Based in the EU? Please order via our Etsy by clicking this banner 💖

Trans+ History Week: 5 Transgender Identities from History That Show Trans People Have Always Existed

5 Trans Identities From History That Show Trans People Have Always Existed - Trans+ History Week 2024

May 6th 2024 marks the start of the first ever Trans+ History Week. It is also the 91st anniversary of the Nazi raid on the world’s first-ever transgender clinic.

These two events don’t exist in a vacuum to each other; in fact, Trans+ History Week was created to coincide with this horrendous marker in LGBTQIA+ history. It’s the week that trans+ identities were brutally erased, and it’s now the week these identities will be remembered.

The harmful narrative that being trans is an entirely new concept and “people were never like this before” continues to be used by many to delegitimise the existence of trans communities. This only makes Trans+ History Week grow ever more important.

As such, using this week to spotlight the millennia-old history of transgender, non-binary, gender-diverse and Intersex people is essential to showing the world that trans+ people aren’t new. They have always been here - and they aren’t going anytime soon.

So, to celebrate Trans+ History Week 2024, we’ve picked out 5 incredible trans+ identities throughout history, spanning from 3,000 - 5,000 BCE, all the way to the modern day.

The Hijra Community

"Hijra" is a unique social and cultural group in South Asia that’s often identified as a third gender - and totally separate from the traditional male and female gender categories.

Hijras hold a special place in the cultural and social landscape of the region - particularly in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh - and have a rich history dating back to at least the 13th century. Hijras are also mentioned in various religious and historical texts and have traditionally played important roles in royal courts and participating in ceremonies!

However, despite their longstanding history and existence, Hijras have been marginalised and discriminated against. The dominant religion worsens this in the area where they reside and work. For example, Muslim Hijras in Hindu communities aren’t allowed to practice their religion.

Further reading: Governing Gender and Sexuality in Colonial India: The Hijra, c.1850–1900 by Jessica Hinchy

Karl Kohnheim

Karl Kohnheim was the first receiver of a German Transvestitenschein (literally “transvestites pass”). This document allowed him to legally dress in clothing that affirmed his real identity as a trans man.

It took 15 years of legal battles for Karl to be recognised as a man and obtain his pass. After 8 years, he finally received permission to dress according to his true male identity, but he was never able to change his name legally.

Karl lived during the era of the German Weimar Republic, shortly before the Nazis came into power. This period of time had a relatively more permissive atmosphere for the queer community compared to earlier eras. However, when the Nazi regime took control of the country, any advancements were immediately reversed and the LGBTQ+ population was quickly persecuted and severely suppressed once more.

Further watching: Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate 

Marsha P Johnson smiling vibrantly at the camera, she wears a flower crown atop her head.

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson was a key figure in The Stonewall Riots on 28 June 1969 when the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in New York City.

This raid caused a riot among the club's customers and local residents, leading to six days of protests and violent clashes with the police. The events at Stonewall became a significant moment for the gay rights movement globally.

While she may (or may not!) have thrown the first brick that night, Martha played a crucial role in organising and uniting the community on Christopher Street, leading to the Pride movement. Along with Sylvia Rivera, Johnson co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) to create safe spaces for homeless LGBTQ+ youths.

Further watching: The Death & Life of Marsha P Johnson


Many might be familiar with musician, DJ and producer SOPHIE - particularly for her ground breaking work in electronic and pop music.

SOPHIE made a name for herself by pushing boundaries in music. Her debut single "Bipp" in 2013 gained significant attention, and she continued to release critically acclaimed music, like the 2018 album "Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides," which was GRAMMY nominated. Throughout her career, she collaborated with artists like Madonna and Charli XCX, while her unique blend of avant-garde, electronic and pop music left a lasting impact on the industry.

When she first emerged onto the scene, SOPHIE kept her personal details private. It wasn't until five years later that she revealed her own vocals and transitioning body in the video for "It's Okay to Cry." Sophie subsequently opened up to the press about being a trans woman.

Rainbow & Co Founder Adam aged approx 3 years old. Adam today (left) post transition with his partner, Luke.
Rainbow & Co Founder Adam aged approx 3 years old. Adam today (left) post transition with his partner, Luke.

Adam Holcroft, Founder of Rainbow & Co

“When I was around 3 years old, I asked my Mum to call me Michael. In primary school shortly after, I always played the Dad role when we played 'Mums and Dads', or the male member when we re-enacted songs from favourite pop groups. Then when teachers would ask the class to split into boys and girls, I'd feel confused - I knew I was a boy but also knew everyone else thought I was a girl.

“Yet I didn't even know that being trans was a thing until I was about 14. I saw a Channel 4 documentary about trans kids and finally had a word for what I was feeling. It’s important to note that the documentary didn't make me trans. The internet barely existed at the time so that didn't 'trans' me either. I was never a  lesbian , nor was I a tomboy “forced to be trans. I've always been trans. We have always existed.”

Further reading:  Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows by Christine Burns

More Notable Trans+ Identities Through History

3,000 - 5,000 BCE: Gala, the priests who served the goddess Inanna/Ishtar, were observed wearing women's clothing, using feminine names and singing in the temples in eme-sal: the Sumerian language used for female roles in stories.

218 - 222 BCE: Elagabalus, the Roman emperor, asked to be referred to as Lady and preferred female pronouns; one classical text reports the Roman ruler stated “Call me not Lord, for I am a Lady.” In 2023, the British Museum correctly reclassified emperor Elagabalus as a trans woman following positive new guidance on trans-inclusive practices in museums, galleries, archives and heritage sites.

1777: Casimir Pulaski, the Polish nobleman and hero of the Revolutionary War, who saved George Washington, was born intersex.

1946: Michael Dillon became the first transgender man to have phalloplasty.

1991: Caroline Cossey made history as the first transgender woman to feature in Playboy magazine.

2022: Mj Rodriguez received a Golden Globe award making her the first trans woman to do so.

Further Resources for Trans+ History Week

What to watch:

  • The Stroll

  • Disclosure

  • Shinjuju boys


  • Paris is Burning

  • Every Body

  • Kapaemahu

  • The Dream Life of Georgie Stone

  • Framing Agnes

What to read:

  • Transgender History by Susan Stryker

  • Gender Pioneers by Phillipa Punchard

  • Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C Riley Snorton

  • Reclaiming Genders: Transsexual Grammars at the Fin de Siécle by Kate More and Stephen Whittle

  • Gender Heretics: Evangelicals, Feminists, and the Alliance against Trans Liberation by Rebecca Jane Morgan

  • The Hirschfeld Archives: Violence, Death, and Modern Queer Culture by Heike Bauer

  • The Sage Encyclopedia of Trans Studies by Abbie E. Goldberg and Genny Beemyn

  • Before We Were Trans: A New History of Gender by Kit Heyam

Happy Trans+ History Week from everyone at Rainbow & Co! Shop our  full transgender collection to show your trans pride today. 

Image of Tilly, a smiling woman with blonde hair and blue eyes.

Tilly Brogan

Tilly is a queer Freelance Copywriter based in Manchester. She balances her time between working  with LGBTQ+ organisations and women’s rights charities - and people watching in various Manchester cafes. She is also a proud lesbian. You can read more of her work here.

Leave a comment

Name .
Message .

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

Spin to win Spinner icon