Transgender Awareness Week is a time for members of the LGBT+ community and their allies to come together and to celebrate. The transgender people we are about to talk about may or may not be household names, but they certainly made history in the transgender community.
We'Wha (1849 – 1896)
We'Wha was a mixed-gender/two-spirit (born male but lived as a woman), Zuni Native American from Mexico who served as a cultural ambassador, including visiting the U.S. President in 1886 and is known for being the most famous and respectable Ilha’mana (a male-bodies individual who performed women’s work and serving as a meditator) in American Indian history. She was a deeply spiritual person and was known for her singing, dancing and poetry, as well as for being an accomplished Zuni crafter. She wore a mixture of feminine and masculine clothing. She was well versed in Zuni religion and customs of her people and assisted Angle scholars who came to record the way of his people and also resisted Anglo invasions when they seemed improper. She later befriended a white, gay male anthropologist who described her as the strongest character and the most intelligent of the Zuni tribe. She was well loved throughout her life and her death brought grief to Zuni
Lou Sullivan (June 16, 1951 – March 2, 1991)
Louis Graydon Sullivan, gay trans man activist in the 70s to early 90s and an AIDS activist argued the difference between gender and sexual orientation. He is known for being one of the first female-to-male (FTM) openly gay trans man of recent times. Growing up in a Catholic community, he projected masculinity on himself by emulating male musicians, whilst questioning his attraction to gay men. He couldn’t access hormones in the US for years because of protocols. He started dedicating himself to activism for gay trans men to have access to medical transition treatment which became successful in 1980 when homosexuality was removed as a contradiction for SrS, allowing him to have the surgery. In the same year, he wrote a book for FTMs and maintained resources and materials that provided helpful information to other trans men in the community to help them transition. He was the cofounder of the LGBT Historical Society in 1985, giving people the power to share, socialise and address FTM issues. He was diagnosed with HIV in late 1986, and died at peace because he felt that he had accomplished everything that he set out to do and felt validated by HIV. Most importantly, he continues to inspire everyone who knows of him to live their lives fully and authentically and make a difference in our community.
April Ashley (April 1936 – present)
Model, singer, transgender campaigner and April Ashley MBE, born a boy: George Jamieson to a poverty-stricken family in the Liverpool slums. From a very young age April felt female. As a teenager, she had a womanish appearance, little bodily and facial hair and she began to develop breasts. She struggled alone with her gender identity and attempted suicide at 16. She continued to suffer prejudice and discrimination after her exposure as a transsexual and her marriage ruled illegal. She became the first British to undergo a sex change in 1960 and played a significant role in Britain’s social and political development.
Michael Dillon (born Laura Maud Dillon; 1 May 1915 – 15 May 1962 – The World’s First Transsexual Man)
Michael Dillon was the world’s first person known to successfully transition both hormonally and surgically. Oxford educated, medical scientist Michael sought hormones in 1939. He met a doctor at the Royal Infirmary who wrote him a document which enabled him to have his birth certificate changed. He studied medicine and played a key role in developing the modern medical view of transsexuals. He published the first book on the medical ethics of treating transexuality with hormones and performed an orchidectomy (removal of the testicles) - the UK’s first male-to-female gender surgery. Dillon’s transsexuality attracted unwanted attention in 1959 and he fled to India, to hide from public scrutiny, eventually settling in a Buddhist monastery where he died under the name Lobzang Jivaka. Michael Dillon’s story is a remarkable tale of courageous pioneer. Thanks to him and the kindness of the doctors, trans people all over the world have access to medical treatments to change their lives substantially.
Jeanne D'Arc (6 January 1412 – 30 May 1431)
Jeanne D’Arc was a Catholic saint and French heroine of the Hundred Years War. Joan was a girl who stood up to an entire army, and was burned after being accused of witchcraft. She sent letters of warning to her British occupiers. She is occasionally portrayed as being transgender because she took what is traditionally a man’s role of her time. Her journey from a peasant to fearless warrior is divinely inspirational as Jeanne was never taught to read or write. She is a popular figure on church, college, school, restaurant, credit union, camp, clinique, museum, on paintings, etc. and stirs an international interest.