If this past decade has taught us anything, it’s that gender is a construct and we should all reconsider how rigidly we embrace binary thinking. Much of this shifting perspective has stemmed from the world of arts and entertainment, where we’ve seen incredible strides in how folks of all identities are represented on screen, and how they present themselves off screen.
Though we still have a long way to go, let’s take a moment to celebrate some of the amazing game-changers who helped redefine gender in the 2010s.
RuPaul CharlesFrazer Harrison/Getty Images
She came, she slayed, and she did it again—and again and again.
RuPaul has managed to turn the art of drag into a cultural phenomenon with his Emmy award–winning hit series RuPaul’s Drag Race. Since its Season 1 premiere on Logo back in 2009, the competition show has propelled the careers of more than 140 talented queens, including trans and nonbinary superstars like Jinkx Monsoon, Valentina, and Gia Gunn.
Charles, a self-proclaimed master of marketing, didn’t waste any time over the past 10 years turning his brand into a fully-fledged empire with the launch of DragCon on two coasts, multiple overseas spin-offs of Drag Race, and a daytime talk show. As we prepare for the premiere of his scripted Netflix series, AJ and the Queen, and a new season of Drag Race in early 2020, all we can say is, “All hail Mother Ru!”
Lana and Lilly WachowskiTimothy Hiatt/Getty Images
The Wachowski sisters launched their directorial careers with films like The Matrix trilogy and V For Vendetta, but it wasn’t just their movies that made headlines. The notoriously press-shy siblings (pictured here in 2015) came out as trans in 2010 and 2016, respectively, making them the first out trans women to direct a major studio film.
They’ve also used their positions in Hollywood to share narratives that explore the complexities of identity and queer love, especially with their sci-fi series Sense8. When Netflix canceled the show in 2017, outraged fans rallied around the project, which prompted the streaming giant to fund a feature-length finale that aired the following year. With The Matrix 4 set to hit theaters in 2021, we can’t wait to see how the Wachowskis continue to push boundaries in the industry.
Big FreediaParas Griffin/Getty Images
Big Freedia first danced into our hearts in 2010 when she introduced the world to the NOLA bounce scene with her debut album, Big Freedia Hitz Vol. 1. Since then, she’s earned her moniker as the Queen of Bounce by collaborating with high-profile artists like RuPaul, Drake, and Lizzo. However, it was her appearance on Beyoncé’s iconic track “Formation” that turned her into a bona fide star. Femmes of color are still more likely to be the victims of hate crimes than other folks in the LGBTQ community, so seeing a titan like Beyoncé put her weight behind Big Freedia’s talent was a deeply inspiring moment this decade.
Laverne CoxJohn Lamparski/Getty Images
Most of the world met Laverne Cox in 2013, when she first appeared in Netflix’s pioneering original series Orange Is the New Black. Since then, the actress and activist has fashioned the 2010s into a decade of historic firsts for the transgender community: She became the first transgender person to score an Emmy nomination, the first trans person to land on the cover of Cosmopolitan and Time magazines, and the first trans actor to star as a series regular on network TV with her CBS show Doubt. We’re certain Cox will continue to blaze trails in the 2020s.
Ezra MillerHan Myung-Gu/WireImage
The actor, who uses he/him and they/them pronouns, starred in both Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and DC Comics’ Justice League. They also came out as queer in 2012 in an interview with Out magazine. But it wasn’t until last year that they came out as nonbinary, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “Queer just means ’no, I don’t do that.’ I don’t identify as a man. I don’t identify as a woman. I barely identify as a human.” By speaking their truth, Miller has become, quite literally, a superhero.
Ruby RoseVALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images
If you don’t have a crush on Ruby Rose, you’re not living your life right. The actor and model, who identifies as genderfluid, caught the attention of fans after her memorable 2015 run on Orange Is the New Black. Recently, Rose was cast as the titular character in DC Comics’ Batwoman series for The CW, making her the first out actor to be cast as a lesbian superhero. Rose’s success is a bracing reminder that everyone should feel empowered to express what many consider “masculine” personality traits, like confidence, strength, and ambition.
Lena WaitheJason Kempin/Getty Images
We first fell in love with Waithe when she burst onto the scene in 2015 as a regular on Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series Master of None, but she made her biggest impact in 2017, when she became the first black woman to win a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for her work on the show’s moving episode “Thanksgiving.”
And Waithe may not be done snatching trophies—her screenplay for this year’s Queen & Slim is already getting Oscars buzz. Her insightful storytelling, dapper style, and commitment to supporting marginalized filmmakers have all cemented her status as an important new voice in Hollywood.
Rebecca SugarMichael Tullberg/Getty Images
Sugar, the brains behind Cartoon Network’s fan-favorite series Steven Universe, revolutionized LGBTQ representation in animation thanks to their honest, poignant portrayals of queerness, gender fluidity, and trauma survival. During a 2018 NPR interview, the artist and author came out as nonbinary, saying that they created the show’s Crystal Gems—a crew of magical humanoid aliens—as a way of expressing their identity. Sugar’s instinct that kids and adults would both benefit from seeing more diversity in cartoons paid off, earning the show an Emmy, a GLAAD Media Award, and an Annie Award for its genre-pushing achievements.
They also gave us Patti LuPone as a giant singing alien villainess, so clearly they won the decade.
Jonathan Van NessJOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images
JVN became a household name after he landed the gig of a lifetime as the grooming guru on Netflix’s beloved Queer Eye reboot. The world instantly fell in love with Van Ness’ bubbly personality, emotional intelligence, and signature catchphrases (“Can you believe?!”).
In 2019, the host and podcaster came out as nonbinary in an interview with Out, saying, “I didn’t think I was allowed to be nonconforming or genderqueer or nonbinary—I was just always like ’a gay man’ because that’s just the label I thought I had to be.” They’re now officially the decade’s poster child for self-care, self-acceptance, and rocking combat boots with a flowy skirt.
Billy PorterTaylor Hill/FilmMagic
The Broadway powerhouse and Pose star has enjoyed a thriving career as an actor for decades. However, this past year Porter became a gender-bending fashion icon, stunning the world on the red carpet of the 2019 Golden Globes in a pink cape with floral hand embroidery from designer Randi Rahm. Porter also made a splash at the 2019 Met Gala, where he walked—erm, rode—the red carpet in a bejeweled catsuit, 10-foot wings, and a 24-karat-gold headdress while being carried like a queen by six shirtless dudes.
Just last month, Porter continued to shatter gender barriers with the announcement that he was cast as the Fairy Godmother in Sony’s upcoming Cinderella reboot. We’re not sure which is more surprising: the fact that Hollywood is finally coming to terms with representing varied, beautiful expressions of black masculinity, or the fact that we’re actually excited to see a live-action Cinderella reboot.