Actress discusses intersectionality
Actress Laverne Cox may be known for her role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black,” but Cox is more than just a character – she is an LGBT advocate seeking to end the violence against trans women of color.
“I want to impart to them some of the experiences I have had as a trans woman of color and some of the issues that face other trans folks, in particular trans women of color,” Cox said.
Cox spoke to Towson students on March 12 in the Chesapeake Rooms at her “Ain’t I A Woman: My Journey to Womanhood” awareness program.
“When I go to university settings there is such a sense of possibility, I think, that college students have and a sense of enthusiasm that really excites me,” Cox said. “I really love that sense of hope that a lot of the students I meet have.”
Cox spoke to students about her journey as a trans woman and reminded them that having these difficult conversations about differences helps people to learn about others and makes it easier for them to interact with one another.
“It’s not talked about enough, so we wanted to make sure that the campus had an opportunity to hear more information about the transgender community overall and specifically hear a personalized story from someone who a lot of people look up to,” associate director for LGBT student development Joel Bolling said.
Cox shared that in the LGBT community 53 percent of the homicides are against trans individuals, and out of that 73 percent are people of color. She is actively working towards changing these statistics in her co-production of a documentary project entitled “Free CeCe.”
The documentary follows the story of transgender woman CeCe McDonald who served 19 months in a male prison in Minnesota for the second-degree murder of a man after being assaulted and defending herself against the bias crime.
“The documentary we are working on is about her story, it’s about her time in prison and trans folks in the criminal justice system and it’s also about the violence against trans women,” Cox said.
Cox believes that her role in “Orange is the New Black” has helped to support the “Free CeCe” campaign as well as create more job opportunities for trans individuals particularly those interested in becoming actors and actresses.
She gives credit to actress and trans woman Candis Cayne, who in 2007 became the first transgender woman to have a recurring role on a primetime TV show, for opening up the doors for other trans actresses such as herself.
“Before that I didn’t know that was even possible and I had been acting for a very long time and not getting very far, and when that moment happened I thought, okay this is possible now and that moment changed my life,” Cox said.
Cox said that after her role in “Orange is the New Black,” she saw in increase in the number of trans women in her acting class at The Studio in New York City, where she works with actor and director Brad Calcaterra.
“It’s important that we have the skill set that is needed to show up at an audition, to show up on set and do work,” Cox said. “I think that training is very important. I just hope that there will continue to be more roles, that directors and screenwriters and producers want to think outside the box and actually hire someone trans to play a trans character or maybe to play a character who is not necessarily written as trans.”
Cox said she feels that it is still difficult for trans women to play a role in society because of the discrimination and objectification in the media.
“What I think is really important for folks to understand about systems of domination and systems of oppression is there are so many elements constantly working to reinforce that system instead of dismantling it,” Cox said. “I think that the effect is that trans people’s identities are sensationalized and we become objectified. We become reduced to a part of who we are and we don’t get to be whole people.”
As a black woman, Cox has also experienced racial discrimination and reminded the audience that everyone has multiple identities that they should have the right to express them proudly, publicly and without fear of discrimination.
“I would say to the students to continue to believe that your lives are valuable and that you are worthy of advocating for yourself and have other people advocate for you as well and you deserve to have your identities respected,” Cox said.
Cox explained that the process of self-discovery takes exploration and reminded the audience that failure is just information and an opportunity to grow.
“I have tried a lot of different things but I have gone with what I am passionate about and what I love and luckily I think that some of the things I am passionate about I think that I kind of have some skills there too,” Cox said. “I am very lucky so I encourage people to do what they love and to find something that they have passion for and to pursue that until they can’t anymore.”