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11 iconic LGBT women from history who will inspire you

11 iconic LGBT women from history who will inspire you

Undoubtedly, many gay, bisexual and trans women from the ages likely lived their lives miserable as they felt they had no other choice than to follow society’s expectations.

But no woman ever made history by following all the rules, and that is true of all 11 women on this list.

From Hollywood starlets to artists and activists, these 11 women made a huge impact on thousands of lives by daring to follow their hearts.

While we can never know the real truth about the personal lives about some of these women, and there is some debate and doubt over these secretive relationships, there is some evidence for all of them.

So check out these 11 women, who may have been gay, bisexual trans or intersex, below:

Greta Garbo (1905-1990)

Swedish actress who was discovered by gay director Mauritz Stiller.

She is described as ‘technically bisexual, but predominantly lesbian’ by her biographer Barry Paris. The assumption of her lesbianism was fuelled by gender-confusion in dress and speech on screen and off screen.

Garbo always wanted to play male roles such as Dorian Gray, Hamlet, and St Francis of Assisi. She was socially more comfortable with women and gay men. 181 letters were found from her to her assumed lover, Mercedes de Acosta.

Ruth Benedict (1887-1948)

American scholar and prominent anthropologist.

Noted by a lack of ‘sympathy’ for male students, she was sexually and politically involved with one of her students – Margaret Mead.

They are known as two of the most famous and influential anthropologists of their time. Benedict’s book, Pattern of Cultures, was translated into 14 languages and used as standard reading in American universities for a long period of time.

Roberta Cowell (1918-2011)

British trans racing driver and World War II pilot.

She is known as the first woman to undergo sex reassignment surgery.  Her surgery was performed by Sir Harold Gillies, who is thought of as the father of plastic surgery.

Lili Elbe (1882-1931)

One of the first identified intersex people.

In 1930 Elbe went to Germany for the sex-reassignment surgery. She carried out five of these operations in a period of two years.

Complications after the fifth operation – a uterus implant – were the cause of her death in 1931.

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

American writer born in Pennsylvania.

In 1933, she published a memoir called The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, written in the voice of her long time life partner Alice. The book became a literary bestseller and is considered one of the first ‘coming out’ novels of her time.

Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992)

Dazzling Hollywood star.

The woman who made trousers acceptable wear for women was outed in 1955 in a sensational exposè in the tabloid Scandal Sheet Confidential.

The magazine outlined Marlene’s many female lovers from her early days in Berlin, after in 1927 she sang a sexy love song to her co-star Margot Lion as they sported corsages of violets – in those days a signal of lesbian love.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)

First Lady of the United States.

Rumors of her bisexuality stem from a long, passionate friendship with the young reporter Lorena Hickok.

The longest-serving First Lady of the United States has fondly nick-named her ‘Hick’.

The most compelling evidence that her relationship with Hick, was indeed a sexual one, comes from the letters between the two, which were discovered after Eleanor’s death.

The Roosevelt family tried to suppress the letters, and indeed, they unfortunately destroyed some of them.

Jane Addams (1860-1935)

First US woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

The well-known advocate and leader in women’s suffrage was close to many women. The model for many generations of social workers owned a home in Maine, spent more than 30 years in a loving and commited relationship with Mary Rozet Smith.

Both of them travelled as a pair  and it is believed Smith always supported the activist in her campaigns.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)


Even though Dickinson is believed to have been in love with several men in her life, many scholars believe she may have been lesbian.

There is no concrete proof of her bisexuality except for an ambiguous letter written in 1852 by the poet to her sister-in-law Susan Gilbert before she became a recluse.

Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899)

French realist artist and sculptor.

Bonheur is now widely thought of as the most famous female painter of the 19th century.

After her father’s death, she moved into the house of her childhood friend and lover Nathalie Micas and lived with her until Micas’ death in 1889.

Late in her life, she found another lover: two years before she died, she met and married Anna Klumpke, a much younger American painter.

Bonheur, Micas, and Klumpke are buried side-by-side in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, under a tombstone reading ‘Friendship is Divine Affection’.

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Mexican painter.

Best known for her self portraits. She was married, but there were many rumors of her relationship with Josephine Baker, a famous entertainer.

Both powerful and talented woman, they allegedly had a sexual relationship in 1939 in Paris.

Kahlo never hid her bisexuality during her stormy and turbulent marriage with Diego Rivera who was well aware of his wife’s lovers.