886-1954) was born in Kentucky and showed interest in presenting as a girl from a young age. Her physician advised that her mother raise her as a girl. Anderson married twice and had to fight to have her marriages recognized as legitimate and to have herself recognized as a woman. She was accused of having lied under oath because she did not disclose during her marriage that she was assigned male at birth. Her response was, “I defy any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman. I have lived, dressed, acted just what I am, a woman.”
Angela Morley (read more) (1924-2009) was an Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated composer. She was born in Yorkshire, England, and transitioned at the age of 48. She won Emmys for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction in 1988 and 1990. She was the first openly trans person to be nominated for an Academy Award, first in 1974 for Best Music, Original Song Score for an Adaptation for The Little Prince, and again in 1977 for the same category for The Slipper and the Rose.
Christine Jorgensen (read more) (1926-1989) was from the Bronx. She received national attention for taking her first steps to transition in 1952. The New York Daily News reported, “Ex-G.I. Becomes Blonde Beauty.” She was heralded as a scientific advancement and compared to rockets and nuclear bombs. She was referred to, albeit falsely, as America’s First Transsexual because she and her transition were so iconic. She was glamorous; so much so that she performed in Hollywood for $12,500 a week. She faced backlash from many Americans as they learned that she could not menstruate or give birth. Jorgensen shined a spotlight on the process of transitioning that had been severely lacking.
Carlett Brown (read more) (1927-Unknown) was an African-American US naval officer in the 1950s. She was intersex. Her physicians wanted her to undergo surgery to become more “typically male,” but Brown wanted to undergo reassignment surgery instead to reflect her womanhood. Reassignment surgery was illegal in the United States at the time. Brown said, “I’ll become a citizen of any country that will allow me the treatment that I need and be operated on.” Before she was able to travel to Europe, she was arrested for “crossdressing” and held for unpaid taxes. It is unknown if she ever made it to Europe, but Jet Magazine featured her on their cover and called her “The First Negro Sex Change.”
Coccinelle (read more) (1931-2006), or Jacqueline Dufresnoy, was born in Paris. She was an actress and showgirl, and one of the earliest trans women to undergo reassignment surgery. She started hormone therapy in 1952 and got the surgery seven years later. She then married, which prompted France to change its laws so the gender on a person’s birth certificate could be changed after similar surgeries, and to allow transgender citizens to legally marry. She was featured in films like Los Viciosos (1962) and Días de Viejo Color (1968). She then became an activist and founded an organization called Devenir Femme (“To Become Woman”) to support those seeking reassignment surgery. She also helped establish the Center for Aid, Research, and Information for Transsexuality and Gender Identity.
Renée Richards (read more) (1934-Present) is one of the United States’ most famous trans women. She was an opthamologist and a tennis player. She underwent reassignment surgery in 1975. However, after her surgery, the United States Tennis Association denied her entry into the US Open. The United States Tennis Association then began requiring “genetic screenings” for their female athletes. Richards claimed the policy was illegal, and the New York Supreme Court ruled in her favor in 1977. Richards became an iconic trans athlete.
Sir Lady Java (read more) (1943-Present) is an activist and performer from New Orleans who protested anti-cross-dressing laws in Los Angeles. She was a waitress and performer at the Redd Foxx Club who was featured in Jet Magazine for her voluptuous beauty and her activism. She protested LA’s Rule No. 9, which made crossdressing illegal and which was often applied to and used against trans women as well. Redd Foxx fired her after being pressured by the LAPD, who wanted her act at the club to stop. She tried to fight the firing with the ACLU, but was rejected. However, Java did get national attention for her protesting and was featured in several African-American and queer publications. She is likely a factor in why those laws were ultimately overturned.
Marsha P. Johnson (read more) (1945-1992) was an icon of the LGBTQ rights movement. She was a regular at the Stonewall Inn. She is said to have thrown the first brick in the Stonewall Riots. She co-founded STAR, or the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. STAR’s purpose was to advocate for homeless and runaway gender non-conforming people. She helped open the STAR house as a shelter for that population. Johnson was also an iconic AIDS activist. She worked with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power to raise awareness of the epidemic and to lower the prices of medications. She died in 1992, which police officially ruled a suicide. Her friends and family insisted that she had been murdered. Her case remains unsolved. Johnson identified as both female and male at different times.
Sylvia Rivera (read more) (1951-2002) was a major LGBTQ rights activist. She was a regular at the Stonewall Inn and was present for the famous riots that sparked the queer liberation movement in the United States. Rivera co-founded STAR with Johnson. Rivera helped to open the STAR house as well. She was especially famous for protesting gay rights activists who denied trans people their place in the gay rights movement. Rivera’s gender changed throughout her life; she sometimes identified as a woman, sometimes as a feminine man, and sometimes as a gender outside the binary.
Mianne Bagger (read more) (1966-Present) was born in Copenhagen and moved to Australia at the age of 12. She is a golfer. In 2004, she became the first openly trans woman to finish the Women’s Australian Open. Her participation opened the doors to more trans-inclusive policies among several golfing organizations. Some organizations, though, required trans athletes to undergo extreme psychiatric screenings that Bagger and other athletes consider demeaning. The Ladies Professional Golfing Association even refused Bagger entry.
Jowelle de Souza (read more) (1974-Present) is an iconic Trinidadian trans woman. She was the first Trinidadian to undergo reassignment surgery as well as the first openly trans person to run for political office on the island. De Souza’s story is almost miraculous as one cannot legally change their gender in Trinidad. In fact, gay people cannot legally travel there at all, although the law is not normally enforced. Being openly trans in the Caribbean can be dangerous, so de Souza’s journey takes a lot of strength. She has faced a mix of support and bigoted criticism. Although she lost her bid for office, she remains an important symbol of trans rights in the Caribbean.
Nong Toom (read more) (1981-Present), or Parinya Charoenphol, was born to a nomadic family in a village in Thailand. She started training to become a muay Thai kickboxer at the age of 12. She went on to become a champion, winning 20 out of her 22 matches. She kickboxed so she could afford to get reassignment surgery, which she had wanted since childhood. She underwent the surgery in 1999. Toom inspired national controversy because women were prohibited from entering kickboxing arenas in Thailand. She was accused of tarnishing the sport, which is considered sacred in Thailand.