Life, Transformed

By Emily Mills | Photography by Hillary Schave

Pride Month is always a great time for the LGBTQ+ community to come together to celebrate its perseverance, its vibrancy and its incredible diversity. A crucial part of that community are people who are transgender, non- binary and/or gender expansive. Though they’re almost always at the forefront of the push for greater rights and respect
for everyone, transgender people too often also face the most ignorance and bigotry — that is, when they’re not being overlooked entirely.

We could all learn a thing or two from transgender people: more ways of being, more possibilities for joy, and love and expression. What does it mean to be a woman, for instance? Even for those who are cisgender (someone who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth), it is an extremely personal state of being. The same is true for women who are transgender. There is no one “right” way to be a woman; no defining body part or look.

As anti-LGBTQ legislation and rhetoric ramps up nationwide, with a particular focus on transgender people, this only adds to the discrimination, safety concerns and employment challenges that transgender people face daily. But the transgender community shouldn’t be thought of as struggling because of misunderstanding and misplaced hatred. Trans people have existed since the beginning of humanity. Trans women are a diverse and vital part of our communities. While so many politicians and others are trying to spread fear and sow division, trans women — like anyone — simply want the opportunity to live meaningful, authentic lives.

The four women profiled in this piece are all doing just that and have been gracious enough to share a little about their journeys and their experiences. From community activists to spiritual seekers, dynamic artists and teachers, these women are just a few of those who’ve become role models for people across the gender spectrum. In ways large and small, they’re helping make Madison — and the world — a better place for everyone.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford

Martinez-Rutherford is a funny lady, it’s true. The longtime stand-up comedian is a lot of other things, too: entrepreneur, spiritual seeker, public servant. The founder of Lady Laughs Comedy, a training and event production company focused on lifting up women and people from marginalized communities in the comedy scene, Martinez-Rutherford is also very busy.

Read more.


Tessa Jade Price

For a self-described “quiet nerd” who prefers spending time with friends and her cat, playing video games or listening to music, Price has nonetheless been making a lot of waves in recent years. The main organizer behind Trans Advocacy Madison (TAM), an informal, grassroots advocacy group, Price is doing what she feels she has to for the wellbeing of herself and her community.

Read more.



Lyric Harris (aka Amethyst Von Trollenberg)

Very few of us can likely point to one, clear “A-Ha!” moment that changed the course of our lives forever. Harris can, though. As a teenager, she was surfing YouTube when she came across a video of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star Courtney Act.

Read more.


Vica-Etta Steel

Many of us wait for signs to tell us we’re on the right or wrong path in life. For Steel, it took what felt like a heart attack to finally push her toward living her most authentic life.

Read more.




Key Terms

  • Cisgender or cis (pronounced “siss”):  A person whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Gender identity: A person’s felt/ internal sense of self/gender.
  • LGBTQ: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning
  • Sexual orientation: How and towards whom a person feels sexual attraction.
  • Queer: An umbrella term reclaimed by activists as early as the 1980s
    to encompass anyone who isn’t cisgender and heterosexual (but not used by everyone within the LGBTQ community).
  • Transgender or trans: A person whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Local Trans/ LGBTQ-led organizations and groups

Diverse & Resilient and SHEBA (Sisters Helping Each Other Battle Adversity)

Run by and for Black transgender and gender-expansive women, SHEBA meets biweekly to support and empower transgender women. They also offer leadership development, outside facilitations, HIV prevention, healing alternatives and overall community.


Focused on LGBTQ+ young people/ students, GSAFE offers a wide range of support services, leadership development, and community building across the state of Wisconsin.

OutReach LGBT Community Center and Madison Area Transgender Association (MATA)

Founded in 1998, this long-running program of OutReach is run as a social support group by and for transgender, gender-expansive, and questioning individuals in the Madison area. They hold regular meetings, as well as safer sex and legal resources for the community.


With chapters in a dozen locations across Wisconsin (and hundreds nationally), PFLAG’s goal is to provide support and community for anyone who knows and loves an LGBTQ+ person.

Trans Advocacy Madison

A grassroots coalition of people interested in advocating for the lives and wellbeing of transgender and non-binary people, this group has a private Facebook group for organizing and sharing resources and support.

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