Laverne Cox, a prominent LGBTQ-activist and actress, has been working to create the world a safer space for trans people for years. Few others have broken as many barriers as she has, and by the looks of it, her career is only just getting started.
But Cox isn’t just a businesswoman. Most importantly, she is an advocate for transgender people. She is providing a voice in an industry where they have so often been silenced. She symbolizes representation and hope, both through her own history and identity and through the tireless work she puts into her activism.
Growing Up: bullying and a suicide attempt
Laverne Cox was born in 1972 with an identical twin brother in Mobile, Alabama. Nothing in her early stages of life hinted at the record-breaking, immensely successful career she was going to have. The now 48-year-old attended school in rural Alabama where she soon became ostracised by her peers.
Laverne Cox attempted suicide at 11 years old when first confronted with feelings for her male classmates. This came after years of being bullied at school. Other kids teased her for not acting the way someone assigned a male gender at birth was supposed to. She received no support from teachers or students during this time.
Rise to fame
Laverne Cox became well-known for her role as Sophia Burset on “Orange Is the New Black.” The Netflix show explores relationships and power dynamics inside a women’s prison. Sophia’s storyline discusses issues such as restricted hormone access, navigating difficult relationships, and abuse from the guards. Cox speaks fondly on her time portraying Sophia: “Sophia is a multi-dimensional character who the audience can really empathize with – all of a sudden, they’re empathizing with a real trans person. And for trans folks out there, who need to see representations of people who are like them and their experiences, that’s when it becomes really important.”
Undeniably, Cox has played a huge role in increasing – and in many cases creating – transgender representation in entertainment. Her career is full of firsts: being the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in the acting category, being the first transgender woman to pose nude for Allure’s annual “Nudes” issue, and being the first transgender person to have a wax figure of herself at Madame Tussauds.
The meaning of transition
Laverne Cox started her medical transition over 20 years ago. Speaking on it now, she sees it mainly as an external necessity: “I’ve had to medically transition so the world can see my spirit.”
Cox has long since been very openly critical of the reduction of trans people to their genitalia. On Katie Couric’s show in 2014, she rejected the host’s intrusive questions, saying: “The preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people. 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 are targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average; if you are a trans person of color, that rate is four times the national average. The homicide rate is highest among trans women. If we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.”
Healing others and herself
Laverne Cox has dedicated her life to activism, impacting people all over the world. She has produced two documentaries, “The T Word” and “Disclosure” and has spoken at events all across America. Her work focuses on transgender culture, specifically transgender women and how being transgender intersects with one’s race. In 2019, Meghan, the former Duchess of Sussex, hand-picked Laverne Cox to appear on the cover of British Vogue. This made her the first openly transgender woman to appear on its cover.
Despite all these accomplishments, Laverne Cox’s biggest and current fear is homelessness which stems from her trauma of barely being able to pay rent when she was younger. While she teaches others to find hope and peace with their identity, she makes no secret of the healing process she is still going through herself: “My work has been to love myself at every phase. To look in the mirror every day and say: I’m beautiful.”