Why 2015 was the year of trans visibility
It’s a good state of affairs when, tasked with pinpointing this year’s watershed moment for transgender visibility, you find that there are far too many mainstream moments to choose from: Caitlyn Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer, watched by 16.9 million people; Laverne Cox being named one of the world’s most beautiful women by People; the debut of trans teen Jazz Jennings’s reality show, I Am Jazz, on TLC.
Without a doubt, 2015 has been a bumper year for trans visibility. Just ask Jennings. “One of the main things about 2015 is that there’s been plenty of media appearances by transgender individuals,” she told Vogue.com in an email. “Between Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, Transparent, Becoming Us, and even I Am Jazz, there’s just been so much out there for people to really see. The world is finally opening up their minds and realizing that transgender people are just like everyone else and should be accepted and embraced for who they truly are.”
Here, 14 of the many people and productions that moved—make that shoved—the needle in 2015.
Jenner managed to outdo former stepdaughter Kim Kardashian West when she came out, breaking the Internet and racking up 1 million Twitter followers faster than anyone in history. Now the poster woman for the trans community, Jenner’s every move is put under the microscope, and Barbara Walters has dubbed her the most fascinating person of 2015.
When Gutiérrez interrupted President Obama at a pride event to call for an end to LGBT immigrant detention, she was branded a White House heckler. But she later garnered acclaim from the trans community and beyond, and is now considered one of the year’s gutsiest trans activists.
Virginia high school junior Grimm sued his school district when a new policy was introduced barring him from using the men’s restroom he had already been using for two months. The 16-year-old took the potentially landmark case to federal court.
When 27-year-old whistle-blower Manning blogged about the injustices of transitioning within the walls of a military prison, she revealed that she was forced to wear her hair short, that she was placed in solitary confinement, and that many of her reading materials, including the issue of Vanity Fair bearing Caitlyn Jenner on its cover, were confiscated.
Jennings has balanced her ascent to the role of public trans advocate with yet another tricky transition: entering high school. 1.3 million viewers tuned in to the premiere of the 15-year-old’s TLC series, I Am Jazz, watching her both pick out a flattering swimsuit and candidly discuss the correct terminology to use when discussing the transgender experience. More recently, Jennings landed on Time’s list of the most influential teens of 2015.
No longer an underdog, Jill Soloway’s groundbreaking Amazon series followed up two Golden Globe wins with five Emmy Awards, including one for outstanding directing for a comedy series and one for lead actor in a comedy series. “We don’t have a trans tipping point,” Soloway said in her Emmys acceptance speech onstage. “We have a trans civil rights problem.”
Freedman-Gurspan made history when, in August, she became the White House’s first out transgender official. “President Obama has long said he wants his administration to look like the American people,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in a statement. “I have understood this to include transgender Americans.”
Kansas City, Missouri, teen Patterson was crowned her high school’s first transgender homecoming queen earlier this year. “I’m just honored that I’m put in this spotlight and that I’m representing my school and representing the trans community,” she told a local newspaper.
Director Sean Baker’s gut-busting romp Tangerine put trans actresses Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez front and center. Shot entirely on an iPhone, the comical revenge plot is buoyed by the enviable bond between the two close friends. The pair are the first transgender actresses in Hollywood history to be backed by a distributor for an Oscar campaign.
Nef parlayed her status as an in-demand model for a spot in the cast of Jill Soloway’s hit show, Transparent. She also became the first trans woman to get signed by IMG Worldwide, where she is now sitting pretty next to catwalk regulars Gisele Bündchen and Gigi Hadid. On Transparent, Nef appears in multiple flashbacks as Gittel, a trans woman in 1930s Berlin.
After winning a SAG Award for being part of the Orange Is the New Blackensemble cast—as well as taking home a Daytime Creative Arts Emmy—Cox was immortalized as the first trans person to get a wax figure in Madame Tussauds wax museum. “Netflix and Orange Is the New Black have been so amazing for me,” Cox told Vogue.com in an email. “These entities have given me a chance to shine. What trans folks need more than anything is a chance to shine. For me to exist at this historical moment, getting to live so many of my dreams and be inspired by the beautiful diversity of trans people in the media, feels great.”
Dowling, a 28-year-old trans man, flexed his way to becoming the runner-up forMen’s Health’s fitness cover competition of 2015. Dowling not only made trans body positivity mainstream, he underscored the importance of being comfortable in one’s own skin, trans or not.
Writer-director Sydney Freeland put a magnifying glass on Native American culture in her debut feature, Drunktown’s Finest, adding to the trans conversation her unique personal experience of growing up a transgender woman on a Navajo reservation. “When I was younger, I didn’t have a frame of reference for what I was going through, but things have changed so much,” she told Vogue.com earlier this year. “If I could go back and tell myself 10 years ago that in 2015 trans people would be part of popular culture, and have a platform to speak, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy.’”
Many are betting on Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl to be the front-runner come awards season. The searing portrait of artist Einar Wegener—one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery—could have been panned by moviegoers, but instead proved an audience magnet, finishing 2015 with the sixth-best opening weekend of the year.
Originally published on Vogue