LUMINARIES OF GENDER BENDING
I don’t see this list as completed. I first and foremost understand it as a summary of people that deserve recognition for their own accomplishments. It’s a list of people that never fail to inspire me, of people that influenced society and paved the way to more visibility and awareness for the LGBTQ+ Community.
Lili Elbe (1882–1931)
Lily Elbe was born as Einar Morgen Wegener, a danish painter. The majority of her life time, Lily had to hide her real self. She was born intersex, which means having both, female and male genitals, but was raised as a boy. It was actually his wife, Gerda Gottlieb, who encouraged him to explore his feminine side and to develop a new character. Covert as Lily, Einar’s sister, she started to model for Gerda’s fashion illustration. Only in 1913, the public became aware that Lily was a man in drag.
In 1930, Lily decided as one of the first patient ever to undertake sex reassignment surgery, which caused her death in 1931.
Nevertheless, she died as the person she always knew herself to be, as a legal woman, as Lily Elbe.
Divine is known as ‘the Goddess of Gross‘ (People Magazine, 1988), but more than that, she was a real punk, a rebel. She was furthermore a misunderstood human being, that wasn’t able to live in a society which wasn’t able to tolerate personalities like hers. Anyways, throughout her life, she fully committed to the role as the misfit and cracked down on taboos or rules whenever she could. Cult midnight movie „Pink Flamingos“ (1972), produced by her good friend John Waters, is just one example for breaking taboos and her status as ‚Monster of Vulgarity‘.
Divine was found dead in her hotel room at the age of 42. She was about to start filming a network TV show and to finally be accepted as a gifted actor, not only for her creation Divine. She died on the edge of being reduced to her alter ego.
Divine did not only bend gender, she offered a new point of view for the generations following her.
Grace Jones (1948 — )
“Men think she’s sexy. Women think she’s a little masculine, so they’re not jealous. Gays think she’s a drag queen.” — Jean-Paul Goude, People Magazine 1979
Grace Jones is known for her androgyny and performing in men’s as well as women’s clothes. After becoming famous for working for fashion houses like Yves Saint Laurent and covering Magazines like Vogue, Jones androgynous appearance and her bold features soon became her trademark.
In the 1970s, Jones begun her music career and is still celebrated as a star of Studio 54. In the 80s, she developed a new style of music and influenced the drag and club kid scene in NYC.
In order to protect her feminine side, she developed her masculinity and refers to herself as “her own sugar daddy“. Grace Jones made bending gender pop culture.
RuPaul (1960 — )
RuPaul Charles is a remarkable example that stying true to oneself, of pursuing the own dreams and never giving up always turns the trick. Born in 1960 in California, he made it from rags to riches. Starting his cross dressing and musical career in Atlanta at the age of 15, he soon moved to NYC and became a well-known fixture of the club kid scene.
By now, RuPaul accomplished to make drag pop culture. He is respected for his work and one of the most important representatives of the LGBTQ+ Community.
Her TV show ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race‘ just recently won an MTV Movie & TV Award. The show does not only offer drag queens an international platform, but gives inspiration and strength to people around the world that struggle in ways Ru herself did.
Laverne Cox (1984 — )
Growing up in Alabama, assigned to the wrong body, she tried to commit suicide at the age of 11. She eventually transitioned after moving to NYC and became the person she always felt to be.
In 2015, Laverne Cox was the first transgender woman nominated for a primetime Emmy award for her role as Sophia Burset in Netflix’ ‘Orange Is The New Black’. By the way, she was the first black trans woman with a major role in an American TV show. This list of ‘firsts‘ is so much longer, but these two triumphs are enough to stress the impact Laverne had on the visibility of the LGBTQ community.
Today, she’s using all her influence and her past to fight for the safety of the new generation of trans youth.