A trans icon in this painfully cisgender world, Laverne Cox is an American actress, an outspoken activist, and a crusader of social justice. #TransIsBeautiful
You might know her from her role in hit TV series, Orange Is The New Black, where she plays a the role of Sophia Burset, a trans woman stuck in an unjust prison system. Her character is particularly revolutionary as it highlights the dark reality of the struggles that trans people face every single day.
But her life hasn’t been easy. As a trans woman of colour, coming from a poor family from Mobile, Alabama, she has had to endure unrelenting homophobic bullying as a child. Laverne describes other children at school calling her names like “sissy” and “faggot”, as well as being chased home from school.
On her way to becoming an actress, Laverne experienced boundless racism, transphobia and sexism in Hollywood castings, being offered horribly inappropriate scripts: producers and directors just didn’t know how to work with a trans woman.
Laverne feels that true equality will be achieved on-screen, when trans characters are played by trans people, and not cis people.
“When we see representations of cis people playing us over and over again, that reinforces this idea that trans women are not really women and trans men are not really men and non-binary people don’t exist. That is the basis of the discrimination that trans people experience. The crux of so much of the discrimination that we experience is that we’re not really who we say we are. We don’t really exist And so it’s crucial that the representations that exist in the media… reflect the reality and the humanity of our real lived experience because our lives are on the line.”
Though a huge part of the trans experience, Laverne feels that the transition is not the only important part of being trans, as many don’t transition at all – as a personal choice, or due to financial barriers.
“I think that the preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people,” Cox said. “And then we don’t get to really deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is that so often we’re targets of violence.”
Breaking glass ceilings, Laverne is the first trans woman ever, to be on the cover of Time Magazine.
While she acknowledges her privileged status today – referring to her high economic status, as well as passing privilege, she says that not many of the trans community share that privilege.
She adds, “Just because a black trans woman is on the cover of TIME Magazine — it does not mean that trans people are not still fighting for their lives, fighting for dignity, are not still being discriminated against in housing, employment and healthcare, are not still being murdered on the streets.
According to surveys, one in four transgender people have been assaulted purely because they are trans. The majority of deadly attacks against transgender people are against women of colour.
Without laws explicitly protecting them from discrimination, many transgender people — particularly trans people of colour — often face homelessness, and live below the poverty line due to lack of job opportunities.
In fact, trans people make up about 10% of the LGBTQIA community, and yet, make up for more than half of total homicide rates.
She has been touring colleges in USA and Canada with her lecture ‘Ain’t I a Woman’. She believes that being an actress has given her an opportunity to be an activist, and make people listen.
Misgendering and deadnaming is a real problem for the trans community. Misgendering is when a person is referred to as a gender they do not identify as – for instance, calling a trans woman he/him.
When a trans person transitions, sometimes they change their names as well, symbolic of letting go of their past life. Referring to them with their pre-transition name is called deadnaming, as it invalidates their identity.
“We need to begin to re-frame trans identity to acknowledge our humanity, and that we are not inherently deceiving people and that we do not deserve violence simply for being who we are,” she says
A body positivity icon, we can all stand to learn a thing or two from her.
Understandably, being an actress, and being under constant scrutiny, being misgendered and being so misunderstood: after all of this, self-love is difficult.
“I think it’s important to be able to be like, ‘Yes, your shoulders are broad, yes your hands are big and your voice is deep and you’re really tall and people notice you, and that makes you noticeably trans, but that doesn’t make you any less beautiful, you’re not beautiful despite those things, you’re beautiful because of those things, and [believing] that has to be an active conscious process.”
Even when there are impossible beauty standards thrust upon women today, Laverne refuses to embrace these Eurocentric standards, and instead, accepts who she is, in all its glory.
“It took me years to internalize that someone could look at me and tell that I am transgender. That is not only OK, that is beautiful. Trans is beautiful. All the things that make me uniquely and beautifully trans, my big hands, my big feet, my wide shoulders, my deep voice, are beautiful.”
“I’m not having it. I’m sexy and I’m going to own that because I think trans women…are sexy.”
Watch some of our favourite Laverne Cox’s sassy moments here: