Seven Things About Transgender People That You Didn't Know

Produced by the HRC Foundation

While issues facing transgender and non-binary communities have recently received greater attention from the public, policymakers and government officials, we’ve been around for centuries in cultures and history as early as 5000 B.C. Today, we exist in societies and cultures across the globe.

Here are seven things you didn’t know about transgender people:

  1. Around 5000 to 3000 B.C., Gala, described as androgynous or trans priests of the Sumerian goddess Inanna, spoke their own dialect and took on feminine names.
  2. Sometime from 200 to 300 B.C., in ancient Greece, some gods were worshiped by galli priests who wore feminine attire, identified as women and have therefore been identified by scholars as early transgender figures.
  3. In the fourth century, Anastasia the Patrician fled life in Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire, to spend the remainder of life dressed masculinely as a monk, and has become viewed by some scholars as transgender.
  4. In South Asia, at least eight-known gender-expansive identities have historically been present in the subcontinent, the most well-known being hijra - third gender people of historical, spiritual, and cultural significance in South Asian society. Hijra and individuals of diverse gender identities have been well-documented in religious and cultural texts and legends. These individuals often form intentional communities for community as well as survival.
  5. Around the 18th century, the Itelmens of Siberia recognized a “third gender” called “koekchuch” to describe individuals who were assigned male at birth, but expressed themselves as women.
  6. The oldest Western institute studying LGBTQ+ identities was started in Germany in 1919. Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sex Research) performed some of the earliest contemporary affirming medical services. It was eventually destroyed in the rise of German fascism under the Nazi party.
  7. In Turtle Island (an Indigenous name for North America), Indigenous communities use the term two-spirit as a modern, pan-Indigenous umbrella identifier for people of another societal and ceremonial gender identity. This term was established in 1990 as a modern, collective term for a historical gender identity describing individuals not considered men or women in most, if not all Indigenous cultures of Turtle Island.

These seven things you didn’t know don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the trans and non-binary community’s history. Today, HRC Foundation estimates that there are more than 2 million transgender people in the United States based on an analysis of the 2018 General Social Survey. One in five adults in the United States know someone who uses non-binary pronouns other than he or she. Far from being a new phenomenon, transgender and non-binary people have existed for centuries among cultures across the globe. This Trans Week of Awareness, we celebrate our community’s rich history and bright future. To learn even more about transgender and non-binary communities, check out the various resources on HRC’s website.

The Human Rights Campaign reports on news, events and resources of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation that are of interest to the general public and further our common mission to support the LGBTQ+ community.