Education, Health, and Safety

Transgender 101: Introduction

Happy Pride!

Elagabalus - Transgender Roman Emperor, 218-222

Hello – if you have found yourself stumbling on to a series titled Transgender 101:… let me introduce myself!

My name is Mason – I am a Genetic Mosaic (a form of Intersex) that is on Hormone Replacement Therapy, to balance my hormones.  I often elicit a variety of looks – ranging from confusion to fascination; in that I have a body of blended ‘male' and ‘female' traits from birth that…only got a little weirder [in a good way] – because I have more than one set of DNA in my body.  That's right, my muscle mass I liken to carrying two humans in this meat suit – which isn't without its own weird subset of health issues. I didn’t always have that subset of relevant knowledge that helps with understanding the mechanics of your own body; I started my process as Megan – the youngest child and only assigned female at birth, child in my family –  and to be fair, they were only half wrong.  I would go onto discover that I was intersex* after I had already started on weekly IM shots of testosterone.  This is my long winded way of saying that I, Mason, fall under the trans umbrella which encompasses all gender identities not labeled cis-gender.

A while ago I created a document for friends and family to better understand terms and dynamics of the Trans Community…at least the basics anyway; in an attempt to help remove some of the emotional labor of Transgender and Non-Binary people in talking to their loved ones that come from the same education standpoint we all did…zero.  I’ve always wanted to come up with an idea for something…more user friendly; a way to give relevant information, while leaving the other party to utilize and grow this knowledge in their own way.  The idea that came to mind will be informative, hopefully a little funny – and most importantly – direct; bridging a gap of being lost in translation for cis-gender people, in regards to transgender people. And here you find yourself reading this essay styled article – the first in a series to help better understand the history of erasure the Transgender Movement has had, the basic concepts we want everyone to know – so they can grow their own knowledge, and give resources where you can continue the work for yourself.

So lets talk about Transgender History – because for most, they would probably find themselves thinking that this is a new topic of discussion in the stratosphere…but that would be a very wrong assumption.  The Queer Community having always been around – went through a large period of erasure because of ‘undesirability' after World War II.  Records our existence burned and destroyed; and I thought for a start on the topic of transgender rights and understanding our origins…a history lesson might be most helpful.  One example I will share with you today is not transgender – but was an advocated for queer and transgender rights, as well as an original drag queen and cross-dressing man…and in the end – it all comes up queer anyway.


Elagabalus – Roman Emperor, 218-222

You've probably never heard the name – and there is a why for that…while she was a Roman Emperor…it was only for a few years and probably the earliest example of a Transgender Woman in recorded history.  She also went by Heliogabalus, and officially was known as Antonius – and her reign lasted a whole…4 years. Elagabalus reigned from 218 to 222 – she was of teenage age when she came into the throne, and she had a penchant for the dramatic – throwing religion on its head and gender alike.  She was Pansexual and Polyamorous – having married men, women, alongside a slew of lovers and Courtesans.  She was also one of the first recorded cases of a transgender women seeking gender affirming surgery! Raised to Principate at the tender age of Fourteen – our young Elagabalus may not have been the most prepared Emperor – but she didn't always have the proper support. The Praetorian Guard and the Senate were not the most friendly to her dress and behavior; particularly that of her gender ambiguity and her relationship to her lover, Hierocles.  She was assassinated at the age of eighteen, and erased form history.

Lili Elbe – Danish Painter, 1882-1931

Lili Elbe was a Danish painter, born in 1882 that was known for her landscape paintings.  You may have seen Eddie Redmayne portray her in the Danish Girl – as the one of the first transgender women to receive gender affirming surgery; tragically succumbing to complications during a secondary surgery for a uterus transplant.  She started transition in 1930, after posing for her then wife – Gerda Gottlieb, when her art model could not make the session.  Donning tights for the pose – she felt something in her grow from then on, and she started posing for her wife in women's clothing.  Shortly after she came out as a transgender woman and started living as Lili Isle Elvenes – later adopting the surname Elbe.  In later years – it would be discovered that Lili was Intersex, and may have had a condition called Klinefelter Syndrome – which is when a AMAB* person is born with an extra X chromosome; she is theorized to have had rudimentary ovaries in her system during later research.

William Dorsey Swann – Former Slave turned Queer Activist, Queen of Drag 1858-1925

William Dorsey Swann was born into slavery in 1858 and would end up becoming the Queen of Drag, or so he titled himself anyway.  A queer rights activist who ran the House of Swann – and created drag balls, what one might know as “Kikis”.  An excerpt pulled from The African American National Biography of his, “Swann was arrested in police raids numerous times, including in the first documented case of arrests for female impersonation in the United States, on April 12, 1888. This event was Swann's thirtieth birthday celebration, and according to The Washington Post, he was “arrayed in a gorgeous dress of cream-colored satin”.   After the birthday celebration was raided by police Swann was “bursting with rage”, as he stood up to one of the arresting officers and declared “you is no gentleman”.  Swann's choice to resist that night “rather than to submit passively to his arrest marks one of the earliest-known instances of violent resistance in the name of gay rights”.  He was the first drag queen, and one of the first to speak up about LGBT rights in history – just an idea at the time, gaining less traction with the idea in his time.  But Ideas are important, because ideas never die.  His work in the LGBT movement would later pave waves of resistance – including Marsha P. Johnson – of whom threw the brick that would be the start of the Stonewall Riots.  That would be the catalyst of for the creation of the ‘Christopher Street Liberation Day March' the following year…something that you may know better as the Pride Parade or Pride March we queers have every year. 

As we move further into Pride Month – and grow our ally-ships to the LGBTQIA+ community – I hope that the information given here can help reduce the harm we all produce against the community, via lack of understanding.  Harm reduction as a concept…is free, and universally accessible – no matter what set of privileges we inherently have.  I hope that we all continue to grow in our own identities, and actively seek to understand others identities all the same.  


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