Transgender history

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Transgender history dates back to the first recorded instances of transgender individuals in ancient civilizations in Asia.

Ancient history[edit]



George Catlin (1796-1872) Dance to the Berdache. Depicts a ceremonial dance to celebrate the two-spirit person among the Sac and Fox Indians.

Prior to western contact, some American Native tribes had third-gender roles, but details were only recorded after the arrival of Europeans. Roles included "berdache" (a derogatory term for people who were born male, who later assumed a traditionally feminine role) and "passing women" (people who were born female, who later took on a traditionally masculine role). The term "berdache" is not a Native American word; rather it was of European origin and covered a range of third-gender people in different tribes. Not all Native American tribes recognized transgender people.[1]

One of the first accounts of transgender people in the Americas was made by Jesuit missionary Joseph-François Lafitau who spent six years among the Iroquois in 1711.[2] He observed "women with manly courage who prided themselves upon the profession of warrior" as well as "men cowardly enough to live as women."[3]


In ancient Assyria, there were homosexual and transgender cult prostitutes, who took part in public processions, singing, dancing, wearing costumes, sometimes wearing women's clothes and carrying female symbols, even at times performing the act of giving birth.[4]

In ancient India, Hijra are a caste of third-gender, or transgender group who live a feminine role. Hijra may be born male or intersex, and some may have been born female.[5] Hijras have a recorded history in the Indian subcontinent from antiquity onwards as suggested by the Kama Sutra period.


Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome[edit]

Sappho reading to her companions on an Attic vase of c. 435 BC.

In Ancient Greece and Phrygia, and later in the Roman Republic, the Goddess Cybele was worshiped by a cult of people who castrated themselves, and thereafter took female dress and referred to themselves as female.[6][7] These early transgender figures have also been referred by several authors as early gay role models.[8][9]

Modern period[edit]

This covers roughly the period from The Enlightenment to today.


South Africa[edit]

On March 15, 2004 – The Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act, 2003 comes into force, allowing transgender and intersex people to change their legally recognized sex. [10]


In September 2017, the Botswana High Court ruled that the refusal of the Registrar of National Registration to change a transgender man's gender marker was "unreasonable and violated his constitutional rights to dignity, privacy, freedom of expression, equal protection of the law, freedom from discrimination and freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment". LGBT activists celebrated the ruling, describing it as a great victory.[11][12] At first, the Botswana Government announced it would appeal the ruling, but decided against it in December, supplying the transgender man with a new identity document that reflects his gender identity.[13]

A similar case, where a transgender woman sought to change her gender marker to female, was heard in December 2017. The High Court ruled that the Government must recognise her gender identity.[14] She dedicated her victory to "every single trans diverse person in Botswana".



In Zapotec cultures of Oaxaca a muxe is an individual assigned male at birth who dresses and otherwise behaves in ways associated with females. They may be seen as a third gender.[15] Muxe may do certain kinds of women’s work such as embroidery but others do the male work of making jewelry.[16][17] One study estimates that six percent of males in an Isthmus Zapotec community in the early 1970s were muxe.[18]

United States of America[edit]

There were isolated cases of people living as the opposite gender in the early years of the Republic such as Joseph Lobdell. During the Civil War, over 200 women donned men's clothing and fought as soldiers; some were transgender and lived the rest of their lives as men, such as Albert Cashier.[19]

In 1895 a group of self-described androgynes in New York organized a club called the Cercle Hermaphroditos, based on their wish "to unite for defense against the world's bitter persecution".[20]

A couple of first-person accounts in the early years of the 20th century cast some light on what life for a transgender person was like then, including The Autobiography of an Androgyne (1918) by Jennie June (born in 1874 as Earl Lind).[21] Notable American jazz musician and bandleader Billy Tipton (born in 1914 as Dorothy Lucille Tipton) lived as a man from the 1940s until his death.[22]

The idea of someone changing sex was unknown to most people until news about Christine Jorgensen burst onto the scene in 1952. She was the first widely publicized person to have undergone sex reassignment surgery.[23] Around the same time, organization and clubs began to form, such as Virginia Prince's Tranvestia publication for an international organization of cross-dressers,[24] but this operated in the same shadows as did the still forming gay subculture. In the 1960s, transgender and gay activism began with riots in 1966 at Compton's Cafeteria in San Francisco and in a defining event in gay and transgender activism, the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York.

The 1970s and 1980s saw organizations devoted to transgender social activities or activism come and go, including activist Lou Sullivan's FTM support group that grew into FTM International, the leading advocacy group for female-to-male transgender individuals.[24] Some feminist and lesbian organizations and individuals began to question whether transgender individuals could be accepted in events designated for one sex only, such as the women's music collective Olivia Records where trans woman Sandy Stone had long been employed, or in the 1990s at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival which had a "women-born-women" in policy.

Among Native Americans, the term Two Spirit was adopted in 1994 with general, though not universal agreement among various tribes to refer to third gender or gender-variant individuals in their communities.[25]

The 1990s saw the establishment of Transgender Day of Remembrance to honor those lost to violence, transgender marches and parades around the time of Gay Pride celebrations and increasingly in the 2000s and after, the visibility of transgender individuals rose, along with actresses like Laverne Cox who was on the cover of TIME[26][27][28] and exemplified by Caitlyn Jenner coming out in 2015.[29] Many news sources have described Jenner as the most famous openly transgender American.[30][31][32]

Organizations such as the Girl Scouts[33] and the Episcopal Church announced acceptance of transgender people[34] in the 2010s. In 2016, the Obama administration issued guidance that clarified Title IX protections for transgender students. This letter included definitions of terminology and clarified the rights of transgender students, the most well-known being allowance of transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity.[35] However, some legislative bodies took up bills seen as discriminatory, such as North Carolina's HB 2. The Obama administration's guidance for protection of transgender students was rescinded in early 2017 by the Trump administration.[36]

Hawaii became the first state to elect an openly transgender woman to statewide office when Kim Coco Iwamoto was elected to the Hawaii Board of Education in 2006, and later as commissioner on the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission in 2012.[37]

In 2017, Danica Roem became the first openly transgender woman to be elected to a state legislature in the state of Virgina, defeating 12-term Republican incumbent Bob Marshall by 7.83 percentage points[38].

American transgender history booth at East-Central Minnesota Pride in Pine City, Minnesota in 2018.


During the colonial period in Canada a European system of beliefs and values was virtually imposed on the First Nations. As part of this enterprise, missionaries made some of the first observations of LGBT practices among native populations. Jesuit Joseph-François Lafitau spent six years among the Iroquois starting in 1711 where he made important discoveries about Iroquois society.[2] About his observations of cross-gender behavior he later wrote, "If there were women with manly courage who prided themselves upon the profession of warrior, which seems to become men alone, there were also men cowardly enough to live as women."[3]

In 1738 The arrival of Esther Brandeau, a young Jewish woman disguised as a boy and using the male pseudonym Jacques La Fargue, caused a minor scandal in Quebec City.[39]

In 2002, sexual orientation and gender identity were included in the Northwest Territories Human Rights Act.

In February 2011, the House of Commons passed at third reading NDP MP Bill Siksay's Bill C-389, to amend the federal Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination under Canadian federal anti-discrimination laws, at third reading, but it died on the order paper in the Senate when Parliament was dissolved. The bill was reintroduced as Bill C-279 in the subsequent Parliament and passed second reading on June 6, 2012. June 2012 also saw the addition of gender identity and gender expression to the Ontario Human Rights Code and of gender identity to the Manitoba Human Rights Code.

May 19 2012: following a legal battle to reverse her disqualification for not being a "naturally born female", Vancouver resident Jenna Talackova successfully became the first transgender woman to compete in a Miss Universe pageant.[40] She does not make the Top 5, but is one of four contestants awarded the title of "Miss Congeniality".[40]

On December 6, 2012 Bill No. 140 of the 61st General Assembly of Nova Scotia known as the Transgendered Persons Protection Act was given Royal Assent by the then Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Mayann Francis. It added both gender identity and gender expression to the list of things explicitly protected from harassment in the province's Human Rights Act.[41]

On March 20 2013, - The House of Commons passed Bill C-279, a private member's bill sponsored by Randall Garrison, which officially extends human rights protections to transgender and transsexual people in Canada.[42] The bill passes with virtually unanimous support on the opposition benches, as well as 18 members of the governing Conservative Party caucus, although the majority of Conservatives are opposed.[42]

On February 25 2015 - The Senate of Canada amends Bill C-279, the transgender equality bill passed by the House of Commons of Canada in 2013, in ways which are criticized as transphobic.[43]

December 1 - During debate in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta on the inclusion of gender identity as protected grounds in the provincial Human Rights Code, MLA Estefania Cortes-Vargas was represented in media coverage during the election campaign as female and lesbian,[44] in December 2015 they formally came out as non-binary in the legislature during debate on the inclusion of transgender rights in the provincial human rights code.[45] While the provincial Hansard normally reports members' speeches under the gender honorifics "Mr." or "Ms.", Cortes-Vargas is recorded as "Member Cortes-Vargas".[45] >

December 17 - Kael McKenzie was appointed to the Provincial Court of Manitoba, becoming Canada's first-ever transgender judge.[46]

In 2016, gender identity or expression was added to Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is both a charter of rights and a human rights act.

January 21 2016 - Through her foundation, Jennifer Pritzker gave a $2 million donation to create the world’s first endowed academic chair of transgender studies, at the University of Victoria in British Columbia; Aaron Devor was chosen as the inaugural chair.[47]

May 17 2016 - Federal Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould introduces Bill C-16, which will update the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include "gender identity and gender expression" as protected grounds from discrimination, hate publications and advocating genocide. The bill will also add "gender identity and expression" to the list of aggravating factors in sentencing, where the accused commits a criminal offence against an individual because of those personal characteristics.[48] Although the New Democratic Party had introduced similar private member's bills several times in previous years, C-16 represents the first time such a bill has been put forward by the governing party in the House of Commons.[48]

Since June 2017, all places within Canada explicitly within Canadian Human Rights Act, equal opportunity and/or anti-discrimination legislation prohibit discrimination against gender identity or gender identity or expression.[49]

As of August 31, 2017, Canadians can indicate that they do not identify as male or female on their passports. This is an ongoing effort by the federal government to eventually allow individuals to indicate their sex as 'x' on their passport and other government-issued identification.[50]

January 11 2018 - Canadian Women's Hockey League player Jessica Platt came out as a transgender woman, making her the first transgender woman to come out in North American professional hockey.[51][52]

Australasia and Oceania[edit]

In the Cook Islands, the akava'ine is a Māori Rarotongan word which has become used since the 2000s to refer to transgender people of Māori descent from the Cook Islands. It is a contemporary identity which arose through cross-cultural contact with other Polynesians living in New Zealand, especially the Samoan Fa'afafine.[53]

In Samoa, the Fa'afafine ("in the manner of a woman") are a type of third gender with uncertain origin who go back at least to the beginning of the twentieth century. Fa'afafine are male at birth, and express both masculine and feminine gender traits.[54][55]



The bayog, asog in the Visayas and babalyans who dressed in women's clothes and invoked spirits, existed in the precolonial period prior to Spanish contact and subsequent colonization. The bayog were considered spiritual leaders who were highly revered in the community. The practice was outlawed in 1625 after Spanish subjugation.[56] Cross dressing was practiced in the American colonial rule. Gay men dressed as women usually flocked in the streets of Manila. Helen Cruz pioneered in transgender rights in the Philippines during the 1960s.

Gulf Arab states[edit]

The khanith are a third gender category in Oman and the Arabian Peninsula who function sexually, and in some ways socially, as women.[57]


Transgender Studies was only established as an academic discipline in the 1990s so it is difficult to apply transgender to Chinese culture in a historical context. There were no transgender groups or communities in Hong Kong until after the turn of the 21st century. Today they are still known as a "sexual minority" in China.[58] China and greater China (the Chinese region, including People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan (Republic of China)) are characterized by transphobia.[citation needed].[59]


An all-transgender netball team from Indonesia competed at the 1994 Gay Games in New York City. The team had been the Indonesian national champions.[60]


Under the Shah transsexuals and crossdressers were classed with gays and lesbians and faced punishment of lashing or even death. The new religious government that came to be established under the Ayatollah treated them initially the same way.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, however, transsexuals were officially recognized by the government and allowed to undergo sex reassignment surgery. As of 2008, Iran carries out more sex change operations than any other nation except Thailand.[61] The government provides up to half the cost for those needing financial assistance, and a sex change is recognized on the birth certificate.[62]

Kabuki dance by onnagata Akifusa Guraku.


In the year 1998 the Israeli pop singer Dana International became the first transgender person to win the Eurovision Song Contest,[63] as well as the first transgender person to enter the contest.[64]


Public accounts of transgender people in Japan began during the Edo period. Women actors were banned from kabuki theatre performances and, in turn, effeminate male performers took on the roles of women. Such actors maintained their dress both inside and outside of the theater. It was widely believed, at the time, that only men could really know what beauty in a woman looked like. Moreover, if a man acted like a woman, dressed like a woman and took on the social roles of a woman, he was simply socialized as one. The latter is a result of how Japan conceptualized gender and sexuality in terms of adopted social roles.[citation needed] In 2017 Japan became the one of the first countries in the world to elect an openly transgender man to a public office when Tomoya Hosoda was elected as a councillor for the city of Iruma.[65][66]


Kathoey dancers in Bangkok.

Kathoey is a Thai term, often translated as "ladyboy" in modern English, which has undergone an evolution. It used to refer to intersex individuals, then in the 20th century to cross-dressing males or gay men who display varying degrees of femininity which may or may not include hormonal or surgical intervention. In contrast, sao praphet song suggests someone who identifies as a woman.

Toms and Dees are two kinds of female gender identity in Thailand. A "Tom" is a female who dresses, acts, and possibly speaks in a masculine fashion. A "dee" is a homosexual (or bisexual) female who follows typical Thai female gender expression. The only difference between dees and traditional Thai females is that dees engage in relationships with toms.[67] A kathoey, or "ladyboy", refers to a male who dresses as and adopts the mannerisms and identity of a woman.[68]

Thailand has become a center for performing sex reassignment surgery, and now performs more than any other country.[61]



Balkan sworn virgins are women who take a vow of celibacy, wear male clothing, assume male privileges, and live out their lives as men in the patriarchal society of northern Albania. The tradition goes back to a 15th-century code of laws, and is observed by members of different religions.[69] The practice was first reported by missionaries and other travelers who visited the area in the 19th century.[70]


Lili Elbe was a Danish transgender woman and one of the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery.[71][72] Elbe was assigned male at birth and was a successful painter before transitioning.[73] She also presented as Lili (sometimes spelled Lily). She transitioned in 1930 and made a legal name change to Lili Ilse Elvenes[74] and stopped painting. Lili died from complications involving a uterus transplant.[75][76]

Denmark is also known for its role in the transition of American Christine Jorgensen, whose operations were performed in Copenhagen starting in 1951.[77]

In 2017 Denmark became the first country in the world to officially delete transgender identities from its list of disorders of mental health.[78]

Great Britain[edit]

Molly houses appeared in 18th century London and other large cities. A Molly house is an archaic 18th century English term for a tavern or private room where homosexual and cross-dressing men could meet each other and possible sexual partners. Patrons of the Molly house would sometimes enact mock weddings, sometimes with the bride giving birth.


Anna P, who lived for many years as a man, photographed for Magnus Hirschfeld's book Sexual Intermediates in 1922.

During the Weimar Republic, Berlin was a liberal city. Berlin had the most active LGBT rights movements in the world at the time. Magnus Hirschfeld had co-founded the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee, WhK) in Berlin and sought social recognition of homosexual and transgender men and women. The Committee had branches in several other countries, thereby being the first international LGBT organization, although on a small scale. In 1919, Hirschfeld had also co-founded the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sex Research), a private sexology research institute. It had a research library and a large archive, and included a marriage and sex counseling office. In addition, the institute was a pioneer worldwide in the call for civil rights and social acceptance for homosexual and transgender people. The word transvestite was coined by Hirschfeld and used as the title of his 1910 book, The Transvestites: The Erotic Drive to Cross-Dress.

In Berlin in 1931, Dora Richter became the first known transgender woman to undergo vaginoplasty, along with removal of the penis, and following removal of the testicles several years earlier.[79] The same year in Dresden, Lili Elbe underwent similar surgeries, including an unsuccessful uterine transplant, the rejection of which resulted in her death.

On 12 June 2003, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Van Kück, a German trans woman whose insurance company denied her reimbursement for sex reassignment surgery as well as hormone replacement therapy. The legal arguments related to the Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the Article 8. This affair is referred to as Van Kück vs Germany.[80]


In 2006 Vladimir Luxuria became the first openly transgender woman to be elected as Member of the Italian Parliament and also the first transgender Member of the Parliament in Europe.

In 2017 Alex Hai came out as a transgender man, thus becoming the first openly transgender person to be a gondolier in Venice.[81][82]

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