by Mark Van Streefkerk
Who was the first transguy you ever heard of?
Do you remember how old you were and what it felt like when you learned that transitioning was something people did?
How you answer will likely reveal whether or not you grew up with internet access. Social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram have changed the game when it comes to visibility, education, and support of the transgender community. We follow “famous” trans folks, with thousands, sometimes millions, of followers. They are influencers, singers, rappers, actors, athletes, activists, poets, and obviously, so many other things. Social media is an amazing tool for connection and communication, but how were people exposed to trans issues before the internet? How did transguys find community and share information one or two decades ago, not to mention thirty or forty years ago?
It wasn’t until the 1970s that certain doctors began to prescribe testosterone replacement therapy to transmen. At that time, information about HRT was circulated by word-of-mouth. It wasn’t uncommon for transguys in the 1970s and 80s to go stealth after transitioning. Much of the information shared by trans folks was passed on through small communities. Some transmen, like the ones listed here, became mentors to many others through correspondence or advocacy.
Here are seven famous transguys you’ve probably never heard of.
1. Steve Dain
First of all, Dain was a stone-cold hunk. Born in 1939, he was a gym teacher at Emeryville High School, where he came out and underwent medical transition. Some of the community and staff of Emeryville pressured the school to fire him for “immoral conduct” and “unfitness for service.” Dain sued the school and won. His high-profile legal battle made him an advocate for trans rights. The school later sued him for “wrongful use of medical leave” (his transition), and the legal fight dragged on for four years before Dain decided to move on. He worked in construction before becoming a chiropractor. He died in 2007 of breast cancer, surrounded by his family, including his wife Robyn. Dain was a mentor and hero to other transmen like Lou Sullivan and Max Wolf Valerio. In a blog post from 2008, Valerio says about meeting Dain for the first time, “He was sensitive to each question I asked and his answers would influence me for the entirety of my transition.”
New OFTV episode! In this ep, we follow Lou Sullivan’s mentor Steve Dain in his 1970s fight against anti-trans workplace discrimination! #ftm #trans #transhistory https://t.co/OU0mtJyRrH pic.twitter.com/Nk3AYvBiWj— One From the Vaults (@oftvpodcast) May 23, 2020
2. Robert Eads
Eads, a self-professed proud hillbilly, was born in 1945 and lived in Toccoa, Georgia. Eads was married and had two kids before getting a divorce and coming out at 35. He started his medical transition in his 40s when doctors told him he wouldn’t need a hysterectomy because he was already close to menopause. When diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1996, over two dozen doctors refused to treat Eads, believing that taking on a transgender patient would negatively impact their practice. Southern Comfort is a documentary about the last year of Eads’ life, including his romantic relationship with Lola, a transwoman.
You can watch the full documentary here:
3. Loren Cameron
Lots of transguys document their transition on Instagram. Everything from voice comparisons, to facial hair growth and gym selfies--we love to document the changes we’re eager to have. Think of Loren Cameron’s Body Alchemy as the first collection of selfies from a transman. Born in 1959 in Pasadena, CA, Cameron moved to his dad’s farm in Arkansas after his mom’s death. Identifying as a lesbian as a teen, Cameron left Arkansas and traveled as a blue-collar worker before landing in San Francisco. He came out as transgender in his late 20s, and, as a self-taught photographer, documented his physical transition. His collected self-portraits became Body Alchemy. The book’s influence was huge in creating visibility for the next generation of transmen. In a lot of his self-portraits, Cameron holds the shutter-release bulb in his hand. The obvious sign of self-photography is a nod to his masculinity being self-made.
4. Rupert Raj
“Growing up I didn’t know the word transsexual or transgender. I thought I was the only person on the planet like me,” Raj says in The Transgender Project. At eighteen, Raj admitted himself to the Royal Ottawa Hospital, a psychiatric hospital, and “threatened suicide. I said I want to kill myself if you don’t give me male hormones.” While he didn’t start HRT then, he did start a year later in 1971, only after his older brother provided consent. Now a mental health practitioner, Raj has a life’s work of advocating for transgender individuals. RR Consulting is his current private practice.
5. Lou Sullivan
Born in 1951, Sullivan was denied access to medical transition because he identified as a gay man. “I had a lot of problems with the gender professionals saying, There’s no such thing as a female-to-male gay male, you can’t live like this, and we’ve never heard of that,” he said in an interview. Sullivan is largely responsible for our understanding that gender identity and sexual orientation are different. He advocated removing the criteria of sexual orientation from gender identity disorder so gay transmen could access hormones and gender-affirming surgeries. He also wrote the first guidebook for transmen. Sullivan sadly died of AIDS-related complications in 1991. You can get a copy of Sullivan’s just-released diaries here.
6. Max Wolf Valerio
Valerio is a poet, writer, and actor of Blackfoot, Spanish, and Jewish descent. Born in 1957, he strongly identified with lesbian feminism in the seventies. It wasn’t until the 80s that he found Lou Sullivan’s FTM Organization in San Francisco, and started his transition. He documented his experience of HRT in The Testosterone Files. Valerio’s poetry and essays have been published widely, and he has appeared in documentaries like Gendernaughts by Monika Treut.
2/16/1937 Max Wolf Valerio b. trans writer, actor, The Testosterone Files pic.twitter.com/mww7wfWBor— Heidi De Vries (@matokie) February 16, 2017
7. Jamison Green
Jamison Green is an educator, writer, consultant, and legal advocate for transgender rights. His impressive work includes lobbying for trans-inclusive healthcare. His book Becoming A Visible Man documents the challenges he encountered in his transition, after living as a “lesbian parent,” and the politics of gender. Now in his 70s, he is the president of Transgender Strategies Consulting, where he draws from over 30 years’ experience of educating on behalf of transgender issues to provide gender diverse training and policy development. For more about Jamison, check out this article.