Seventeen years ago, Laverne Cox (of Orange Is The New Black) considered suicide. “One day I sat down and I typed up notes, and the notes said, ‘My name is Laverne Cox and I should not be referred to by any other name. My preferred pronouns are ‘she’ and ‘her’, and I shouldn’t be referred to as any other pronouns.’ And I made about five copies and had a copy in each of my pockets and placed them around my apartment because I was planning to commit suicide,” Cox said at a campaign on behalf of the Yes on Question 3 campaign in Boston on Wednesday, according to PEOPLE.
Voters in Massachusetts will soon be deciding whether or not to uphold a 2016 law that protects transgender people from discrimination in public spaces. When she learned of the campaign, Cox wanted to shed some light on her experience as a transgender woman and the daily transphobia she once encountered in public.
“I was living in New York City, and every day that I left the house I had to arm myself. Not literally, but emotionally," she said. "Because I knew that when I left the house, I was probably going to be harassed. I knew the second I left that people would mis-gender me, call me a man, that the second I walked into the subway I wouldn’t feel safe, when I walked into the bodega I would be pointed at and laughed at, and treated as if I were not human."
Cox left the suicide notes she wrote in her pockets so that she wouldn't be misgendered in her death as she had been in her life. "I wanted to be sure that I would not be dead-named in my death. That the disregard for my identity on a daily basis would not happen when I was dead," she said. Even when reporters and police officers do know that a person is transgender, they often get misgendered in reports of their death, according to the Human Rights Campaign. And many transgender activists and allies see purposefully misgendering someone as an act of violence, because it means the person misgendering them is choosing to ignore their identity.
Misgendering is only one form of violence transgender people often face in public. So far in 2018, at least 22 transgender people have been murdered — many of them transgender women of colour. And many transgender people experience verbal taunts, sexual harassment or assault, and other forms of physical violence, according to the National Centre For Transgender Equality. Violence like this contributes to high rates of suicide and suicide attempts among the transgender community.
"I am not entirely sure why I didn’t commit suicide when I was thinking about doing it 17 years ago…and I am so grateful that I decided not to try to take my life," Cox said at the event. "I’m so grateful that I survived. I have come to understand that I am here for a divine purpose and I want every trans person to know that you are here for a divine purpose no matter what anyone says ago you.”
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention for a list of crisis hotlines by province.