A Brief History of Transgenderism in Film

PARIS IS BURNING, 1990. (c) Off White Productions/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.

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When we hear of Transgenderism, some public figures might come to mind: Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox, and
of course Caitlyn Jenner. Jenner has become one of the leading figures of Transgender activism. In a world where we are still fighting for LGBT rights, both Media and Film play huge parts in the representation of the LGBT community.

about rayThis Friday, About Ray hits the theaters (written and directed by Gaby Dellal). The film is about a young girl, Elle Fanning, who decides she wants to transition into a male. The film depicts how her family comes to terms with the decision, and how they support her.


Transgenderism in cinema tends to focus on more trans-males than trans-females. Many of the first openly transgender-identified people were trans-men, yet the media failed to represent them. Throughout the 60s and 70s, films with transgender characters were being made, however, not everything being released was positive towards the trans community.

To start our time line we have Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), based on Robert Bloch’s novel about a serial killer named Ed Gein. Hitchcock’s film did not portray trans people in a positive light, with Norman being depicted as a gender-troubled murderer. We also see this negative connotation in The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

During the 1960s, a handful of filmmakers would cast trans people for both trans and non-trans roles. Mario Montez is an example of a trans female who was cast as a non trans female in Flaming Creatures (1963), and Normal Love (1963). Andy Warhol and Ron Rice would also cast actors who challenged genders. Pedro Almodóvar and Rosa von Praunheim are filmmakers that would cast transgender people in trans roles. Yet in popular cinema, non-trans people are commonly cast in trans roles. For example: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club (2013), Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl (2015), and now Elle Fanning in About Ray (2015).

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The following films are a few of the many trans films that we at Movie Rehab thought best depicted the changing representation of trans people on the big screen.


1.Women in Revolt 1971

Produced by Andy Warhol, and directed by Paul Morrissey. A satire of the women’s liberation movement, staring a trio of trans females.

2.In a Year of 13 Moons 1978

In Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film recounts the last few days of Elvira (Volker Spengler), a trans woman formerly known as Erwin.



3.Willy/Milly 1986

One of the first trans male film, Milly Niceman is a young tomboy that is unhappy with traditional gender expectations and longs to become a boy.

PARIS IS BURNING, 1990. (c) Off White Productions/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.

4.Paris is Burning 1990

A documentary filmed in the mid to late 80s, it chronicles the ball culture of NYC and the African American, Latino, gay, and transgender communities.


Priscilla, Koenigin der Wueste / Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The AUS 1994 Regie: Stephan Elliott Darsteller: Terence Stamp Rollen: Bernadette

5.The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert 1994

Stephan Elliott film, about two drag queens and a trans gender that travel across the desert to perform their unique style of cabaret.



My Life in Pink (1997 France) aka Ma vie en rose Directed by Alain Berliner Shown: Georges Du Fresne

6.Ma Vie en Rose 1997

The story of a transgender girl who is coming out.




7.Boys Don’t Cry 1999

Female born, Brandon adopts his male identity and attempts to find himself and love in Nebraska.




8.Normal 2003

TV Movie based on a mid-western husband and father that announces his plan to have a sex change operation.




9.Transamerica 2005

A trans female learns she has fathered a son, who is now a teenage runaway on the streets of new York.