In a revealing interview with ‘Time’ magazine, ‘Orange Is The New Black’ actress Laverne Cox reveals what it’s like to be a trans woman, her struggle with coming out, and what she wants people to understand about the trans experience.
Laverne Cox is best known for playing Sophia Burset on Orange Is The New Black, an inmate who has been incarcerated for credit card fraud after using the money to undergo a sex change operation. Her role in the wildly successful Netflix series has thrust her into the spotlight as a spokeswoman for the trans experience, and she does it wonderfully. In a new interview with Time magazine — of which she is on their cover — she reveals what growing up was like for a person who did not identify with what society expected of her, and what people really need to know about what it means to be trans.
Laverne Cox: ‘I Thought That I Would Hit Puberty And I Would Start Turning Into A Girl’
Laverne, though born with a penis, has identified as a woman since she was a child. “My third grade teacher called my mom and said ‘Your son is going to end up in New Orleans wearing a dress.’ Up until that point I just thought that I was a girl and that there was no difference between girls and boys,” she told Time. “I think in my imagination I thought that I would hit puberty and I would start turning into a girl.”
After that, her thinking changed. “Going to a therapist and the fear of God being placed in me about ending up in New Orleans wearing a dress, that was a profoundly shaming moment for me. I associated it with being some sort of degenerate, with not being successful.”
Laverne was in the sixth grade when she discovered that her attraction to boys was growing stronger — “I learned in church that was a sin. I imagined that my grandmother was looking down on me and that she knew what I was thinking, because she’s in heaven. I just imagined that I was disappointing her and it just was devastating for me.”
Laverne Cox: ‘There Are More Media Representations That Young Trans People Can Look To’
In a suicide attempt, Laverne swallowed a bottle of pills — in just the sixth grade, mind you — and went to bed hoping that she wouldn’t wake up. She was hoping it would kill her, but it didn’t. Can you even imagine feeling that way at 11, 12 years old?
As she got older, Laverne started to “[embrace] androgyny” — however, “the funny thing is being in this androgynous space really wasn’t any better, in terms of perception or reception from people.”
That said, Laverne thinks that it’s much easier for trans kids these days — there’s an online community that didn’t exist when she was going through her own personal experience, and today these confused kids can connect with each other from every point on the globe. “I think there are more media representations that young trans people can look to,” she said. Indeed — she’s one of them.
Laverne Cox: ‘There’s Not Just One Trans Story’
“There’s not just one trans story. There’s not just one trans experience,” Laverne told Time. She wants America to understand that “not everybody who is born feels that their gender identity is in alignment with what they’re assigned at birth, based on their genitalia.
“If someone needs to express their gender in a way that is different, that is okay, and they should not be denied healthcare. They should not be bullied. They don’t deserve to be victims of violence. … That’s what people need to understand, that it’s okay and that if you are uncomfortable with it, then you need to look at yourself.”
Finally — we’re almost done, we swear, but this is important — she commented that “Folks want to believe that genitals and biology are like destiny! All these designations are based on a penis, however many inches that is, and then a vagina. And that’s supposed to say all these different things about who people are.
Laverne Cox: People ‘Are Just Really Uncomfortable With That Sense Of Uncertainty’
“When you think about it, it’s kind of ridiculous. People need to be willing to let go of what they think they know about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Because that doesn’t necessarily mean anything inherently. Folks are just really uncomfortable with that sense of uncertainty, or that shift.”
Laverne is right — there are a lot of misunderstandings about the trans experience, and she is doing a lot to correct that in her platform as a main character on an enormous popular TV series. It’s so important that confused trans kids are able to find representation in media, and Laverne could not be doing a better job of being that voice for change.
What do you think about Laverne’s interview, HollywoodLifers? Isn’t she the best? Season 2 of Orange Is The New Black premieres on Netflix on June 6.
— Amanda Michelle Steiner