The 7 Most Influential Transgender Actors and Actresses Then and Now


Explore the inspiring journeys of famed transgender actors and actresses in the Hollywood industry, then and now.


Transgender Actors and Actresses


Hey, darlings! Isn’t it amazing how we’ve seen an absolute explosion in the visibility of our transgender actors and actresses on the silver screen these past few years? It’s like a fabulous phoenix rising, honey, and it’s about time! I mean, remember the days when transgender roles were played by cisgender actors? Ugh, as if! Now, our trans siblings are stepping into the limelight.



This seismic shift in both representation and acceptance of transgender actors and actresses in Tinseltown was fought for, tooth and manicured nail, by the relentless LGBTQ+ community and allies within the industry.


I’ve been lucky enough to witness this and see my trans friends feel ever proud of such representation. Now, we’re witnessing a new era, where trans individuals can tell their worth-telling stories. And not only us in related communities — crossdressers, drag queens, et. al. — are going to listen, but the whole world!



Transgender Actors and Actresses and Their Impact


Transgender Actors and Actresses  


Transgender actors and actresses have not only made waves in Hollywood, but they’ve got the world surfing those waves with them. And oh, the drama! It’s as huge as my hair on a Saturday night! These artists have created a ripple effect, subtly reshaping societal perceptions, challenging long-held beliefs, and hunny, they’ve got people talking!


For instance, Laverne Cox, known for her role in Orange Is the New Black, became the first trans person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in acting. Can you even fathom the possibility of this being a reality some 10 years ago?


These powerhouses of talent don’t just change the narrative, they rewrite the script. The ripples extend far beyond the trans community. LGBTQ+ folks and other marginalized groups endlessly find inspiration in these stories of triumphs, of struggles, of new possibilities! It’s about more than just a portrayal on screen, it’s about visibility and validation.


Much like how a fabulous pair of silicone breast forms can alter perceptions (wink wink), these actors are remolding societal ideals, giving a voice to those pushed to the sidelines. They’re showing the world that we’re here, we’re fierce, and we’re not going anywhere. So get used to the spotlight, hunny, because there’s a whole lot more where that came from. And it’s about time, don’t you think?


Most Influential Transgender Actors and Actresses


Transgender Actors and Actresses  


Ready? Here’s the holy list:


1. Coccinelle, 1931 – 2006


So I went to Casablanca to meet the doctor who was going to rectify this error of the nature of which I was a victim — Finally, I was going to be a real woman, in perfect harmony, inside and out.— Cocconelle


Not the premium bag brand! But the one, the only, Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy!


When she was a teenager, she found herself at a party wearing a red dress with black polka dots. Since then, she welcomed the nickname Coccinelle — the French term for ladybug.


Transgender Actors and Actresses


Our Queen Ladybug, Mademoiselle Coccinelle was a 1953 transgender showgirl. One of the bravest out there, with letting the public in on her gender assignment surgery (GRS) — and in the post-time war too, where transgender individuals were not exactly embraced by society. She was a regular performer in Le Carrousel de Paris, a famous 1950s cabaret, along with equally talented transwomen like Bambi and April Ashey.


Coccinelle was the heart of the LGBTQ+ movement in the 20th century République Francaise.


It makes me sad to realize that Coccinelle became a media sensation after she had her vaginoplasty in Casablanca, Morocco. But it did help her be in the limelight, and along with her is the acknowledgment that transgender people can assimilate in show business if given the chance. Coccinelle based her stage acts on noteworthy sex symbols during her time and her efforts paid off as the media kept their eyes on her.


Italian musician Ghigo Agosti dedicated the song  Coccinella to her, causing more controversy and attention. Later, she would star in various films such as Los Viciosos (1962) and  Días de viejo color (1968). She also performed at the Paris Olympia and had her own revue in 1963.


I will give you more reasons to love her. Aside from her willingness to take the brunt of criticisms for such a bright stage as showbiz, Coccinelle used her influence to:


Found the Devenir Femme (To Become Woman) Organization to offer practical help and emotional support to those who want to undergo sex reassignment surgery


Established the  Center for Aid, Research, and Information for Transsexuality and Gender Identity paved the way for more research centers to focus their studies on transgender

people and their struggles to hopefully find solutions, set up the right for transgender people in France to legally marry.


If you want to read more about this absolute gem of a human being, read her autobiography, Coccinelle par Coccinelle  (1987).


2. Christine Jorgensen, 1926 – 1989


Transgender Actors and Actresses


“When the First Lady is a he–and the President is me

It’s a switch–it’s a twist–it’s a change

Still these things would shock most people

But I don’t really know why,

For the world is full of changes–who knows this more than I!”


— Christine Jorgensen


If France had a Coccinelle, the US of A have Christine Jorgensen. She was the first widely known individual who underwent GRS. Aside from being one of the most famous transgender actors and actresses on this list, she was also a recording artist, author, and of course, a transgender activist.


After witnessing the horrors of the Second World War, Christine became more inclined to live her life as authentically as she could. She got her education, worked, and focused on a photography career.


She was already taking estrogens, but would later learn of GRS in Sweden. Christine initially wanted to travel there, but when she was in Denmark, she met Christian Hamburger, a Danish endocrinologist who guided her transition via hormone replacement therapy. She chose the name “Christine” to honor Christian.


Christine didn’t tell many about her plans to transition, as she was afraid of opposition. I mean, most of us could relate to her concerns, even today, right? It was a good thing that her parents were from Denmark, so she hid her trip as a family visitation/vacation.


Once she got the permit, she underwent orchiectomy (testicle removal surgery) and immediately felt like a new person. In a letter, she says: “Remember the shy, miserable person who left America? Well, that person is no more and, as you can see, I’m in marvelous spirits”



She underwent a penectomy (penis removal) next and would get her vaginoplasty in the USA. Christine was one of the lucky ones who had the support of her parents. She stayed close to them until their death.


So how was Christine thrown into the entertainment world? We have the New York Daily News to blame for that. Look, I appreciate that we, the next generations, get to know Christine. But it was severely invasive of the media to leak her private letters to her parents. Although she planned to keep her transition private, her letter outed her to the public. It said:


“Nature made a mistake which I have had corrected, and now I am your daughter.”


The quiet life she wanted originally did not happen. She could only earn money through public appearances. She shared the details of her life in five installments in The American Weekly and sold 450,000 copies of her biography Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography (1967).


Of course, when a shiny, novel thing is not as shiny or novel anymore, the media would move on. And would be harsher in their critiques. They would also be more rude and disrespectful. Christine had to endure this, too. Can you imagine being asked to pose nude by various print media like you’re some kind of freak at a circus? Urgh. I will always hate how invasive Christine was outed.


But Christine created a good legacy despite everything, she gave lectures and met a still very judgmental public with her poise and charm. Her public transition, although not what she originally wanted, became an inspiration for many transgender individuals in the subsequent decades.


3. Candis Cayne, 1971 –


Transgender Actors and Actresses  


“I’m not trying to be a spokeswoman for the transgender community; I just want to be looked at as a living, breathing, happy human being.” — Candis Cayne


Ah, Candis Cayne! Now, here’s a name that rings several bells. She was a drag performer in the 1990s, came out as a transgender in 1996, and shattered the glass ceiling in 2007!


If you haven’t had a chance to see Dirty Sexy Money, let me paint you a picture. The series itself was a rollercoaster ride of power, politics, and privilege, but the glittering gem amidst it all was Candis, who played Carmelita, the lover of one of the series’ main characters. So why should we care? Well — this isn’t a simple cameo — Candis was a full-pledge part of the character on a prime-time TV!


Primetime — the time when most people watch TV! She was the first transgender actress to achieve such a milestone. I remember first seeing this show because, oh my, what a satisfying moment. To be seen, again and again, and not just as a sexualized character (like what the media did to our Ladybug and Christine, sadly.) In Dirty Sexy Money, she had a multidimensional character, with relatable human decisions and flaws. She was important to the plot and stood for something.


Visibility is everything. And for the trans community, it’s what most hold on to erase misconceptions and to hopefully live free. I’m not saying trans roles were never on TV, but we can’t sugarcoat the reality that most roles given to transgender people were often reduced to stereotypes or caricatures. Candis also went through this phase, appearing in documentaries and comedy films to dance and be a supporting cast.


But no more! Because of her, many in the community are free to dream of being in Hollywood, and for the first time, that dream can be a reality.


4. Roberta Cowell, 1918 – 2011


Roberta cowell


“Since May 18th, 1951, I have been Roberta Cowell, female. I have become woman physically, psychologically, glandularly and legally.” — Roberta Cowell


Let me take you back in time (yet again — I can’t help it, I am fascinated with transgender trailblazers). Europe, mid-20th century, the scent of burnt rubber and the deafening roar of a Spitfire engine. That’s where Roberta Cowell was, right in the thick of World War II, not just surviving but thriving, proving herself as a skilled fighter pilot. If that’s not girl power, I dunno what is.


Roberta Cowell — the first British transwoman to undergo GRS.


She was born to a major general father, caught a vid of drilling Nazis, became an apprentice aircraft engineer, and joined the Royal Air Force. Roberta was busy alright. As if she wasn’t busy enough, she was also a motorracer. But, unfortunately for our leading lady, not everything was smoothly sailing. In 1944, she was captured by German troops and was imprisoned for five months, and those months were harsh. She lost 23 kilos and even resorted to killing and eating raw cat meat.


After the war, she married a fellow engineering student and founded a motor racing. With this team, she competed all over Europe. It should be an exciting, fun time in her life. But Roberta was suffering from depression. Her marriage resulted in two children, but she and her wife were unhappy. In the end, they decided to divorce.


The added stress of the divorce, of course, did not help her depression. She had reached out to psychiatrists and finally found an explanation. In her memoir, she shared that her “unconscious was predominantly female.” Opposed to his aggressive male presentation, his female side was repressed and caused deeply rooted problems.


Roberta then met Michael Dillion, a British physician and a trans man. He understood her needs and performed an inguinal orchiectomy on Roberta. Everything had to be done in secret, as it was then illegal in Britain. She visited a private gynecologist who stated he was intersex. Later, Roberta changed her birth certificate, with her sex recorded as female, and went on to have a vaginoplasty.


Her stunt, when released to the press, pushed an “astonishing number of men who want to emulate Cowell’s example.” Clearly, even then, Roberta wasn’t the only one who yearned to be her true self. To us, she remains an icon of bravery and courage. She went through so much and finally had the life she wanted.


5. April Ashley, 1935 – 2021


Transgender Actors and Actresses


“I always say three things: Be beautiful, be kind – to yourself and others – and most of all be brave.” — April Ashley


Sadly, Christine Jorgensen wasn’t the only one outed by the media. April Ashley was best remembered for her glamorous later life, but she wasn’t born into wealth. She had a poor upbringing, was always in the hospital as a kid because of calcium deficiency, and had always thoughts of wanting to live as a woman.


When she was growing up, working as a deck boy, she realized she wasn’t “maturing naturally” like her fellow mates. No deepening of the voice, instead her breasts were getting bigger. Later records would say April could have been intersex. But this wouldn’t matter at a time when no such term existed anyway.


Being so different isolated April, depression followed suit. After being forced into conversion therapy, she fled to London. Away from her family, she worked any job she could, wore more feminine clothes, and called herself “Toni” — something more gender-neutral to avoid questions. Finally, she found a home at Le Carrousel Drag Cabaret, where she performed and toured.


April also heard about Christine’s transition and followed what she did. The surgery was risky, but April called it the best day of her life. After legally changing her name, April became a prominent model, even posing for British Vogue and being in the film The Road to Hong Kong (1962). This was all April’s talent, as only close friends knew of her transition.


The Sunday People outed her with the headline “Her Secret is Out.” All of April’s hard work was discredited and no agency would hire her anymore. But she was no quitter — this madam is tenacious and I love her fighting spirit!


She sought out The Sunday People‘s main competition — The News of the World and serialized her story there. This is her story and no one is allowed to tell it but April!


I find April’s life the most relatable out of all in this list of transgender actors and actresses. For most of us — crossdressers, trans, drag queens, and the like — life isn’t so forgiving. We had to fight through and find our authentic selves despite the challenges we go through daily.


I just had — had — to be sentimental about April Ashley. But let’s continue the list!


6. Elliot Page


elliot page


“I’d always been told I was gay, made fun of for it. I felt comfortable in environments with queer women. But something in me knew that I was transgender. It was something I had always known but didn’t have the words for, wouldn’t permit myself to embrace.”  — Elliot Page


Alright, let’s turn the page (pun absolutely intended) to another incredible actor who’s really made waves in both the film industry and the transgender community — Elliot Page. Y’all remember him, right? The Oscar-nominated actor from Juno? Who wouldn’t? In 2020, Elliot kicked open the doors of the metaphorical closet and announced to the world that he’s transgender and non-binary.


I mean, we all knew Elliot as a phenomenal actor, but to come out as trans in such a public way? That takes serious courage. I’ve got friends in the trans community who’ve told me how inspiring it was to see a big-name actor like Elliot being so open about their identity


What happened to his career post coming out? I am glad to say that Elliot’s still kicking it. He continues to keep his place in Hollywood, starring in the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy. It’s refreshing — relieving honestly — to see him still landing big roles. After the story of April Ashley, it’s nice to hear that the 21st century isn’t that narrow-minded.


7. Dominique Jackson


doninique jackson 


“We’re trying to humanize the trans community. It’s about showing us as normal, everyday human beings who just happen to be trans. It is extremely important for trans people to be visible. I realised that I couldn’t live in a box.” — Dominique Jackson


Our final star — Dominique Jackson! If you aren’t familiar with her, you’re seriously missing out. She’s the renowned author of The Transexual from Tobago, a deeply personal and eye-opening account of her life experiences. But that’s just one feather in her fabulously decorated cap.


I’ll tell ya, when Dominique strutted onto the scene in Pose, she took the world by storm. Her character, Elektra Abundance, was just so…electric! I’ve seen my fair share of TV shows, but none have made quite the impact like Pose has. Why? Because it’s raw, it’s real, and it stars some truly amazing transgender actors and actresses. The plot is also all about the trans community.


Navigating life as a transgender woman in this often unforgiving world isn’t a walk in the park, as you and I know all too well. Yet, Dominique’s journey from Tobago to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood is a testament to her sheer grit and determination. It’s a story that resonates deeply with me and, I’m sure, with many of you out there.


Honorable Mentions


Transgender Actors and Actresses


Before we move on, I want to throw some love towards a few other transgender actors and actresses who’ve also been shaking up the scene.


Indya Moore


Pose wouldn’t be the same without Indya Moore, who played the iconic Angel Evangelista. But Indya’s not just hitting home runs on-screen. From high-fashion runways to loud-and-proud activism, Indya’s been a tour-de-force in the fight for transgender rights.


Scott Turner Schofield


Scott Turner Schofield coined a phrase that hits close to home, “Trans men have been completely invisible in Hollywood.” His work, however, makes him anything but. A trans man himself, Scott’s doing his part to change the narrative and I’m here applauding him for it!


Scott turner schofield 


Elliot Fletcher


Elliot Fletcher isn’t a “trans actor,” he’s an actor who happens to be trans. His roles in Faking It, Shameless, and The Fosters, go beyond tokenism, showcasing his talent and proving that trans actors don’t need to be confined to trans roles.


Jake Graf


Jake Graf keeps his trans identity under wraps during auditions, preferring to be considered “just one of the guys.” His stance isn’t about denial but about his right to be seen for his talent first and foremost.


MJ Rodriguez


From Pose to Nurse Jackie and The Carrie Diaries, MJ Rodriguez is making her mark and proving that trans actresses can hold their own in the industry. I can’t wait to see where her career takes her next.


Read now! MJ rodriguez 


Leo Sheng


Leo Sheng, who you might recognize from The L Word, is another actor defying stereotypes and showing Hollywood that trans actors are here to stay (and slay! Woot Woot!).


Josie Totah


Josie Totah, who knew her gender identity even before she knew what “gender” meant, is not just an actress but a symbol of strength and courage. Her story resonates with so many of us in the trans community.


Hunter Schafer


Hunter Schafer, the new face in the industry but already a cast in Zendaya’s Euphoria, wants everyone to know that being trans isn’t all that defines her. She’s successfully showing that our identities are multifaceted and complex, and I couldn’t agree more.




Transgender Actors and Actresses


There are so many more I would like to add to this transgender actors and actresses list, but I am also glad that there are now so many! They’ve not only made headway in their individual careers but also played a crucial role in reshaping the narrative around trans representation on the big and small screens.


Back in my early crossdressing days, seeing such inspirational figures on screen made my heart swell with pride and hope. Now, even more so. They’ve shown us, and the world, that being trans isn’t a whole identity, but just one facet of their rich, complex selves. These pioneers have taught us that we don’t have to conform to society’s expectations to find success and acceptance.


FAQs about Transgender Actors and Actresses


Transgender Actors and Actresses  


How has the representation of transgender actors and actresses in Hollywood evolved over the years?


Oh, it has come a long way and I can’t be any gladder for it. Before, the typecast for transgender actors and actresses was so limited it was downright insulting. They were also often overtly sexualized and had negative one-dimensional roles. Now, our sisters and brothers get to enjoy picking from an array of diverse roles Roles that even stretch beyond gender identities. The shift was slow, but we are here now, finally.


What impact have transgender actors and actresses made on the film and television industry?


Where do I even start? First, they brought hope and inspiration — they changed the narrative in the industry! They offered authenticity and opened dialogues about representation and diversity. They kicked the barriers so future transgender actors and actresses can come right in,


How have transgender actors and actresses influenced societal perceptions and understanding of transgender issues?


They helped move societal perception to the positive bar, erasing many misconceptions through education. By portraying trans characters with depth and authenticity, they challenge stereotypes and foster empathy among viewers. Their visibility in mainstream media has also led to important conversations about gender identity.


How do transgender actors and actresses use their platform for advocacy for trans rights?


Many transgender actors and actresses leverage their platforms to advocate for trans rights. They use interviews, social media, and public appearances to raise awareness about issues affecting transgender and related communities.


What challenges do transgender actors and actresses still face in the industry?


There’s progress, sure, but transgender actors and actresses still have to deal with stereotypes, concealed (but obvious) discrimination, and a lack of roles that transcend their “trans persona.” They also face societal prejudice, which impacts their personal and professional lives.


How can the film and television industry better support and represent transgender actors and actresses?


There is no way but to increase representation to the point that it is part of the normal because it should be normalized. This should not only be on-screen, but off-screen. This includes hiring trans individuals in creative roles, like writing and directing, to ensure authentic storytelling. Training and workshops on transgender issues can also foster an inclusive environment. Finally, creating more diverse and nuanced roles for trans actors can contribute to a more balanced portrayal of the trans community.

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