Laverne Cox is a very successful actress, reality TV star, producer, and social and political advocate. She also happens to be an African American transgender woman. On December 7th 2014, Everday Feminism published a speech by Laverne Cox titled Bullying and Being a Trans Woman of Colour. In her speech, Cox discusses the violence and discrimination that trans woman of colour experience daily. Although this speech focuses on trans woman of colour, Cox has made a significant impact on the entire transgender community. Through the roles that Cox plays in mainstream media, she is helping to educate the public and challenge societal norms about what it means to be transgender.
Laverne Cox has become the face and voice for the transgender community in the media. When Orange is the New Black premiered on Netflix on July 11, 2013, Cox appeared as the role of Sophia Burset, a transgender inmate at Litchfield Penitentiary. Cox was the first openly transgendered woman of colour to portray a fictional transgender character. The character of Sophia and her interactions with the other inmates raises awareness around sex-reassignment operations, transmisogyny (the intersection of transphobia and misogyny) and the positive effects that can result from being true to oneself. Following Cox’s role in Orange is the New Black, on June 9th, 2014 Cox also became the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine. The title of the article by Katy Steinmetz, “The Transgender Tipping Point”, was also seen on the cover. Cox’s messages and influence has been disseminated on many media platforms; however, her exposure in OITNB and on Time magazine has been extremely important for educating the public on transgender issues.
The fact that Cox is also a trans woman of colour further places her in a very inspirational and powerful position. For she has not only become the voice for the transgender community but she has also brought awareness to major systems of oppression.
Transphobia, according to Oxford Dictionaries is: “The intense dislike of or prejudice against transsexual or transgender people” (Oxford Dictionary). According to the LGBT Mental Health Syllabus, in 1980, the American Psychiatric Association added gender identity disorder to the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual (DSM). However, in May 2013, an updated diagnosis in the DMS was made and changed “gender identity disorder” to “gender dysphoria” (Mental Health Syllabus, 2013). This change demonstrates the shift in recognizing transgender as a personal feeling rather than a disorder. This fairly recent idea has pushed societal boundaries by questioning and contradicting the gender binary, heternormativity and cisgender assumptions. Through Cox’s lack of conformity to mainstream understandings of gender identity, she has demonstrated that it’s acceptable to be different. Cox is helping to slowly break down these negative barriers; and she simply does not allow them to stop her. Hopefully over time as Cox continues to address transphobia, negative stigmatization around transgender individuals will be eliminated and more tolerance will occur.
Unfortunately, the patriarchal society that we live in further oppresses and marginalizes Cox. A transgendered individual who undergoes a gender reconstruction from male to female often experiences further oppression. Some may question why a man would chose to give up his dominant position for a subordinate one in a society that values men and male domination. This idea has made trangendered females very vulnerable by being put in the spotlight for “choosing to” experience misogyny, sexism and inequality. Nonetheless, Cox demonstrates her ability to push these societal limits by being herself and remaining true to her gender identity.
Another major system of oppression that Cox experiences alongside trans woman of colour is racism. Just Conflict’s article Systems of Oppression states that the largest most oppressive legal structure in American history was the institution of slavery, further exploring how this oppressive system (slavery) continues today in the form of racism (Just Conflict, 2015). In Cox’s speech, Bullying and Being a Trans Woman of Colour, she explains that women of colour are the most targeted victims of violence in the LGBTGIA. On Monday March 2th, Haughton discussed in her lecture the idea of anti-blackness and shared the social media hashtag #blacklivesmatter. She explained violence and discrimination black people face and how these terms further enforce their systematic and purposeful oppression. Through understanding Cox’s speech and reviewing the class material, it is clear that racism is still very prevalent. Cox’s position makes her a powerful activist against racism; however, it is clear that there is much more that needs to be done in order to eradicate violence and targeting against groups of oppressed people.
This Saturday, March 14, Clean and Clear, a skincare company launched a new ad campaign called #SeeTheRealMe. Jazz Jennings, a 14-year-old transgender teen relates her story in a short commercial. This amazing narrative combined with Cox’s efforts in advocating for the transgender community, will hopefully help to make a strong and positive impact on society. Because of individuals like Cox and Jennings, awareness, knowledge and social reconstruction is being addressed. Cornell West states: “justice is what love looks like in public.” Martin Luther King Jr. stated: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” (Good Reads, 2015) Both men expressed the belief that change will come once the values, morals and judgment of others are changed. It is my personal opinion that we are on the right path towards the transgender community being able to feel the love that they deserve.
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Nichols, JamesMichael. “Jazz Jennings, Transgender Teen, Becomes Face Of Clean & Clear Campaign.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. Retrieved from <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/14/jazz-jennings-clean-clear_n_6864236.html>.
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Haughton. “Seeing Is Not Believing.” GNDS 125 Lecture . Queen’s University. Bioscience Complex, Kingston. 2 Mar. 2015. Lecture.