To celebrate Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair debut, we look back at those who, in less tolerant times, paved the way for women like her
This week, Caitlyn Jenner arrived, and she did so on her own terms – with a Vanity Fair cover shot by Annie Leibovitz. It's a cultural moment to be celebrated, with the outpouring of support in response showing that, when it comes to trans issues, attitudes are finally changing. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember the people who, in less tolerant times, paved the way for those like Caitlyn – and for those without her privileges – expressing themselves unapologetically through their dress, creativity and pure being. We've already charted our list of trans trailblazers, the people who shook the world with their work and activism, but here are our top underground icons whose sense of style was as strong as their personalities, and whom we have no doubt would have slayed the covers of any big-time fashion magazine.
With looks like a silent film star, Candy Darling was one of Warhol’s gaggle of girls, discovered by the artist when she was working as a waitress. She featured alongside fellow Superstar Joe Dallesandro in Trash, and joined Holly Woodlawn and Jackie Curtis in Warhol’s production of Women in Revolt, directed by Paul Morrissey – the 1971 cult classic mocking the trans-exclusionary feminists of the 70s. Her name and self-styled Old Hollywood image run like a current through culture – whether in the lyrics of Lou Reed (“Candy... was everybody's darling”) or on the cover of The Smiths’ single for “Sheila Take a Bow”. She tragically died of cancer aged just 29 – photographed on her deathbed surrounded by flowers (and still managing to put on lipstick), she wrote a now-infamous letter to her friends saying, “I know I could've been a star, but I decided I didn't want it.”
OCTAVIA ST LAURENT
Octavia St Laurent, or to use her later name Heavenly Angel Octavia St Laurent Manolo Blahnik (amazing), was a breakout star of Paris Is Burning, Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary about the community of largely LGBT people of colour that made up New York’s ball culture. On screen she vogued across the dancefloor and delivered perfect soundbites (“Men are dogs. Sooner or later all men start barking”) and after the cameras stopped rolling she became an educator about trans issues and HIV. When, in 2005, she received treatment for cancer which caused her hair to fall out, she simply declared herself “even fiercer”. In her last interview before her death (published on Dazed) she was open about the complexity of her gender identity, discussing the importance of standing up for herself and giving us all some words to live by: “You gotta love yourself, honey.”
“I was the first completely full-blown, in-your-face queen to stand up on a rock'n'roll stage and say, 'I am what I am, I don't give a damn.'” So says Jayne County, who left Georgia for the wilds of New York City to buddy up with Lou Reed, riot at Stonewall and perform in plays with Patti Smith. A proto-punk figure who inspired Bowie, she wore towering wigs, fishnet tights and platform boots you wouldn't want to get stomped on by to perform outlandish stage shows with her band Queen Elizabeth, and later punk act Wayne County & the Electric Chairs. In 1977 she made a cameo in Derek Jarman's Jubilee, as the brilliantly titled Lounge Lizard, and in the 90 shes published an autobiography, Man Enough to Be a Woman. She's still causing trouble, defending her right to self-definition and standing up for RuPaul (even if it did get her banned from Facebook).