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7 of the UK’s most iconic trans celebrities

Robyn Exton

Aug 24, 2022

7 of the UK’s most iconic trans celebrities
  • There are more openly trans celebrities, activists and politicians making their mark than ever before. But transgender people have been accomplishing amazing things for generations, well before the word ‘transgender’ was even in mainstream use.

    While the UK still has work to do to achieve trans equality, it’s also home to some of those very people. From marathon-running comedy legends to Bond girls taking on the British government in court, these transgender Brits have forged new paths for others — and they’ve illustrated how to succeed on your own terms. 

    Eddie Izzard

    Source: Eddie Izzard on Instagram

    This famously gender-fluid comedienne has been dishing hilarious, wholesome stand-up for decades (Google “Eddie Izzard cats and dogs” for proof). Growing up in a variety of places in Wales, Izzard has said she knew she was transgender by age four. According to her website, she also knew she wanted to be a performer, but struggled to land parts in school plays and would eventually try to break into comedy through London street performances.

    Trying to become a successful entertainer is hard enough, but Izzard was also presenting feminine and making other non-conforming gender choices in the 1980s. So where did she get her courage? In her memoir, Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death and Jazz Chickens, Izzard explains that whenever she didn’t feel confident enough to perform, she would imagine “borrowing” confidence from a future version of herself: 

    I will go to the bank manager of confidence, in some part of my brain, and I will borrow that confidence from the future.

    Weird and adorable? Sure, but also effective! Izzard has since garnered widespread recognition and fancy awards for her comedy specials, not to mention too many appearances in movies and series to list here. And her philanthropy work is a whole other story — learn about her consecutive marathons if you want to feel inspired but also a little tired.

    In 2020, Izzard began publicly requesting the use of “she/her” pronouns. On an episode of the podcast Life, Interrupted, she explained that she identifies as a trans woman and that public acknowledgement of her pronouns “feels like a promotion.” 

    Yasmin Finney

    Source: Yasmin Finney on Instagram

    It’s hard not to get excited about what’s next for newcomer Yasmin Finney, who first grabbed attention through her candid TikToks about growing up as a Black trans woman in Manchester. Now a successful actress, she stole hearts as Elle in Netflix’s ‘Heartstopper’ and is slated to become ‘Doctor Who’’s first trans travel companion

    In an interview with Teen Vogue, Finney mentions that she looked for trans representation when she was younger, but the pool of queer icons was small and mostly American. She also explains that she didn’t see herself becoming an actor because there were so few visible trans performers. Her reaction when she finally saw the casting call for Elle? 

    “I literally screamed because I was like, there is no way that this is a casting call in British TV and film for a Black trans girl of colour, like there’s absolutely no way that this is happening.”

    But it was happening — and she landed the part amid an international talent search. So a big “thank you, we love you” to Finney for making sure the next generation of queer, Black, British youth get to see more representation.

    Sophie Xeon, aka SOPHIE

    Source: SOPHIE on YouTube

    Her ethereal, pioneering pop music has bewitched countless listeners. But many were unaware that Scottish artist and producer SOPHIE was transgender until she used her own image and voice for the first time in the music video “It’s Okay to Cry.”

    Along with her solo music, SOPHIE collaborated with artists like Charli XCX, Vince Staples and Madonna. In a 2017 Teen Vogue interview, she explained that she wanted her work to make people think beyond “binaries.” 

    Tragically, SOPHIE died at the age of 34 in an accidental fall, but her boundary-pushing work lives on. And so will her name, cosmically — right after her passing, a planet was given the permanent name Sophiexeon

    Jake and Hannah Graf

    Source: Hannah Graf on Instagram

    Look, we don’t normally like speaking about two distinct people as a single entity. But it’s a little hard to talk about this couple separately, and not just because they’re cute as hell — they’re some of the most famous trans parents in the entire UK.

    With a second child on the way, Hannah and Jake have been vocal about their journey and routinely speak out against transphobic assumptions. And they’re fascinating on their own, too. Jake is an actor, writer and director who you might recognise from movies like ‘The Danish Girl’ or ‘Cosette,’ and is constantly looking for ways to provide better representation for trans men on screen.

    Hannah, a trans woman, is a decorated Officer of the British Army, acting as both a consultant on transgender issues in the military and a mentor for other trans soldiers. Oh, and did we mention she was awarded an MBE in 2019? Just brilliant!

    Caroline Cossey, aka Tula

    Source: Caroline Cossey on Instagram

    This Norfolk-born Bond girl and top model often made waves for her looks, but Caroline Cossey’s beauty goes a lot deeper than that. She fought tirelessly for her right to be recognised as a woman and to legally marry a man — in the 1980s, she began a seven-year legal battle with the British government in the European Court of Human Rights.

    Not exactly famous for their sensitivity or progressive ethics, British tabloids of the 80’s and 90’s were a regular threat to Cossey’s career and wellbeing. After one ran a story revealing her transgender status against her will, Cossey told Cosmopolitan that her mental health suffered and she was hounded by the British press. 

    You can’t keep an icon down, though. The experiences spurred her to tell her own story in two separate books, and she continues to be an outspoken advocate for trans rights today. 

    April Ashley

    Source: Wikimedia Commons

    No list would be complete without the model, actress, author, trans pioneer and all-around babe April Ashley, one of the first known Brits to undergo gender-affirming surgery

    Getting the right medical care is still challenging for many trans people today, so Ashley’s road wasn’t easy. But that road included a flourishing modelling career, including appearances in Vogue and a film with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. She was also hella fun, a socialite who served up serious looks and partied with the likes of Mick Jagger, Elvis, the Beatles and INXS. 

    British tabloids would end Ashley’s modelling career by ‘outing’ her surgery and turning her personal life into headlines throughout the early 1960’s (hey, is that a pattern?). She would also go on to be one half of the famous divorce case Corbett v Corbett, which created legal barriers for adopting your chosen gender until the Gender Recognition Act of 2004.

    Even when public scrutiny was intense, Ashley found ways to make the most of her fame, like opening a restaurant with star-studded clientele. What’s more, she never stopped advocating for transgender equality, becoming an MBE in 2012 due to her services to trans rights. She died at age 86 in 2021, with the legacy of someone determined to leave the world a better place than she found it.

    Why is it important to highlight famous trans people in the UK?

    Like most trans people, all of the figures mentioned in this article have said they’ve been impacted by transphobia and discrimination. But visible activists, artists and leaders provide much-needed representation and inspire everyone to get involved — not just trans people. 

    Celebs and leaders are only one piece of the puzzle, though. All transgender people deserve support networks, loving relationships, and enthusiastic backing from the entire LGBTQ+ community. 

    Whether you’re looking for support, understanding more about trans dating, or simply hoping to be a more informed ally, check out more of our articles below.

    Robyn Exton

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

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