Kylar Broadus

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When Broadus notified his corporate law job of his intent to transition in 1995, he quickly found himself forced out of the company through a series of passive-aggressive attacks, including hourly phone calls from his supervisor and prohibitions against speaking with certain people. Even taking time off for stress leave failed to cure the problem. When he finally called it quits, he was shocked to learn that there were no laws under which he could sue for discrimination, and began a decades long quest to remedy the problem.

Though best known for founding the Trans People of Color Coalition and being the first trans person to testify before the US Senate when he spoke on ENDA, Broadus is also an attorney, professor at Lincoln University of Missouri, board member of the National Black Justice Coalition (an organization for black LGBT folks), and the 2011 recipient of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Sue J. Hyde Award for Longevity in the Movement. His blog (not updated since 2012) can be found here, and you can follow his active Twitter account here. For more information on employment discrimination faced by trans people – and a mention of Broadus – click here.

Emperor Han Ai

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Known in life as Emporer Xin Liu, Ai earned his posthumous name of “filial and lamentable” (full: Xiaoai). While the “filial” aspect was standard for Chinese emperors beginning with Han Xiaowen, and the “lamentable” refers to his early death, historians center his biographies around acts that would be equally good reasons for the simultaneously blessed and damning titles: grave mismanagement and corruption, including the memorable love affair that gave rise to the Chinese idiom 斷袖之癖, “the passion of the cut sleeve.”

Ai became Prince Xin at age four when his father, brother to the then-reigning emperor, passed away. He earned his place as heir to the throne when he impressed his uncle with his knowledge of law and Confucian texts, and ascended at age twenty. Although his subjects were initially enthusiastic about his intelligence and people skills, during his short reign of six years his popularity tanked, due to heavy taxes, blatant corruption, and his predilection for disposing of officials who got in his way. Wikipedia’s account (which is copied word-for-word on a number of other cites, making citing other sources difficult) of the politicking his grandmother – who held a great deal of influence over Ai – engaged in reads like a high society soap opera.

As negative as the press Ai generated was, he is best known now for a touching love story…that, true to form, involved stunning levels of corruption and ended in tragedy. Dong Xian, a low-level public official, rapidly ascended through the court ranks after catching Ai’s eye, finally taking the title of commander of the armed forces. Historians agree that although they were both married the two were lovers, seeing as Dong displayed no remarkable aptitude that would justify him being given the highest existing political post, and he had a tendency to follow Ai around the palace at times when he should have been doing his job. At the time, homosexual relationships between men were not stigmatized; and so, when Ai arrived at an official function one day missing a sleeve and explained that he had cut it off rather than disturb Dong, who had been sleeping on the fabric, his courtiers took to cutting off their own sleeves as a way of celebrating the love affair. Unfortunately, when Ai passed away shortly after, his unpopularity – and more political maneuvering by his relatives – put Dong and his wife in a position where they were forced to commit suicide.

Sophie Wilson

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To hear Wilson’s video from the European Inventor Award 2013 tell it, the 21st century runs on ARM, a form of computer processor that requires very little power to run, making it ideal for use in portable devices such as cell phones. The Computer History Museum (via Electronics Weekly News) agrees, setting the worldwide number of ARM core processors at 30 billion as of 2012. Although no one person can be exclusively credited with its creation, Wilson was responsible for writing its initial instruction set, which convinced her company – Acorn Manufacturers – that her model was feasible. The above photograph depicts her standing next to a blueprint of ARM1 and holding up a state-of-the-art modern processor as an illustration of how her invention had grown – or, as it were, shrunk.

Although Acorn long ago went out of business, Wilson remained an active participant in the tech field, winning the 2012 Computer History Museum fellowship and working on the Firepath processor. (More technologically proficient readers may enjoy perusing the above links for a more complete listing an explanation of her accomplishments.) She has the unusual distinction of being a trans woman, and the similarly unusual distinction of living in Cambridge, U.K., rather than Silicone Valley.

Jaime Bayly

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Bayly, a prominent Peruvian author and eccentric TV personality, got his start covering municipal elections, then moved on to interviewing South American celebrities. His shows hopped back and forth between his home country and the US as he followed the migrations of the (human) stars, making a name for himself as a premier Spanish-language host.

English-only speakers may be more familiar with Bayly as the author of No se lo Digas a Nadie (Don’t Tell Anyone), which was made into a film in 1994, though he’s written a full stack of novels. Per Wikipedia, many contain autobiographical elements, and center on themes of politics, sex, and friendship. Between his writing and his shows it’s a small wonder he has time to do more, but he’s taken on a substantial challenge by becoming a politician in his own right. He floated the idea of running for president in 2011, and is reconsidering the idea now for 2016. (Link is in Spanish.)

In 2007 the openly bisexual Bayly received the Visibilidad Award from GLAAD for the coming out themes of No se lo Digas a Nadie and for challenging the homophobic diatribes of Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta Humala.

Frank Woodhull

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In popular mythology, immigrants to the United States changed their names at Ellis Island to fit a more American image; in reality, those who did take on a new name did so at the port of departure from their home country. Because identification was never asked for at the Island it was easy to enter with whatever name the passenger purchased their ticket under, and thanks to New York’s lack of name change laws it wasn’t unheard of for immigrants to simply start using new names whenever they chose. However, there was one rare exception in which Ellis Island officials altered a passenger’s name in their books, and that exception was Frank Woodhull.

At the time of his arrival at Ellis, Woodhull, né Mary Johnson, had been a US resident for thirty years. Originally born in Canada, he had moved to California after his father’s death and lived there fifteen years as a woman before using the mustache nature gave him and taking on a male identity. In 1908, when he was fifty, he vacationed in England and passed through Ellis Island on his return, where his frail, thin appearance led to him being pulled aside for questioning under suspicion that he had tuberculosis. At that point he pleaded not to be examined, confessing, “I am a woman, and have traveled in male attire for fifteen years.” Woodhull’s name was then “corrected” in the log, and he was detained overnight in a private room. The next day he was brought before the Board of Special Inquiry, which determined that, in light of his proven ability to support himself, he was a “desirable immigrant [who] should be allowed to win her livelihood as she saw fit,” and he was subsequently released.

Woodhull’s story made the next day’s papers, causing a temporary stir. (The New York Times has its own account available for public viewing here, with the headline, “She posed as man for fifteen years.”) After his short, unintentional brush with fame, Woodhull disappeared from the public eye, possibly to New Orleans, which had been his original destination.

Because Woodhull’s fateful Ellis encounter occurred more than a century ago it is difficult to determine what his gender identity truly was. In his interviews he made much of his unemployability when he lived as a woman and how he had taken inspiration from Canadian women who lived as men, but the way he spoke of his own dislike of womanhood – and his willingness to live as a man for decades – suggests that he may have been better described as a trans man. To quote:

“Women have a hard time in this world. They are walking advertisements for the milliner, the dry goods stores, the jewelers, and other shops. They live in the main only for their clothes, and now and then when a woman comes to the front who does not care for dress she is looked upon as a freak and a crank. With me how different. See this hat? I have worn that hat for three years, and it cost me $3. What woman could have worn a hat so long? Bah! They are the slaves to whim and fashion. What could I do when fifteen years ago I faced the crisis in my life? There was only housework to which I could turn.[…] Men can work at many unskilled callings, but to a woman only a few are open, and they are the grinding, death-dealing kinds of work. Well, for me, I prefer to live a life of independence and freedom.”

As a result of his testimony, this post uses male pronouns to describe him, and the entry is tagged “transgender”; however, given that Woodhull would not have been familiar with the term, it is impossible to conclusively apply it to him.

Dee Rees

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When Rees wrote the screenplay for Pariah, the award-winning 2011 film about a young butch lesbian, she was going through her own coming out process a decade later in life than her fictional avatar. As she shares in an interview, the story was born as a coping mechanism for her own trials with family and spirituality.

Before moving into film, Rees’s first career was in marketing, where she worked for several large firms. The production of a commercial inspired her to make the switch to cinema through a New York University program where Spike Lee became her personal mentor. A shortened version of Pariah became her graduate thesis, and was shown in 40 festivals worldwide, winning a total of 25 awards. Even with its success she had to struggle to get the green light to develop it as the full-length film she had always intended it to be, remarking that critiques that the film was too niche were “code for too black and too gay.” What skeptics viewed as risky was welcomed by audiences as an exceptional, earnest work that offered representation to a community that does not often have the opportunity to appear in mainstream films.

Rees is still writing and directing, though IMDB does not include information on the projects mentioned in the above interview; the site does, however, credit Rees with working on the upcoming film Martian Time-Slip.

Patrick Califia

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Patrick Califia went from a conservative Mormon upbringing to a decades-long career as a controversial pro-pornography and queer rights champion. In 1978, when he still identified as a lesbian, he published a piece in The Advocate defending lesbian S&M, a practice that was at the time considered to be against an influential school of feminist thought that held that women were above violent relationship dynamics. (One of his supporters claims that some of his former critics were won not by digesting his non-fiction philosophy, but by reading his porn and enjoying it.) His first book, published with the collaboration of the lesbian S&M collective he helped found, was subsequently rejected by a number of women’s bookstores, and his more than a dozen later works – taught in some colleges – have continued the polarizing trend, touching on topics such as deliberate exposure to HIV and age of consent laws. He testified in a Canadian censorship case when shipments of his books were seized at the border, leading to a revision of national obscenity laws.

At the age of 45, Califia began identifying as a bisexual trans man, a split on two fronts from his former role as a lesbian sex activist, though the ‘sex’ part hasn’t gone anywhere. He has continued publishing erotica, including several volumes featuring gay men, and speaking on transgender topics.