Transgender Lives

Before Laverne Cox landed the role of Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black...

I played hookers a lot. That was the scope of what was available for trans actors. When I got the [OITNB] script, I was like, OK, this is what I've waited for my whole career—I need to kill it.

--Laverne Cox

The rest, as they say, was history in the making.

This year, with gay rights and marriage equality forging ahead at an unprecedented pace, the transgender community came out of the shadows, demanding to be respected and understood too. "I looked around at the lives of so many trans folks—lives that are often in danger," says Cox. "The homicide rate is disproportionately high among trans people. The rate of bullying is disproportionately high. Forty-one percent of all trans people have attempted suicide, compared to 4.6 percent of the rest of the population." Forty-one percent.









I always knew when I got a public platform, it was part of my job to educate people.

Being famous to just wear lovely clothes—which I do love doing—that's not for me.

--Laverne Cox

In my own life story, educating people was not just part of my job, it was the whole thing. I lived most of my adult life in the persona of an ex-hippie math professor (who never once wore any article of clothing with elbow patches). Transitioning at the age of 44 just gave me one more thing...a very intimate teach about. And I have been doing that for the past 22 years.

As I have said in the past, I started attending school in Kindergarten when I was 5...and I just kept going (with an interlude when I was dodging the draft, living a hippie lifestyle, until the FBI arrested me in Vinita, OK, after which I served two years in the military as a correctional specialist (prison guard) at Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas. At some point they began to pay me for sharing my knowledge and began to call me a professor.

I meet people who say that my role has given them the courage to say, 'This is who I am,' and, 'I can transition and be successful and be out as a trans person. We have this internal compass of the truth inside of us. And that is our job, really, to quiet all this noise around us and listen to that.

--Laverne Cox

There are ways to be successful off the streets. I wondered about that before I transitioned. At one point, I believed I might have to give up being a college professor in order to transition. I was convinced not to resign by an assistant dean, who may have ended up regretting that after I came out.

Emily Brothers is a trans woman. She is also blind. She has been an advocate for disability rights most of her life. More recently she has become a "strident LGBT activist." And now she is standing in the general election which takes place next May as the Labour candidate in Sutton and Cheam, a constituency in South London which has never been held by a member of Labour.

Ms Brothers – who lost her sight to glaucoma as a child – was a key figure in securing Disability Living Allowance for blind people, and has opened up about her gender transition for the first time.

--Pink News

In an ideal world I wouldn’t be speaking out about my past because it’s very private; however I recognise that as a politician the key thing is trust.

I don’t want to be somebody who has notoriety as having a transgender background, but I also believe it’s an experience that has value to it, that I can be a positive role model.

For a lot of people of a transgender experience that can be very challenging but for me, it was absolutely the right thing to do. I am happy and content as a woman, and also as a gay woman.

I have two great children who are very supportive, but my wider family are not and have broken their connections with me.

There is vast under-representation of disabled people and people with transgender experience in public life, and there is of course vast under-representation of women in Parliament, and that needs to change.

--Emily Brothers

Because of my disability I have always been a user of NHS services. I was one of those children who spent a lot of time in hospital for operation after operation to retain the little sight I had.

That experience taught me a lot about the value and the importance of the NHS.

Ms. Brothers is believed to be the first Parliamentary Candidate for a major party who has come out without being outed. In 2005 Liberal Democrat candidate Stephanie Dearden was outed as transgender by the Daily Mail.

The entire interview of Emily Brothers is available here.

Padmini Prakesh, 30, is India's first transgender newsreader. The former Indian Miss Transgender (2009), Padmini has been a dance teacher of children, acted in a television serial and earlier this year was hired by Lotus TV Channel to read the evening news.

Lotus TV Channel wanted to hire a transgender newsreader and support the transgender community. India’s first transgender talk host, Rose Venkatesh, had recommended her.

I was overwhelmed but said yes immediately, it was a wonderful opportunity. I was very proud they had asked me. I was very emotional after the phone call.

This has been a wonderful journey so far. I had never thought about becoming a newsreader. This opportunity fell on my doorstep. It’s a great opportunity to represent my community and tell the world we are no less than any other human being.

People have now started recognising me on the street. They come to meet and congratulate me when they see me in a market or restaurant. I have gained respect because of this job and I’m not longer looked down on.

I’m aware this job will not last forever, and as I’m not a trained journalist or newsreader I don’t think another channel will hire me. But this has given me even more confidence to put myself out there in the world. I believe I can do anything, something I never ever believed as a child.

--Padmini Prakesh

Padmini was beaten by her father repeatedly as a child for being too feminine.

It was the worst period of my life and I cried all day every day. Her father continuously told her he wished she was dead and she had no one to turn to, her siblings too terrified to speak up for her for fear of their father’s wrath.

Padmini left home when she turned 16. As she left the house, her father told her never to use the family name in public. She moved in with her only childhood friend, Nagraj Prakash and his family and turned to the local Ashram for support. And she began her transition. She had sex reassignment surgery in 2004. She calls it a pivotal moment.

It had been a dream of mine for so long. I was never a boy, I had been born in the wrong body, and my body wasn’t my own. The surgery was going to make everything right. When I woke up after the five hour surgery and I was told all went well it was like a rebirth, I felt like a completely new person, nothing was going to stop me now.

She and Prakash married later that year. None of her family attended. Two years ago the couple adopted a newborn son, Jaya Sridhar. Nagraj is a goldsmith.

I’ll never be able to have children of my own but to call Jaya my son is the most wonderful experience.

--Padmini, who hopes to adopt a little girl in a few years time

If I had been born a woman and achieved what I had my family would be so proud of me. But because I am a transgender they are ashamed. It makes me very sad. Transgenders are cast aside in India but before we speak about the country or society we first need to deal with families. If parents cannot accept their children how do we expect society to change? It starts at home and parents should love their transgender children as they do their boy or girl, we are the same.


In the interview, Padmini said she thinks all transgenders should be given the chance of a happy and fulfilled life with the offer of free surgery. The surgery is available in India for £1,000.

Let me finish with Episode 1 of Transgender in Uganda (The Pearl of Africa). The Rough Studios production is the story of Cleopatra Kambugu. "a Ugandan transgender girl who was forced to flee to Kenya after being outed by a major tabloid. The film is directed and filmed by Jonny von Wallström.









I first met Cleopatra Kambugu in June 2012 when I was introduced to her through friends. I was fascinated by her determination to be the first Ugandan transgender woman accepted for her true gender identity. Despite the hate and violent history in her country, she wanted to humanize trans people.

Since then I've followed her life up-close, capturing a love story that will become a feature-length documentary. But today I can give a glimpse into her life through a six-part Web series, which sees her fighting for her right to love, questioning gender expectations and being forced to leave her family behind.

--von Wallström




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My stories about transpeople...

Robyn's picture

...who live in other places often are usually rather invisible, but they have a purpose. They show that transgender is not just an American phenomenon or a Western phenomenon, but is truly global, and an intrinsic part of the human condition.

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