Over the past few years, and certainly with the assistance of social media, the increase in visibility, education and awareness around the lives and journeys of trans men has been positively impactful.
However, the road is only beginning to be paved and it is the passion, dedication and advocacy of an outstanding league of trans men with inspiring voices who will continue its reach.
We look at some of the most prominent names in trans male activism over the past three and a half decades, including Australia’s own Ted Cook.
1970s and beyond; Stephen Whittle
For many of us who identified early in life as ‘different’, school sports days were nothing short of terrifying. For trans activist Stephen Whittle, such an occasion in 1965 set the scene for an identity revelation.
“There were girls races and there were boys races. I remember I couldn’t stop crying because I was always going to be in the wrong race,” Whittle recalls.
As an adult, Whittle has formed his own race. Now a university professor lecturing in equality law, Whittle actively campaigns for equal rights for the transgender community and has co-founded the transgender activist group Press for Change.
Considered an activist icon, Whittle’s reputation and accolades precede him. In 2002, he was given the Human Rights Award by the civil rights group Liberty and was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to gender issues in 2005.
Earlier this year, Whittle joined an esteemed panel during the Sydney Mardi Gras event Gender Trailblazers to discuss the most relevant issues faced by the transgender community over the past three decades – a period in which he has been an ever-present voice.
His unwavering dedication and passion for transgender rights and advocacy is a source of inspiration to the transgender community and his activist contemporaries alike.
“I will stop one day, but I will only stop when not one child has to go through what I went through, ever, ever again.”
Early 2000s; Willy Wilkinson
Willy Wilkinson is no stranger to controversy; in fact he was born into it.
His parents’ interracial marriage sparked plenty of it in 1950s conservative American society, the effects of which may well have contributed to his natural prowess for activism and social justice.
To call Wilkinson a pioneer is somewhat of an understatement. He was the first Asian and first transgender community health outreach worker to provide street-based HIV education and crisis intervention for sex workers and drug users in San Francisco and has since gone on to contribute enormously to the visibility of transgender men and women and the issues that they face.
As an activist, scholar, husband and father of two, Wilkinson’s cavalcade of achievements would be better covered in a full feature length documentary – a few of which include the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Excellence in Writing Award and the Transgender Law Centre Vanguard Award. He is also the first transgender person to receive the Asian and Pacific Islander Queer Women and Transgender Community (APIQWTC) Phoenix Award.
A quote by Paisley Currah, Professor of Political Science, and Women’s and Gender Studies at Brooklyn College, best captures Wilkinson’s impact on society; “Willy has always been far ahead of the curve in identifying issues of pressing concern to trans communities, especially transgender men and trans people of color… He not only identifies a problem that others have overlooked, he also does the labor that’s necessary to fix it.”
2011 and counting; Aydian Dowling
If you haven’t heard of Aydian Dowling, prepare to be impressed as this inspiring young man couples his resounding voice with some seriously sexy swagger.
The 27-year-old bodybuilder, activist and motivational speaker was catapulted into the mainstream spotlight this year as the first trans man to grace the cover of Gay Times magazine. His incredible impact, however, goes far beyond poster boy status.
In the short five years since launching his YouTube channel A Lion’s Fears, Dowling has shared over 300 videos that document his physical, emotional and mental transitioning journey, as well as interviews with his peers – all of which has gained him millions of followers.
In 2011, Dowling’s very personal story was showcased on the Emmy nominated It Gets Better Project on MTV and Logo and he has shared his journey on Ellen, reaching millions of mainstream viewers, broadening the reach and impact of his message.
Today, Dowling travels throughout America and abroad to share his celebrated speech My journey to authenticity, where he draws from his experience as a transgender male and his personal struggles with his acceptance of his identity.
Right here, right now; Ted Cook
The only thing more impressive than a modest overachiever is one with a distinct sense of cool and our home-grown Teddy Cook is all that and more, with a dedicated focus in community health and anti-violence awareness.
Beneath the urban chic exterior of a totally fly dude lies a seriously switched on professional with an impressive work history to match.
Cook’s early career includes his work with ACON’s Anti-Violence Project before moving on to a role as Community Health Promotion Officer in the Regional Outreach Service. He now leads ACON’s outreach work across Southern and Far West NSW.
A role model for young trans men and an advocate for the visibility of trans men everywhere, Cook has a particular passion for the sexual health of trans men who are attracted to other men. This powerhouse of an activist has participated on a variety of NGO boards; is an affiliate member of the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM); and a founding member of the Peer Advocacy Network for the Sexual Health of Trans Masculinities (PASH.tm) – and that’s just for starters.
One of Cook’s most grass-roots contributions is with the initiative GRUNT, a campaign he led with PASH.tm; a celebration of trans male sexuality that provides a space for accurate, inclusive and sex-positive sexual health information for guys just like him. “Gay trans men are considerably more visible than ever before and so campaigns like GRUNT and the inclusion of trans men in other campaigns such as Ending HIV have been essential and sexy while very informative,” says Cook.
As a tattoo-blazoned and super-charismatic presence at any LGBTIQ community event that provides a platform for advocacy and awareness, Cook brings identity, sexuality and sex to the surface where it can be discussed and explored without inhibition.