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5 Trans Icons Around the World

Robyn Exton

Nov 18, 2021

5 Trans Icons Around the World

It’s transgender awareness week! There is a lot of work left to do in advancing trans rights around the world. But it’s also important to recognize how far we’ve come. Trans representation in the media has increased drastically over the last decade and there are so many trans icons living their best lives.

Trans representation is vital. So much hate stems from fear and unfamiliarity. There are still lots of people who have never met a trans person and lack understanding about the community, so having public figures who are openly transgender can help to increase familiarity with trans people and trans issues.

Trans people also deserve to find and connect with other trans folks outside of their circle. This doesn’t necessarily always mean dating as a trans person—trans role models can help them understand themselves better, show them what’s possible and help them realize they’re not alone.

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5 International LGBTQ+ Icons You Need to Know About

Often, when we talk about trans representation, we focus on people in the United States and the United Kingdom, but there are trans role models doing amazing work internationally that also deserve recognition. The trans community is beautiful and its diversity should be celebrated.

So, we’ve rounded up five transgender role models from around the world who are unapologetically themselves and boldly leading change in their respective fields. However you fit in the LGBTQ+ community, these are amazing trans people you can look up to.

USA: Andrea Jenkins, Vice President of the Minneapolis City Council

Andrea Jenkins is an American politician, writer, performance artist, poet, and transgender activist. Jenkins made history in November 2017 by becoming the first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in the U.S. She has been serving since January 2018 on the Minneapolis City Council and is the city council’s vice president.

Jenkins moved to Minnesota to attend the University of Minnesota in 1979. Jenkins worked as a staff member on the Minneapolis City Council for 12 years before beginning work as curator of the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota’s Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies.

She is a nationally and internationally recognized writer and artist, a 2011 Bush Fellow to advance the work of transgender inclusion, and the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships. She is also a published poet and an oral historian at the University of Minnesota.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Australia: Andreja Pejić, model

Andreja Pejić is one of the most famous trans models in the world and is owning the fashion game. She has overcome huge adversity, being born in what was then Yugoslavia shortly before the Bosnian War broke out. She spent her early life with her family as a political refugee, eventually making it to Australia when Pejić was eight years old. After being scouted while she was working at McDonald’s, she modeled both masculine and feminine clothing in Paris for Jean-Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs. 

Two years into her career, she came out as a trans woman and has since starred on the covers of GQ, Elle, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, and other huge fashion publications. She has won a number of awards for her work and has appeared on Britain’s Next Top Model, in a David Bowie music video, and in the crime thriller film The Girl in the Spider’s Web. She has deservedly been incredibly successful in her international career, both before and after coming out, and is an inspiration to the LGBTQ+ community.

Source: Andreja Pejić on Instagram

China: Jin Xing, dancer

Jin Xing is breaking barriers in China and internationally as a dancer, actress, and television personality. Growing up in Shenyang in China, she learned to dance from the People’s Liberation Army, starting when she was just nine years old. She rose up the ranks in military dance troupes, eventually becoming a colonel and winning a scholarship to study dance in New York. She underwent gender affirmation surgery in 1995 when her career began taking off. Surgery back then was not as advanced as it is now and her left leg was paralyzed for three months after her surgery.

But she bounced back impressively, starring in several Asian movies in the early 2000s. She went on to become a judge on China’s version of So You Think You Can Dance and eventually got her own talk show, The Jin Xing Show, on a major Chinese channel. Now, she campaigns against employment discrimination faced by women and has starred in a Dior campaign promoting women’s empowerment. We could all learn a thing or two from Jin Xing.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Germany: Balian Buschbaum, former pole vaulter

Balian Buschbaum is an author, an athlete, and a trans man going from strength to strength in his career. He began competing in women’s pole vaulting, winning multiple German Youth Championships, and going on to compete in the Olympics. He has set the German record for pole vault and the junior world record. He retired from the sport in 2008 to pursue his gender transition but continued to coach young pole vaulters and high jumpers for several years.

Since his retirement from athletics, he has continued to advocate for the trans community and tell his story to inspire others. He has written two books: Blue Eyes Stay Blue: My Life and Women Want to Talk, Men Want Sex: How Different Are We Really, Mr. Buschbaum? (translated). He is now a public speaker and life coach, advising both large companies and individuals on diversity, managing change, and self-development. He’s an inspiration to trans men everywhere.

Source: Balian Buschbaum on Instagram

Turkey: Bülent Ersoy, singer

Bülent Ersoy is a singer, actress, and TV personality in Turkey, breaking down barriers for LGBTQ+ people at the same time. She is an icon on the Turkish music scene, known to her fans as Diva, and has released over 30 albums since 1973, starting out when she was just 21 years old. After she came out as a trans woman, she was banned from public performance when the Turkish government cracked down on ‘social deviance’, banning a number of trans people from performing publicly in 1980.

She campaigned against the ban and went on to star in 16 Turkish films and have her own television show, Bülent Ersoy Show. She has also been a judge on various Turkish talent competitions and reality shows. Her music ranges from classical to pop and she is one of the most prolific musicians worldwide. An absolute trans icon.

Source: Bülent Ersoy on Instagram

Denmark: Mianne Bagger, golfer

Mianne Bagger is a trailblazer for all women and LGBTQ+ people in sport and has used her success to lift other trans people up. Back in 2004, she became the first openly trans woman to play in a professional golf tournament, and later the first trans woman to qualify for the Ladies European Tour. She has led the way for trans women’s inclusion in golf, and in sport more widely.

Bagger’s lobbying has led to the Ladies European Tour changing their entry criteria to allow Bagger and other trans women to compete. The Australian Ladies Professional Golf Tour, Ladies Golf Union, and US Golf Association have all since removed their “female at birth” policies as a direct result. She continues to lobby for the International Olympic Committee, World Athletics, and World Anti-Doping Agency to accept transgender athletes in the sport. She has dedicated her life and career to paving the way for trans inclusion in sport.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Why Is It Important to Recognize Trans Leaders?

Trans people have long been excluded from various industries, employment, and social circles. They face huge barriers on the path to success, but there are numerous successful trans people demonstrating to the world that trans people deserve to be included and accepted. These inspirational trans leaders are changing the world and making history, and it’s vital that we recognize their accomplishments.

These trans people leading the way for change show trans youth that anything is possible, and encourage people both within and outside the trans community to fight for what’s right. We shouldn’t sit down and accept the marginalization of LGBTQ+ people – we should be actively fighting against it and ensuring equality in all spheres for trans people. By recognizing the trans people paving the way, we can inspire a future generation of leaders to continue fighting for change.

Find Your Inner Circle with HER

HER is a safe space for trans people to connect, share experiences and lift each other up. If you’re transgender, having trans people to look up to is vital, but so is having trans people around you who understand what you’re going through and can help and support you on your journey. On HER, you can find and build this community around you.
Whether you’re looking to date, hook up, or just connect with other LGBTQ+ people like you, HER has diverse and varied communities that can help you to feel less alone. If you don’t have an LGBTQ+ support system around you, you can build one on HER.

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Robyn Exton

Robyn is the CEO & Founder of HER. Find her on Twitter.

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