Laverne Cox Envisions The Future For Trans* Culture

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laverne_embedPhoto: BEImages/Matt Baron.
In just a few years, Laverne Cox has gone from VH1 reality show star to an indie-film character actress to nationally recognized trans* activist. With a little help from the success of Orange Is The New Black (her breakout role), the Alabama transplant has made transgender politics water-cooler conversation — in a positive way. Recently, she made history becoming the first trans woman to cover TIME Magazine. Her intelligent wit and go-getter attitude have helped to humanize a demographic that, despite a lot of progress in the queer community, still faces incredible discrimination.

Late this May, Cox was honored at The Opportunity Agenda's Creative Change Awards in New York, where she sat down with me to discuss the hurdles the trans* community still has to jump over. It was a short dialogue, but educating nonetheless. The trans* torch in the right hands.

What are the biggest hurdles trans* culture has to get over right now?
“For trans* folks in general, I believe the biggest obstacle are points of view that disavow our identities; points of view that suggest that we are only the gender we are assigned at birth. That is really what underlies so much of the cultural stigma. It’s what underlies the policy and discriminatory criminal injustices; those ideas that suggest we really aren’t who we say we are. I heard a story of a young trans man named Brian, who went swimming in a pool last year in New York City. He went to locker room to change, and he’s a trans man, and he was asked to leave the men’s locker room. He was told he had to change in the women’s locker room. Now, he’s a guy with facial hair. He’s a guy, but he’s trans. It’s ridiculous. If you saw Brian — people would freak out if he was in the women’s locker room!

"Anyway, it’s a public-policy issue. When we see violence against trans women, trans men, and trans* everyone, it’s really about that. We need to begin to revise and reimagine what gender is beyond a binary model.”

So, what would be a quality of a great ally?
“Before I answer the ally question, I want to say there’s another element to your first question: race and class. I think when trans* phobia and trans* misogyny intersect with classism and racism, we find the people who are most at risk in our trans* community.

"So, in terms of being a good ally, I think it’s important to listen. I think it’s important to let the person with whom you want to be in ally-ship take the lead in terms of telling their story, saying who they are; it’s about listening and being teachable. It’s about being in and creating a space where we are able to let go of the ideas of what we thought we knew about who the other person is so we can accept them for who they truly are.”

Where, then, do you think we’ll be in a year? Five years? Versus where do you want us to be?
“I don’t know where we’ll be. My therapist told me years ago that making positive or negative predictions of the future is not living in reality. But, where I’d like us to be is in a place where everybody can determine their gender on their own terms. I think, at the end of the day, it’s really about gender self-determination so that there’s no monolith of trans* experience.

"Every trans* person will describe themselves differently. They will describe their experience differently, and I think that should be honored. I don’t think most of us fall neatly into a gender binary model. Most of us have a little bit of femininity and a little bit of masculinity. We are different people at any given time of day! It’s just about expressing all of who we are and not stigmatizing people who might not fall neatly into a binary model.”