Where are all the Trans People in History?

Posted on: 4 February 2021 by Matthew Kelly in 2021 posts

Marsha P. Johnson Memorial
Marsha P. Johnson Memorial - Black Lives Matter Mural. Image by Sarahmirk / Wikimedia Commons.

Many trans people, myself included, wonder why we never learn about all of the amazing transgender people in history. Of course, being trans is not all there is to know about me, but it's still something I’m very proud of and that I continue to engage with. I love the community that I am a part of! I love both learning about history, as a history student, and being trans, so it's upsetting to see a lack of trans representation in history books. So where are all the trans people in history? Here are four trans people who have contributed to the progress of the trans community and our rights...

Dr Alan L. Hart

Alan Hart, 1890-1962, was known for his work on tuberculosis, radiology and social issues within public health care in the US. He was also a trans man who is recognised as one of the first transgender people to have a hysterectomy as part of his transition (though medical transition is in no way a required part of being trans). While he did manage to live his life as a man, he found himself constantly running away from places where he found people he had known before his transition for his safety.

Marsha P. Johnson & Sylvia Rivera

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were two trans women of colour who founded STAR (which ran from 1970-73), an organisation that helped homeless LGBT+ people and sex workers in the US. They took in homeless LGBT+ youth because they had both experienced homelessness and found that no one was there to help homeless LGBT+ people when they reached out for help.

No Pride without Black Trans Lives

Mural of Marsha P. Johnson. Image by Eden, Janine and Jim / Wikimedia Commons.

Marsha is also known for her involvement in the Stonewall riots and is widely considered one of the most important figures behind the activism that gained so many of the rights that LGBT+ people now have in the US. Marsha was also an activist for gay liberation and worked with ACT UP, who advocated for more medical research on AIDS, which greatly impacted a generation of the LGBT+ community. 

Marsha's activism for LGBT+ rights is something that one article could never fully portray as her contributions to the LGBT+ community were truly remarkable and life-changing for so many.

Lili Elbe

Lili Elbe, a Danish painter, is considered one of the first people to undergo surgery as part of her transition. She realised she was a trans woman when she tried on women’s clothes for her wife’s work. Sadly, in 1931, she passed away due to complications with one of her surgeries.

Lili Elbe

Lili Elbe. Image by unknown author / Wikimedia Commons. 

There are hundreds more trans people I could mention in this article but it would be hard to fit so many amazing stories into one short blog. Their contributions are all just as important as the ones mentioned here and I encourage you to look into those not mentioned as well. But our history does not end here, our history is still being written and every day, trans people are make amazing contributions around the world!

Matthew Kelly is an undergraduate in the Department of History. 

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